The skinny

Back in 1987, my buddy Cory Freeman and I were killing time by throwing around ideas for greeting cards we would attempt to create and sell at University of Nevada, Reno. We batted around some generalities and archetypes, like a snide jerk as the main character and his naïve, bubbleheaded girlfriend. There would be a skateboarding punk who would constantly get his butt kicked (remember that old Warner Bros. cartoon with the dog, cat and the hummingbird? “No! Not the cement mixer!” “No! Not that! Not the Thinker!”). There’d be a brainy-and-brawny black dude and a slutty Japanese gal who had the hots for him. There was a muscle-bound mohawked musician who could only speak in lyrics and his hard-rockin’ girlfriend. And since Political Correctness wasn’t yet in vogue, we had a Mexican graffiti artist and the most stereotypical gay since that guy in “Mannequin.”

Cory came up with the names for Armpit Beachhead, Rocket Tudemax, Manhattan, Rupert Sprayface and Maggot, and I came up with Puppy Fizgig, Sunset, Les Studly, Gus the armadillo, Ahkan Dahak, Chippie Tenderloin and Dwayne Ungerhill . (Chippie Tenderloin? What was I thinking?) I busted out a pad of ruled paper (oops) and worked up character model sheets.

Wanna see my first lame-o sketch of Armpit? How about Puppy?


This is what Puppy and Armpit looked like when they debuted in Sagebrush, September 1987

This is what Puppy and Armpit looked like when they debuted in Sagebrush, September 1987

Casino coffee shops

We came up with dozens of hypothetical scenarios late at night in casino coffee shops. If I kept notes they’re long gone by now, but there were times we were quite amused with ourselves. Once college started in the fall, we both found ourselves working at the student newspaper, Sagebrush. Cory wrote a column called Cadger’s Creed. Along with doing illustrations, paste-up and pre-press production at the paper, I filled a void on the comics page — with those characters.

The strip needed a name, and I literally had almost no time to think of one. Let’s see — wacky kids living on a Southern California beach, check. Surfing culture and hedonistic lifestyles, check. Juvenile sense of humor, check. So I called it “Like, For Shore!”

Wanna take a peek at more old, sucky examples from those days?


Like, For Shore! ran in color twice. Here, Sunset and Armpit discuss his I Brake For Jayne Mansfields Head bumper sticker.

Like, For Shore! ran in color twice. Here, Sunset and Armpit discuss his 'I Brake For Jayne Mansfield's Head' bumper sticker.

Too late to turn back

So there I was. Stuck with the worst name for a comic strip that had ever seen print. And the jokes were atrocious, too. And let’s not even discuss the artwork.

Like, For Shore! ran twice per week, every Tuesday and Friday.

For the first year, I used only Rapidograph pens and Zip-a-Tone for the art. The second year I switched to brush-and-ink, improved my lettering and pre-made my panels on the Macintosh. But it was too late. The strip still sucked (although I still run into people who attended UNR those years and they hound me for an anthology) and after five-and-a-half semesters, I unceremoniously ended it.

(A side note: on a dare I created another strip, called “The Gore Score” featuring Doc Splatter, and it won the hearts of millions. And I put far less time and effort into that strip than Like, For Shore! Go figure.)


Old promo image of Puppy and Armpit for the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Old promo image of Puppy and Armpit for the Reno Gazette-Journal.

(Re)birth

A few months later I began work at the Reno Gazette-Journal as a graphic artist and illustrator. In early 1991 I was tapped to be one of the newsroom illuminati involved with creating a new weekly page aimed at the untapped teen market (I was the youngest staffer in the newsroom, only a couple years out of my teens myself). Among its features, the page needed a comic strip that spoke “with” teens, not “at” teens. And so there you have it — the birth of “Cool Jerk.”

Cool Jerk debuted with Off LIMITS (the teen page) on Saturday, June 15, 1991.

At first, the tone of Cool Jerk was different from Like, For Shore! in that it was told in a series of flashbacks (“I remember the first time I went dancing…” “I remember my blind date with Wanda Kitsmiller…” etc.). I created a handful of brand-new 17-something characters, but (conveniently) never named the main character. This was actually an unintended (but fortunate) circumstance; in the back of my mind I wondered what his name should be, but I figured I’d wait and see how the strip would evolve.

After a couple of months of Cool Jerk, I started to bring in some characters from the college strip, like Puppy, Sunset and Rocket. Soon after, the heretofore-unnamed main character got a “make-over” from his friends, and Armpit was reborn.

And the rest is history.

Go here to read the first non-remastered Cool Jerk strip, featuring proto-Armpit.


Armpit and Puppy's prom contest promo art

Armpit and Puppy's prom contest promo art (originally ran on a coupon printed in the Reno Gazette-Journal)

The fools!
I’ll destroy them all!

Cool Jerk ended up becoming fairly popular in Northern Nevada. The newspaper printed up a very limited number of Cool Jerk T-shirts to give away for contests and other promotions (so if you have one – it’s worth one… meeellion… dollars!). Reader Participation is one of the cornerstones of Gannett newspapers, so I held a couple of contests to involve readers with my strip, like if Armpit and Puppy should attend their Senior Prom (at left) or not, etc.

One of the unavoidable burdens of cartooning is lettering, and perfect lettering is a skill that’s always eluded my grasp. In November 1991, I taught myself how to use Altsys Fontographer, an application for creating and modifying fonts and typefaces. After a couple months of grueling Macintosh design work and beta-testing, I’d finally created a font based on my cartoon printing — Hornopolis. More on that later, but scripting my strips in Hornopolis meant a major headache was prevented each week, both in choosing dialog and in painstakingly printing perfect letters.

My editor Ward Bushee was a strong and vocal advocate of Cool Jerk (his wife even more so). Beginning in 1993, Ward forged the inroads to have Cool Jerk distributed via Presslink (an Internet-like network used among newspapers). I couldn’t keep tabs on who was running my strip every week, but I know many papers tried it out for a while.

Here’s an article on Cool Jerk from Gannett’s monthly magazine Gannetteer (June 1993).



Been to Guam, baby

Several newspapers besides Reno have run Cool Jerk; it was a mainstay at The (Palm Springs) Desert Sun for several years. A good friend and colleague formerly at Montana’s Great Falls Tribune spearheaded its arrival there in 1993. Soon it was a regular at Illinois’ Rockford Register-Star and Guam’s Pacific Daily News. Armpit and Puppy have appeared in other Gannett papers, such as those in Boise, ID; Niagara, NY; Stockton, CA; Salem, OR; Marin County, CA; Bellingham, WA; Visalia, CA; Salinas, CA; and Olympia, WA.

Even after I left for San Diego in 1994, I continued drawing the strip for Reno, Great Falls, Palm Springs, Rockford, Niagara and Guam for another year-and-a-half. Then I called it quits, since I was doing the strip for free and I was running out of free time. This was the longest period I’d ever gone without drawing Armpit, Puppy and the gang.


Welcome to my Web

The skeleton of www.cooljerk.com went online in Oct. 1997 with the main purpose of housing my strip morgue from the newspapers. A few months later I started producing new ‘Jerks, and I’ve continued weekly ever since (minus vacations/illness/Mac-catastrophies). In 1999 I started up the weekly Cool Jerk e-mailer, a bcc: text-only reminder/notice for fans/subscribers to alert them of new strip(s) and other Cool Jerk news.

And so here you are at my modest Web site. I don’t know much HTML or WordPress, but that’s not an excuse as to why my site isn’t all crazy with graphics and animations. It’s in black-and-white on purpose (it matches the comic).

Cool Jerk characters have made a couple appearances in The San Diego Union-Tribune (where I worked as an infographics journalist and illustrator, 1994-2006).

This concludes the history part. Go here for info on how I create Cool Jerk.


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