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Mission Accomplished: Dave Wright Interviews Boxjam B. Boxjam

The scene: Dave Wright is typing up an email to ask BoxJam B. Boxjam to do an interview for Comixpedia. There is a light clicking in the air until Wright slides his finger to the mouse button and pushes. The email is sent.

I told you there would be political questions in this interview, right?

Just make sure they aren't softballs.

No softballs, eh?

Ok, first question. Being a supporter of a pro-baby killer, how do you feel about Kerry's stance on not only making sure abortion stays legal, but offering incentive programs to welfare "frequent aborters" - sort of a frequent flier thing for unwanted children?

I wasn't aware of that program. I find abortion morally repugnant, but I believe it needs to remain legal. Here's my question back to *you* - if George W. Bush successfully criminalized abortion, would he realize that abortions were still going to happen, or would he land on another flight deck under a banner that said "Mission Accomplished" and think he'd solved everything?

Probably the latter. I think he should hold all press conferences on the flight deck of battleships! There is something comical about our leader dressed up playing soldier. It adds to that cowboy mentality that undermines all attempts to look respectful to the rest of the world.

Ok that was just an attempt to start off with a crazy question to grab everyone's attention. Let's get to the first real question.

Last year you lost your job and the future of your webcomic, Boxjam's Doodle seemed to hang in the balance. Can you describe the time since then?

I got laid off at the end of May of 2003. The details that led to it were that the company I was working for, Rand McNally, had laid some people off because they were losing money, and had borrowed a heck of a lot of money. Then they told us that the hard times were behind us, and that the layoffs were through. A month later they laid me off, and a lot of other people, too.

At first it wasn't too tough. I wrestled with whether to keep my regular comic schedule, or go on hiatus, because it's so easy for me to work on my comic, and I was worried that without a clearly defined boundary for myself, I wouldn't work on finding a new job as much as I should, because I'd be doing doodles all day long.

Even though I took a break from the comic, I was out of work for almost a year - not counting a couple of small, small contracts and temp things. That got pretty hard. Besides not making money, being unemployed's even more expensive because you have to pay for medical insurance yourself. My new retirement plan is that I won't. It was also hard because I was getting interviews, but no offers. That was a new one for me - I used to have a pretty good batting average once I got an interview. It took a lot out of me. Every holiday, kid birthday,
whatever, I thought a lot about the fact that I was still jobless. At the same time, I kept having comic ideas.

So the point is, yeah. Not working, and sitting and drawing and scanning and assembling felt too decadent.

Other than the inability to update frequently, how did the loss of your job affect the comic?

Not sure. I don't think the comics that did appear, or appear now, are particularly affected by the experience, although I certainly was, and always will be. I wish I could update more often.

Lately, your strip and site has made no secret of your political leanings. Was this a tough decision to put all this out there?

No, I'm just more politically motivated than I ever have been in my life. The present administration is easily the most cynical one in my lifetime and worst for the country. So no tough decision. If things had been this bad before it woulda been out there sooner.

Did you fear backlash, particularly in this age of right wing hardliners that want to label anyone who doesn't agree with their message as traitors?

You mean in readership numbers? No, the hiatus and weekly update schedule have taken care of that. Besides, I haven't put too much out there that's really crazy. I wish I had some crazy ideas to piss those guys off, but I don't. I'm trying not to just be a parrot, after all. I can only draw doodles and write as my own thoughts those ideas which are actually mine.

Have you gotten any hatemail or bad feedback? Any support?

No hate mail. As I've bemoaned before, I can't seem to offend anyone. Lee Herold had a thing on his site which I'm pretty sure was directed at me - that cartoonists shouldn't tell you who to vote for and you should vote for who you think is right. It wasn't hateful at all, but I wanted to bring it up, and this is the only question you asked it's even remotely related to. I've been meaning to answer his assertion. He's basically right, but with a twist. So I've been working on an essay of why I think Kerry should be president, and Bush should not be. I hope people read it, ignore that it's a cartoonist who wrote it, and pretend it's just something they found on the sidewalk. Ignore the messenger - use your critical thinking skills to decide if they're good reasons.

Oh, support - a couple of message board posts and an e-mail or two.

And an interview.

What do you think will happen in the upcoming presidential election.

Not going to guess.

Does Kerry stand a chance?

Kerry stands a chance, but it's an uphill battle. The Democrats always have a greater need to convey message and overcome inertia, because whether they're the party holding a seat or not, being liberal means embracing change, and, as Bill Clinton has noted, people are for change in general, but not in particular. Another reason Democrats have to motivate - always - is because lots of people are one-issue voters. Somebody may be for many socially liberal things - civil unions, government investment in urban areas, graduated taxes - but they can't abide abortion, and so always vote Republican. Or they're big on civil rights, but saw their company - and themselves - get hurt once by a massive corrupt union, and so always go red. At least, my personal experience bears that out. I personally only know one person who's enthusiastic about voting for Bush this fall, but lots who are because of those hot button issues.

Do you think that the Bush campaign has pretty much called the shots so far in dictating where this campaign has gone?

Yeah. I think the Republicans learned a hell of a lot from Seinfeld. Seinfeld spoon-fed the critics (Remember "It's a Show About Nothing" and how the critics called it that? Here's a hint: It was about a standup comedian living in New York City - - it was about just as much as any other sitcom.), and we've learned that you can spoon-feed the news media too, especially since most smalltown papers are owned by Gannett, and just reprint what was in USA Today the day before. Karl Rove has done a much better job of that than the left. Hell, I'll admit it - the left is disorganized. I think it comes with the territory. Everybody should check out factcheck.org every day, whoever they're for.

Do you feel an obligation, having the platform you have, to inform or persuade people?

No, not really. Have you ever read the doodle? If I feel an obligation to inform, I'm doing a pretty lousy job.

Do you think that coming out one way or another turns people of the opposite leanings off to your comic?

No idea. I doubt Carson Fire reads my site, but he'd be the only one I'd be willing to wager money on.

I know the one time I got political during my Taking Up Space comic I got some mail that labelled me a left-wing commie sympathizer, and I'm sure my anti-war stuff turned people off to me, and in effect to the comics I draw.

I'm sorry I called you those things. I was freaked out because I believed Iraq had WMDs they intended to use.

What is your primary reason to do Boxjam's Doodle?

When I first started doing the doodle, I was testing whether I could come up with an idea every day. That was a scary test, especially since the doodle's not usually an ongoing story. Then I was scared the first time I had to create a comic when I had no idea. I can truthfully say that every comic I've ever missed has not been for lack of an idea. Even with lists on my home computer and in my backpack, I forget more ideas than...well, I forget a lot of ideas. Even when I have my lists with me, I often sit down and decide to create something out of nothing.

Now my primary reason is that I've fallen in love with it.

How is your family?

They're good, thanks.

How much of Boxjam is based on them?

Answering this for you is sort of cheating, isn't it? Like the Cliff Notes to BoxJam? Can you put this answer in a spoiler box? BoxJam is heavily based on me, because I'm a fascinating person and everybody should want to read about me. Ms. BoxJam and the kids are largely reactions to BoxJam. Ms. BoxJam is largely everything BoxJam is not - - organized, good at many things, sure of herself, able to let go of the past, not nostalgic. Little BoxJam is a twofold contradiction: everything BoxJam *was not* - good at things he tries, popular, able to fit in at school, athletic - and sometimes everything BoxJam *was* - introspective, sensitive, unsure, and with a surprisingly blunt understanding that life won't always be great. Mina's just cute as the dickens.

Does your family read your comic?

Mostly no. My wife reads it occasionally. And the kids like the characters, but don't read the comic. Nobody outside my nuclear family reads it.

Where is the oddest place you thought of a comic and had to get to something to write it down?

I guess on the way to the emergency room for I-don't-remember-what. We're there once or twice a month. And I don't think I wrote it down, just remembered it.

Have you ever censored your strip, and if so, why?

Well, my internal editor prevents lots of things from ever making it into fully formed thoughts, much less doodles. I don't put in really heavyweight curse words. Can't tell you why, except I'm afraid someone I know will read it, and I'll be embarrassed.

I know you once bemoaned in your Blue View column on Comixpedia that you can't offend anyone. Do you feel that your comic is seen as too friendly?

I don't know if it's seen as too friendly, or just not seen. Maybe I'm simply too reasonable a person. Why do *you* think I can't offend anyone?

What does the future hold for Boxjam's Doodle?

I hope it gets both stranger and more accessible. And more frequent.

Now I want to end this with some quick non-standard questions I tend to ask artists, to let people get to know things about you they might not normally read about in an interview.

What are your hobbies?

Making ketchup without using tomatoes. Oh, and bagpipes.

What kind of pets do you own, if you have any?

Can't. Everybody in the family is allergic to something. We had fish for a while, but I don't really count them as pets, since we had dogs growing up.

What is the last good book you read?

MY LIFE by Bill Clinton, and THE GRIM GROTTO by Lemony Snicket.

Last good CD you bought?

Southern Barber Supply by the Cashmere Jungle Lords. Also I want to give a shoutout to a jazz pianist named Steve Million. Hey Steve - AAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!

Favorite TV Show?

Daily Show - I don't get to turn on the TV until 10 o'clock.

TV show your wife loves, but you hate, and sometimes have to watch it?

Trading Makeover Designs for the Sexes or something like that. It's on TLC.

Favorite food?

The chicken vindaloo at Hema's Kitchen on Oakley Street in Chicago.

Lastly, and perhaps the burning question I've been waiting years to ask, any chance you'll give out your real name?

I am Noman. You may tell them it was Noman who you interviewed.