The Quarterbin Follies #3: Cortland pt.2October 21, 2014
Welcome back, Internet! If you weren’t here yesterday, we were chatting about the rollicking techno-fantasy Cortland and its comedy sequel Out At Five, both by Omaha’s Matt Johnson.
(Click Here for Part One of the Interview!)
R: I must confess, that when I first ran across Cortland (I suppose it was in 2006) it didn’t really do a lot for me. I only read a couple of weeks of strips, and while I got a few chuckles, it seemed a little inaccessible to me. Looking back, I honestly believe it was my PC user bias! I’d had a PC in my home every day since I was 7, and while I had used Macs during my one year of college, I never really appreciated them. They just seemed needlessly foreign. Well, a lot of water under the bridge, and this time my reaction was vastly different. I have never cared more about Mac and the history of the Apple line as I have in the last four weeks. Have you had any similar comments?
J: The most frequent compliant I’ve heard about the comic is that it seemed to be insipidly pro-Mac, sort of a cheerleader for the platform. This wasn’t surprising, since I first started drawing the comic for a Mac e-zine called ATPM back in 2002. But if you read the whole comic, you’ll see I have plenty of jabs at Steve Jobs, Apple, and everything else in the Mac community. One reason I started Out at Five was to try to break out of this Mac-centric mold and be able to try different things without the shadow of being a Mac Fan Comic hanging over it.
R: In the course of the tales, the characters, specifically Cortland and Todd, become somewhat disillusioned with Mac’s then newer software. From that time to now, how has your experience been? Are you still using Macs? (My wife has recently begun learning Ubuntu Linux, and done a bit of dragging me along. Needless to say, Todd has become a hero of mine!)
J: I actually use a Windows PC at my day job, but I still use Macs for my freelance work and at home (and probably always will). I’ve dabbled in other platforms and have been able to experience a good deal of the UNIX world through the Terminal program in Mac OS X. I’ve written a few basic shell scripts and was amazed at how very useful they could be in automating certain tasks, which is about as geeky as I usually get.
Here’s a final bit of trivia for you: Todd and Angie were originally created to represent Cortland’s conscience. Like a “devil and angel” on each shoulder. Angie’s name came from her being the angel, while Todd wound up being based on one of Clark Griswold’s neighbors from the movie Christmas Vacation (down to the slicked-back hair). I’d created them to be polar opposites, Angie being the hardworking “good girl” while Todd is the “bad boy” slacking off at work and downloading pirated movies and software just for fun. At the end of Cortland, I felt they were balanced enough to carry my next comic, Out at Five, on their own.
R: I gotta say I love the Idea of Jobs as a supervillain (especially since he is so often portrayed in the MSM as a rockstar-demigod). Why did you make that call? The idea of that level of satire is delightful to me.
J: It’s funny, but Steve Jobs being the “secret” villain of Cortland…seemed like a natural choice. At the time, I’d been reading stories from inside Apple about what it was like to work under Steve Jobs, and despite his obvious vision and charisma, the guy was a jerk. The real reason I chose him for the villain, however, was because around this time, Apple was still in the early stages of Mac OS X, and I was growing very unhappy with how buggy and unresponsive the new OS was. I found myself rebooting to OS 9 repeatedly just to do basic things and was amazed every time at how much faster the old OS was by comparison. The new UNIX-based system brought many new problems that I just wasn’t prepared for–permissions problems, kernel panics, and lag time while performing basic functions.
R: In certain moments you borrowed heavily from the Matrix films. Aside from the obvious homage, what was your opinion of the Trilogy as a whole?
J: [I]t’s been quite a while since I’d watched the whole [Matrix] trilogy, so my opinion of the films may have changed since then. I enjoyed the original film on several levels, from the effects introducing the concept of “bullet time” to the whole dark feel of the movie. What especially interested me were the philosophical elements–how we know what reality is, and whether the masses are being secretively exploited while being kept distracted with the day-to-day busyness of everyday life. The part I took to heart most was how Neo was able to change the world around him by seeing it for what it really was–seeing the code underneath everything rather than what was just on the surface. I enjoyed Reloaded mostly as a piece of eye candy, watching the amazing fight with all the Agent Smiths and the battle scenes hopping around on the busy expressway were heart-pounding. The plot was all right, but things kind of fell apart in Revolutions, which seemed a bit like a rehash of the same effects with some last-minute recasting that was painfully noticeable.
What I would really love to have seen is Alex Winter walk in as the architect behind everything and exchange words with Neo. “No way!” “Way! (air guitar riff)” Or even better, have Laurence Fishburne reprise his role as Cowboy Curtis and get sucked back into the Matrix through Pee-Wee Herman’s tin can phone. So many unexplored opportunities.
R: And back to Cortland, his ability to manipulate the digital world is specifically intriguing to me. (I don’t know if you are aware, but IC has a Character with the same power: Gameboy) But at the same time, Cortland‘s ending, which was beautiful BTW, was still a touch ambiguous. Nevertheless, there was a delightful transition from Cortland to Out at Five. You did a great job building something new out of something familiar, but is also seem to me that there were ripples of the mighty thing that Cortland was just under the surface. This seemed specifically noticeable in the person of Angie. Is it just me, or does her distance and hesitancy to get back on the horse (either in the working world or the dating one) due only to her traumatic loss, or does she know something we do not?
J: As for the end of Cortland (both the comic and the character), I chose to leave it a little open-ended just in case I wanted to bring back the character at a later date. Would he return from the digital netherworld? Would Corey take his place? I can’t tell yet, but I liked having the possibility there nevertheless. I did want Out at Five to be something of a clean “break” from Cortland as evidenced in this comic, and Angie’s relationship with Cortland can be summarized as “I don’t want to talk about it.” But what Cortland actually was (and is) remains to be seen. I actually created a bit of a back story for the villains and the spaceship they traveled in, as well as the history of Cortland’s dad with the band of villains before they parted company. It didn’t come into play much in the comic, but I would have to go back and dig it out if and when I want to come back to Cortland’s origin story.
R: Bringing up Corey brings back around the ‘Forumies’. Now I assume they were based upon the folk what used to hang about the Comic Genesis and Cornstalker forums. How true to life was that?
J: I originally created [Corey] as a college student thinking he would give me the chance to draw some college-related comics, but it never happened. And yes, pretty much everything in the Forumies comics has some connection to actual things that happened on the Comic Genesis boards (and Keenspot, and the Cornstalker forums, etc.) During the years when I drew Cortland, I was very much a part of that community, and material for comics came around all the time, so it was hard not to try to include it in some way.
R: Between these Cortland and OA5, and other than Todd and Angie, the main tie is the Wieser family. Chad and Bob’s dad seems to have been a decently reasonable, or at least reasonably successful, fellow. How did his sons get so messed up?
J: Wow, where to begin with the Wieser family? (Fun fact: I picked “Wieser” hoping to make some jokes with its similarity to “weasel” or “wheezer” but those gags never came about for some reason.) Papa Wieser was a business tycoon who served honorably in World War 2 and returned to start a successful printing company in Lincoln. His first-born son Bob wanted to start his own business manufacturing wood-grain paneling in the 1970s (at the height of the wood-grain paneling boom) and got Papa to co-sign the loan to start the company. His younger son Chad went on to inherit the family business, a job he never took too seriously even after Papa Wieser passed away. Both sons suffered from not having to work all that hard for their early success and grew up in a bit of a cocoon, walking into management roles and never surrounding themselves with people who could tell them when they were wrong. The one exception to this, of course, was Bob’s son Billy.
R: Also, between Cortland and OA5, young Billy Wieser seems to have disappeared. Where’d ‘e go?
J: Before the start of OA5, Bob and his wife divorced, and his wife took custody of Billy and relocated to another state. (Chad’s son, “Weed,” remains employed at Nemesis Design.)
R: So, Weed, he was one of the Forumies, too, wasn’t he?
J: Yes, Weed was originally in Forumies (and based on a guy from the forums). At some point, I decided that he resembled Chad closely enough that he could probably be his son.
(Update: Weed got his own story in 2017!)
R: You cannot hardly mention Bob Wieser, though, without mentioning his end. It certainly was grisly, though not really shocking given the build-up. You mentioned adding a few wrap-up strips. What about the end, as it stands, do you feel needs changed?
J: Out at Five obviously ended on a very dark note, and I was never happy about that. My current plan is to draw a serious of reunion strips that bring the whole gang back together “five years later” to learn where they all are right now and what’s changed since the story ended. Here’s a last tidbit for your article. It’s a panel I drew of Todd and how he looks five years after OA5 ended–proof that the story is going to continue!
R: I gotta say, Todd is looking a little ‘Chad-ish’!
Finally, Lincoln plays a huge role in Cortland. Why did you choose to set it there? (We, coming from Scottsbluff, chose to set ‘Forces‘ and their schools in Wisconsin, largely because we wanted something further east and while still rural closer to those big cities out there. And also because Michael J. Nelson was originally from WI, and we are huge dorks)
J: … I lived in Lincoln at the time I was drawing Cortland, so if I had to choose any “real life” place where the comic could be set, the actual city I lived in seemed like the obvious choice. I could take pictures of landmarks around town for reference while drawing, and it’s fun to read a comic knowing that the places depicted exist in real life (along with Runza sandwiches). I love Alexander Payne’s films for this reason. I give credit to the web comic School Spirit for inspiring this in me–this comic takes place in rural Australia, and the occasional bits of culture and “down under” colloquialisms that show up give it a very unique appeal to me.
R: Well, I suppose that is everything. I want to that you so much for taking the time to talk to us, and from all of us at Ideal Comics, see you in the funny papers!
J: Awesome thanks for the interview. It’s been fun!
Both Cortland and Out At Five are both still available online. Check ’em out!‘,
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