Frank Page has been working on Bob the Squirrel for about a decade and a half now. It’s a gag strip which takes its inspiration pretty directly from Frank’s own life, with the titular Bob acting as something of a snarky version of Frank’s ego. Since the strip takes its cues from real life, it acts as something of a record of what Frank is up to. If you read about it in the strip, it’s probably not too far removed from what actually happened to Frank about a month earlier. When he’s shown in the comic fighting with a dead lawn mower or pulling giant hairballs out of the drain or shoveling snow out of the driveway, those aren’t generic everybody-experiences-something-like-this events that he’s drawing, but actual things he dealt with.
That includes the unpleasant stuff too. Like when his first wife divorced him or when his two pet cats died in close succession. The strips around those types of events aren’t funny, though. They’re straight-forward dealings with the emotions that go along with something painful like that. Eventually, the strips moved back to lighter and funnier topics as Frank was able to process his grief and move on with his life.
Recently, Frank dropped another bombshell on his readers, though: his wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer.
It’s certainly not unheard of for a cartoonist to incorporate dealing with cancer into their work. Tom Batiuk famously took Funky Winkerbean away from the typical gag format when he worked on the “Lisa’s Story” arc, and Brian Fies created an entire webcomic called Mom’s Cancer telling that story. It’s a form of catharsis. To deal with something that’s so difficult to process, many artists use their work as a way to coalesce their thoughts and feelings. The comics format in particular forces creators to solidify things since, to be a readable comic of any kind, it needs to have some sort of narrative cohesion.
But I don’t think Bob the Squirrel will take the same turn Funky did. Frank posted this earlier this week…
The thing I’ve learned so far is that there’s a LOT of life to live in-between the medical stuff. Life is just life… boring, exciting, challenging, normal, daily life. The next few months will be sprinkled with appointments, tests, procedures and treatments. We’ll have good days and bad days… laughs and tears… you know, life.
It will be interesting to watch this unfold. His previous bouts with serious subjects seemed to draw additional followers. (Indeed, I personally found the strip immensely helpful in dealing with my own divorce which was concurrent to that storyline.) Perhaps that stems from the sincerity in the work, or perhaps the acknowledgement that not every day can end with a joke. Or perhaps the knowledge that, even though we might not be getting jokes right now, we’ll know there will be more if we keep reading.
A useful life lesson there.