FoxTrot Keeps It Comical With Mac

Few successful comic strip artists can say they have a degree in physics. Nor can most admit they're successful despite a rudimentary art education. Bill Amend lays claim to both, however, and his comic strip, FoxTrot, has marked its 15th year chronicling the hilarious misadventures of the Fox clan. This year marks another milestone as well: It's been three years since Amend's decision to simplify the laborious aspects of comic strip creation with his Mac.

Favorite Tools

"I assemble the daily strips in Photoshop," Amend says. "For the lettering, I use a font I created from my handwriting with Fontographer. For the art, I draw stuff item by item with ink on paper and scan it in. Then I assemble it in layers, almost like cell animation. Photoshop makes it easy to fill in the grays and blacks at the end."

Amend previously worked on a blue-and-white Power Mac G3, but a few months ago he treated himself to a 2-GHz dual processor Power Mac G5, complete with a Cinema HD display.

"I can finally play Warcraft III!" Amend says. "Oh, and it helps with work, too, in case the IRS reads this." The Roger Fox character in Amend reveals itself here.

The switch to the G5 also meant the switch to Mac OS X. Amend says he appreciates the handiness of the Dock, as well as the ease with which he can network the G5 to the other Macs in his house, which include his wife's clamshell IBook, an older IMac for his kids, and the trusty G3 "hooked up to the home stereo and serving as an expensive jukebox."

"And now, with Panther," he adds, "there's Exposé, which is a huge time-saver for me."

Tech Advantages

Given Amend's admitted habit of pushing his deadlines as far as possible, anything that saves time is important to him, even if it's for nonwork reasons. As a kid, he dreamed of making movies, and he says he recently took many of the Super-8 films he shot back then and transferred them to DV tape with the hope of cleaning them up in Final Cut Express.

"The most ambitious one we did was a 45-minute Star Wars/Star Trek spoof called Trek Wars," he recalls. "We had these exploding teddy bears that we filled with rocket engine powder and blew up in the dry grass next to million-dollar homes in Hillsborough, California. And we were the 'smart kids.'"

"The hoops we had to jump through to edit it and get sound effects and music in sync were ridiculous compared to what you can do nowadays, even with IMovie," he adds.

Unsurprisingly, FoxTrot's Jason Fox character has been known to try a similar filmmaking stunt or two. The family's resident geek savant, Jason is often found hacking the CNN teleprompter or searching the Web for Star Wars prequel secrets in front of an IFruit, Amend's take on Apple's IMac. The computer, complete with the slogan "Think fruity," has appeared in many strips that feature topics Mac-centric readers will appreciate, such as the system's lack of a floppy drive. Sometimes the machine even takes on a life of its own and talks back to its owners, like the Mac Classic-like Banana Junior 9000 found in Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County--minus the "walking around the house" bit.

Online Extras

Visitors to Amend's personal news page will find more examples of the cartoonist's geeky side. He even offers a few free games, including a version of Concentration that stars the Fox family, and a take-off on Simon called Burp-Along Fox. Both require Shockwave.

The best one, though, is Slug-Man, a game patterned on that arcade classic Joust and featuring Jason Fox's favorite comic book hero pitted against his nemesis, his sister Paige. It's available only for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, though.

"This is my way of bringing Windows game makers to the bargaining table," he says, perhaps proving that Jason really is his alter ego. "You want to play Slug-Man on your PC? Well, let me play Half-Life and a few zillion other games on my Mac first. Then we'll talk."

This story, "FoxTrot Keeps It Comical With Mac" was originally published by MacCentral.

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