Darby Conley, Creator of Get Fuzzy

26 July 2002

    A cat can be smooth, slinky, snobby and spunky. The furry feline could be crouched low, ready to spring or have a regal manner with its head tilted high. Independence is the animal’s priority. Why bother to butter up the owner when the cat can just take over the place, human, dog and all? Bucky, the obnoxious yet funny lead character of Get Fuzzy has not only taken over his home, he has grabbed a firm claw-hold on the newspaper comics crowd, too.

    The Get Fuzzy characters of Bucky, the Siamese mix cat, friendly dog pal Satchel and their owner Rob Wilco had their successful launch in newspapers under the United Media Syndicate in September, 1999. There are not only a few dog and cat cartoons in the comics, there are a LOT. Darby Conley, creator of Get Fuzzy, has managed to distinguish his unique strip, making the competition  seem outdated and stale

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    Growing up with a beloved pooch named Patch, Conley is partial to dogs. But, it is the high-spirited cat in his cartoon that has captured the attention of readers. In a Metropulse interview in April, 2000 he said, “It’s Bucky. All Bucky, all the time. I love cats, but I was surprised at how vocal the Bucky fans are. I really like the dog – I think dogs are funny in how slow-witted they are, but people really want to see the cat being bad.” *(1)

    Conley has zeroed in on the aloof personality of cats using the animal’s perspective, with the notion that even if cats could talk, they wouldn’t care what people had to say to them anyway. He uses the same view for Satchel, whose innocence and trusting character makes Bucky seem even more devilish.

    Creating Get Fuzzy is more than a full-time effort for Darby Conley. His drawings are detailed and painstaking, and a week’s supply may take up to 100 hours to complete. While Bucky has elements of a Siamese, he also holds a strong resemblance to both Opus and Bill of "Bloom County" (by Berke Breathed). Satchel is drawn with large, innocent eyes and an expression of loving, if puzzled, submission. The people of the comic strip have ingenuous faces and manners, leaving the cat to be front and center with a hilariously rude temper and tyrannical stance.

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    Like so many other youngsters, Conley wanted to be a cartoonist. His first cartoons appeared in the Doyle High Trailblazer, his school paper in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1986, he won first place in a student cartoon contest in the News-Sentinel. He went on to earn a Fine Arts and Art History degree from Amherst College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1994. While a student in college, he played rugby, (and broke several bones while having fun) explaining the rugby sport references in his comic strip. Conley also cartooned for the college newspaper, the Amherst Student.

    Becoming a syndicated cartoonist did not happen immediately for Darby Conley. He taught elementary Grades Two and Four for two years, and then accepted a position as Art Director for The Science Discovery Museum in Acton, Massachusetts. His continued cartoon submission efforts were noticed by United Media editors. They contacted him and made suggestions of what they would like to see. Within six months, Conley developed the characters and theme of Get Fuzzy. He named his characters after baseball players Bucky O’Neil and Satchel Paige, and Rob Wilco after two of his friends with the same first name.*(2) The comic strip was a hit with a good start in 75 papers and is now up over the 175 newspapers mark. (A large number of successful comic strips debuted in under 20 newspapers and grew from there.)

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    I tried to think of how I could make a living, you know, writing jokes and drawing little pictures and it’s either that for a children’s book, but I a got a syndication contract first,so off we go,” Darby mentioned in an interview on KBCO radio in Boulder, Colorado.*(3)

The creative influences of Conley’s favouritecartoonists, Gary Larsen and Berke Breathed,are noticeable in Get Fuzzy, but he has added his own spark of individuality to a refreshing and uproarious cartoon. His zing is not from watching his own pets, though – he lives in a Boston apartment where pets are forbidden.

     Let’s hope we’ll see Bucky and his victims, er, I mean fellow cartoon characters, in Get Fuzzy in more comics sections soon.

Darby Conley’s interview in Metropulse:
*(1) http://www.metropulse.com/dir_zine/dir_2000/1016/t_cover2.html

If you haven’t seen Get Fuzzy, have a look at this site:
*(2) http://www.unitedmedia.com/comics/getfuzzy/

A radio interview with Darby Conley:
*(3) kbco.com/misc/contact.html (Link no longer active.)

Popcult Magazine’s hopes for comic strip revival with Get Fuzzy:

© Susanna McLeod 2002
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)