Bill Amend, Creator ofFoxTrot

10 January 2003

    The Foxtrot is a ballroom dance with an arrangement of steps both quick and slow. Developed in 1914 by a Vaudeville actor with the stage name of Harry Fox, the captivating dance quickly spread in popularity to be a winner in ballroom dance competitions. In the case of cartoonist Bill Amend, his FoxTrot comic strip is a captivating dance of a different sort, stepping to the beat of the quirky, likeable characters of the Fox family.

    Without fear, Bill Amend pokes a pointy toe at big businesses and day-to-day life to produce a cartoon full of laughter and that “yes, we’ve been there” feeling. One of his favourite targets seems to be Apple Computer, Inc. Character Jason, the ten-year-old math and computer whiz of the Fox family, makes irresistibly funny jibes at many product announcements and events of the iFruit company. The precocious character also gives Amend a chance to use his physics background in a hilarious dimension.

    Similar to many other comic strips, the Dad (Roger) is not the most competent of fathers, and the mother (Andy) shines with practical intelligence. Except, that is, when her oddities sneak through. The teenagers found there were no cookies left in the house on the first day of Mom’s diet, but not because she threw them into the garbage. It’s because she ate ALL of them the night before. (Jan 1/03.) The big eyes, ears and huge grins from small mouths of the comic characters lend a lot of expression and a sense of understanding to the cartoon, not found in other strips.

Amend 2

    Cartooning, comic books and Mad Magazine were a part of Bill Amend’s life from a young age, and he drew at every opportunity. He contributed comics to his school newspapers while in junior high and high school in the San Francisco Bay area, not always to applause. (Amend was born in 1962 in Northampton, Mass., the oldest of three boys and one girl. His family moved to California when he was 12 years old.) Being the humourous, creative and rounded fellow he is, Amend made Super-8 movies, played Tuba in the school band and was president of the school math club for a short time. But he did not choose cartooning as his original career path. His original plan was to be a movie-maker.

    Amend completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics from Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, graduating in 1984 with honours. He also took home an impressive math prize in his sophomore year. While attending college, he drew editorial cartoons for the college newspaper along with founding a weekly school newspaper called “Sidelines” with a fellow student. He took one course in art and, Amend says, “Apart from a basic drawing class my senior year, I never really studied art. Some say it shows.” *(1) The art class must have been the clincher. Amend began thinking of a career in cartooning before graduation.

    Though he worked as assistant animator for a small firm, then at a movie production house, Amend began the difficult task of creating cartoons and submitting them to the syndicates. The results were disappointingly negative, but the budding cartoonist did not give up easily. Over a three-year period, Amend produced, rewrote and honed his work, finally developing the FoxTrot comic strip. Universal Press Syndicate picked up the strip in 1987 and after more reworking, FoxTrot debuted on April 10, 1988. The strip has a loyal readership in the tens of millions and appears in over 1,000 newspapers.

Amend 3

    The comic is built around contemporary issues, unlike many of the popular strips. “My sense of family life was that there was a lot more chaos and politics and silliness and fewer trips to the golf course and running into the mailman.” *(2) Amend now lives in the Midwest with his wife and two children – a son and a daughter – and they no doubt keep him grounded in the daily bits and pieces hat touch every fan.

Amend

      To craft his cartoon, Amend uses the tools comparable to other cartoonists. He pencils his strips with 2H pencils and inks with Rapidograph pens and Micron Pigma markers on 400 Series smooth surface Strathmore bristol board. He works two weeks ahead of publication for his dailies and six-plus weeks for his Sunday comics. The Sundays are sent out for colouring using a photocopy marked with codes to direct the colour specialists of which colours go where on the strip.

    There are over two dozen FoxTrot books on the market, the latest being “FoxTrot: Assembled with Care,” and “His Code Name Was the Fox,” both published in 2002 by Andrews & McMeel Publishing.

    Bill Amend received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Amherst College in May of 2000. His young character, Jason, has been chosen spokescharacter for Calculus Wiz, part of the Mathematica-based software for studying calculus by Wolfram Research, Inc. Jason was chosen “for his reputation as a mathematics genius.” *(3)

Definitely not the average comic strip, even if there is no FoxTrot music.

View the FoxTrot comic strip:
http://www.ucomics.com/foxtrot

Bill Amend’s FAQ page:
*(1) http://www.macobserver.com/article/2001/02/06.11.shtml

An article in Wired: Of Physics and the Funny Papers by Andy Patrizio:
*(2) http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,31981,00.html

Read the info on Jason becoming the Mathematica spokescharacter:
*(3) http://www.wolfram.com/news/archive/foxwiz.html(Link broken)

© Susanna McLeod 2003
TheCartoonists.ca  
   
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)