Today’s Guest: Aaron Warner, cartoonist, “The Adventures of Aaron”
Originally published in August 1997.
Are you as bored by the comic strips as I am? Finding cool new strips in local newspapers is a frustrating pursuit. Change comes more slowly on this page than any other. And when the creators of “Calvin & Hobbes,” “The Far Side” and “Bloom County” retired their strips, editors were hard pressed to find replacements.
There are some good new ideas out there — “Citizen Dog,” “Buckles,” “Ralph” and “Dave” are a few I’ve been exposed to and enjoyed.
And then there’s “The Adventures of Aaron.”
Cartoonist Aaron Warner’s alter ego is the most imaginative, funniest strip you never heard of. The continuing story of a reality-challenged teen-ager who’s finally out of high school but not quite anywhere else, Aaron sees and responds to the world in a way you and I can only daydream about.
Girls scare the daylights out of him — especially those who find him attractive. Instead of using deodorant, he puts auto air fresheners under his arms. His father is portrayed as a bigger kook than he is; his older sister is psychotic in her hatred of Aaron. And mowing the lawn? It’s a jungle out there.
The main reason most newspapers won’t carry “Aaron” is its unorthodox format — it’s produced weekly, not daily, and it takes the space of at least two regular strips. Even editors who “get” the strip often don’t have a place to put it. But they really should look harder.
Warner, 26, started drawing “Aaron” in 1990 for the Kalamazoo Gazette in his Michigan hometown. He made the title and his own name big because “if Aaron was huge, people would remember that and I would get more freelance jobs,” he says. It didn’t occur to him until years later that drawing “Aaron” could consume his entire career.
Over time he sold the strip to a few more local papers before Tribune Media Services expanded his reach to 20 newspapers, including the Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Herald, Newark Star Ledger and Houston Chronicle Interactive. Warner is currently self-syndicating the strip again, looking for another company to pick up the distribution rights.
I first encountered “Aaron” in a comic book store this spring. Image Comics is reprinting Aaron’s early adventures as well as publishing a companion comic book of all-new stories.
But comic books are just the tip of the “Aaron” empire. Warner self-published a collection of early “Adventures” in paperback form under the title, My Mom’s Meatloaf Moves! He also produced “Attacked By My Pregnant Sister,” an interactive CD-ROM featuring the real-life voice of his mom and Dad. Then there is the “Adventures of Aaron” rock musical, a “Rocky Horror Show”-like cult favorite produced locally in Kalamazoo and headed for cities where the strip appears; a Web site; a fan club, “Amazing Aaron Admiration Aggregation”; and even weekly radio appearances on Kalamazoo’s WKFR 103.3 FM. Next up: the “Adventures of Aaron Advice Book.”
The original Aaron recently stood still long enough to chat with his new No. 1 fan, Mr. Media.
Do you look like “Aaron”?
WARNER: Uh-huh, except I had my hair cut. Now, it’s really, really short. And I think I am much better looking than the character. Of course, that is just a personal opinion, I guess.
Where did this character come from? How much of “Aaron” is Aaron?
WARNER: I usually like to say, it is not me, it is more like a stereotype of that age group, but then, some of his quirkier things, like the fact he wears car air fresheners underneath his arms for deodorant, stuff like that, is not average, so I guess that kind of stuff comes out of the back of my mind.
I thought you were going to admit to doing that.
WARNER: My friends from high school or my family will read it, and they go, “Gosh, that’s just like you. I can see you doing that!” Then it kind of scares me. Somebody wrote that Aaron was a “slacker,” and I felt really lost. It was like, well, gosh, I don’t think there has ever been a strip where he wasn’t trying. He is not a slacker by any means. He may be unsuccessful, but he never gives up.
One of the things people loved about “Calvin & Hobbes” was that Calvin went through the world his own way. He would get in a cardboard box, and it became a time machine. He would sit in class, and the teacher became a dinosaur . . . Aaron’s view of the world around him is similarly skewed, this time by a teen-ager’s perspective.
WARNER: I have heard that a lot, that Aaron was like a grown-up or an educated version of Calvin. I never really thought of it that way, but I guess it is kind of true. He is going through life his own way. He doesn’t, at this point, have a job or live by society’s standards, so he is able to make do by just living out of mom and dad’s home.
Will he ever get a job?
WARNER: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am lining up a bunch of strips right now where he is hired at the radio station that he worked at as an intern, and he will be the new receptionist there. So he is responsible for the communication network of this whole business, making copies, phone calls, all that kind of stuff, and then he has a co-worker that he will eventually make his first girlfriend.
Are you any more successful with women than the character?
WARNER: No. Not lately. I have had some serious relationships, but it is just a lot of frustration for me. So I think that is one thing that we definitely have in common.
Any real incidents from your own dating life that have fit into Aaron’s?
WARNER: There was a girl who worked at the Kinko’s shop here in our town, and I went out with her for a month, and as a way to impress her, I included her as a character in the strip.
Oh, is that how the copy queen character came about?
WARNER: That’s right, and she liked it at first. She thought it was real neat and kind of cool, but the more and more things we did that ended up in the strip, the more intimidated she felt by it. Eventually she said, “I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to keep me in the strip.” So we kind of fine-tuned the character a little bit and made her Latino and made her more sexy and went on with the story that way.
Did you have to find another Kinko’s?
WARNER: Actually, she repositioned to a different Kinko’s herself.
Does anything ever happen in Aaron’s life that is the way he sees it, or is his life really pretty bland and he then finds ways to make it exciting and interesting?
WARNER: I would describe it as the latter. I take an everyday situation like getting in the shower or eating cereal, and then try to make that into something really exaggerated and funny. Like the jogging situation. There was a girl who jogged past my house every day; I would think about what would happen if I just went out there and started running with her. Well, that is a pretty boring situation, just a jogger girl, but heck, if I was running next to her, it would be pretty exciting if either someone was shooting at me or if a truck came along and knocked me over.
How old is “Aaron?”
WARNER: I have never really given him a specific age, but I always put him in the time element that people go through right after they graduate from high school and before they start college.
So he is out of high school.
WARNER: Yeah, he graduated high school, miraculously….
Is he college material?
WARNER: Um… I would like to see him go to college and scrape by there as well. I think it would be fun to put him in some school situations.
Are you still living at home?
WARNER: No, not anymore. I was able to move out two years ago. But I was at home until I was 24, and so I have a wealth of material.
Tell me about your dad — the real one and the one in the strip.
WARNER: He is someone I didn’t even need to invent. When people meet him, they always think it is an act. They go, oh, he is just kind of goofy because of the comic strip character. I say, no, he is really like that. He is just really a character.
Do you actually have a sister?
Is she as difficult as …..?
WARNER: She has turned on her sweetness now, but I think that is only because I have gotten my revenge out in the strip. Growing up with her, she was evil.
WARNER: Yeah. She would hold me down on the ground when I was smaller than her, and she would put her knees on my shoulders, and then she would just pound my shoulder with her fist, because we weren’t allowed to hit in the face, and she would just pound my shoulder until it was numb. Or she would put peanut butter on my cheeks and let the dog lick it off.
Do you ever think about doing anything else?
WARNER: No, but I will tell you a secret fantasy of mine is to work in a large supermarket at night and just stock the shelves. Sometimes I just sit here and think, gosh, if I could only work nights at some supermarket stocking shelves, I wouldn’t have to worry about deadlines or business stuff. You just put the tomatoes there, you put the soup up here, you are done at 8 in the morning, go home and sleep the rest of the day. I think that would be a pretty nice life.