In the beginning, there was Saundra. I was trying to draw Sabrina (copyright Eric Schwartz, see www.sabrina-online.com), and I started to realize that the character I was drawing wasn't Sabrina. For one thing, Sabrina doesn't have a Volkswagon Beetle up on blocks in her front yard. So I experimented, and discovered that Saundra was a Panda. And not just any panda. Slowly, her crazy inventor persona began to evolve. I knew I had someone fun here.
However, there were problems, primary among them being my lack of artistic skill. If Sabrina could mutate that easily into someone as different as Saundra, what chance did Saundra stand against my rapidly shifting style? Fortunately, she lended me a hand from time to time, sometimes through my first girlfriend, who rapidly became a prime source of editing during the first few years of Umlaut House, other times in more direct ways.
In the end, it was this girlfriend-turned-editor who sugguested connecting Volair to Saundra. Since Saundra was already taking on many of the characteristics of my new editor, it made sense to make Volair more like myself. At that time, all I had was one picture of him, dangling helplessly from a rope:
Originally, Volair was to be a double-life character, always telling Saundra crazy, off-the-wall stories about his career as a spy, all of which were completely true. The "main joke" of the strip was going to be that no matter how fanciful Volair's fish stories got, they would always be one hundred percent factual.
Then Jake showed up. He was meant to be a bit player, intended solely for the purpose of ducking in, explaining what Saundra was doing letting a near-total stranger move in with her, and then ducking out. I based him on a picture I drew on notebook paper of a "chisled paragon of sexual fantasy". (This is a distinction taken word-for-word from a women's magazine.)
Again, my editor prevented me from missing an opportunity. Jake was an interesting guy. He added balance to the topsy-turvey situation of my "odd couple" setup. So, Jake would act as a fulcrum, a way of getting Saundra and Volair together, but also a way of keeping them from becoming an ordinary couple. However, as luck would have it, balance was the last thing Jake had in mind for the strip.
It all started when I got the idea for a joke:
All of a sudden, Jake and Volair were no ordinary pair. Volair's character became more pronounced. Notice that he genuinely enjoys upsetting Saundra's sensibilities. This strip marks the beginning of a big new set of character developments for Volair. The editor (I cannot stress her involvement in this strip's formation enough) is responsible for his earring. His habit of swapping it from ear to ear to meet occasion or whim is mine, and has become central to his character. He likes tipping people off balance, and what better way to do so than switching orientations in the middle of a relationship / conversation / sentence?
Unfortunately, all this has come at a cost. Saundra became increasingly befuddled as she tried to keep up with her friends, who increasingly failed to be straight men.
To make matters worse, the further I got in the writing of the scripting, the less likely it seemed that I would ever include a straight male. So I gave up and decided that the theme of the strip would match a theme that had been increasingly difficult in my own life, gender identity.
I stareted in on this thinking I was heterosexual, with some homosexual tendancies. This of course made me somewhat uncomfortable putting words into the mouth of bisexual and homosexual characters. Who was I to comment on the homosexual lifestyle? Well, as it turns out, I was every bit as queer as any homosexual, just not as gay.
Since then, Umlaut House has become a platform for my own bisexual agenda, which largely consists of telling people that bisexuality is not just a stop on the way to homosexuality and is, for some people, the real endpoint.
I am bisexual. And, even if I marry, have kids and settle down, I won't pretend that I don't like both sexes more or less equally. And I guess that's another part of what Umlaut House is about: the reclaiming cultural norms by Queer people. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered people should be able to meet each other in college, get married, and raise 2.3 kids and worry themselves sick when their sons and daughters are growing up just like everyone else.
As Umlaut House cracks out of its crysalis as UH2, a whole lot of things are different. New panel layouts, new characters, new themes. I'm really trying to make this comic into something better than Umlaut House. The hope is that UH2 can be enjoyed without reading Umlaut House at all, but of course there will be a lot of little jokes and nuances that only readers of the totality of the work will get.
Well, more, I guess, as we find out what Umlaut House Two is really all about.