TCS Daily

Chris Muir's Day By Day

By Edward B. Driscoll - October 30, 2003 12:00 AM

In a recent column in City Journal, Brian C. Anderson wrote that political left's near monopoly on the dissemination of opinion and information "is skidding to a startlingly swift halt." Anderson credits this remarkable occurrence to talk radio, the Fox News Channel, independent book publishers, the Internet, and more recently, the "blogosphere." This newest of media, with its promise of instant publishing, has opened new doors for commentary and news reporting, as well as media and technology coverage. But it's not a vehicle that's been taken advantage of by cartoonists.


Until now, that is. Chris Muir is a 40-something Florida-based industrial designer by day, and a cartoonist by night. Technologically savvy, conservative, and very much tuned in to the subjects that interest bloggers, Muir's comic, Day By Day has become a hit in the blogosphere.


Muir's strip has four central characters, although it frequently goes "on location" to the offices of the politician or media figure du jour. It combines the political feel of Doonesbury (although from the other side of the political aisle) with the office atmosphere of Dilbert. In contrast to Dilbert's stifling bureaucracy however, Day By Day's office seems to run much more efficiently, befitting the button-down entrepreneurial nature of its young boss and the strip's star, Damon.


Damon is a one man wrecking crew when confronted with liberal shibboleths: he's a 24 year old black self-made software coder who owns his own business, has a hundred thousand dollars invested "in T-bills," is highly articulate, radiates droll coolness, but has thoroughly rejected hip-hop culture and most intriguingly, he's a conservative.


Look Who's Standing Athwart History Now


Damon's conservatism sets up a natural tension between his frequent sparring partner, Jan, who is Damon's age, but a young white leftist, believing every platitude generated by the DNC: that only the left can solve environmental issues; that the NAACP is the only solution to racial issues (in the strip's second comic, where Jan met Damon, she greeted him by saying "Power to the people!" Damon quipped that he thought she was discussing California utilities); that liberating Iraq was bad; capitalism is bad; meat is murder; free trade is bad, etc. Like much of the current far left, she's very much standing athwart history, yelling stop.


That phrase of course, was once the rallying cry of William F. Buckley and conservative Republicans, during the early days of National Review. But these days, as the character of Jan illustrates almost daily, it's the left that's increasingly trying to thwart progress. Earlier this year, in his syndicated column, Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online's editor-at-large, wrote:


"Liberalism has become reactionary. Its ideas amount to standing pat and breeding fear of change. Al Gore's central budgetary idea was a 'lockbox' and his chief priorities were to fight changes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and affirmative action. The most popular word in the left's vocabulary is 'stop': Stop the war, stop free trade, stop biotechnology, stop Bush, stop the world because they want to get off.


"As a political conservative, I see nothing wrong with saying stop -- if you have a viable alternative to what it is you want to stop. Take the war for example. Most of the anti-war speakers at recent protests took the position that Iraq should comply with the U.N. resolution, but they also opposed war and sanctions. In other words, they oppose just for the sake of opposing.


"What holds liberalism together is its accumulated grievances. Activists claiming to represent blacks, gays, women, Hispanics, animals, et al, form a coalition of the oppressed that has little to no sense of humor about anything. They consider almost any joke about their plights to be unfunny and -- yes -- demagoguery."


Not surprisingly, making jokes about the plight of the left is the raison d'ĂȘtre of Day By Day. Which is why it may very well stay on the Internet for a while before appearing in local papers (many of whose editors simply aren't prepared to have their etched-in-stone beliefs challenged, no matter how many of their readers would enjoy seeing them confronted).


Thinking Different


Befitting the hi-tech theme of the fictional office in Day By Day is Chris Muir's background as a designer, and how the strip is drawn. Damon's office is a fictional take on Muir's own design office, "but with more people." Muir draws on a couple of Apple computers, one with a 20-inch LCD monitor, and both connected together, and to the 'Net, via wi-fi. "And yes, Damon's office is like mine," Muir adds, "in the sense of trying to keep current with the latest tech. But it does give me ideas -- I have to be my own IT manager for example -- arghhh!"


As he once explained to blogger Dean Esmay, Muir draws his strip on a 12x18 Wacom digital tablet using Adobe Illustrator 8.0. "I usually come up with an idea (I write out the dialogue first) one hour before I need to upload on the net, so I tend to read related articles over time and render them down to clear synopsis I can use later. Obviously, drawing usually takes about 30 minutes to 45 minutes."


Muir saves time while drawing by making extensive use of pre-drawn templates and -- similarly to how TV series reuse stock footage -- Muir has a collection of his characters' heads in various poses that he simply pastes into cartoons, via Adobe Illustrator. The last step is FTPing the day's cartoon up to the Day By Day site, which Muir says takes about five minutes. (Muir's use of Adobe and Apple products is rather ironic, given executives at those companies backed both Clinton and Gore.)


While the drawing is relatively straightforward, it's the invention of plots and dialogue that give Muir his biggest challenges. "The hardest part," he says, "is getting to know one's characters over time, at least it is for me, and seeing topical news articles through their eyes."


One Hour To Print

And topical is key. "Syndicated cartoons are drawn four to eight weeks before publication. I do mine one hour before uploading them, day by day. (Ha!) The process keeps me sharp, though I probably will build up some inventory in case of future time conflicts."


What's next for Muir? He plans to "improve the art and writing, set up merchandising, and probably do a synchronized campaign with my readers to break into syndication and publication."


David Brooks' addition to the New York Times' op-ed section shows what even a moderate conservative can do to counterbalance a paper's biases. South Park and The Simpsons show that it's possible to blast political correctness, by sneaking in ideas via a cartoon wrapper. If I were drawing a left-leaning political cartoon (not that one comes to mind of course -- because there is no media bias in newspapers. Nope. Nosiree. None at all.), I'd be a bit worried about Damon and his staff showing up next door.


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