Brian McFadden's comic strip Big Fat Whale — which can be seen semi-regularly in these very pages — had an inauspicious beginning. Signing up for a Geocities account in October 2001 to put his cartoons online, McFadden found that geocities.com/bigfatwhale was already taken. "I forget," he says, "it was either someone's username, or it was a BBW [big beautiful women] porn site."
Nearly a decade later, McFadden has a URL all his own (bigfatwhale.com), which comes in handy when he wants to hawk merchandise, including his new book, Fun Stuff for Dum-Dums ($15.95), a compilation of cartoons from the past five years. McFadden will also be selling copies Saturday at the Burren in Davis Square, where he'll be answering questions and presenting a slide show of cartoons alongside Keith Knight, creator of The K Chronicles.
Influenced as much by comedy like Mr. Show and Conan O'Brien as by cartoons such as Matt Groening's Life in Hell and Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World, McFadden's strip straddles the line between random absurdity and pointed topicality.
"I have a notebook of assorted fart jokes and stuff," he says, "and once in a while, when a particular political issue gets my blood boiling, I'll bump that ahead and let the jokes that aren't time-constrained stew in my brain."
Times are tight for alt-weekly comics artists (as they are for most of us). The cartoon rag where McFadden was first published, Boston's late and lamented Editorial Humor, went under in 2002. This past January, the Village Voice Media conglomerate announced that it was dropping all comics from all its papers' pages, leading another of McFadden's influences, Red Meat creator Max Cannon, to pen an impassioned warning on his Web site (redmeat.com) of an "alternative comics apocalypse."
"Advertisers aren't spending as much, so page counts have to go down, and funny jokes are the most easy thing to get rid of," reasons McFadden. "When there's actual reporting to do, the silly jokes don't have as much importance."
Untrue. In an era where you have to laugh to keep from crying, comics like these are arguably more important than ever.
Brian McFadden and Keith Knight will be at the Burren, 247 Elm Street, in Davis Square, on Saturday from 4 to 7 pm. Call 617.776.6896 for more information.