New comics feature boy and cow, happy family

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A new family and a boy and his cow are coming to the comics page beginning Monday.

A new family and a boy and his cow are coming to the comics page beginning Monday.  Special
Special
A new family and a boy and his cow are coming to the comics page beginning Monday.

One Big Happy - a strip featuring two elementary school-age siblings, their parents and next-door grandparents - and Cow and Boy - a strip about a boy and his best friend, Cow - will begin trial runs, replacing Maintaining and Bo Nanas.

Happy creator Rick Detorie said he can't find one downside to his job.

"Actually no. it's just totally stress-free," said the Venice Beach, Calif., resident. "This is a great job because there's no dress code, no heavy lifting and I'm employee of the month every month."

Happy is based on Mr. Detorie's childhood in Baltimore with his grandparents living next door.

Ruthie - a bossy, opinionated 6-year-old who often gets things wrong and confuses words - is a combination of Mr. Detorie's two younger sisters; she looks like one and behaves like the other, he said.

Joe, 8, is a young Mr. Detorie, a mischievous third-grader who thinks he's cool and often teases Ruthie.

Mr. Detorie, 46, started the strip in 1988 and considered calling it One Big Happy Family, but decided to leave the last word off in case the strip ever took a different direction.

The title also was ironic because the family members argued a lot. He soon realized, however, that what he intended as loving arguments and sarcasm didn't translate well to readers, and he changed the tone.

Two years after starting the strip, it had been picked up by so many papers that he was able to quit working as a freelance graphic designer and do the strip full time. It's now in 300 newspapers.

Part of its appeal, he thinks, might have to do with its simplicity.

"The characters don't age, but it is a modern family, present day. They just happen to have old-fashioned taste and values. Instead of the kids playing video games and Internet surfing, they're more likely to be involved with reading books and making up their own stories and playing pretend," he said.

After moving to California with his wife, Mark Leiknes grew "kind of lonesome for the more simple life" he had had growing up in Iowa, and Cow and Boy was born.

"Basically, it's a farm kid, Billy, who spends most of his days laying out in the country, kind of hanging out in the countryside with his best friend, who's a cow," he explained. "They kind of muse about life and go on little adventures and get into trouble here and there.

"It's about having a best friend who you can experience life with."

Mr. Leiknes had loved comics since he was a child but, figuring he couldn't make a living drawing them, he chose a career in graphic design.

His heart never left comics, however, and he created several that he submitted to syndicates. Each was met with rejection letters.

Finally, he created America-ville, which included Billy and Martin - both of whom are in Cow and Boy - and an imaginary polka-dot zebra.

After some tweaking, the zebra became a cow, and Mr. Leiknes had a gut feeling that "this was the one." He gave the strip its name because it's a play on the word cowboy and because it's quick and to the point, he said.

The strip started in January 2006 and is now in more than 20 newspapers, he said.

"It was kind of a little bit of a love letter to country life," he said. "I devoted it to the idyllic, rural, country, small town - I wanted the setting to take place there.

"Basically being a guy, I made the first character a kid, which I used to be, and a cow just seemed to work out for the setting, just seemed to be the right choice. And cows are just funny to draw; they're just kind of funny to look at. I figured already there was a little of humor."

Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com.


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