outtatoonheader In 1986, I was a young, twentysomething Christian fresh out of college. I was obsessed with stand-up comedy, the movie St. Elmo’s Fire and contemporary Christian music. I went to a Southern Baptist college to study for the ministry but I changed my major to theatre after 3 months. Still, the college environment was “religious liberal arts” so frequently Christian rock bands would play concerts on the campus. I didn’t think anything could be cooler than Christian rock. A friend of mine had a subscription to a magazine called Contemporary Christian Music Magazine (later just CCM) which was like Rolling Stone for Christian rock music. I was in heaven. I borrowed as many issues as he would give me. I’m not sure if I ever gave them all back to him. (sorry Mike.)

In December of 1986, I drew up four comic strips I called “Outta Toon” and I mailed them off to CCM‘s offices in Laguna Hills, CA. My strip centered around two roommates: one, a religious conservative and the other, the lead singer for a really bad Christian punk rock band. I thought it would be a great format to cover all of the Christian music issues of the day. I received a call from the editor John Styll in January saying they wanted to start running “Outta Toon” and, honestly, I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d gotten a letter of acceptance from a comic syndicate. I was going to have a nationally published comic strip in an industry I was in love with.

“Outta Toon” debuted April 1987 and I spent the next 14 years learning how to be a cartoonist. I was very raw at first. Horribly raw. On the level of high school newspaper cartoonist. The magazine came out once a month so it was very difficult to develop a style and consistency. The look of the characters changed from month to month (and often from panel to panel). I was a half-way decent writer but I needed to learn what the readers found funny and how to make my gags clear and capable of being understood by readers who weren’t me. Even though “Outta Toon” was my love letter to contemporary Christian music, it was also sharply satirical. I grew up in a large family where we poked fun at each other. I tend to show love by teasing. Joking. Sometimes skewering. To some readers it could appear that I was making fun of it all. I tried for several years to find my cartoonist voice while actually drawing my comic strip for publication. There were lots of hits and misses. When I look back at some of my early strips, there are a lot of “What was I thinking?” voices in my head. But it a way it matched the climate of contemporary Christian music during that time. The genre of “Contemporary Christian Music” was just starting to create something exciting. It was polishing itself up for the MTV generation (the one that had videos) and it was fluctuating between producing art and crap. We were both looking for our voice under a national spotlight. We were bound to make stuff we’d be a bit embarrassed to look back on 20 years later.

There was a certain period of time when I felt my cartooning and my writing came together quite well and I created some comic strips that I still feel were pretty good. When I was digging these old comic strips out of my computer archives I was surprised at how many of them made me laugh. If you know nothing about Christian music in the 80s and 90s, these will make about as much sense to you as “Dilbert” to the Mayans. Topics were usually very specific to what was going on in Christian music. Sometimes so specific even the fans didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I loved mentioning artists by name in the strip. I imagined they would be excited to see their name in a comic strip. I talked about artists’ tours or hairstyles. I was speaking to a very focused culture and I wanted it that way. This was “our” comic strip. Everyone else could go read “Garfield.”

I’m no longer involved in the “cCm culture” and I have no idea who the popular artists are today. I sometimes miss writing for the “Outta Toon” characters but I’d be lost to try and figure out what they would be doing now. This is the first time I’ve posted the entire collection of “Outta Toon” strips online. (Depending on when you read this, I may still be in the process of posting them…). I tried to decide if I wanted to start at the beginning and go forward or at the last one and go back. Essentially, do I want people to see the strips get gradually better or progressively worse? Ultimately, I decided to post them chronologically. If you don’t want to cringe through my early ones, fast forward a couple years. The strip started in black and white and went color in October 1995. In 2001 I quit the strip and then picked it up again in 2002 where it appeared in Christian Musician Magazine for a few years. Since the beginning, I’ve communicated with fans who related to the comic strip deeply. Some were a little obsessed. I’ve no doubt a large group hated it and felt “laughter, good times, a little h-u-m-o-r” didn’t belong in a Christian publication. I kind of wonder what those people are doing now.

I hope you enjoy this look back into a part of the history of contemporary Christian music. If you would like more background on the history, story and characters of “Outta Toon,” I’ll post a page for that very soon. If you click on the individual strips I try to give a little background on each particular strip, an explanation, an apology, maybe some inside info that might be interesting. Kind of like a director’s commentary on a DVD. Except there is no director. Or DVD. Okay, so it’s nothing like a director’s commentary on a DVD.