“Radar” is an occasional spotlight on interesting and entertaining comics and creators that have, until now, escaped our notice.
Ben Driscoll’s webcomic Daisy Owl is, at its core, about family. And bears. And bear families. Oh, and a big experimental honey laboratory that houses an enormous, talking queen bee.
Yeah, Daisy Owl is about a lot of things. A lot of hilarious things.
Driscoll, a web programmer who lives outside of Boston, debuted the comic last July in the Cracked.com forums, before he’d even registered the Daisy Owl website.
“It was the amazing response I got there that kept me going beyond the first few strips,” he said. “I guess it sort of turned into a thing around there. Anthony Clark drew fan art of Steve and sent a bunch of traffic my way. A couple months later, David Wong contacted me about running Daisy Owl on the Cracked front page. For the uninitiated, David Wong is the author of John Dies at the End, and a bit of a dragon on a mountain. It’s a strange thing to have your favorite author give you your big break, but that’s how it happened.”
Kevin Melrose: I ran a Google search to find whether you’d done any other interviews, but all I could come up with is this. It’s terrible yet hypnotizing.
Ben Driscoll: Terrible? It looks fairly awesome to me. I’ve seen several things like that online. The phrase “Daisy Owl” brings up a lot of plush toys and things people knitted, completely independent of the comic. The words Daisy and Owl must have some kind of mystical power. I don’t know.
Kevin: Your name doesn’t appear anywhere on the website. Why is that?
Ben: It’s up there in a couple places, I hadn’t actually noticed it was missing. Now you have me thinking I need to write an “about me” page.
Kevin: Who are some of your influences? I can see glimmers of E.H. Shepard and Bill Watterson in some strips, but those seem to be conscious tributes, not overt influences.
Ben: In the order that I discovered them, they would be Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, David Wong, Anthony Clark and Chris Onstad.
Kevin: Daisy Owl started out focusing primarily on Daisy and her brother Cooper but has since given a lot of attention to Steve the bear and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Owl. Was this a planned shift in direction?
Ben: It just happened. I introduced Steve a couple weeks in, and got carried away with his story. You really need a bunch of characters to flesh out a universe. Otherwise it gets too claustrophobic and starts to feel like a newspaper comic.
Kevin: There’s an underlying theme of unconventional families in Daisy Owl: Mr. Owl is a single (owl) father with two adopted human children. Steve is a bi-species bear (brown and polar) who is adopted, and then reunited with his birth parents and brother. Is there a statement being made, or are hodgepodge relationships simply funnier?
Ben: I’d be lying if I said the comic had an underlying theme. I wasn’t paying enough attention in English class to pull that off. I guess I’m just drawn to characters that are misfits. They’re always more interesting.
Kevin: You only occasionally acknowledge the … let’s call it unusualness … of a bird serving as a parent to human children. (One of my favorite strips is the one that shows Daisy and Cooper trying to navigate the steps from their tree home.) Is the world of Daisy Owl one in which the adoption of people by animals is a common occurrence? Is that why the questions on Steve’s adoption form were so specific?
Ben: I’ve made jokes about it, but at this point it’s become a mundane detail of their life. If I were a lazy writer, I’d use their non-traditional situation as a soapbox and make lame political comics. I’ve resisted that temptation so far. You have no idea how hard that was during the election.
Kevin: We’ve been given glimpses into Steve’s childhood, but so far we know little about the pasts of Daisy, Cooper and Mr. Owl. Will we learn about what brought them together? Was there ever a Mrs. Owl — or maybe another Mr. Owl? What about flashbacks to Steve and Mr. Owl in high school? I want to see Mr. Owl’s band Rock Monocle.
Ben: I have a bunch of backstory in my head, I’m just waiting for the right time to tell it. Their histories will be revealed. I want to go back to Steve and Mr. Owl’s high school years. I even have some Rock Monocle songs recorded. I’m not kidding.
Kevin: My absolute favorite installment has to be Mr. Owl’s haunting remembrance of the roadside rest stop. Was there a specific inspiration for that strip? Why did you opt for prose over sequential art?
Ben: I always write the strips out in a text editor before I draw anything. For me, making a comic is like making a movie, I would never show up on location without a script settled on. Anthony Clark can draw 200 brilliant comics a day as a stream of consciousness, something I’ll never be able to do.
Kevin: The alternative text is often just as funny as the strip itself, and sometimes elevates the gag to another level. Do you plan that text as you’re creating with each strip, or is it commentary that comes to you once you’re finished?
Ben: Sometimes I think of it when I’m writing the script, sometimes it comes to me after I finish the whole thing. I love alt text because it lets you break the fourth wall without compromising the world you’ve created. It’s like a combination of director commentary and a Far Side caption. Comedy science has only begun to understand alt text.