by syaffolee

Cartooning Tech

(Author’s Note: Digging through previous writings, I found this profile for one of the creators of the comic strip Crippling Depression written in 2001-2002. A far more comprehensive column on all the creators written by Rhonda Hillbery is located here.)

The wall beside Tim Wan’s door room is peppered with personal photographs and a large Disney poster of Beauty and the Beast. Most of the pictures were taken in bars with the background illuminated by green or pink neon signs. They feature a grinning Asian male with a dark jacket draped over his lanky frame surrounded by women in tight tank tops, short skirts, and lots of bare skin. His head is shaved, and spectacles pretending to be a pair of slick metal-framed glasses are perched on his nose. Above the pictorial of all his exploits, a computer printout banner proclaims: KAOS Girl of the Month. What girl of the month? It looks more like a harem of twenty.

“It was all his idea. He made me put the sign up,” explains Will Findley, his roommate.

“Yeah,” Wan easily agrees in a masculine version of valley girl. Apparently, he’s hoarding a stash of female pin-ups somewhere in his meticulously clean room. Tim Wan, a third-year undergraduate at Caltech, is a stickler for organization and using up space. Although his roommate’s possessions are squeezed into a rectangular plot outlined by the boundaries of Findley’s desk, Wan’s own belongings–arranged as methodically as library periodicals–dominate the rest of the room. An army of plastic action figures parade in strict formation on a shelf above his computer monitor. A poster of sloe-eyed Christina Aguilera hangs on the neighboring wall.

“Why don’t you sit on the couch?” Rey Ramirez, a friend, complains.

Swiftly, Wan replies, “No.” He slouches comfortably in his padded gray chair that is a throne on wheels. He’s wearing a rumpled navy t-shirt and black shorts. His bare left foot is raised to rest on his right knee. Rather than expounding on the reasons for why he chose computer science as an option at Caltech, Wan launches into his love for comic books and toys. “I used to get the toys to play with, you know. For about a year I stopped. And then I started buying them again because those new Star Wars collectible figures came out. So now I just collect them. I keep them in boxes unopened.”

He has pictures of his entire collection that fills up an entire room: Star Wars collectibles, X-Men posters, and Disney princess dolls. Most of it remains in storage at home in Washington. “Tim has unhealthy obsessions with Disney characters,” his roommate remarks.

“He has unhealthy obsessions, period,” Ramirez clarifies. “He just focuses on something and doesn’t let up.”

“But he’s sensitive,” adds Findley. Wan only replies to the comment with a list of his favorite movies and television shows: Braveheart, WWE, and football.

Wan is part of the trio behind the humorous and occasionally angsty comic strip Crippling Depression that appears in The California Tech. The project was spurred onward by a mixture of an aversion to physics homework and a why-not attitude. “During my sophomore year, there was a comic called Vanilla that came out before ours. To be honest, I didn’t think it was that good. I thought that we could do better.” The strip was inspired by a multitude of online comics like PvP and Penny Arcade as well as the more mainstream newsprint cartoons like FoxTrot and Calvin and Hobbes. For about a term, Wan and another friend, Ben Lee, batted around the idea of doing something humorous about Caltech undergraduate life before conning a freshman to do the illustrations.

“Tim is impulsive and very spontaneous,” Lee says of his friend’s creative habits. “He blurts out a lot of his ideas. He’s funny, and even though he doesn’t seem like it, he’s sensible.”

Mike Yeh, the artist for Crippling Depression, agrees. “He yells a lot and jokes around, but he’s nice about understanding that I may be behind on the drawings because of homework.”

Wan keeps a notebook to jot down ideas that may be potentially used as plot lines. Anything, from an annoying student in a lecture hall to a weeping student in front of a Coke machine, could become fodder for the following week’s strip.

Besides drawing inspiration from real life experience, the characters of Crippling Depression bear an uncanny resemblance to the comic’s authors. The character “Tim” appears in a panel about holiday shopping. “I got the new Babblin’ Boo Doll!” he exclaims holding up the collectible. “They’re this year’s hottest toys! She giggles, babbles, and cries!!”

A passing shopper replies, “I bet your sister’s going to love that!”

Tim is dismayed. “Sister?”