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Take me to Rivertown
The world of Robert Enders
By Gloria Diaz
Fort Wayne Reader
If necessity is the mother of invention, frustration is the food.
Four years ago, Robert Enders wanted to do sketch comedy. Lacking a stable schedule and actors who also had compatible schedules, he decided to create a comic and draw his actors. Filmmaker Todd Haynes used Barbie dolls to act out the brief life story of Karen Carpenter in his first movie, the shocking and unforgettable Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, but Enders has his comic family of Greg, Cheryl, Nicole and Trevor Warren, who live in Rivertown, do the acting for him. They work cheap. So does the Warren's family pet, Misty the cat, based on a feline that Enders used to have. Misty, by the way, is a boy.
“You could get the people, but it's tough to coordinate schedules,” says Enders, of his attempt at sketch comedy. “If I worked in a nine-to-five office, and I had co-workers who put up with my sense of humor, we could probably get together on a Saturday to work and we could make a comedy video. And we would all get fired on Monday, when human resources saw it.” Anyone who reads Rivertown on a regular basis has a good idea of Enders' brand of humor. Twisted, sick, and dead-on funny.
Anyone offended by Rivertown has to blame Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. “I was reading Scott Adams, and he made it sound easy,” says Enders, who started by drawing on scrap paper, and scanning it into a computer. Eventually, he purchased a WACOM pad, a sort of high-tech Magic Slate that makes it easier to draw a free hand image and convert it into a JPEG image without having to scan it in.
A friend encouraged Enders to submit it to the Reader, and the first Rivertown comic, which made fun of Rebecca “Friday” Black, made its debut in 2011. He's had some feedback, but not much. “Somebody wrote me on Facebook, and it went to the spam folder. I didn't know that, and I checked it and found a year-old message from some woman who asked about an online archive of previous Rivertown comics. I sent her the strip, which is a lot more risque than the one in the paper, and I think I scared her off,” he says, laughing. “The print version is tamer; I don't use profanity. The web one is in color. I can make them as long or as short as I want. The print version, has been so far, limited to three panels. And yes, sometimes being limited to three panels makes it harder to come up with ideas.”
Enders shared an idea with me for a future Rivertown strip. I thought it was hilarious (it was) but homophobic Hispanics might be offended. This is, after all, Fort Wayne.
So who are The Warrens, exactly? They are a typical nuclear family: father, mother, and two kids. There's a reason for that. Despite high divorce rates, having an intact, non-blended family in the comics or animated cartoon world means there are more opportunities for humor. “It's normal for a cartoon family, for them both to be married. Because then you can have conflict,” says Enders. “'Cause otherwise, all the panels would be about Greg not sending the child support.”
Because Enders has a comic about a family which wouldn't be considered family-friendly humor, it's probably no surprise that Nicole and Trevor, Greg and Cheryl's children are not little kids. Nicole's age is not super-specific in terms of numbers, but Enders says she's in her early twenties. Trevor is still in high school. So will Trevor ever graduate high school? Will Nicole panic when she reaches age 30? Cheryl has a full time job in human resources, and Greg is a laid-off Hummer salesman. Will Greg ever get called back to sell Hummers and eventually retire? Will we hear funny stories about Cheryl's hot flashes and night sweats as she drags through menopause? The Canadian-based comic For Better or For Worse had its characters age in real time, but what will the future hold for the Warrens?
“I'm going to do whatever's funny. If I can think of a life event that's going to be funny for Trevor, like him joining the army, I might go that route. I'm going to go with whatever works.”
Every family has conflict, even comic families, but while Rivertown might not be oozing love and harmony, especially in the Warren household, Greg and Cheryl seem to have an interesting sex life and the entire family seems to be able to discuss problems without throwing things at each other. “If they didn't care about each other, Cheryl would drown Trevor,” says Enders. “Everything I put in there (Rivertown) is for comedy's sake,” he says. “If it were a drama, I would do things differently. But it is a cartoon, and they're just puppets for the purpose of spitting out jokes.”
And exactly what is the glue that keeps Greg and Cheryl together, aside from Enders' desire to have enough people in a comic to make it funny? Cheryl's an attractive woman, and Greg seems a bit dumb. So what's their secret?
“Well, she's kind of old to start dating again,” says Enders. “She's late forties, and two kids, so, it's like, well …”
“I think the most stable marriages are the ones that are based off of economic reality. You know, Jennifer Lopez doesn't stay married, because she can afford not to stay married,” Enders chuckles. “I think Bill Gates stays married, because why the hell would you divorce him?”
If something intelligent needs to be said, Cheryl Warren usually does the honors. “I've had Cheryl say things that I don't agree with. I think I had her say a couple things in favor of gun control for the purposes of comedy.”
Certain characters in Rivertown are based on real people, or pets. The Warren's cat Misty, is based on a feline Enders once had, a male cat named Misty. Rivertown's Misty, Enders says, “is an operative of Satan. I think I've established that. I have his eyes blood red and all that. How else does a cat get the power of speech?” Swarthy, curly-haired Lyn Suarez is based on yours truly, and Trevor is Enders as a high schooler. “Trevor's me without the filter or morals,” says Enders.
Because I always dwell on the negative, I asked Enders about the Rivertown logo on the web. I said it looked like minature turds. Enders says he was trying to make it look like river water, “but I guess if it looks like turds, that's probably why river water is brown.”
When asked what was the most controversial Rivertown comic he's ever produced, Enders isn't quite sure. He rarely gets feedback on the comic, but one time he created one about Michael Plumadore (who murdered Alihanna Lemmon in late December a few years ago) not getting the death penalty, and showed it to the Barnes and Noble writer's group, and he said the people there didn't think it was funny. One of Enders' favorite Rivertown comics was Halloween-themed, but “it didn't seem to jibe well with other people. The stuff that you like the most isn't always going to be what your fans like the most.” The storyline for the Halloween-themed comic showed how each member of the Warrens died in past lives. “Grimly hilarious,” says Enders. It wasn't a big hit with his fans, but he says, “I can still do whatever I want,” he says, chuckling. He does add that if he were making significant money from the strip, he might feel more pressure to keep drawing the kinds of things that were making him money, but that isn't happening. At least, not yet. “That would be a problem I would like to have.”
Another story line he enjoyed was the State Farm series, where insurance agents appear all of a sudden with things like a pair of high-heeled shoes for Nicole. “As if insurance agencies were genies, or something like that.” That comic appeared online. Not surprisingly, Trevor takes care of the demon that appeared with a roll of the dice, an allusion to Dungeons and Dragons.
So what's the future for the Warrens? Greg might take over for the Reverend Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church fame, or he may sign up at a few temp agencies and hire himself out as a protester. Greg might tell Trevor it's okay to be a butch homosexual rather than a metrosexual. And Nicole and Cheryl? Well, Enders says that now that it's warm out, he's going to take the opportunity to draw them as scantily clad as possible.
Get to know the Warrens and Misty at www.blogoftheenders.blogspot.com or www.rivertowncomic.us or twice a month in the Fort Wayne Reader.