Pro File: Drawn to the Mac

In the comic strip FoxTrot, tech-savvy Jason Fox has nothing but scorn for the iFruit, a colorful (and fictional) computer that bears a striking resemblance to some high-profile Apple hardware you might recognize. Fortunately, Jason's creator, Bill Amend, doesn't share that disdain -- the cartoonist loves his Mac so much, he uses it to produce the strip, which appears in roughly 1,000 newspapers. It's all part of Amend's love affair with technology, which began more than 20 years ago.

Q: How were you introduced to computers?

A: I fell in love with computers back in the late seventies when I was in high school. Our school only had teletype terminals, so we had to play out our Star Trek games on long scrolls of paper. I would often go into the local Radio Shack and program their TRS-80 to write "Bill Amend is great" in an infinite loop, knowing the sales staff had no clue in those days how to stop it. Our family had an Apple II+, and I bought a Mac SE after college when I had enough money. I've owned a Mac ever since.

Q: How do you use technology to create your strip?

A: About a year ago, I started assembling the daily strip digitally on my Mac. I still do the art with pencils and paper, but I scan the images and use Photoshop to position and shade them. I made a font of my handwriting with Macromedia's Fontographer, which turned out well. Putting the strip together digitally allows me greater flexibility to change dialogue and art right up until the last second, which is typically the case. Most of my good jokes seem to be written two minutes before deadline.

Q: What Mac models do you use?

A: In my studio, I have a blue G3 with two monitors that I use for my art stuff and a graphite iMac SE, nicknamed Darth, that I use for general things and playing MP3s while I work. At home, we have an iMac and my wife has an iBook with the AirPort doohickey, which is tres cool.

Q: Why do you use Macs rather than PCs?

A: I guess I think different. Macs offer a more pleasant user-owner experience, in my opinion.

Q: How do you use Macs in your personal life?

A: I play a lot of games at night after the kids are in bed. Myth II and Diablo II are my current faves. I have a cable modem and enjoy playing online with all my 14-year-old buddies. I'm glad game companies haven't abandoned the Mac, as they seemed poised to do a couple years ago.

Q: Do Macs make things easier or harder for you professionally?

A: I wouldn't blame Macs per se, but the Internet and e-mail certainly eat up a good couple of hours each day that used to be spent actually getting my strips done. The FoxTrot.com site is a great PR and info channel to communicate with fans, but it's essentially a big volunteer effort that has a way of swallowing huge chunks of time and thought.

Q: What made you decide to spoof the iMac in your recent collection of strips, "Think iFruity?"

A: It was time to upgrade the family's computer, and the iMac was new and all the rage and seemed a perfect fit. Not wanting to seem too much in a major corporation's pocket, however, I came up with the iFruit line of computers as a means of affectionate parody.

Q: In FoxTrot, Mom loves the iFruit while her son Jason, the technogeek, can't stand it. What does this say about your own feelings toward Apple's recent colorful and cute products?

A: I really like my iMacs and think the color options are wonderful. Build-to-order colors and form factors would be especially cool. I see both Jason's and his mom's points of view as valid. The mom in me wants whatever computer I own to work without me having to think about it, and the Jason in me wants the intellectual thrill of commanding a really complicated system. I'd love to see Apple introduce a limited-edition geek model, with, like, 64 expansion slots, an 18-inch fan, a clear enclosure so you can see all the wires, room for a couple dozen extra processors. I think that'd make Jason happy.

Q: What kind of graphics and illustration programs would you like to see?

A: Something that would let me draw like Bill Watterson.

Q: Who would make for a funnier FoxTrot cameo appearance -- Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?

A: I think they both would make for good material. I can see Jason winning some "hang out with Bill Gates for a day" contest and ruining Microsoft by planting viruses in Windows and spending Gates' entire fortune on really stupid things. And I think somehow coupling Roger Fox and Steve Jobs for some project would make for good contrasts of style and attention to detail. But I don't typically pick on real people in FoxTrot , so they both should feel safe.

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