This is a series of articles about developing my new comic strip, “Trader Don’s”. Today I’m going to discuss world building, why it’s important and not important to know where your comic is located, etc. If you missed the other articles, here they be:

Onward! Okay, so I know my strip is about a cool old tiki bar called Trader Don’s. I’ve built up an interesting plot and hooks and a pool of characters to keep it interesting… but WHERE in the world is this bar located, and why is it important? Creating a believable environment is important, even if your strip takes place in someone’s apartment or house, you want it to feel like this is a place you could actually go to and visit. Sure, some panels will be boring backgrounds and setups, but the greatest comics have cool establishing shots of the environment the characters are living and playing in. Here’s a look at my initial idea for what I want “Trader Don’s” to look like…

At this point I’m still on the fence if I want the place to be this big even. I just knew that in my mind, I always loved the A-Frame mid century buildings. But I asked myself what do I want in the bar… just a bar with stools and a few pub tables? Or is their an “Adventure Room” area and gift shop? Maybe a couple romantic little booths tucked away? They’d need an office in there, right? Maybe a small kitchen for appetizers?

Maybe that’s getting a bit too complicated…. a very SMALL cocktail lounge like the Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles is what I originally had in mind…. but Tiki-Ti might be TOO small. It literally is smaller than most living rooms, and gets really packed. BUT… if there’s a “character” to that environment, that’s the type of cool, laid back atmosphere I’d like. The bartenders are awesome, the customers are chillax…. so maybe not as big as the Mai-Kai, and not as small as Tiki-Ti, but somewhere in between… that is the size of Trader Don’s

Here’s a little “floor plan” doodle I did. You don’t have to spend much time and detail on fast layouts.

What you want to keep in mind when designing an environment for a comic strip are the panel setups and views you’re going to use repeatedly so people become familiar with the enviroment. I want them to remember what “Don’s” looks like.

The Bar

Since one of the main stages of my comic strip will be the bar, I decided to sketch that out and do some thinking…

The Bar at Trader Don'sAgain, this is just a really rough layout sketch, but you’ll see the general idea. Nothing is set in stone and I keep things loose as I decide. Notice the different stools? That’s me deciding if they stools should be chunky Witco carved stools, or perhaps Llama fur tops, or old school bamboo backed… I’m leaning toward the chunky Witco. Funny thing is, you’ll probably never see the stools much in the actual comic strip, but it’s important to know what’s in the environment! — I was thinking that maybe this bar was too small, so perhaps the entire bar is a “W” shape from above, adding on another triangular point of seats. That could look interesting in real life… again though, the readers probably wont’ see this, but it’s important that I know where things are in my own head.

Panel Staging

You’ll notice in that bar sketch the little numbers up top? The #1 area you’ll see Barry the Blowfish on the right, shrunken head on the left. Imagine if you were standing looking straight on to that scene and “framing” it. It’s a great designed setup because I can have Barry on the right, Shrunken Head on the left and mugs in between or on those shelves. This would make a memorable visual setup, especially in strips where the head and the blowfish are conversing with one another.  #2 area could be a “talking with the bartender” setup view with a variety of rums and delicious mixes behind the ‘tender.

Visit Tiki Springs

Now I go outside the walls of the bar itself… where is Trader Don’s located… why, it’s “TIKI SPRINGS”

A fictional little city in the Coachella Valley, neighboring or nearby places like Palm Springs, Palm Desert, etc.

Why there??? Well, it all goes back to “write what you know” – I lived in the Palm Springs area for 10 years. While it’s a great little vacation destination, when you live there year round the vibe was much different. It’s this little gem of yesteryear BARELY holding on to modern day relevancy… and I don’t think the people would have it any other way. There are a lot of “old” stories there. Bob Hope’s crazy mid-century UFO looking house is parked up on a mountain overlooking the valley, and streets are named after Gene Autry and Gerald Ford…. everyone “remembers when”, but there’s not a whole lot of people in the area making NEW memories…. just clinging onto the exotic past for dear life. They use to have a classic “Don the Beachcomber” there too, that had legendary guests like Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack, Bob Hope and many other old stars of the day…. When I was a teenager I was told that’s where the  “Bob’s Big Boy” was. It’s long gone too…

Click to enlarge and see the "eye" of the tiki to start figuring it out.

I remember when I was a Junior in high school, Fred Crump Jr., one of my old art teachers and mentors told me that if you looked at the valley from the aerial view you’ll see the planners hid designs, specifically a Tiki and and the “Tahquitz” Princess. I never really thought of it until now…This was years before Google Maps of course and the internet as we know it, but now take a look at the aerial map! I think there IS something there… holy cow. I wonder if Don Beach had anything to do with that?? Especially since he always wanted to create a “Polynesian neighborhood” — I need to go ask Sven Kirsten if he’s ever heard of this legend.

Sometimes it’s a whole other “dream” world out there where people believe a lot of their own bullshit and fantasies. It’s a little “escapism” oasis.

In Palm Springs you’ll find historic tiki places like “Caliente Tropics” motel (where they once held the Tiki Oasis convention) A funny little side story…

The tale goes that some of the management were a bit grumpy and “anti-tiki” with all these crazy fun people cruising in and “room crawling” partying until all hours…. Tiki Oasis actually moved to San Diego because of some of the “not tiki friendly” atmosphere… but tikiphiles decided to continue a “Tiki Caliente” at the motel to keep something tiki going in the area… and again, the management were a bit grumpy (from what I heard it was ONE guy, not the staff or general managers) –ANWAYS, the funny part come this past summer when they held the “Tiki Caliente” next door at another motel… during the big music show on the final night,  the A-Frame of the Caliente Tropics next door ended up collapsing! Was it wood rot? Termites? Or were the Tiki Gods angry!? (maybe all three?)

Don't make the tiki gods angry!

But I’ve digressed…

Anyways, TIKI SPRINGS isn’t Palm Springs… it’s just in the ballpark area. I envision modern day Tiki Springs holding on, a little run down, but full of mid-century modern buildings, Trader Don’s and cool motels (that ARE tiki friendly) – I envision this little tiny town wanting to be overrun by greedy (anti-tiki) land developers who want to build golf courses, casinos and condominiums. 🙂

So I think I’ve settled on this area as the location for Trader Don’s. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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