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  Stephen Notley’s Furious Foliage  
Posted 2002-05-01 by Tony Walsh
Ever since the industrial age, Mother Nature has been holding a grudge against the entire human race. It took awhile for her to rig Stephen Notley's birth in 1970, but once the youngster was unleashed into the wilds of Alberta, the seed was planted for Bob the Angry Flower to bloom in the golden summer of 1992.

Bob the Angry Flower is part super-villain, and all botanical abomination. Bob's roots run deep within the soil of angst-ridden comic stylings - the same rich bed that nutured historic strips such as Evan Dorkin's Milk and Cheese, Doug Allen's Steven, and David Boswell's Reid Fleming. But Bob is more than a two-dimensional weed. "I guess my big thing is that Bob isn't really angry all the time," says Bob creator Stephen Notley. "Anger is certainly his baseline emotion, but he's also given to sorrow, sentimentality, grossly overdone enthusiasm - the whole grand suite of human feeling."

Bob is not alone. He is supported by strange characters "Stumpy," a googly-eyed hunk of wood, and "Fred the Friendly Fetus," who floats around with curly umbilical cord in tow. Bob and company's frantic stream of consciousness antics have garnered a loyal audience. Notley has let Bob loose on The Edmonton Sun, The Edmonton Journal, and See magazine as well as web destinations and Bob's web-quarters, With three complete anthologies of Bob strips published by Edmonton's Leftover Press, and a syndication deal with At Large Features Syndicate, Notley is pleased with his lush cartoonist lifestyle. "I'm getting away with everything," says a carefree Notley. "Sleeping all day, drawing cartoons about whatever I feel like, and making enough money to eat the terrible food I love."

Everybody Vs. Bob the Angry Flower is Stephen Notley's latest collection of Bob strips and other goodies. Arguably the finest of his anthologies, Notley's artwork scampers across the page like a spider on fire. Each strip is a crazy mind-jam - some with logical conclusions, others crammed with utter absurdities. At the centre of it all is the maniacally-depressed Bob, cursing up a storm in one panel, and lovingly coddling some sci-fi contraption the next. "Bob is often happy," Notley says, "delighted by some new gadget, hopeful at some rare flash of sensible behaviour. There's lots to be happy about in this stupid world."

Everybody Vs. Bob contains well over a hundred strips, and is complete with a section for Notley's annotations, as well as a comprehensive index. You know, in case you were looking for a reference to the "pull-pants-down machine." Notley's favourite strip from Everybody Vs. Bob is titled "Yes," and puts Bob in contemplation of using the Blow Up Earth device. "It's cool, it's understated, it's got lotsa black."

Like a good sandwich, Everybody Vs. Bob has a special treat in the middle, a ten-part colour strip that gives the anthology its name. The micro-serial pits Bob against "a veritable cow's ass full of throwaway gag characters," and one mysterious arch-rival. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan makes a guest appearance, so it's all the more appropriate that Notely's latest anthology also includes a 20-page U.N. Field Guide to the Devices and Weapons of Bob the Angry Flower. This manual of destruction details such classic devices as "Singing Tapeworm Eggs," which are lethal, yet lovely; the "Gravity Polariser" that turns walls into floors by rotating local gravity 90 degrees; and "Supersonic HyperBees" that deliver "lots of stinging per melee round." After reading the manual, you can flip ahead a little for some more silly-science, and Notley's "Short, Flat Life of a Laser Pilot," a loopy, illustrated essay on light, time, and the nature of the universe itself.

Despite the rampant insanity Notely churns out on a regular schedule, he finds coming up with strip ideas most challenging part of the creation process. "Usually it's the same drill of sitting around for hours smoking pot and watching CNN to see if anything hits," he says. "I guess these days I've become more confident that no matter how blocked and empty I may seem, I will nonetheless be able to come up with something by the end of the day."

Originally printed in Exclaim Magazine, June 2002 edition. James Keast, editor.
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