Fresh new comic strip chronicles life of 'boomerang kid'

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Fresh new comic strip chronicles life of 'boomerang kid'

We all know the type: A young man who swears he'll be successful but isn't as interested in a 9-to-5 job or even getting off the couch.

You'll find a similar character, the namesake of "Dustin," a new comic strip that debuted in The News-Gazette's weekday comics and newspapers around the country Jan. 4. It will start running in the Sunday comics Jan. 24.

Longtime political cartoonists Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker co-created the strip, which they hope will breathe new life into the world of comics. You can find "Dustin" within the pages of The News-Gazette.

They're hoping their strip will be a "reason to call them the funnies again," Kelley said in a phone interview last week.

Dustin Kudlick is a 23-year-old "boomerang kid" who returned home to live with his parents after college. He temps and has no real ambitions, other than he'd like to be rich and famous without putting in much work.

"He's someone who wants to make a big splash in life, but he doesn't want to start at the very bottom and grind his way to the top," Kelley said. "He just wants to come up with the invention that makes him a million dollars."

That doesn't settle well with his father, Ed, an attorney, who wishes his son would get off the couch. But Kelley said Dustin's mother, Helen, a radio host who loves to shop, likes having her son around.

The strip is full of humor based on family conflict, Kelley said, between Dustin and his parents, Dustin and his overachieving 16-year-old sister and with various characters that flit in and out of the storyline.

Parker and Kelley purposely designed "Dustin" with the idea that these characters can provide fresh air and situations. They'll be introduced in the different temp jobs Dustin works, the people who call in to Helen's radio show and with other people who interact with the Kudlick family.

"Some of those great giants that are in the newspaper right now, they've found the formula that works," Parker said in a separate phone interview recently. But the result is that the comics don't change much.

"We can inject a lot of fresh air into the strip (with) characters that come and go and don't stay around," he said.

Kelley said the strip will hang onto a situation or character "until the joke runs out.

"We have similar experiences in life," Kelley said. "So often we experience things that are very funny, but we don't even realize that they are funny until someone draws a box around it and points it out."

He's been developing the strip for six years, long before the economic downturn that's caused even more recent college grads to return home. He said it's worked out, because many people tell him and Parker they have a Dustin at home.

"This was almost a case of life imitating art," Kelley said. "It's terrific to have this very prevalent social phenomenon taking place."

At one point, Kelley had another partner, with whom he was almost ready to launch the strip a couple of years ago. But it fell through, and he found himself looking for someone to basically redraw everything that had already been developed.

He knew Parker from the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists and knew Parker had done some work on comic strips "Blondie" and "Mother Goose and Grimm."

Parker is the editorial cartoonist for Florida Today, and Kelley is the political cartoonist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

"He's considered one of the best draftsmen among all political cartoonists," Kelley said. "He was good at mimicking the style of anyone you named."

He e-mailed Parker to see if he'd be interested in working on "Dustin," and Parker immediately agreed.

"He's one of the funniest people in the world," Parker said.

And while both men are political cartoonists, for now, Parker draws and Kelley writes the jokes.

Kelley used to work as a stand-up comedian and may use jokes from comedian friends in "Dustin" as well, he said.

"The drawing is just very time consuming and tedious for me," Kelley said. "Jeff is almost an animator. (His drawings are) free and flowing and funny."

They collaborate via e-mail. When they started proposing "Dustin" to various syndicates, they had three offers.

To put that in perspective, Kelley said, syndicates get 1,000 comics a year and syndicate two.

Both he and Parker said they're looking forward to adding a fresh face to the comics page.

"We're just desperately interested in helping newspapers provide fresh content for their readers that is intimately connected to their lives," Kelley said.

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