Are you unexpectedly working from home right now? Sparked by the spread of coronavirus, it’s a movement that has rerisen. For me, one collateral effect of the pandemic was a flashback to 1998 and the near-miss of the almost-famous “Home Office Guy” comic strip (pictured throughout).
In today’s Age of Social Distancing, we can’t meet in bars for Happy Hour. But has working from home changed much in 20 years? Let’s see–and hopefull have a laugh along the way.
(Note: If you’re reading this on your phone, tilt it horizontally and you should see a legible version of the comic strips.)
The Novelty of Working from Home
What are your recollections from 1998? That was the year: President Bill Clinton was impeached. Titanic landed 11 Oscars. Google was founded. The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl. The FDA approved Viagra. And “telecommuting” was a pop culture buzzword.
During the mid-’90s, advancing technology allowed more and more Americans to telecommute—or, work from home. Now, flash forward to 2020. The at-home workforce has soared (at least temporarily) due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Amid a corporate desire to create safe social distancing, millions of workers are self-quarantined at home—where they are figuring out the work-at-home lifestyle and routine.
The Birth of Home Office Guy
It’s not an easy transition to work at home. Back in 1998, I was calling upon my telecommuting experience to co-create a comic strip called “Home Office Guy (HOG).” Note to Millennials and other younger readers: Daily comic strips used to populate ancient communication devices known as “newspapers.”
High on the HOG
My HOG creative partner was illustrator J.D. Crowe. In 1998, we both lived in San Diego and were teammates on an adult recreation league baseball team. I was an outfielder with wheels; Crowe was a crafty pitching ace.
Crowe’s resume included a stint as editorial cartoonist at the San Diego Tribune. He was also a freelance cartoonist for the alt-weekly San Diego Reader, the Los Angeles Times and several other outlets.
When we hit on the idea to collaborate on a comic strip about a guy who worked from home, I’d actually just taken a fulltime job as an editor at San Diego Magazine. But the concept of working in my underwear was still fresh in mind.
Something to Crowe About
Today, Crowe is the statewide cartoonist for Alabama Media Group. His work appears in the Mobile Press-Register, The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, and online at AL.com.
I’m now a freelance writer, and operate a travel website called junketsandjaunts.com. With traveling out of the picture for the moment, I’m filling the site with, well, stories like this one.
Near-Syndication of Home Office Guy
For each comic strip, I wrote out dialogue and sent it to Crowe. He made the mini stories come alive with his drawings. When we got a batch of 32 strips ready, we sent them out to several syndication companies.
King World showed interest, and we were invited to take a meeting in New York. A rep for that syndication company told us they got 3,000 submissions a year, took a closer look at 10 and signed three.
We got to the list of 10—but missed making the Final Three. Sigh.
A Working From Home Blast from the Past
Not long into this March of COVID-19, I noticed an editorial cartoon my old buddy posted on his Facebook page. It featured “Work-From-Home Guy.” Was this the 2020 version of Home Office Guy? The cartoon showed a stressed fellow tapping on a home computer dressed in a button-down shirt and paisley underwear.
I quickly corresponded with Crowe. Yep, he wrote, that one-off cartoon was inspired by our HOG days. “We were a bit ahead of the times…” he typed. We decided to toss HOG out into the reigning zeitgeist.
Self-quarantine is serious business. Working from home, however, does engender a silly side. Wardrobe—or lack thereof—is part of it. Finding motivation to work and avoiding distraction also calls out the lighter side of telecommuting life.
Our HOG had a four-legged pet named Uncle Lou (the actual name of my former dog), who is a better home worker than the eponymous lead character. Also part of the yesteryear fun: Dated cultural references from 1998—including Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw, Jim Palmer, Heidi Fleiss and more.
HOG was by no means a how-to guide. Dusting it off here is a bygone look at a trend that—for better or worse—has returned full force after 20 years. Maybe we’ll all get it right this time? Or, at least have a laugh. J&J