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Starting in 2004, an out-of-nowhere figure began appearing on cocktail napkins, on drawing pads, and in the margins of mid-meeting work ledgers. The artist, Brian Grabell, a designer by profession who typically sketches in the same genetic fashion that the rest breathe, noticed that his unbidden character began to take on not just recurring physical properties, but also the persona of someone he calls Nobody.
"When I first started drawing him, he was very crude - a rectangular head and two rectangular ears," Grabell said. "He was very gangly and had no real form."
Even so, Grabell started to think of the figure in proprietary fashion.
"One day, when (the film) 'The Passion of the Christ' was coming out, it clicked in. I thought, 'Well, what about my passion: What about the passion of Nobody?' That's when it really hit me that it could be something and he could be something."
With that realization, Nobody began to coalesce into his present and more human form. And when one of Grabell's romantic relationships ended, and he couldn't decide whether he wanted to stay single for a while or dive back into the dating pool, he drew "Nobody wants a girlfriend" with the image of his character looking shyly as a woman passes by.
"I did want a girlfriend and I didn't want a girlfriend - and the paradox came to life for me because the statement can get every guy to smirk. 'I know what you mean.' Deep down, we want that someone there for us. Nobody wants a girlfriend," he said.
And, like that, the several years, quite-by-accident metamorphosis of a single panel comic was began. Nobody, who will appear exclusively five days a week in The Day beginning Monday, is a funny, endearing Everyman character whose punningly contradictory nature should connect with just about all of us.
"'Nobody's perfect' is kind of the flagship statement," Grabell said of his character - a simple, almost featureless fellow who is nonetheless profoundly expressive and instantly indelible. With minimal adjustments to the character's eyebrows and mouth, and with a lanky frame, fondness for long-sleeve T-shirts and a disinclination to wear shoes, Nobody instantly conveys not just instant affinity but a wealth of emotional possibilities.
"Brian came to us serendipitously," Day publisher Gary Farrugia said. "His character, Nobody, is a quirky persona that kind of resonates with a twist of humor in those everyday situations, like 'Seinfeld' or 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.'
"Our first thought when we saw his presentation was, what a wonderful way to brighten the day of our readers. In these times, who couldn't use a smile?"
Nobody is everybody
On a recent, spring-like February afternoon, Grabell, 30, was seated in the sun room office of the Fairfield home he shares with his wife, Bridget, and their dog, Cocoa. The artist seemed happy and a bit humbled by the opportunity to speak about his creation. After all, he said, it never occurred to him, back during the early doodle days, that Nobody would amount to anything.
"Nobody is the embodiment of everybody," said Grabell, whose gray socks and an absence of footwear seem suddenly familiar.
"He's so simple. At the end of the day - as complex as the day can go - we're fairly simple. We want simple things. Nobody takes out the trash and Nobody did the laundry and folded it on the same night … He'll do a lot of things."
After Grabell married Bridget, and as he went through a succession of jobs - all experiences that found expression in the Nobody sketches - he began to think the idea might have staying power. A Bridget-inspired female character, Somebody, was introduced allowing Nobody to explore domestic situations, get philosophical, or fantasize. Nobody, Grabell discovered as he creatively meandered, could float in space or attack a city - not that the current Nobody has many dark moments.
"It was probably only a year ago that I gained the confidence to do a 'Far Side' type thing," said Grabell, alluding to Gary Larson's immortal single panel comics that remain a huge influence. "That's when the (concept of doing Nobody as a daily comic) became clear and understandable."
With a vision to match his character, Grabell started doing homework on how cartoonists got published or syndicated. He reached out through email and websites to a variety of established comic strip artists.
"To my eternal gratitude, (a lot of the artists) answered and I started getting a lot of feedback and an understanding of where to start and how to navigate," Grabell said.
Now, Nobody's first big stage is The Day. Who knows what the future might hold? And if there is a syndication deal down the road - or books or posters or a television show or whatever - so much the better.
"We are excited to bring this new feature to our readers," Timothy C. Dwyer, The Day's executive editor, said. "Nobody is an endearing character whose main characteristics are wisdom, humility and humor. Nobody has an uncanny ability to present the glass as both half empty and half full, leaving it to the reader to decide what they see."
The opportunity - and responsibility - to produce several Nobody panels a week was at first intimidating to Grabell, but he learned he likes the pressure of creating on deadline.
In fact, by request of Day visitors, Grabell broke out his sketch pad and did a commissioned work called "Nobody likes to be interviewed." The image is instinctually and humorously perfect: the innocent Nobody isn't remotely cocky about the bright lights of fame but, once there, his expression and posture indicate that maybe it's something he could graciously get used to.
Similarly, Grabell said he has learned the process itself is therapeutic.
"It's good discipline for me to realize how much weight the little things carry," he said. "Boiling it down to something as simple as 'Nobody did the dishes' - it does serve as a (real life) reminder but it also keeps Nobody true and relative to everyone ... that's where the material comes from. It comes from life and it does make you better."