The strip has been running
long enough that I have gathered a little collection of questions
put to me by Massey Junior Fellows and others (yes, Masseyites,
there areexternal readers). I shall attempt to answer
these questions here. I shall also probably make up a few
questions that no one has actually asked meand answer them as
well, just because I can.
It is now about three years since
I first posted the FAQ, so I haveupdated the information
Why "West of
Davies is in the same location as Massey, isn't it
Barbara more or less answers this question here
. In other words, yes,
Davies is east of Bathurst; the strip is named for where and what
the college is not. I suppose the implication is that grad
students tend to be contrary by nature. Or perhaps
contrary by nature. I
wouldn't be at all surprised.
True story behind the strip linked above: in my first year, a
Junior Fellow really did react to a suggestion to visit a certain
pub by exclaiming, "But that's west of Bathurst
It may also be worth noting that I am never going to be able to use
the phrase "west of Bathurst" again without one of my friends
smirking at me in a knowing way. As well, every time someone
says the words "west of Bathurst" in my presence (and they are
words that come up fairly frequently when you're talking to
Torontonians; try googling "west of Bathurst" in quotation marks
and see what happens), there will be snickering and nudging and
waggling eyebrows and so on.
What's with the whole "Davies" thing? Why not just come out
and do a strip about Massey...with the current Junior Fellows as
Well, first of all, I'm not suicidal. When I was doing
one-off Massey comics for the Massey Bull
, the College's
satirical newspaper, I could incorporate real live Junior Fellows
in the knowledge that my victims--er, subjects--would probably not
mind the attention much; if they did, the pain would be over
relatively soon. West of
runs three times a week and has actual storylines.
If the main players were real JFs, I would inevitably find
myself floundering in the mucky waters of Sordid Fact and
struggling not to offend any one of about a hundred and fifty
people. I thought it was better to fictionalise the college
and focus on larger aspects of "Massey" life rather than particular
people and incidents.
I should also observe that the current Massey fellowship
constitutes only a percentage of the comic's readership. The
strip is also geared towards alumni, not to mention people who have
never heard of Massey College. In-jokes can be fun, but they
can also drive away those who don't understand them.
That said, several JFs (and even non-Masseyites) have
requested to be included in the
comic. A few have had cameos; one pops up occasionally under
a slightly fictionalised name (her first nameremains the
same; her surnameappears as an anagram). I also
participate in Massey's annual talent auction, the proceeds of
which go to various Toronto-based charities; the person who wins my
item gets a framed, personalised comic and a West of Bathurst
winners for 2008, 2009, and 2010 have all been the same couple, who
have thus become an annual running joke.
But I'm pretty sure I recognise some of the
characters' names. Wasn't there a Junior Fellow named Rahim a
few years ago? Is your Rahim based on
What a convenient place to bung the "Note on Names" that used to
appear on the comic's main page...
I started this comic during the summer of 2006. At the time I
began dreaming up these characters (a few of whom have actually
existed in my head for years now), I knew nothing about the
incoming batch of Massey Junior Fellows. It is thus possible
that there aresome coincidences of name between the members
of Davies and the members of Massey. If you area victim
of such a coincidence--if you are a Marie or a Casey or a Barbara
or a Rahim or even, alas, a Wendy--I suggest yousit back and
enjoy the notoriety. Try not to take anything in the strip
personally; it isn't meant that way.
(a very few) characters named after alumni (Rahim, just for
example). They are not alumni who have frequented the College
overmuch in the last few years...but if they happen upon this
comic, they too should sit back and enjoy the notoriety. I
stole their names to honour them, not to mock them. They may
also take comfort in the fact that while I am a relentless thief of
names, I almost never steal personalities.
Thecharacters who have names not entirely their own
have already developed in my head into unique people.
There are, as well, a few characters named after other
people in my life (yes, I do
have a life outside Massey...sometimes). Marie takes her name
and area of study from one of my aunts (the fact that she also
sharesthat name with Massey's former Librarian is a happy
coincidence); Morgan owes her name to my high-school English
Honours teacher. Again, these characters do not
share personalities with their
With one exception, any real and actual Masseyite who appears in
the strip--name, appearance, and personality intact--has asked to
be there. The one exception was someone I knew would be
pleased to see her character appear; I wanted to surprise her.
But Master D. Ramsay is really Master J. Fraser,
I refuse to answer on the grounds that I may incriminate
If the strip isn't based on "real" Massey people and their
activities, where do you get your plots?
Let us just say that I have been lurking around Massey for a very
long time. Some of the plotlines relate at least tangentially
to some of my past experiences; for instance, Marie's first evening
at the college bears a certain resemblance to mine (I was dragged
along on a dessert outing, and I didn't know anyone and was
completely bewildered and really just wanted to be alone), and her
continual failure to get any real work done is, er, based pretty
well completely on the story of my life. Otherwise, the
Massey schedule of events tends to write the strip for me, though
it is sometimes helped along by the U of T academic year. I
simply let my fictional characters loose on the usual parade
ofMassey events and watch the oddness unfold.
I should also say that some of the plots revolving around grad
school in general rather than Massey/Davies in particular have some
basis in reality. In creating Barbara's experiences, for
instance, I have drawn on my own life and the lives of my friends.
The TAing comics act as a sort of record of many of the silly
things my friends and I have seen as markers; they are not
targeting specific students, but they are
targeting the kinds of problems
English TAs are likely to run into. Readers who assume that
they are hyperbolic have probably never taught or TAed university
You've been at Massey forever. How come
you're only starting drawing a Massey strip now?
I'm not, actually. West of
has existed (in various forms) since 2002.
Casey and Marie (originally called Marcia) first appeared in
a really bad play about Massey; I then used the two characters in a
series of comics that ran in the 2002-2003 yearbook. I called
the series West of
. The characters popped up again in the
2003-2004 yearbook, and I just kept calling my Massey strips, which
soon moved to the Massey
also briefly experimented with a WoB
strip that was not
about Massey, though Casey was a
peripheral character in it.
In the summer of 2005, I stopped drawing characters who looked like
grossly deformed ape-eagles and adopted a slightly more sightly
style; I also started toying with the idea of reviving WoB
. The need for an alumni
website gave me an excuse to go for it, and I launched the strip in
the summer of 2006. None of the characters are anything like
their predecessors and namesakes in the old strip, though Marie has
the same hairstyle as Marcia, and Casey now, as he did then, always
wears a tie. Oh...and Frankie is actually a refugee from
strip I used to
draw, as is Steve, who, in that strip, was also her former
Are any of the characters based on
Not explicitly, though I have given Marie some of my thoughts and
experiences, Rahim my cynicism, and Barbara my feelings about the
English department and general tendency towards insanity.
You really have it in for the LMF/DEF, don't
Nah. See...I was an LMF co-chair once myself. The whole
Wendy-vs.-Rahim thing is a reflection of the typical LMFer's split
personality. When youchair Massey's social committee,
you spend half your time going, "Geez. It's like being back
at high school. I don't want to be back at high school.
Why did I run for this position? Why do we take parties
so seriously here? Have I lost my mind
?" and the other half dancing
madly about, urging a bunch of adults to participate in talent
shows andcomplex games of tag. I know Wendy comes
across as a bit of a Bad Guy when she's DEFing, but the fact of the
matter is that she's simply lost her sense of perspective.
The 2009-2010 Marie/Stella/Paul DEF presents a different
perspective on the committee. Marie et al are somewhat more
suited to be DEF co-chairs than Rahim and Wendy were, mostly
because they get along with each other better and approach the
events via logic rather than an insane need to force everybody to
have fun. However, as was evident in October of 2009, they
can also make some pretty big mistakes.
And what about the
For some reason, I have a hard time focussing on the Don and the
DEF at the same time. In 2006-2007, the Don, Dana, was around
but not prominent, whereas Wendy and Rahim's DEF popped up
everywhere. In 2007-2008, Rahim took over the Donship, and
the DEF vanished; it remained in the background when Baldwin took
over for 2008-2009. In 2009-2010, Marie, Stella, and Paul
were elected as DEF co-chairs, and I didn't even bother saying who
the new Don was
think I have focus issues. However, the Don of Hall has an
important role at Massey. The problem of the Don rarely being
female, which Frankie highlighted in 2008, is a real one; in my
eleven years of association with Massey, there have been only three
female Dons, including the 2009-2010 one; the previous two were in
2001-2002 and 2002-2003.
Why are so many more of your major characters women than
This question was asked of me early on. It doesn't actually
apply any more. The really prominent female characters are
Marie and Barbara and the really prominent male ones Casey and
Rahim; on the second tier, we have Frankie, Wendy, and Jackie for
the girls and Baldwin, Steve, and Wolfgang for the boys; the third
tier gives us Stella, Sara, Tom, and Darren. We also have
Evil Marie, Kenneth, Bleachy,Weird Beard, and the Master, of
course. So all things considered, the gender roles are
balanced fairly well. However, I would like to point out how
very probable it is that no one would have commented if I had
started out with more guys than girls.
THE NEXT QUESTION IS A SPOILER. ONLY READ IT IF YOU
HAVE PROGRESSED BEYOND THE AUTUMN OF 2009 IN THE
You spent an entire year torturing Marie with
the whole Casey thing, and you still haven't let them be real friends again yet.
Are you evil?
Yes. However, please understand that I was not actually out
to torture Marie; it was just the way the story had to go (it does
have a specific trajectory).
I have had more comments on the Marie/Casey storyline than I have
on any other aspect of the strip. In fact, one of my friends
has repeatedly threatened to strangle me if I don't tie it up soon.
She has been less vocal lately, possibly because Marie and
Casey do seem to be speaking again. The fact of the matter is
that when someone spends ten months ripping your heart out and
stomping on it, things are not going to go back to normal the
second he admits he was doing it to protect you (whatever that even
means). Be patient, violent friend.
Are you ever going to finish your
This was another early question. Now the question has turned
into: "Are you ever going to get a real job?" I do not
like that question. I do not like it at all.
How long is the strip going to
I have no idea. I would like to keep it alive for as long as
possible. It has gained a respectable readership, and despite
the incredulity of many Masseyites, it does seem to appeal to
people not involved with the College. Amusingly, a Masseyite
who had a cameo in the strip in 2010 approached me and said, "I
just found out how many non-Masseyites read your comic."
Apparently, people in her department, including someone who
had just recently arrived in Canada, had been coming up to her and
going, "You were in West of