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FAQ

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 below.


Why "West of Bathurst"? Assuming Davies is in the same location as Massey, isn't it east of Bathurst?

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 I'm 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 characters?

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 Bathurst 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 cameo. The 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 him?

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.

However...there are a few (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 real-life counterparts.

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, right?

I refuse to answer on the grounds that I may incriminate myself.


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 English classes.


You've been at Massey forever. How come you're only starting drawing a Massey strip now?

I'm not, actually. West of Bathurst 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 Bathurst. The characters popped up again in the 2003-2004 yearbook, and I just kept calling my Massey strips, which soon moved to the Massey Bull, WoB. I 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 another strip I used to draw, as is Steve, who, in that strip, was also her former boyfriend.


Are any of the characters based on you?

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 you?

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 Don?

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. I 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 men?

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 ARCHIVES.


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 dissertation?

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 continue?

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 Bathurst today!"