Cleveland has a rich legacy of comics and cartooning, having seeded Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster's Superman, Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, Zap Comics' legendary R. Crumb, Bill Watterson's classic Calvin and Hobbes, Marvel Comics' five-time Eisner Award-winning writer Brian Michael Bendis, John G. and Jake Kelly's Lake Erie Monster, Derf (whose The City appeared in syndication in independent weeklies all over the country — including Scene, for years) and many more.
Yet, despite all this success in traditional comics on paper, Cleveland creators had yet to make a serious impact in the digital world of modern cartooning. At least, that was the case until 2014 — Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 to be exact. On that random Friday evening, Meg Wilson, a 2008 graduate of Cleveland Institute of Art's illustration program, introduced the world to a little white rabbit named Bun. BUNtitled began just two days after Wilson's 29th birthday, with four simple panels titled On Eating Cheesecake.
"BUNtitled came about from a combination of events. I was unhappy with many aspects of my life at the time, and Bun was an outlet for my frustrations." explains Wilson. "Overall it was really a random thing. I came home one night with a small cheesecake. I cut out a reasonable size piece, but then I was thinking about the way I really wanted to eat the cheesecake — where instead of taking one slice, I just eat the whole thing. So really, the first BUNtitled came from playing with those basic emotions that many people have — those thoughts that are always floating around up there, but you maybe never voice to anyone else."
It took just two appearances of Bun for people to take notice of the character and Wilson's skill. The stories hit that sweet identifiable note in readers.
"I posted it online thinking 'Hey! Here's this thing I did,'" continues Wilson. "I received a lot of unexpected positive feedback, and many people were asking what I was going to do with it, especially after the second strip [one about 'seedless' clementines riddled with seeds]. It was really a spontaneous creation, a mindless doodle ... but afterward I was thinking, 'Well, now you've started this thing, and people are interested.' I felt I needed to keep going with it, even if only for myself as an outlet for stress. It became a challenge, really — a game, in a sense. I was interested in seeing how long I could keep it going. I wanted to push myself."
With interest peaking, Wilson was left to decide the regularity with which Bun would appear. Dedicating herself to consistent publishing was just one of the hurdles.
"From there, I decided it would be a three-times-a-week event," says Wilson. "Sometimes the deadline can be a chore, but if I wait until the right time in the evening, I feel like, 'Okay, now I have something to say,' or I reflect on my day and think, 'Man, that guy at the grocery store was super weird, I should share that experience.' The spontaneity of creating in the moment is really beneficial to the ideas, versus having it planned out weeks or days ahead, or having a compiled list of things I want to touch on. I feel like it keeps BUNtitled honest."
With a regular Monday, Wednesday and Friday publishing schedule, what started as four simple panels has blossomed into more than 150 strips on her Tumblr account (bunluvbaby.tumblr.com) in just a year. Sometimes they're still short and simple, but some strips extend into dozens of panels telling epic tales and introducing a number of recurring, eccentric characters. Regardless of their length, most editions of BUNtitled reflect universal truths and common human experiences.
"I don't really have anything to say, except those weird experiences that happen to me, but that's what people relate to — those weird, small, life-living things that are super-irritating or dumb or whatever that everyone experiences and asks 'why is this even a part of life?'," says Wilson.
She has made special editions for just about every holiday this year and even commemorative strips for special occasions. BUNtitled was featured on this year's official Waterloo Arts Fest souvenir and volunteer shirts. One of BUNtitled's common themes is Whiskey Wednesday — a weekly celebration of a favorite beverage shared by both Wilson and Bun.
"You could say I am projecting some of myself and my experiences into Bun," admits Wilson. "The best example off the top of my head is many people have noticed Bun's affinity for whiskey. I also happen to be a big fan of whiskey. So yeah, Bun is a slight extension of myself. In that sense, BUNtitled is very psychologically based on things I'm experiencing at that moment — whether it's the anxiety or neuroticism or changing life plans or whatever. The Great BUNknown is a character I introduced when I was deciding to leave Cleveland. It was my own way of dealing with what I wasn't sure of. Everyone wants to plan out their life perfectly, but it often doesn't work out that way. In between all the really amazing, phenomenal things that make waking up in the morning awesome, our lives are smattered with obnoxious things like paying bills, crappy weather, headaches, messy rooms and wondering whether or not that weird freckle on your arm is skin cancer. So the theme is frequently about accepting all of it, the good and the bad — and running with it. You never know when that day is going to come when you can't."
With that wisdom, Wilson is preparing to move back to Cleveland sometime in the coming weeks. Turns out, as much as she missed her family and the ocean, she missed Cleveland even more.
Moving forward, Wilson will continue to produce new strips of BUNtitled every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Additionally, she's creating a book in celebration of BUNtitled's upcoming first anniversary. It will include the year's most popular BUNtitled strips, as well as the original drawings and sketches, many of which were displayed earlier this year at Doubting Thomas Gallery as part of the Tremont Art Walk.
"I'd like to take a moment to express my utmost gratitude and love for all the folks who have been avid supporters of BUNtitled in this past year," adds Wilson. "It's truly humbling to hear how much people relate to Bun, or how BUNtitled made them smile when they needed it the most. It truly keeps the fire burning. I hope that this creation will continue to please its audience in this coming year, and in many years to follow."