“Don’t be scared! He doesn’t bite. That’d be gauche”
Scot Zellman’s Buster Wilde first appeared on-line around the mid-nineties back in the prehistoric days of the internet. Following the exploits of our eponymous hero, lover and maybe most importantly, gay lycanthrope as we quickly discover the he twist in the familiar folk tale and pop culture staple. Sinewy, flamboyant party animal by night at sunrise Buster switches back to his beleaguered alter ego, Bernard. Stressed, uptight and again most importantly, straight. As Buster humorously and enthusiastically throws himself into his new life, navigating the gay club scene with its drama and clichés, Bernard struggles with a double life he doesn’t remember and more often than not waking up in other guys beds. It was among one of the first web comics I discovered when I finally got on-line and I quickly made my way through every strip on the now broken and mostly forgotten geocities site.
You heard that right, Geocities. It’s been around fourteen years since the final strip was posted and it’s a testament to both the quality of the strips and Zellman’s considerable skills as a writer and gifted cartoonist that those who saw it at the time still hold it in such high regard over a decade later. Apart from one of two references that date them (Buffy, who Buster declares is a bitch because of her treatment of fellow werewolf Oz) the Buster Wilde strips have a timeless quick paced humour to them that’s still as funny today as when they were first conceived.
They continued sporadically for four years and fifty two strips until one day they just, stopped. One last strip with the energetic Buster switching the word ‘fetch’ with ‘felch’ and then, nothing. The site was never updated again and still remains, albeit a little bit more broken. If anything it reminds me how easy it was in the early days before social media and constantly online presences for people to simply disappear from the surface of the digital world. Details are still frustratingly few. Beyond a few mentions on forums here and there, the odd broken link, I feel confident in saying this post will be the most ever written about it. In the last few years web comics have really come into their own as something unique and separate from other comics, gaining a lot more attention and exposure in the process. It’s a real shame that in being an early example of the medium that it’s fallen through the cracks when it comes to wider recognition and it feels bizarre to be the first one writing about so many moons later.
My understanding from what I could gleam from a question here and there on twitter is that Zellman simply moved onto other projects, before eventually retiring from comics completely. It was a pleasant surprise a few years ago to find that a print version of the Buster strips existed, released by Furplanet who now helpfully host copies of the originals online. Alex Vance, writer of the Heathen Cities series and also a fan had reached out to Zellman with the offer to touch up the original artwork and release them on paper and ink “There was a new generation in the furry community and when I was still in publishing I reached out to him and developed scans of his originals into a book,” says Vance on giving Buster a second chance in the spotlight “They represented a significant work. Drawn and lettered entirely by hand, a vanishing art”. The volume collects all of the original comics, promotional artwork, a fascinating artists sketchbook giving a glimpse into the creative process of the comic. Most tantalisingly it features two partly inked, mostly unfinished strips both in a larger format with more experimental layouts. One of these featuring Busters strange toilet habits is now among my favourites and gives a fleeting glimpse of what could have been.