Carl Schiffler first crept upon the scene in 1987 when he began writing editorials for Cats (then Bcat) Community Television in Bloomington, Indiana.
He also starred in two made for television movies, Driving Mr. Schiffler (with aunt Fuzzy Mae Johnson) and Schiffler’s List. It was while collaborating on a script for the sci-fi film Worms from the Planet Fooma that Schiffler left his Hollywood dreams behind. In 1995 he began writing The Liars Bunch for Our Brown County magazine where he also researches and writes Schiffler’s Believe It or Else.
OBC: We’re often asked, “Just what in the heck is this Liars Bunch all about?” Frankly, I don’t know what to tell people.
Schiffler: Well, essentially, it’s a series of stories that take place in the fictional county of Vinegarroon, Indiana, which sits on the slopes of a live volcano (Mt. Elb AKA Frowning Mountain). Any resemblance to a small, hilly county in south-central Indiana is entirely possible but not (I hope) overdone. The characters and situations are also inspired by the work of Kin Hubbard. Since I can’t draw we have Joe Lee render the art.
How much direction to you give Lee?
It varies. Sometime I give him the whole story, sometimes the scenario, sometimes only a grunt. Sometimes I have to see what he’s drawn before I can write the story. Joe has a great style and a powerful imagination. He can come remarkably close to what I want with only a name to work with. Usually the only time we have problems is when I give him too much information.
You emulate the work of Kin Hubbard?
As everyone in south central Indiana knows, Kin Hubbard was the creator of Abe Martin, inspired by a visit to Brown County in 1904 when he was a reporter for the Indianapolis News. A genius of sly humor and satire, Hubbard was as well known as Jim Davis and Garfield are today. It’s a real shame that he isn’t better remembered and a lesson in the fickle nature of fame. His use of hick patois and his focus on the events and issues of his day dates him to the modern eye and ear. Nothing is less hip than yesterday’s fashion (as the Hip Hop generation is due to find out any day now). Even so, once you “git” past the language barrier, Hubbard is as sharp as it gets. His humor cuts right to the bone.
How closely does your writing mirror life in Brown County?
About as much as Hubbard’s did, which is to say, very little. Mostly I use “Golden Age” Brown County characters that are pretty obvious, like Babe Martin, Frank Hohoenchortle, or Allie Gator and her sister Aunt Molly Caudell. I guess there’s also T.C. (Rusty) Irons, Onry La Tourista, Otto Pang, Will Vaulter, Marie Gruff, Buster Dylan (author of If You Don’t Outlie Me) and a few folks from outside the realm like Davy Crewcut, Fried Eggleston III, Buckmonster Fuller, Forrest Grump, etc. Truth be known, I just like to make up silly names.
There are an awful lot of characters in the Liars Bunch.
Why use a character twice when you can make up a new one? Seriously, though, I hope to write a book someday that will tie all the loose ends together.
How about modern Brown County concerns?
I use very little in Liars Bunch. Sometimes I might touch on things in general, like with the entrepreneurs Sally and Les Angeles, Babe Martin Realty, or the woollyworm artist Olaf Tines, but I find most Brown County issues too serious to be funny. If I just wanted to make people angry it would be easy because I’ve got a wicked sense of humor (and I’ve considered trying it out in Bloomington, which is a town that needs a little slapping around) but I’d rather be entertaining.
Probably the closest I’ve come to “reality” is with the streetsinger Quink Otis, who is, of course, based on John Franz. Then there is the ABAFT Bikers Bash, and Fred Jack Hatres represents all those folks who feel compelled to write nasty, anonymous, letters to the editor. Some of the animals are real: Boofter (based on Cindy Steele’s dog Booker), Snuffy (the tobacco-sniffing police dog of the near future), and Squeeks, who represents the busy activities of my cat, Mezzrow. Oh yeah, Good Eye/Bad Eye is the sports entertainer I could have been if my college advisor had only mentioned professional wrestling as a career option. It’s my only regret.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just that I would like to thank those who read the Liars Bunch. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I do writing it.