Our Stalwart Cast
In Living Color
For the First--
And Possibly Only--
Time Ever

     No adventure strip worth its salt could exist without a band of hearty adventurers, wise-cracking their way through the teeth of unmitigated peril to emerge triumphant and undigested in the end.

     OK, so maybe that wasn't the best metaphor to use...

     Fortunately, though, this comic strip ain't exactly a standard adventure. And the characters we got, well, judge for yourself.

     Kestrel B. Finch, for instance.

     In my World Book Encyclopedia--which is actually a bootleg of the 1965 edition photocopied in Taiwan and given to my family in the late 60s by my uncle, a captain in the merchant marines--kestel is defined as "a small bird of prey related to the falcon and the American Sparrow hawk," while finch is described as "the name given to birds that belong to the family of seedeaters."

     Now, whatever else Kestrel may be, he's certainly not a member of the falcon family, and I have my doubts about that whole seedeater thing, too. To listen to him tell it, he's related to both the yellow bird of that pseudo-calypso song and the great speckled bird of the old gospel tune. But I've never known him to sit "up high in banana tree," and an examination of the manuscript tradition of the book of Jeremiah shows more than a few questions about what that word actually is there in chapter 12, verse 9. So I guess we'll just have to go with his middle name--Bird--and move on.

     The only information on Kestrel from a truly unimpeachable source--Terebinth himself--can be found on page 16 of the comic: "A hormonal imbalance caused him abnormal growth at puberty, robbing him of flight. Kestrel has felt this loss so keenly, he has taken up residence in this birdless land." Kestrel then gives his own account of his condition on page 17, and it seems pretty honest, all told. Pretty honest for Kestrel, I mean. Whether there's more to the story, well, we'll all have to find out together, won't we?

     When the story starts--that would be on page 1, by the way--he's been sleeping among Terebinth's roots for just over half a year and is only now starting to peer out of the pit of self-pity he's fallen into. He fancies himself an artist, a poet, a philosopher, and a sage, but then how many of us didn't when we were just out of our teens? The one thing he doesn't know--not that he'd ever admit it--is what the heck he's gonna do with the life he sees stretching out before himself like the plains surrounding Terebinth.

     He's more me than I like to admit combined with a couple other people of my acquaintance, and I love writing dialogue for him.

     Then there's Cory.

     Terpsichore (pronounced Terp-sik-or-ee around these parts) can't possibly be her real name. The original Terpsichore, after all, was the Muse of dancing and choral song to the ancient Greeks, and since Cory's people seem to think that dancing is caused by demons--if what Cory tells us about her upbringing on page 18 is true--then her parents certainly wouldn't have given their daughter that name. For my part, I subscribe to the theory that Cory's real name is Coriander DuPrey based on the admittedly flimsy evidence provided during the course of "Prey," our fourth storyline.

     Anyhow, Cory abandoned her real name after leaving her home village and traveled for a while, doing odd jobs in various non-reptilian cities and towns; I mean, no way would she feel comfortable in the reptile villages, and, well, she had to get all that equipment she unloads on page 25 somewhere. Much of her past, though, like Kestrel's, remains shrouded in mystery.

     She finally fetched up around Terebinth about a year before the story starts. Gathering stones, moss, wood, and other materials, she built her little house, painted "Cory's Place" on the front, spent her time dancing where no one could see her and, as she mentions on page 15, knitting that hat she wears--she finally reveals on page 490 that's it's made of bamboo fibers for all you textile fans out there.

     Then Kestrel showed up, spouting elegiac verse and bemoaning his fate--a scene we get to see in flashback on page 211 and following-- and the rest, as they say, is history.

     Cory's been with me as a character for a long, long time--I've still got a little Sculpee figure I made of her back in high school, for instance. I'm glad she's found a place finally here in the strip.

     And, of course, Terry.

     For a guy with a whole comic strip named after him, Terebinth doesn't really seem to do much. But then, he's a tree, so whaddaya want?

     He's not a terebinth tree, though--the terebinth, Pistacia Terebinthus, is actually a member of the pistachio, cashew, and mango family, but instead of producing nuts and fruits, the terebinth is the tree where the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean got their turpentine.

     Why Terry decided to adopt another tree's name, how he came to be planted out there in the middle of nowhere, what the story is with him talking and thinking when none of the other trees in this world seem able to talk or think, these questions may someday be answered...probably by Terry himself. I mean, on page 11, Cory says that Terebinth "always knows where to find things." So it there're any answers to be found to these various perplexing mysteries, they may come echoing out of Terry's gaping maw.

     Just don't hold your breath...

     And then there's the stone.

     The stone?

     But it's just a stone, right? Just this big rock out on the plain that Kestrel decided to draw a face on back on page 8, isn't it? A big rock that Kestrel and Cory went through all the rigmarole of the whole "HatDance" story in order to get a hat for, as shown on page 122 and following? That's all it is.

     Isn't it?

     Well, no, as it turns out, if we're to believe the events chronicled in "Talking Points," beginning on page 127. The stone can apparently speak, but only a young squirrel named Bert Shurra can hear it. Unless, of course, Bert's lying to us...

     Bert, then, is the eldest of the two Shurra children by about a minute and a half. He has spent most of his life in something like an autistic state: he describes it himself on page 194 as "living inside a bubble. Things got through from the outside, but they were all muffled and wonky..." His parents didn't much want to deal with him, so they assigned his sister, Esther, to shepherd him around and keep him out from under paw.

     One day, though, for the first time in his life, he heard a distinct voice speaking. He followed that voice out of the hills onto the plain, and there he found a stone wearing a hat--this is all covered on page 130 and following. The stone began telling Bert a story about zombie beavers, but so far, no one else has been able to hear Mr. Stone speak. Bert's more than happy to repeat the stories to anyone who's willing to listen, and his work with Mr. Stone seems to be helping his overall ability to interact with the world around him.

     So it's a "win-win" situation for everyone.

     Bert was originally going to be the catalyst for a very different sort of story. I may still salvage some parts of that earlier story, but for now, I'm quite happy with how "Talking Points" turned out.

     Esther Shurra is Bert's younger sister, but she's had the responsibility of looking out for Bert ever since their eyes first opened: she tells us her story on page 161 and following.

     Esther's a very serious child, too often worried, her smiles as rare as they are heartfelt. But since Mr. Stone has begun speaking to Bert, she finds the burden of caring for him starting to lift from her shoulders--I'll point you toward page 180 for that. It's not something that's ever even occurred to her might be possible, and the thought that she might indeed be able to have a life of her own is just beginning to dawn on her--check page 414 for that.

     She's lately been spending a lot of time climbing around Terebinth's branches while asking him questions about the hows and whys of the world. And, well, we all know how much Terry enjoys answering questions. So, hey, another "win-win" situation.

     Bert and Esther are going to grow into very interesting people if I have anything to say about it. And, hey, looks like I do, doesn't it?

     Sammy's older than the Shurra children, but not as much older as he pretends to be. He's had a rough life, his parents having died in a rather unpleasant fashion when he was young--he gives us a quick run-down of his early life on page 435.

     He wandered alone and friendless for a while before fetching up in a small cave at the base of the hills overlooking the plain out upon which Terebinth sits. The hill above the cave was one of Bert's favorite places to look out over the plain, so Sammy slowly got to know Bert and Esther.

     He claims to be a wolf, but nobody believes him: on Page 160, Esther says, "I think he's really a dog or a coyote or something." Page 149 and following show that he's got something of a smart mouth while page 154 shows that he's seriously unprepared to deal with the consequences of using that smart mouth.

     Sammy's been getting closer and closer to Terpsichore lately and has even--if we're to believe what's going on on page 209--been learning to dance from her. This has already led to some complications--Page 220, to be specific--and Sammy's feelings toward both Cory and Kes are one of the major threads unraveling throughout "Prey," fourth Terebinth storyline.

     When Bert first mentioned Sammy on page 133, I had no idea what sort of animal he was let alone how he was going to behave. I like to think I've got a better handle on him by now...

     Wardell's had a tough life, too--it's what really drew these four kids together, the various states of disrepair that their homelives were in.

     Wardell claims on page 159 that his father is "the chief eagle of all the eagles," but later on that same page, Esther says that Wardell doesn't really have a father. We get a brief glimpse of him at home on page 179, but it's not until "The Home Front," our fifth storyline, and specifically page 385 and following that we meet his mother Claudia and learn more about his situation.

     Wardell is younger than the Shurras and has started to see Kestrel as something of a father figure. I don't even want to imagine how that might turn out.

     Wardell is one of the few instances of a character whose name I didn't know even though I'd been drawing him for almost two months and knew just about every detail of his back story. I mean, he first appears in the comic on page 147, but until the moment Esther first calls him by name on page 159, I just plain had no idea what to call this little bird guy. Then as I was inking the previous page, the jazz station that I constantly listen to played a piece by the great tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray. And that was that.

     Your best bet for figuring out who all these folks are, though, is to read the comic: the Terebinth main page will have the latest comic, the Archive & History page will have links to the current year's comics, the Table of Contents groups all the comics into their respective storylines, and the Terebinth Forum is a place where you can post further questions and comments.

     Heck, you can even find out more about me by going to the who, what, where, et cetera page. So many options...