In 1996, the Internet was coming into the mainstream. Average citizens were communicating by email, discussing topics on a Usenet forum, chatting on Internet Relay Chat, and using the Netscape browser to surf the World Wide Web, a platform for informational documents that could be linked to each other. Advertisements were beginning to include the websites of the companies involved, where anyone in the world with an Internet connection could look up information about the product in question.
The truly computer savvy individual in 1996 had a personal website. The academics, scientists, and government officials for whom the Internet was created used personal websites to share about their careers, their research, and contact information, which was useful for their colleagues and students to have. A few people I had met on the Internet had personal websites, and mostly they consisted of a picture or two and a little bit about the author, with links to other relevant websites. Some of my friends had personal websites too. Eddie Baker had a link to his personal website on his email signature. Eddie’s website had a picture of himself, another picture with his seven roommates, some of his favorite Bible verses, and a link to the University of Jeromeville page.
I wanted so badly to make a personal website, although I had no practical need for one. Unfortunately, this feature was not possible with a UJ student account. This guy named Carl who I met on IRC had access to some kind of personal server, where he gave me an account for free so I could fiddle with making a website. I taught myself basic HTML, the code used for making websites. I found a computer lab on campus with a scanner and scanned a copy of my senior picture from Plumdale High, so I could put that picture on my website. I don’t know why I did, though; I always hated that picture. I wrote a little bit about myself, with links to the pages for the University of Jeromeville and a Bay City Captains football fan page I found. Back in those days, jokes and chain letters circulated by email, the forerunners of the memes and viral posts of the 21st century, and I copied and pasted some of my favorites on my page.
Eddie’s page was hosted by a UJ Computer Science Department account; he was an International Relations major, but had taken a couple of computer classes. When I took Introduction to Programming in the spring, I got a Computer Science account, so I did not need Carl to host my site anymore. At some point after I finished my current Introduction to Software class, I would have to move my site again, since I would not be taking a Computer Science class in the fall. Eddie’s site would probably get deleted eventually as well. I needed to find out if I could get a Mathematics department account and host a personal website on that.
One Thursday night, after I got home from Bible study, I was bored. I was caught up with homework for my class, and I had finished reading everything I was reading for fun. I sat down in front of the computer and dialed into the university’s computer network. I got on my usual IRC chat channel and looked for someone to talk to. A girl named Laura, whom I had been talking to for a few months, was on, so I messaged her. Laura was 17 years old and lived in upstate New York.
gjd76: hi :)
lauragirl17: hi greg! how are you?
gjd76: really bored. i’m caught up with all my work. how are you? i haven’t talked to you in a while. how were things with adam?
lauragirl17: i know, i wasn’t on as much when adam was here. we had a good visit. it was a little weird at the end though
lauragirl17: just some stuff happened and i think we’re just going to be friends
gjd76: aww. i hope everything is ok. i wish i could meet girls i knew on the internet
lauragirl17: have you ever met someone from the internet in real life?
gjd76: just once. it was another girl from jeromeville, turned out she lived right down the street. we just hung out and talked for a while, i could tell she wasn’t really my type
lauragirl17: aww. she’s missing out :) maybe i’ll be able to come to jeromeville someday
gjd76: that’d be fun :) well, you could come right now, i gave you my address
lauragirl17: yeah you did! i leave on tuesday, i’m so nervous but so excited too, i’ll write to you as soon as i get settled. it’s kind of weird to think that i’ll be in switzerland this time next week
gjd76: i’m excited for you :) this will be a great experience… one of my best friends in high school, she was an exchange student in austria, and she loved it
lauragirl17: i know, it’s just going to be a big adjustment
gjd76: of course
lauragirl17: well it’s really late here, i should get to bed… but it was good talking to you
gjd76: you too! good night, sleep well :)
I hoped Laura would actually write to me from Switzerland. One of my friends from school, Kelly, was going to be studying in Hungary next year, so between Kelly and Laura, I could possibly be writing and receiving letters from Europe often next year.
Someone else from the chat posted a link to his personal website; I opened it in another window in between messages from Laura. In addition to pictures of himself and links to his university, he also had a story about this party he had attended last month, with pictures from the story and paragraphs telling what happened. I wished I owned my own scanner, so that I could share pictures on the Internet too.
That guy from IRC with the story about his party gave me an idea for something to add to my website. A few years ago, Nintendo released a game called Mario Paint. It was not a game at all, it was more like rudimentary but functional drawing and animation software. It came with a mouse, which was easier to use for drawing than the standard Super Nintendo control pad. Three years ago, I used Mario Paint, two VCRs, and a microphone to make a short film about two strange teenage boys with a weird neighbor. The film was influenced by the buddy comedies of the time period, like Wayne’s World and Beavis and Butthead. I called my creation “Dog Crap and Vince.” I made a few other Dog Crap and Vince short films over the next couple years, and the most recent one I made after I bought this computer, so the screenplay was still saved on this hard drive.
I opened my screenplay and read it. Dog Crap’s cousin came to visit, and while throwing a football around in the yard, Vince threw it too hard, and it got run over by a truck. The boys found a football at a garage sale to replace the one they lost, but it was so old and hard and brittle that it cracked open when it landed on the ground. That was inspired by an inside joke; once, a strange neighbor back home gave my brother and me an old football that had belonged to her son when he was young, and it hit the ground and cracked open just like that.
I opened Microsoft Paint, the drawing software that came with Windows 3.1, and drew the opening scene, where Dog Crap opens the door and lets his cousin in. I then drew the next scene, where the two of them watch television with Vince. Both Dog Crap and Vince always had strange multicolored hair, and I never explained their odd appearance in any of the short films. I also never explained why Dog Crap’s name is Dog Crap, and in their fictional universe, no one questions this.
I continued illustrating scenes from this Dog Crap and Vince story until around one in the morning. The following day, after I finished a morning bike ride, I continued working on Dog Crap and Vince, illustrating the rest of the scenes from the story.
Next, I began typing the HTML code. I typed the lines of dialogue and description for the story, in prose instead of the screenplay format I had written for the Mario Paint film. It did not feel like an actual story, since the illustrations left most of the descriptions unnecessary; the remaining text was very heavy on dialogue. But this was a new format for me, and I did not really have a template or precedent on which to base my work. This story really was designed for animation, but in the absence of that kind of technology, this would have to do.
When I finished writing and debugging the HTML, I uploaded it, and all of my drawings, to the website. I also updated the home page, trying to think of what to call my creation… was it a story, or a comic, or a script, or what? I ended up calling it a story. “Read my story: ‘Dog Crap and Vince, episode 1: ‘Football,’” I typed. I made that line a hyperlink, so that someone could click on it to go to the story. I read through my entire Dog Crap and Vince story again. I was proud of my work. Now I just needed someone to share it with.
Many of my friends who lived in this part of Jeromeville left for the summer, but some of them were still around. Ramon and Jason were still in their apartment on Hampton Drive, and Caroline still lived upstairs from them. Liz, Ramon’s girlfriend and Caroline’s roommate, had gone home for the summer. By Saturday afternoon, the day after I finished Dog Crap and Vince, I was in a mood to socialize, so I walked over to Hampton Drive, about a quarter mile away. Caroline saw me first; she was standing on the balcony, attaching some kind of wire mesh to the balustrade and railing. “Hey, Greg!” she said.
“What are you working on?”
“I’m going to let Henry come out here. I’m putting this up so he doesn’t accidentally fall.”
“That’ll be fun. The cats we had growing up were always outdoor cats. It’s weird to me to think that Henry never goes outside.”
“When we got Henry, we knew he had to be an indoor cat,” Caroline explained. “The apartment wouldn’t allow it otherwise.”
I heard the door on the downstairs apartment open. “Hey, Greg,” Ramon said. “I thought I heard your voice.”
“I just wanted to come say hi.”
“Stick around. Liz is on her way up; she should be here soon. She’ll want to see you.”
I went inside to watch TV with Ramon and Jason. Ten minutes later, Caroline came down to tell us that the cat-proofing of the balcony was finished. All of us went to the living room of the upstairs apartment and watched as Caroline opened the door to the balcony, picked up Henry and put him outside. Henry looked around skittishly, then cautiously walked around, sniffing things. Caroline tossed him his toy, a plastic ball with a small bell inside; Henry sniffed the ball and swatted it away, then chased his little furry black and white spotted body after it.
“It’s like he doesn’t quite know what to think of the outside,” Caroline said.
Just then, we heard Liz’s voice saying “Hey, guys!” She walked into the apartment and put her bag down. When she saw me, she looked surprised for a second, then smiled. “Greg! It’s good to see you!”
“How are you?”
“I’m good.” Liz turned to see what everyone was looking at on the balcony. “Henry’s outside!” she said.
“Yeah,” Caroline replied. “I just wanted to try it.”
“It looks like he likes it.”
Liz moved her bag into the bedroom. After she came back out to the living room, Ramon said, “Jason and I have been wanting to try that new Arch Deluxe burger at McDonald’s. Greg? You can come with us if you want.”
“Sure,” I said. “I haven’t eaten yet. And I haven’t tried that either.”
“It’s supposed to have more of an adult taste,” Jason explained.
“What does that mean? How do hamburgers have adult tastes?” Liz asked.
“I don’t know,” Jason said. “It’s being marketed as more sophisticated.”
Across the street from their apartment complex was the back of a shopping center facing Coventry Boulevard. After making sure Henry was securely inside again, the five of us walked there. The McDonald’s was in the middle of the strip mall part of the shopping center and had no drive-thru. We each took turns ordering; I got an Arch Deluxe, eagerly anticipating what this adult cheeseburger would taste like.
“What have you been up to, Greg?” Liz asked as we waited for our order numbers to be called. “You’re taking a class, right?”
“Yeah. Computer Science 40, Intro to Software. It’s going well.”
“Today I made something new for my website. Just for fun, not part of the class.”
“Oh yeah? What is it?”
I told them about Dog Crap and Vince, how I had created the characters with Mario Paint a few years ago, and about the illustrated story I had written. “I’ll show you guys when we get back to the apartment, if you want.”
“Sure,” Ramon said.
Jason’s meal had arrived by then; he bit into the Arch Deluxe. “This is pretty good,” he said. “It’s different, I’m not sure exactly what is adult about it, but it’s good.”
“What does Dog Crap and Vince mean?” Caroline asked. “What does dog crap have to do with the story? Does Vince always step in dog crap?”
“Dog Crap is his friend’s name. So the title refers to the two main characters, Dog Crap and Vince.”
“Why is his name Dog Crap?”
“I’ve never explained that. It just is.”
“Okay,” Caroline said, as if not sure what to make of this.
The cashier called my number, and I went up to the counter to get my food. I sat down and opened the cardboard Arch Deluxe container. The burger had a different kind of bun, looking more like a sandwich roll, but round. I opened it and removed the tomato slice. “You don’t like tomatoes?” Liz asked.
“May I have it?”
I passed my tomato to Liz and took a bite of what remained of the burger. I liked it. Definitely different from most other McDonald’s products; it tasted like it was made from higher quality ingredients. “This is good,” I said. Growing up, I was a connoisseur of Chicken McNuggets; I did not usually eat hamburgers at McDonald’s, but I was willing to reconsider this position because of the Arch Deluxe.
We sat together at McDonald’s catching up for a while. Liz told us all about her summer with her family, and those of us who were taking classes shared how our studies were going so far. At one point, during a lull in the conversation, Ramon said, “Has anyone ever noticed that this song is the same four chords over and over again?”
“Huh?” Caroline asked.
“This song,” Ramon repeated. Blues Traveler’s “Run-Around” was playing in the background of the restaurant. “It’s the same four chords over again.”
I listened carefully to the guitar and bass playing behind the energetic harmonica solo. “You’re right,” I said, pretending to sound like I knew what I was talking about. I had three years of piano lessons in my past, and I had been singing in the choir at church for almost a year, but Ramon was a much more accomplished musician than I was. “I always thought it was catchy, though.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s catchy,” Jason agreed.
We walked back to the apartment after we finished eating. “Greg?” Ramon asked. “Did you still want to show us that Dog Crap thing?”
Ramon turned on his computer as Jason found something to watch on TV. He opened Netscape and asked, “What’s the address?” I typed the address for my website, then clicked on the link for Dog Crap and Vince. Ramon began reading silently as Liz and Caroline and I watched the screen. I felt slightly awkward. Was I supposed to read it out loud to them? How would Ramon know when everyone was done reading? At the end of the first page, Ramon asked if everyone was done reading before he continued to the next page. That would work. The others laughed a few times, such as when Dog Crap and Vince saw the Unabomber at the garage sale.
“That’s pretty funny,” Ramon said when he finished.
“You did a good job with the website,” Liz added. “Are you going to do more Dog Crap stories?”
“I’ll keep watching for those.”
The four of us hung out watching television and just talking for another couple of hours. I walked home after that and got out a sheet of paper. Future Dog Crap and Vince Ideas, I wrote at the top, then I added, Dog Crap is playing guitar, but he only knows four chords, and Vince says he can still play that Blues Traveler song. I used a variation of that line in another episode later that year, and I made it a habit to write down anything funny that I thought of or saw that could be used in future episodes.
Today was a good day. I would be eating many more Arch Deluxes in the future; this would become my new go-to order at McDonald’s. However, sadly, the product was considered a massive failure. The Arch Deluxe never caught on as a popular item once the initial hype faded, and a few years later, it disappeared from McDonald’s menus.
Dog Crap and Vince, however, did not disappear from my life. I continued making new episodes of the series for eleven years, with more animated short films after that. I also did numerous other side projects involving Dog Crap and Vince. Many of my friends have been involved in a Dog Crap and Vince project at some point. These two characters spawned a fictional universe that became a major part of my life for a long time. The world of Dog Crap and Vince even seemed to take on a life of its own at times. The cast of main characters grew from two to at least six, with many other recurring characters in their world, and at times, their stories seemed to take on lives of their own. I never would have believed, on that day three years ago when I drew those two silly-looking boys on Mario Paint, that this would become such a major part of my life.
Author’s note: Dog Crap and Vince is not real. It is based on an actual project called “Cow Chip & Lance.” I’ve known the guys behind those characters for many years, and I’ve done some work behind the scenes for them. They were thinking about reposting their web series from the 90s, and I’m writing about the 90s, so we decided to join forces on that project. Go check them out.