Buttman is missing? Well, he might just be out hunting toilet paper like everyone else.
About a month before Kansas City workers were forced to abandon their downtown offices in response to the city’s Stay At Home order and ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, a strange series of “missing” posters papered the Crossroads Arts District.
Illustrator TJ Hanscum had no way of knowing the guerrilla marketing campaign for one of his most popular comic creations would foreshadow the neighborhood’s — and the broader business community’s — largely missing workforce within weeks.
“Buttman” — described by Hanscum as a man-like creature with a heart-shaped head looking for true friends and world domination (and perceived by many as an alter-ego of his creator) — already believed in self-isolation, Hanscum joked, as well as avoiding anxiety related to an unpredictable future.
“I think Buttman would definitely not want people to panic, and that they should self-isolate and all that jazz,” Hanscum said. “I feel more than anything he would have that ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ sort of vibe.”
Today, most of the missing posters in the Crossroads have blown away or been removed by other street artists and communicators, but Buttman’s — and Hanscum’s — colorful and warped artistic universe remain as an escape for those looking for distraction.
“I tend to stay away from current topics and trends with my work, and have my characters be in a space that kind of lacks the politics and world events seen in our world,” Hanscum said. “ … But I think Buttman would be one of those people to stock up on toilet paper even if he doesn’t need it.”
An agent of chaos?
A University of Central Missouri student, Hanscum claims he’s just the messenger of Buttman, coyly denying theories the character is an on-the-nose riff on his own personality.
“Obviously we have similarities between him and me, but I try to make him different when he interacts with other characters,” Hanscum said. “His actions are like a chaotic good or neutral.”
As the illustrator and “agent” for Buttman, he created a rich comic book world that featured the protagonist in many of Hanscum’s zines and illustrations, fascinating his studiomates and instructors. Recently, however, Buttman disappeared from all of his works, he said.
“He’s got a little cult following in my illustration classes and with all my friends… but I thought to myself that I don’t want to just draw Buttman all the time. I also want to show that I can draw other characters … so for the next couple illustrations I just focused on other characters and there was a period of time where I didn’t draw him,” Hanscum admitted. “After almost a month I made a little joke in my illustrations — a poster that read ‘Buttman — last seen on …’ and then the date he was in my last illustration.’”
“Eventually more and more missing posters showed up in my illustrations,” he explained. “I made the [real world] posters to [drum up support] for Kansas City Zine Con. I thought they’d be a good idea to hang up so people would be interested and look me up.”
The campaign worked, said Hanscum, noting many followed up on the intriguing posters and his Instagram account blew up with support.
Click here to visit Hanscum’s Instagram and see more of his work.
“I was thinking that as I travel around the Midwest to go see family — I can hang them up in other cities,” he added. “I think I’ll have a pack of missing posters in my car with tape so I can just hang them up wherever. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Out of the woods, into isolation
To anyone that was worried — Buttman was spotted in one of Hanscum’s illustrations near the end of the fall school semester in 2019, he said.
“I made an illustration where he was in the woods and he had found his own missing poster. He was this raggedy-looking wild man with mud all over him, and he was looking at his own missing poster,” said Hanscum.
The narrative rounds out and ends with Hanscum’s zine comic, “Lost,” in which Buttman is the vessel for a story about loneliness and low self worth, he said, noting it follows Buttman through a journey that eventually ends with him reconnecting with friends.
“He just works his way home and finds out that his friends had been waiting for him the whole time and they give him hugs and it makes him feel better — because they were there for him the whole time,” Hanscum said. “So yeah… technically he’s not missing anymore.”
Click here to hear from Hanscum about how he created Buttman.
Buttman’s intentions and past are a mystery even to his creator — with the character appearing as a medieval king, then a tail gunner in a bomber escort in a series of comics where he was an immortal being working his way through every era, he added.
“He’ll flip flop back and forth from burning at the stake to being the Holy Pope or something,” Hanscum laughed. “I like to think he loves his friends and he’s got a respect for them all, but he’s also lived a dark past. I guess this is my way of making him a complex character.”
Though producing the comics are time-consuming, the worldbuilding and storytelling aspects can “take you anywhere you want,” he said, noting an acrylic painting series of 16 panels featuring a host of other characters are in the works.
“I’ve really enjoyed making the series of panel paintings of my characters in the past few weeks, and it was nice just kind of sitting down and getting intimate with one character while I had ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ playing in the background,” he added. “Now that isolation is in full effect, I really just want to sit down and make a comic.”
‘As long as life can still read …’
For the rest of 2020, Hanscum had planned on returning to Kansas City Zine Con in August to release more merchandise featuring the iconic character, though widespread event cancelations because of COVID-19 concerns have left those plans in limbo, he said.
“[KC Zine Con] hasn’t released an exact date yet, but they haven’t said anything about cancelling yet,” Hanscum said. “However, it’s sad that some other Cons have been cancelled like the Paper Plains Zinefest in Lawrence, as well as one of [UCM’s] senior shows that we were planning on having in KC.”
Click here to keep updated on the KC Zine Con.
Despite the uncertainty, Hanscum reports the plan to build out a freelancing career in illustration in coming months, as well as after graduation from UCM in May, still remains the same.
“I will have a website up soon, and more comics and illustrations are always in the works,” he said. “As long as as life can still read I will continue to do so indefinitely, along with attending any future Cons I can sleaze my way into.”