By all accounts, Charles Balm was a lifelong student of film. He moved to California at 16, leaving behind his native Kentucky to stay with relatives and enroll in a community college at graduation with hopes of transferring to USC. “USC wasn’t really interested in someone like me,” he remarked during a 2004 interview. “I didn’t have family connections or money, my grades in every subject except English and Programming were mediocre, and I contributed exactly zero to campus diversity.”

Balm was able to gain admission to California State, but found his ambitions difficult to realize in the hypercompetitive film program. While waiting during the summer of 2002 for word from a studio internship program, Balm began dabbling with animation and posted a short film featuring Greeble, a loudmouthed and outspoken aardvark, and his dimwitted yet good-hearted roommate Josh. The first “Greeble and Josh” web cartoons attracted a small audience to Balm’s student web space, but after a change in format that solicited videos from fans (with Greeble and Josh adding commentary and performing interstitial skits) the site took off.

In less than a year, “Greeble and Josh” had its own domain and had broken into the Alexa top 100. The cartoons remained ad-free, but Balm’s graphic designer girlfriend created merchandise that was widely sold online and at independent book and comic stores. “It was a runaway success,” Balm noted in a 2005 appearance on KCAL, “I’ve won a few Webbys, which has made it tough for even USC to ignore me.” “Greeble and Josh” merchandise appeared on Iraqi bases, in orbit, and even a 30-minute TV special which aired in 2006. That special, and the Nintendo game that followed, represented the high water mark of “Greeble and Josh.”

On January 17, 2007, Charles Balm released his last “Greeble and Josh” cartoon. A message went up a few months later that the site was going on a short hiatus; no further updates were ever released. Fans keep a mirror of the site online, and “Greeble and Josh” merchandise quickly became collector’s items after the domain name for the site store lapsed in 2009. When a crew from KSCI tracked him down in the fall of 2009, a visibly relaxed Balm claimed that he had a film project in the works, and that he was enrolled in the USC film school under an alias. “‘Greeble and Josh’ was a means to an end, and it’s in my past,” he said.

Fans speculate that the “C. B. Smithy” credited as writer and director of the 2010 film “Love’s Last Gasp,” was actually Charles Balm. The film was barely released in theaters and prints have become difficult to find; the distributors refuse to comment on the identity of C. B. Smithy, other than to confirm that the film did not break even and led to a substantial loss for all parties involved.

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The new mayor was a godsend for Grimes: heavily freckled, red hair fading to white, ears that stuck out just a bit, and the beginnings of jowls at his cheeks. Nobody could argue that Mayor Grayling wasn’t a handsome man, but in the eye of a seasoned caricaturist, those features were ripe to be pushed out of whack.

Grimes doodled at his easel while looking at an 8×10 glossy of the man. He began with the shape of the head: a Nixonesque pear was perfect, and was added in light pencil. He fleshed out the cheeks next, bloating the slight flabbiness of Grayling’s jaws into jowls of epic proportions that wouldn’t be out of place on a mastiff. The mayor’s ears were stretched into outrageous satellite dishes ready to receive broadcasts from the Viking landers on Mars. Brisk charcoal strokes placed the mayor’s modest hairdo atop the pear and turned it into a grizzled and crosshatched mop. A dash of red from a Copic would be added later for the full color Sunday edition.

But it was those freckles which really interested Grimes. He drew a group of outlines next to the main sketch, testing different patterns and colors of freckles. It was a delicate balance: too many and too large meant Grayling looked like a spotted Martian; too few and too small meant there was nothing funny about it. Soon Grimes hit on a good balance, but one of his freckle studies intrigued him: in it, he’d used the freckles to spell out the phrase “politics as usual,” an inversion of Grayling’s campaign slogan.

“That’s a keeper,” Grimes chuckled. He added the freckle-slogan to the main caricature and leaned back, admiring his handiwork.