Bleeker strip bridges online, comics page

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog will find himself amid familiar friends when National Robotics Week takes hold across the U.S.

The high-speed machine _ think a four-legged iPod, cellphone, music player and computer all rolled into one sleek, but furless canine _ is the virtual epitome of what advanced robots could, ultimately, one day represent.

All of which has his real-life creator Jonathan Mahood excited about how his comic creation is paying homage to the week of April 9-17, which celebrates the science of robotics and its application in research, science and, of course, consumer electronics.

“This is a definite fit,” he told The Associated Press this week, noting that Bleeker is both a robot and dog with an eye toward making the life of his master, 10-year-old Skip, easier and more entertaining.

“That was a springboard,” the 42-year-old artist and writer said of the six strips running next week that tie into National Robotics Week and show Bleeker taking part in education events about robo-technology. “That’s what my comic’s about: a robot trying to interact and mesh with his owner.”

Mahood created his strip in July 2006 for a website, originally calling it “Hoover: The Rechargeable Dog.” From there, it grew to more than 1,000 subscribers online, changed to the current name and began expanding to traditional newspapers, albeit online, in the U.S. and Germany.

By 2010, it had more than 27,000 daily subscribers online when New York-based King Features Syndicate took note and in January began distributing the strip to traditional newspaper clients, where it has taken root on comics pages with stories about the friendship between a boy and his dog, even if the dog is a walking cellphone, scanner, GPS unit and Internet access point.

It’s also distributed through King Feature’s DailyInk digital application, too.

Now Mahood finds his audience bigger and more diverse and has had to make some changes to his style, including more single-day gags and jokes as opposed to four- or five-day story-themed strips.

“I was really preaching to him the one-off, the easy to clip out and put on the refrigerator philosophy,” Brendan Burford, comics editor at King Features said, adding he was a fan of the strip well before Mahood was picked up by the syndicate.

“I was tickled from the get-go with his great comic strip,” Burford said.

For Mahood, making the transition was an ultimate goal.

“I grew up reading newspaper comics, my brother and I fighting over the comics section on the weekend,” he said. “That was always kind of my goal when I started back in 2006 online.”

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