FOGGY WITH SLEEP, MILLIONS OF Americans crawl out of bed, grab a cup of coffee and a Danish—and boot up their computers for a look at the comics. Or, in this case, the comic. Computer freaks have their rituals, it turns out, and getting their daily dose of a cartoon called NetBoy is one of them.
The brainchild of computer graphics whiz Stafford Huyler, 24, NetBoy was launched on the Internet last May. An oversize circle head atop a single pen stroke of a body, NetBoy, says Huyler, is "an idiot savant, an innocent," but savvy enough about the arcane jargon and obsessions of high-level tech-heads to poke fun at them. NetBoy is outraged over CISCs (complex instruction set computers), in quest of faster GIFs (graphics interchange formats) and contemptuous of the problem-plagued Pentium chip. "I tap into a level of technological knowledge these people have in common," says Huyler, who estimates NetBoy's following at 1 million. Last December six users per second were accessing the strip, causing the system that delivers it to networks to crash, forcing a three-month hiatus during which Huyler designed a serving system able to handle the demand. "NetBoy is about the culture of people who love computers," says Harley Hahn, coauthor of The Internet Yellow Pages. "As Netboy grows up, so will the Internet."
NetBoy's creator grew up in Winnetka, Ill., the oldest of three sons (father Jerry is in advertising; mother Jean is a garden designer). Bored in high school, Huyler—already into illustration and computers—skipped college and in 1988 started an electronic graphics business with his dad. It folded after a year; while the Net-Boy concept fermented, Huyler delivered pizza and programmed digital keyboards for musicians. Then, in November 1994 he cofounded Intelli.com, a feeder to the World Wide Web of linked Internet sites, which allows him to work on his own and be a professional Internetter.
With the new server in place, NetBoy is back. But Huyler, who lives near Chicago with girlfriend Sarah Ellerman, 22, a writer and computer programmer, even now is making plans to move beyond the Net. "NetBoy is the product of the future," says Huyler, who is planning to market a video game and NetBoy coffee mugs. "In 10 years, when you're watching 500 channels of interactive TV, I want NetBoy to be one of those channels."
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