Surviving the World

A Photocomic Education by Dante Shepherd


Fred Paulson Institute, better known as the home university for the photocomic, "Surviving the World", has a long and rich history that dates back far before its founding.


Frederick Paulson was born in 1852 in the small village of Wincheck, Pennsylvania.  The location of his birth had lasting significance.  A heavily wooded area mainly populated by bears and the people who were far too frequently eaten by bears, Wincheck was a town heavily populated by former Dutch immigrants.  After the city of New Amsterdam was ceded to the British, a cluster of citizens refused to surrender and continued a series of small skirmishes against British soldiers — uprisings that did not result in a great deal of violence or casualties but did result in a great deal of annoyance. 

After months of these skirmishes, the remaining Dutch resistance was threatened with imprisonment — to which the Dutch responded by building a catapult and using it to launch a boulder through the front window of a British general’s home.  In response, the general roused a small battalion and chased the Dutch west from the former New Amsterdam, continuing the pursuit until reaching a heavily wooded area where he was repeatedly losing soldiers to bear attacks.  In a moment of sympathy for the Dutch, who were likely being eaten in similar frequency, the general offered a truce, proposing they all return east, on the basis that the skirmishes would end and British rule would be accepted.  In response, the Dutch guided a provoked and highly annoyed bear into the British camp, at which point the British left the Dutch to their bear-infested wilderness.

Likely, the story of Wincheck would have ended there if not for hastily built walls and the fortunately-timed onset of hibernation for the bears.  The village was able to keep its hold and survive as a result.  But such acts of pride would not be uncommon over time.  The town of Wincheck had added the word ‘City’ to its name in late 1880s — not to reflect growing population in the village (in fact, a particularly vicious outbreak of the flu had actually decreased the number of residents in the decade) — but to further distinguish themselves from nearby farming community, Rocky Waist.  The name change had little effect other than to drive farmers from Rocky Waist to charge Wincheck City residents extra for milk out of spite, a tax which remains to this day.

Paulson was born into a traditional Wincheck family, contributing in the local lumber industry at an early age, as well as taking part in the regional duck smuggling trade.  The timing of his birth caused him to be just young enough to miss being conscripted into service during the Civil War — likely, he would have been hauled in to join the fight in some manner if the army did not feel that the benefit obtained from pursuing potential young soldiers was not worth the number of soldiers lost to bears in the area.  However, the return of several siblings from the fighting allowed Paulson to learn a number of new battle techniques with which to fend off attacks from the wild creatures, knowledge which enabled him to become well-known as the greatest bear warrior among the Dutch.

The Dutch influence is notable to this day in Wincheck, as the local high school athletic teams are still named the “Oranje”, wearing blazing colors of orange and white.  This nickname is often extended to athletes at FPI, although they officially go by the “Rocks” in recognition of one of Paulson’s revolutionary, but illegal, bear-wrestling techniques.

The Institution

During the early 1890s, Paulson made the acquaintance of Ignatius Horation, a young, affluent, self-proclaimed philosopher from upstate Vermont.  Horation had been traveling through Pennsylvania when he happened to stop in Wincheck.  While in the town’s main saloon, Horation happened to overhear — and see — a conversation involving Paulson in regards to his most recent kerfuffle with a rival duck smuggling gang (the result of which included three flattened smugglers under a hastily felled tree, and five rogue ducks).  Horation offered to buy several rounds, and he and Paulson struck up a new friendship, regaling each other with stories for hours.  Horation marveled at Paulson’s explanation of the town’s history with bears, while Paulson was astounded by Horation’s experiences in cow jumping during his youth in Vermont.

It was during these conversations that Horation learned of Paulson’s desire to better educate the region on means of fending off bears.  A classroom education, Paulson felt, was primarily important to reduce the risk presented by actual encounters and would eliminate a need for complete on-the-job training.  Paulson, however, had never been able to establish such a college, despite a widespread interest from the surrounding towns and villages, as a result of a distinct lack of funding.  Horation, desperate to use his wealth for a truly original cause that would have lasting contribution, insisted upon supporting Paulson’s cause.  The two formed an alliance and set about establishing a college devoted to educating the masses in anti-bear techniques.

The Fred Paulson Institute was founded in Wincheck City in 1895.  Some initial dispute had arisen between the two colleagues over the name of the college, but Horation, despite being the primary bankroller of the endeavor, decided to defer the honor to Paulson out of respect for his wilderness capabilities and his surprising genius for educational development.  The college, in erecting several buildings to meet their needs, incorporated the old bear wall into the grounds, part of the reason for why the majestic stone walls remain standing today.

The Rivalry

Initially, FPI would only offer one degree: Advanced Bear Battle Aptitude.  Studies included learning many techniques from the top experts of the time — Gregor Samson lectured on the intricacies and deployment of his famous “Withering Cockroach” maneuvers; Peter Rubens explained the physics behind his Sandwich technique; and Diana Hague discussed personal fitness, focusing particularly on the importance of improving one’s eyesight as much as possible.  For a time, the limited curriculum was sufficient, and graduating students were able to increase wilderness safety across the country.  The desired lasting impact that had served as the driving force behind the college’s founding was being achieved.

Despite the institute’s success, Paulson saw opportunity for expansion into other fields, initially inspired by the potential for multidisciplinary research to improve bear-fighting — employing math and physics to hone skills, using literature to create more lasting and inspiring accounts of past incidents — but eventually as areas of learning in their own right.  Horation balked at such a proposal, as it not only represented a drastic change in the institution’s structure, but he felt it would also dilute the importance of the college.  While a strong friendship had been forged during their time together, the debate over educational practices tore the two men apart.  Horation would depart FPI in 1909 to return to Vermont and form his own institute of higher learning, taking most of the existing monetary support with him.  FPI struggled financially for years, but was able to survive (some scholars suspect the college continued through this dark time only because of support obtained through Paulson’s duck smuggling, but no evidence has been uncovered to prove these theories), while Horation University flourished, gaining such a reputation for decadence that it led to many calling it “The Ninth Ivy”.

Horation eventually greatly deviated from his set philosophy of only offering a single anti-bear degree when he added “Armadillo Farming” to his university’s curriculum in 1928, when he became deeply and emotionally attached to a pet armadillo he had received as a pet.  Having finally broken Horation’s set rule, within months, the university drastically expanded to include most of the standard areas of study found at colleges today.  In a strange turn of events, Horation would not live to see much of the curriculum expansion implemented, as his attachment to his pet armadillo would come at the expense of discovering that the species carries leprosy, and Horation died under quarantine shortly thereafter.

Paulson, on the other hand, remained true to his roots, and died in 1933 when he was eaten by a bear.

Today, the two institutions continue the rivalry of their founders in a series of athletic competitions each year.  While the Horation Tangerine, having the greater endowment and thus able to recruit student-athletes of a higher caliber, tend to win most matches every year, the Rocks are always able to win the only competition the founders would truly care about today: bear wrestling.

FPI In The Modern Era
Today, college life at the Fred Paulson Institute continues on in the tradition of its main founder.  A heavy mix of unorthodox teaching styles, unconventional curriculum, and rustic charm (usually in conjunction with a heavy dose of questionable humor) has created a strong academic environment and well-balanced student body.  Although expanding the reach of the institution through the internet has led to a highly inaccurate student:faculty ratio – one class in particular has driven the average ratio to several-tens-of-thousands-to-one – students have been well molded by the knowledge and life experiences obtained at FPI.  While the number of rogue bears on campus has drastically decreased, life continues on as ‘the Fred’ would have been proud to see.

And new students are always welcome to register and enroll!  We look forward to your joining the FPI family.