For the past six months it's been a dating ritual: After dinner, Cierra Howard and Kevin Timpson would sit side by side reading the comics pages, sometimes doing the characters' voices aloud.
On Monday, Howard, 23, and Timpson, 26, had dinner at at her Sacramento apartment then turned to her favorite strip, "F Minus," by Tony Carrillo. Howard did a doubletake when she read her name on a banner flying from the strip's cartoon airplane.
"Cierra, will you marry me? Kevin," it read.
Confused, she looked up, and there was her boyfriend down on one knee, holding a ring.
In what certainly ranks among the more unusual marriage proposals, Timpson, a grocery clerk and student, sought the help of Carrillo, an Arizona cartoonist, to pop the question to his girlfriend, who works in marketing at a Folsom firm.
"I wanted to do it in a way no one I knew had ever proposed," said Timpson, who works at Whole Foods in Roseville. "I wanted to surprise her and make her laugh. She has a really good sense of humor."
A few weeks ago, Timpson sent an email to Carrillo proposing the proposal. To his delight, Carrillo said yes.
"No one had ever asked me to do something like this before," Carrillo, 29, said by phone from his home in Mesa, Ariz.
The couple's comic-reading ritual, which Timpson described in his note, helped win the cartoonist over. Carrillo said he had one caveat: The strip still had to make sense to all its other readers.
"F Minus" runs in about 150 newspapers, including The Bee, where Timpson and Howard read it.
Carrillo started brainstorming ideas. When he came up with a favorite, he sent it to Timpson and got his OK.
In the comic strip, a man kneels on a beach, holding out a ring to a woman. A plane flies overhead towing a banner with a marriage proposal. Underneath the proposal is an advertisement for a burger joint.
"It was a little cheaper to share the banner," the man tells his would-be fiancée.
It's no coincidence the cartoon characters look like Timpson and Howard. Timpson had sent Carrillo photos.
"That's really what Kevin looks like," Carrillo said. Between the likeness and the names, Carrillo said, he was nervous that someone who knew the couple would see the strip and tip Howard off before Timpson had a chance to propose.
That didn't happen.
On Monday night, Timpson cooked Howard a dinner of eggplant parmesan to mark their one-year dating anniversary. Afterward, they sat down to read the comics together.
The proposal caught her off-guard, but she quickly said yes. Now they're considering a spring wedding.
"I loved how he proposed," she said Tuesday. "It's totally him. It's totally us."
As for the comic strip, she said: "I love 'F Minus.' It's sarcastic and goofy. I love it even more now."