In college, I drew a weekly comic for the campus newspaper. It wasn’t exactly a diary comic, but it was heavily autobiographical; on occasion it also drew pretty blatant inspiration from other cartoonists and comics I admired — Peanuts, Doonesbury, Bloom County. (Once, after completing a summer internship in Washington, DC with a focus on the history of American political cartoons — and smugly impressed with myself the way only 20-year olds heady with esoteric knowledge can be — I did an homage to early 20th-century cartoonist Ding Darling, which I’m sure most people failed to appreciate, and who can blame them, really?)
The comic above appeared in March of my senior year, and was probably the most popular comic I ever created.
Bloomingdale’s, the storied luxury retailer, often came to campus to interview students for their management program; many of my classmates longed to land a job there. I was not then, nor am now, a particularly Bloomingdale’s kind of person, hence the sign.
May 25th, of course, was graduation day. My graduating class, to my surprise and delight, chose to put this comic on a t-shirt, which they distributed to seniors during graduation weekend. My college roommate still has hers. It still fits her. I am jealous.
Some notes on process, and materials: the campus newspaper deadline was ca. 7PM on Monday nights. I usually had an early afternoon class on Mondays; I’d get back to my room around 4PM, toss down my stuff, spread out on the floor with a piece of paper — Bristol, a sheet of dot-matrix paper, whatever was handy — and a pen, and start drawing. Sometimes I’d have an idea in mind, sometimes not. I’d finish the comic by dinnertime at 6PM–5:30PM if I was scheduled to work in the dorm kitchen that day–then run it over to the newspaper offices after dinner. That was the ideal schedule, anyway; I seem to recall some panicked phone calls from The Mount Holyoke News at 8PM (and later) asking me if the cartoon was finished yet.
My cavalier attitude towards the whole process horrifies me now. I look at this comic and think … did I not have access to a ruler? (Though it occurs to me I still have trouble drawing a straight line even with a ruler, so I might let my past self off the hook here.) Something about much of the bold lettering makes me think that I must have only had a calligraphy pen on hand to letter with. (How? Why?) And of course, because I pushed up against the deadline so hard, I would never have had time to do a comic over again.
Pfffft. Drafts, schmafts.
As I say, my process then horrifies me. And yet, I sometimes regret that I, and my drawings, now lack that kind of spontaneity.
I’d sometimes use screentone (as seen on the shirt Comics-Kelly is wearing, and her hair), when I’d had a chance to get to the bookstore at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to get some. I applied it artlessly, randomly, with little finesse–but the fact I’d used it made me feel like a “real” cartoonist. Also, because I was clumsy with craft knives, little bits of screentone would stick to various parts of me for about a day and a half. I wore them like badges of honor.
Screentone is gone now, mercifully replaced by Photoshop and other programs. I’d now be able to send my comic via email instead of running across campus. “Long distance call” is a phrase without meaning in a world of unlimited calls. (Seems amazing now that we tried to wait for nights and weekends in order to make long distance calls, because calls were cheaper then.)
However, there is still one constant, thirty years on: I still have no idea what I’m doing with my life.