My buddy and fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis thinks Sleeper Ave. is a terrible name for my new webcomic, and keeps encouraging me to change it. While I value his opinion greatly–he’s a very successful editorial cartoonist and comic strip artist and clearly knows what he’s doing–I don’t think the name of a feature is all that important.
Some of the most brilliant and beloved strips have names memorable only because people have come to cherish the content. Peanuts comes to mind. How about Dilbert, The Far Side, Fox Trot, Pearls Before Swine, Brevity, F Minus? Or Scott’s terrific strip, Prickly City? Would any of those names alone compel you to read them if you weren’t familiar with the work?The syndicate named my comic strip Freshly Squeezed, a name I never really loved.
So I’ll stick with Sleeper Ave., despite Scott’s counsel. If the content is good and compelling, people will read it.
If it’s not, Sleeper Ave. by any other name name will be a snoozer.
One of the more daunting challenges in creating something like Sleeper Ave., my soon-to-be posted (I hope) webcomic, is doing the research. Finding sources of information about half-remembered (or misremembered) events that happened a half-century ago is easier now with all the stuff that’s on the internet, but still spotty, especially when it comes to visual resources. Plus, I can get so caught up in it that I lose track of time and end up not actually drawing anything.
Then there’s the drawing–how to recreate a world that no longer exists. Was our car a ’47 or ’48, Chevy or Pontiac? What did that building look like? Was that street sign flat and printed or raised and stamped? What clothes did people wear? How accurate do I need to be, really, to tell the stories properly?
Do I need to be an archaeologist as well as a cartoonist? A little of both, I’m guessing.
Why write/draw about stuff that happened more than 50 years ago? Why would people beyond my friends and family care about the events I’ll be recalling in Sleeper Ave., the new webcomic I’m working on?
Because the past informs the present. We are what made us, and I grew up in interesting times. Waco, Texas, in the mid-fifties and early sixties was a microcosm of the rapid social and economic changes this country was experiencing. In some ways, because of the deep political and religious conservatism of the region, the post-post World War II era was perhaps more wrenching and deeply felt here than elsewhere.
Our tiny frame house on Sleeper Avenue was no different than the thousands of new homes that veterans returning from the war built for their young families, and our used car, prone to breakdown as it was, was what Dad could afford as he built his business. Throughout my a cartooning career, I’ve always held to the notion that my experiences were anything but unique; that tapping my memories and my emotions meant engaging those of my readers, too. If I tell these stories well, I’ll tell not just my story, but the story of those times, and the story of how we became who we are now.
Nothing in recent years has made me miss newspapering more than reading the obituary for legendary editor Ben Bradlee, who guided the Washington Post through the glory years of American journalism. I was lucky enough to have worked for a pretty good daily paper during a part of that era.
Alas, that time has passed. Editorial cartooning, my profession for 31 years at the Rocky Mountain News, has lost much of its potency, as newspapers decline, as publishers have become wary of controversy and as the internet and cable television have given rise to other voices satirizing politics in more immediate and visceral ways. Jon Stewart would have a been a terrific editorial cartoonist had he been willing to work for a frightened publisher at a dying newspaper for a whole lot less money and exposure (assuming he can draw).
I gave up editorial cartooning a few years ago, and I’ve now quit drawing my comic strip; for the first time in 45 years, my work no longer appears in a newspaper. I’m both sad about that and relieved. One thing newspapers are short on, especially these days, is space. It was always a rare newspaper that was willing to give over expensive newsprint to extended cartoon storytelling, and with papers shrinking, those precious square inches are even harder to come by.
The internet, on the other hand, allows us ink-stained wretches virtually unlimited real estate. We’re not confined to one small drawing a day.
Which is why I’ve decided to start telling stories the way I’ve always dreamed of doing, unconstrained by the limitations of space and looming deadlines. I’ll post the first Sleeper Ave. stories soon. I hope you enjoy them, and that you’ll take a few seconds to sign up below to receive them as I post them.
Developing a set of characters for Sleeper Ave (my soon-to-be released webcomic) is proving to be more difficult than I expected. For Freshly Squeezed, my comic strip, I could simply invent them and style them any way I wanted. Here, though, I’m creating cartoon stand-ins for real people.
How do I draw my mother and father, my sister, people I went to school with? I’m not a naturally gifted caricaturist to begin with, and I want a somewhat cartooney look, so I decided not to worry about representing people accurately in the drawings. Instead, I’m designing cartoon characters that may resemble real people in only the most superficial way. The above cartoon of me as a six-year-old is a case in point. Nobody who knew me then would recognize me in this drawing. I’ll have to be content with that.
Designing a webcomic is easy, right? Just start drawing like I always do, and it will work itself out, right? Not so fast. We’re not in a newspaper anymore, Toto. This medium allows me to can do lots of things other than draw sequential cartoon panels. I can tell extended stories, and I can mix art and text in ways I’ve never done before.
For the upcoming Sleeper Ave, I decided to tell a series of short stories, linked together by common themes, rather than try to create an extended narrative.
And what do the stories look like? How much drawing, how much text? What’s the appropriate mix? What do the drawings look like? More like my editorial cartoons, denser, more realistic? More like my comic strip, looser and more cartooney?
Then there’s the whole new character set I’ve never drawn before, not to mention the settings.
A few years ago I published a story about working in my Dad’s hamburger stand when I was a teenager. My sister and my cousin both said, “That’s not how I remember it.” Well, duh! Those were my memories.
Memory is a notoriously unreliable resource, but when putting together a memoir, what else do I have to rely on? I’m doing a lot of research as I create the narratives for Sleeper Ave, the web comic I’m launching soon, hoping for as much historical accuracy as possible, but ultimately, my own memory, faulty as it may be after more than a half century, will be my guide.
The hardest part of building a new comic feature–and the most fun–is the production design. I don’t really work in any organized fashion. I just draw randomly until I see something I like. In designing the main character (me) of Sleeper Ave, which I intend (hope) to launch soon, I filled pages and pages with quick sketches, hoping to find a look that I liked and a facial structure that I felt I could make expressive enough. Here’s one of those pages. The differences in the different heads, I know, seem trivial, but sketching with tiny variations lets me find something that I’m confident will work in the final product.
I started working this week on a new long-term project, something I’ve been thinking about doing for the last year or so, but couldn’t really start until I was finished with the daily comic strip.
In the next few weeks (I hope) I’ll launch the first installments of Sleeper Ave, a web comic about–well, lot’s of things–but based primarily on my memories of growing up in a small town in central Texas during a time of enormous social change in America.
Part of the fun of doing a project like this is building an audience. So, if you like my work, spread the word. Here’s a peek at one of the drawings from the first story:
For the fourth consecutive year, the St. Louis Cardinals are going to the NCLS. My pathetic Rockies are going to the golf course.
As I’ve pointed out before, the Cards play in the market most like Denver’s statistically. Yes, their payroll is marginally higher, by the price of a top-tier pitcher or two, but nowhere near the stratospheric heights of the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox. Yet their history is a storied one, with numerous post-season appearances and World Series titles. So much for the idea that mid-market teams can’t consistently compete with the big boys.
The difference between the two franchises? Could it be ownership and management?
The Rockies did get a bit of good news today. Dealin’ Dan O’Down, the losingest GM in baseball over the last 15 years, and meddling’ Bill Geivett have (finally) departed the scene, before the lynch mob could form at 20th and Blake.
That makes the Rox 2-0 in the post-season.
You take your victories where you can get them.
The online home of editorial cartoonist, writer and analyst Ed Stein.