In second grade, a new kid named Ryan Meinert joined my class. He befriended me; I befriended him. So far all normal. I’m not sure how it started, from where the idea descended, but I began giving him a weekly handwritten newspaper: Nate’s News.
I know I included jokes I gathered from other places. I’m confident I included some news stories; whether they were serious or not, I can’t say. Maybe I included baseball scores, football scores. Maybe I included other sections–I’m just not sure. And I only made one copy of each issue: the one I gave to him.
No copies of this august publication remain.
Summer of ’86 was hot and dry across Minnesota. There was lots of dust, and for much of the summer, my house didn’t yet have central AC. We utilized the “fan method” of cooling: put the fan in the window at night. We also had a ceiling fan in the living room, which helped move around the hot air.
Just as with Nate’s News, I’m not sure what prompted this, but I drew a one-panel comic strip. In it, a somewhat human-looking individual is sitting in a chair, the ceiling fan spinning overhead. The joke is the juxtaposition of the man saying, “Boy, is it hot!” with the switch marked “Hot/Cool” set to “Hot.” An attempt ironic humor.
I rode my bike downtown to the office of the local weekly newspaper and asked to speak with the editor. For whatever reason, perhaps because my mom worked as a receptionist there, he agreed to see me. Of course nearly thirty years later I remember none of the conversation I had with the editor, but I do know that I handed him the cartoon, and a week later, I had my first official publication.
Two years later, I was immersed in the world of reading comic strips and comic books as well as in making my own. My comic strip was Stupid Cowmix, and among my other creations was the comic book Molecule Man. I spent hours in my room first using my wooden ruler to draw panels and then filling them with text and pictures that I thought were funny, clever, and entertaining. My parents humored me.
But in that time from 6th grade through 8th grade when I was dedicated to the comic world, my drawing ability peaked, and the following year other interests grew and continued on through high school: basketball, music, role-playing games, and theater.
And what I realize looking back is that it wasn’t so much about the drawing. It was about story. About pacing and timing. About humor. About making something of my own. Taking ideas and materials and creating something that someone else could read and connect with.
Since my mid-twenties, I’ve dedicated my life to making things: poems, stories, essays, blog posts, literary journals. I can trace a line back through those earlier experiences, realizing that they were preparing me for what I love to do.
Even now, all of my efforts begin with a blank page.
[Note: see this prior post about how I came to write poetry again.]