Going Home Again: Revisiting Past Projects
Today, I’m probably best known for my long-running gig as an editorial cartoonist and illustrator at Charleston City Paper. Even though it’s a local alt-weekly, I’ve managed to gain recognition across the continent through awards, convention appearances, and a TEDx talk. But to some, I’ll always be known for my 90s-era indie comic Boondoggle.
The Old Haunt
Borne from a strip I did for my campus paper in college, Boondoggle was an odd comic, to be honest. Essentially a “hangout” comic, it was about the titular small town, full of social misfits—including an ADHD-riddled loudmouth child, quintessential 90s slackers, and a handful of “funny animals”—commenting on current events and slinging sarcastic quips at a rapid rate. It also had its share of heart, with constant themes and topics of family, friendship, bigotry, and homelessness. Creatively, it was a brain stew of all my influences past (comic strips like Pogo, Bloom County, and Calvin & Hobbes; indie comics like Milk & Cheese, Critters, and Tank Girl) and then-present (like the talky dialogue of Clerks and the storytelling flow of Pulp Fiction). It was also, frankly, a comic I did for myself as much as anyone else, something I often just sat down and drew with the slightest of outlines in mind, in an almost improvisational fashion.
ShoutFyre’s own Robert W Hickey was the first publisher to give Boondoggle a post-college paper home, through his SKY Comics’ imprint Knight Press (thanks, Bob!). The first issue set the tone for the series, spending 22 pages bouncing from the conversation between a pair of would-be passengers waiting at a bus stop, to the passengers on the bus and their own unbridled mayhem. Subsequent issues fleshed out the cast and their overarching character arcs running below the commentary and antics. Somehow, it developed a bit of a following, with frequent letter-writers from around the world sending their thoughts and appreciation every issue—ah, the days of fan mail, instead of the angry feedback I see posted below my editorial cartoons today!
The Years Since
From the mid-to-late 90s, Boondoggle saw series runs from Knight Press and Caliber Comics’ Tapestry imprint, as well as a number of anthology shorts from multiple publishers. When the title was caught in the implosion of too many b&w creator-owned indies vying for shelfspace, it took to the web, with a regular feature on the now-defunct comics newsite PopImage through the early ‘aughts. And then, as my editorial cartooning gig picked up and frequency of updates on PopImage slowed, Boondoggle, well… it sort of slipped into the ether.
“Gone, but not forgotten,” as they say. The characters have always sort of lingered in my head, and there have been moments when I’ve toyed with storylines to bring them back. More than once, I attempted a story through the eyes of Boondoggle’s local band Wookiee Chesthair, fringe-characters who could drive commentary around a “comeback” in a medium and industry that’s largely shifted from analog-to-digital in their absence (how meta, but probably a little too meta). More surprisingly, though, have been the fans who’ve proven the characters stayed with them as well. The readers who tracked me down on Facebook or Instagram over the decades to say how much Boondoggle meant to them. The retailers who supported the book back in the day—like Comic Book World, Laughing Ogre, and Captain Blue Hen—and still keep in touch to express their appreciation and share their memories. And publishers like Bob, who probably brought me on to write this blog in large part because of our time together with Boondoggle.
As of March 2020, it’s been 25 years since that first issue saw print through Knight Press. It’s a date that’s weighed on me for a while now; a time ripe to finally revisit the small town of Boondoggle and catch up with its residents, but also an opportunity to fail to live up to the memories of its fans (or myself). As I wrote previously, imposter syndrome never really goes away, and that’s painfully true when revisiting one’s past work.
The Silver Anniversary
Part of the struggle has been, “What story to tell, 25 years later?” There have been many false starts over the years. In addition to my “local band comeback” idea, friends and readers have made suggestions over the years:
- Revisit the characters and conversations as they were in the 90s, like a time capsule? Probably good fodder for the GenXers and existing fans in the audience, maybe not for the Millennials, GenZ, or potential new readers.
- Age everyone up to catch up with them in real-time? It’s been done in Doonesbury and Savage Dragon, but I’m not sure about Bumper’s ADHD rantings as a man-child now in his early 30s, or those 90s slackers now in midlife crisis mode.
And, honestly, part of me wondered how well Boondoggle’s social commentary would go over with some of those fans today, given how divided we all are over certain topics (as those angry posts under my editorial cartoons can attest).
There’s a saying that if you’re having a hard time bringing a story or drawing to life, it’s the wrong story or drawing to be doing. Following my own advice about how/where to get ideas, I realized I was overthinking things. Scrapping every previous attempt (sorry, Wookiee Chesthair, I’ll get to your “comeback” metacommentary another time), I thought back to that first Knight Press issue. The social commentary, the small town, the characters; that was the simple formula that resonated with those early fans and letter-writers. And of course the town of Boondoggle would be impacted by the divided nature of today. If anything, that very division itself, as indicative it is of our current climate, would be the driver of that commentary and a meaty topic to explore. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” to trot out another adage.
Much like I would 25 years ago, I just sat down and drew, with the slightest of outline in mind. And where to join some of the more prominent characters in the opening panel? Why, a bus stop, of course… In response to my posting the pencils of the panel on Instagram, one of those original letter-writers commented. His response? “Take me back to Boondoggle!”
I’ll take that as a good sign.
Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic) BOONDOGGLE