Today, I want to talk about how my comics work came to be. This is quite a story I have so I’m breaking it up into several parts.
At the time of this writing, I’ve finished the fifth episode of Sunnyville Stories. The pages are all inked and I’m waiting on the cover from Steven Martin. I’ve done five whole comics issues of Sunnyville Stories which is a fair accomplishment. I’ve been working on this story for almost three whole years now and it’s been quite a ride. So much came together and so much more had to happen for this comic of mine to be a reality. How exactly did Sunnyville Stories come together? Perhaps it’s best if I start from the beginning.
I talked a bit about myself in a past post, but I’d like to delve some more into my past and how it shaped me. I was raised in a working class neighborhood of Queens county, New York called Ridgewood.
We lived close to some industrial areas which consisted of some factories with delivery trucks running daily and Karl Ehmer’s, a chain of butchers and food stores based in Ridgewood. The photo you see is of Karl Ehmer’s mascot. Sadly, at the time of this writing, the main store and factory (which I had lived near) has shut down though the chain remains in business.
It was in this neighborhood that the seeds of Sunnyville Stories would be planted. Alas it would take many years to cultivate and sprout into something tangible. Within this working class neighborhood, I flourished. My father’s side of the family had been of German ancestry as many in Ridgewood used to be. They (meaning my father, my grandparents, and my great aunt) were chiefly a family of working class conservatives who were big supporters of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and especially Ronald Reagan.
I was different though. I didn’t dream of many professions that children my age might have thought they wanted. I didn’t want to be a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer, a police officer, and so on – I wanted to do something creative.
I wrote poetry in the first grade. I also read lots of books. My mom had taken me to the Ridgewood Public Library where I read not only fiction and joke books, but books on science, history, geography, electronics, computers, and anything else I could get my hands on. During the summer, the library would run animated films for children based on popular books like the Sorceror’s Apprentice and Frog & Toad.
The biggest boons to me and probably two major factors that would shape the eventual world of Sunnyville Stories came from my parents. They both expanded my world both figuratively and literally. My mom’s side of the family was from Italy and we made trips there throughout the 1980s. While my mom was busy introducing me to her family, many of which I’d never met before, what really caught my attention were the Disney comics they had there. Yes, in Italy, comics featuring the Walt Disney characters are very popular and actually outsell what superhero comics in the USA sell in one year!
What really amazed me was how different these Disney comics were. I watched many of the classic Disney cartoons, but these comics dealt with longer stories. They would be adventures involving Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Scrooge McDuck, and so on travelling to far away lands, exploring, searching for long lost treasures, and battling all kinds of villains. These fantastic adventures with these cartoon animals really got me thinking.
The other boon came from my father. Sometime in the 1980s, we got wired for cable television. This really expanded my world as many cartoons, TV shows, and movies that might not have been otherwise available to me became readily available. One of the stations we got was HBO, probably the quintessential premium cable channel. I have many fond memories of watching shows like Fraggle Rock and animated films on there like The Last Unicorn and the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
I was quite lucky. Many of the other children in my school didn’t have access to these channels. When I would talk about the neat movies and cartoons I saw on HBO or Nickelodeon (more on that in a moment), they had no clue what I was talking about.
The other cable channel that helped plant the seeds for my work was Nickelodeon. This cable channel, billed as being the first network for kids, really had amazing programming back in those days. Here’s a neat page to check out if you want to see what Nick was like in the days before Spongebob Squarepants. Many of the shows were just mind-blowing and unlike some of the material I was seeing in syndication. There were many Canadian shows like You Can’t Do That on Television, Turkey Television, and the Kids on Degrassi Street. There were superb game shows like Finders Keepers and Double Dare. Probably the key show they ran that set the stage for Sunnyville was…you guessed it, Maple Town. Check out my post on that show for more info.
The working class neighborhood, my travels and my access to cable television in the 1980s were instrumental to my creative development. The seeds were planted in the ground for my avant-garde comics saga. But it would be many years before those seeds began to bear fruit.
That will be in my next post. Be sure to watch for the next post on the beginning of Sunnyville.