Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Special Interests: Cartoon Beginnings

This is post #50. For this special occasion, I’ve saved a special interest. Today I will share with you how I began with my cartoons, and why they are so intimately tied to my Asperger’s.

I hadn’t done any cartooning in over 20 years, prior to Dude, I’m An Aspie! It was something I did as a kid, just for fun, for myself, with great intensity. But last year when I learned about Asperger’s and special interests, my cartooning phase was no longer just a peculiar activity. I understood now why I did it the way I did. I also understood why I needed to pick the pencil up and start again.

I wrote my own newspaper from age 9 to 11, on notebook paper, in pencil. Usually in class, after I finished my work, or during indoor recess. It was part news report, part tabloid, part comic book, and part activity book. I called it “a News,” or in plural, “Newses.”

Each News was a numbered issue in a series, carefully dated. I easily churned out over 50 issues at my peak output during my 5th grade school year. Unlike their contemporary, the Sayings Book, the Newses survived all this time in folders on my closet shelf.

The Newses went by several titles during their run. The very first ones, when I was maybe 7, were called "Pooh News." This was later followed by "Noo-Noo News."

Noo-Noo News Vol. 10, Issue 4, December 10, 1985

With Volume 11, the name changed to “Terminator: The End of Robby and Much More - In a Newspaper!” Robby was a friend and often the butt of the joke. It was all in fun. Really.

Terminator Vol. 12, Issue 1, January 23, 1986

“Terminator” had the best logos.

Terminator Vol. 13, Issue 1, Feb. 21, 1986
Terminator Vol. 14, Issue 4, March 16, 1986. Around this time, I acquired colored pencils.

And with Volume 16, another title change took place to “Piggy Parties.” This name, as with “Terminator,” was the winner of a contest among my friends.

Piggy Parties Vol. 16, Issue 2, April 23, 1986

For content, I drew on my observations. The day the clock went crazy. The day my friend dropped a strudel on the ground on a field trip. The time I made Green Lantern a vehicle out of lego. And, over a three issue stretch, I recorded all of my Hanukkah presents in order.

I also drew on my creativity, reimagining classmates as super heroes and villains like Little Big Pants, The Cucumber, and Ding Dong the Kangaroo.

Whooz Whooz entry for Ding Dong, in the style of DC Comics' Who's Who. From Terminator Vol. 14, Issue 2, March 11, 1986.

Artistically, I was most influenced by Jim Davis and “Garfield,” and emboldened by the step-by-step approach in Ed Emberly’s series of Big Drawing Books.

"How to Draw a Laying-Down Odie." From Noo-Noo News, Vol. 7, Issue 4, March 4, 1985.

The News had an endless variety of regular features.
  • Fake ads, such as the principal’s spanking paddle.
  • Lost & Found: “Found: Pizza. Yummy side down. Stepped on.”
  • Believe It Or Not: “We saw four Toys R Us commercials in a row! Believe it or not!”
  • The Daily Blah, which was activities like unscrambling words or quizzes: “What are the words you say to form Voltron?”
  • And there was a letters column, which I wrote and answered myself.
Looking back, in the context of a special interest, I see these sections as my fascination with the parts of a written publication. They served as a valuable structure in which to categorize all my ideas and doodles.

Odie reports on the mysterious appearance of a new wall in the classroom. From Noo-Noo News Vol. 7, Issue 2, Feb. 25, 1985.
The Weird Dictionary. From Terminator Vol. 11, Issue 1. Dec. 16, 1985.

For characters, I had very few originals in those days. I used Odie, but not Garfield. He was easier to draw, and was always a way more interesting character to me. I also used all the Q-Bert characters, despite the fact that I never played the video game. I developed a regular comic strip called “Slick Says Short Stupid Sam Stories.” S.S.S.S.S.S. became the centerpiece of each issue, with classic storylines such as the gang’s battle with the Mad Moustacher, Slick’s whirlwind romance with Slickette, and the epic 8-part series where Slick turned blue.

First appearance of "Slick Says Short Stupid Sam Stories." From Noo-Noo News Vol. 7, Issue 3. Feb. 26, 1985.

It all culminated in an 18-page project in the fall of ’86 called “Piggy Parties, The Book,” which was a parody of Transformers, The Movie. It took place 20 years in the distant future, in 2006, in which major characters died, morphed, had kids, etc. etc.

Odie meets his destiny at the hands of the Great Hubbabutt. From Piggy Parties, The Book, Fall 1986.

My elementary school friends were fans of the Newses, but their interest paled in comparison to my own. I was fine with that balance for awhile. I wrote for myself. It enabled me to indulge the weird workings of my mind, and create a universe unto itself. But eventually, when I changed schools and failed to gain new fans, creating for myself lost its appeal. In the years that followed, I made a few attempts to restyle my characters and go “all original,” but those always found their way to the trash bin. The Newses, however, stayed on, on my closet shelf. They carried some great importance, which I couldn’t put my finger on, but which was undeniable.

To understand Asperger’s as a positive thing, for me, is to understand why I made the Newses. They are irreverent, idiosynchratic, incomprehensible, and an essential portrait of who I was at age 10. The time I spent on them was unquestionably enjoyable, as I often churned out entire issues in a few days in bursts of free-flowing creativity. They are my most special of special interests.

That's why, when I disclosed my Asperger's, Dude, I’m An Aspie! had to be a cartoon. When I drew it, and when I started this blog, it was my hope that I’d be carrying on the spirit of the News. I feel like I’ve done my 10-year-old self proud. Who would have thought I would one day have an audience around the world? It is an amazing thing, and I thank you for being a part of it and for keeping me going.

But wait, the best is yet to come! In upcoming posts, we’ll meet the characters you’ve come to know from Dude, I’m An Aspie, and look at their beginnings in the pages of the News.


  1. "They are my most special of special interests."

    What a lovely, holy sentence.

    Thanks so much for sharing the Newses.

  2. I love these. They remind me so much of the elementary school newsletters in Lynda Barry's cartoons from the early 1990s — definitely worth checking out if you haven't read them.

  3. These are wonderful! I'm so glad you shared them and am looking forward to your upcoming posts.

    My girls fill page after page with their stories and wonderful little drawings. We easily go through 500 copy sheets a week. :-)

  4. Thank you Landon, Sarah, and Kim. I have never heard of Lynda Barry - looks awesome! Think I'll order one of her books.

  5. Lynda Barry is my idol. The! Greatest! Of! Marlys! is a good place to start for the stuff that reminds me of your cartoons. One! Hundred! Demons! is my favorite.

  6. Hi Aspie Matt,
    Thanks for your cartoons and humour. Fred, age 9, just found out he is too! He can really relate to your doodles - Thank You!
    From Heidi and Fred

    1. Welcome Heidi and Fred, glad you like it!

  7. I love these! Reminds me of the fun I had with my siblings as a kid - we had a whole array of characters that we would act out, draw and write about. I still have a whole binder of drawings somewhere.