One of the reasons I decided to draw “Sleeper Ave” was because my children were so intrigued by the stories I’ve told them about growing up in a place and at a time so different from theirs. I wanted them to see how much the world has changed in the fifty-plus years since their dad was a boy. They urged me for years to tell my stories in cartoon form, and I’m finally at a point in my life when I’m free to do it.
Many of changes of the last half century are much to the good. I never saw a black face in a classroom until I was in college. The terror of nuclear annihilation (so much a part of the fabric of those times, and the subject of next week’s story) no longer hangs over us like a malignant cloud. We are wealthier and healthier and live longer than ever before. Communication and transportation technologies have shrunk the world; we are more interconnected than ever before.
Other changes are not so great. We knew the woman who waited on us in the department store, the butcher at the grocery, the owner of the convenience store, by name. Not today. Mom and Dad let me walk or ride my bike anywhere I wanted (I just finished a story about that, which will run sometime in the future). Sometimes I was gone for hours. Today that would be considered criminal neglect. We probably have less to fear than ever, yet we are more fearful. We no longer let our children roam freely.
The richest nation in the history of the world can’t seem to find a way to share its wealth equitably among its citizens. The economic divide is growing, the safety net shrinking, our commitment to meeting the needs of our fellow citizens less certain than ever. The level of political discourse is nastier and more divisive than at any time since I began my career as a journalist. We are deeply divided politically, and much more distrustful of the motives of those we disagree with. We’ve replaced respectful disagreement with outright contempt. I don’t draw political cartoons anymore, but I’m still at heart an editorialist, and the current political climate worries me deeply; it severely hampers our ability to solve problems.
I don’t intend to get back into the business of editorial cartooning directly, but I don’t expect to keep opinion out of my work, either. One of the reasons I draw “Sleeper Ave” is to show what we were like, for good and ill, and to give us some basis for reflection on where we’ve come from and where we might be headed.
On this Father’s Day, I thank you, Gabe and Tasha, for encouraging me to recall those times and to tell these tales.