When I didn’t have an idea for the day’s cartoon, I used to sit at my desk at the Rocky Mountain News and play with my kneaded eraser. If you’ve never used one, kneaded erasers are soft hunks of rubber that, unlike those hard pink erasers, absorb the graphite from the pencil, which makes them much tidier than the kind that spread little crumbs all over the page.
They get softer and more malleable as you use them and as your body heat warms them up, until they have the consistency of modeling clay. While I was noodling out an idea, I’d often shape my eraser into little sculptures. I made eagles, porpoises, dogs and cats, Easter Island heads, chairs and coffee cups, anything to distract me while I waited for an idea to bubble up in my head.
In thinking about the last Sleeper Ave. story, that habit was likely a carry-over from my childhood, when I spent many happy hours making things out of clay. As I noted in the story, I was fond of sculpting models of my favorite comic book superheroes. The bright colors of the clay were perfect for recreating in three dimensions the colorful comic book characters I adored.
I also found it easier to make respectable reproductions of Superman, Batman, The Flash, et al, in clay than it was to draw them. Being able to stretch and pull and mold the clay made it more likely that I would end up with a decent representation. Plus, something about the tactile nature of working the clay was deeply soothing and satisfying.
Apparently I never got over that feeling, because playing with the kneaded eraser gave me the identical sensation.
Either that, or I never really grew up.