(Byron’s note: Bear with me as this story from my childhood leads to a point for us comic creators)
1969. It was the summer of Woodstock and Man landing on the moon. It was the first time actors appeared nude on Broadway in a little musical called “Hair”. It was the Age of Aquarius and the year Brian Adams pines about in his song “Summer of ‘69”. It’s the year the Chicago Cubs blew a huge lead and ends up losing the title to the New York Mets. In film a VW bug car comes to life in “Herbie the Love Bug” and in song the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” went to Number 1.
But most of all 1969 was the year I turned 12. Twelve years old, that wondrous age where you start to leave childhood behind and prepare to take your first steps toward adulthood. For me it is the year I first became a self-employed person. I started my one and only paper route that year. Let me give you a little background on how this came about and how it applies to my comic drawing of today.
In 1969 I lived in Pekin, Illinois, as my Dad worked at the local High School as a counselor. Times were much different. As the ‘60s came to a close, the country had shifted from the Normal Rockwell paintings of a humble and perfect American family to a country torn by political and social unrest. The Vietnam War was in full swing and protests were nearly weekly events. Pop music was no longer about four clean-cut lads from Liverpool, but rather about rock bands out of California bringing psychedelia into the Top 40. Groups like the Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix were taking groups like the Monkees, Herman Hermits and Dave Clark Five and shoving their faces into the dirt. Heavy metal was arriving and the folk movement of the ‘60s was fading out.
But for this 12 year old boy, who was finishing up his 6th grade year, all of that didn’t matter yet. I was still glued to the TV set on Saturday mornings watching cartoons. But even these constant companions were beginning to lose their appeal. Posters of bikini clad women started to show up on my bedroom walls instead of the Flinstones. As the games and toys of my childhood began to bore me, I took on more mature hobbies like building model cars and rockets, reading comics and sneaking Playboys from my Uncle’s basement. I also wanted a “cool” bike which was a Schwinn Stingray with banana seat and butterfly handlebars. I believe I bought one for $10 from a neighbor. To get the bike, my parents taught me a life-long lesson: nothing is given to you but rather earned.
So, if I wanted to buy MAD magazines, models or even a bike, I had to earn the money. What can a 12 year old do to make money in 1969? That’s right, get a paper route. This was serous business. The Peoria Journal Star, the local rag, was hiring “hard-working boys” to deliver their morning papers by 6:30am every day. I got lucky and scored a route near my home. I was about to go into business for myself. The Journal Star required all paperboys to have their own checking account as I had to pay for my papers each and every week. Then I would sell these papers at a profit to my customers. I would once a week walk my route with my little book full of tear off tabs that would tell me which customers had paid and which ones had not. I quickly learned I could collect about half my route to cover my costs of the papers and the uncollected ones were MY money. Once I hit a certain level, like when I needed $5 to buy a new model, I would hound those customers who had not yet paid me and I would take my profit and buy the model.
Now, in 1969, it was nothing to let a 12 year old boy get up at 5:30 in the morning, get dressed and leave the house on his newly acquired used Stingray bike to cross over a 4-lane road to deliver papers at the sub-division on the other side of the highway. So I would peddle my way to every house on my route with a stack of newspapers strapped on my shoulder in this HUGE carrying bag. No one thought twice about my safety as there was nothing to worry about. Folks watched out for kids like me and knew who I was, even though I was not from their neighborhood. Adults thought nothing of me working on a street corner at the break of day as I folded and stacked my papers into my shoulder bag.
Imagine that today. A local kid getting up in the dead of winter to RIDE his bike in the snow to deliver your morning news by 6:30am so the folks going to work at the local Caterpillar plant could read their paper as they drank their coffee at work. Mind boggling, isn’t it? Now, my parents would only drive me to deliver my papers if it were snowing… heavily. They weren’t mean; rather they were teaching me responsibility. You can’t depend on others to do your job for you. So, buck up and get it done.
Times are, of course, different today and your local paperboy has been replaced with a cigarette smoking, coffee chugging disgruntled man who tosses your paper on the driveway. I had to put the paper between the screen door and the front door of each and every house. If they weren’t folded just right, my parents would receive an angry phone call from this one old lady at 6:00am, and that’s certainly something this 12 year old did not want to face when arriving home.
But that job taught me a life-long lesson: that if you did a good job and worked hard; you would reap great rewards. At age 12 I learned what it took to be a businessman. So it is no surprised as I moved on into Junior High and High School, I took up mowing lawns for my summer income to buy bigger bikes, better models and eventually fueling my never ending need for newer and louder stereo systems. Those early lessons always stuck with me: the customer is always right even if it’s some crabby old lady whose only job was to make my life miserable as a paperboy. What it really taught me was how to perform so well that even SHE could not complain. Work hard and even that old-bat would eventually tip me for my hard work.
This is a good lesson for all us Webcomic Artists who dream of having a career drawing full-time. If we can do what I did as a 12 year old paperboy with our comics, then we will be successful. If you have the drive to get up before everyone else and peddle your bike in the dead of winter, then success will come to you. And if you have a reader like that old lady, remember they only want your best and in their own twisted way should be motivating you to improve and work harder on your craft. If you aren’t, then you’re just peddling your bike for nothing.