When I was eighteen I went off to an art college in Philadelphia. It was a miserable experience. The first day my girlfriend broke up with me. In a letter. The rest of the week I had something like food poisoning and hallucinated day and night. This situation was not helped by the fact that my roommate was a racist hillbilly who sounded like Elvis, carried a handgun and never once took off his Planet of The Apes makeup the whole time I was there. I couldn’t wait to get away from him every morning to go to school. I’d leave for class at dawn and every day saw police taking away bodies of people who had died on the sidewalk during the night. Just tell me when you think I’m making this up. All the lockers were taken in the building where my sculpture class was so I had to bring eighty pounds of clay with me, ten blocks to and from the school. What Aztec god had I offended? The building was not the snazzy, post modern building I had seen in the brochures. It was a dingy, industrial revolution ruin, in the former Philadelphia Insane Asylum building. Inside it was designed like a labyrinth. I inquired about this. It was so that even if the inmates broke out of the locked wards they would “never find their way out of the building”. The high walls around the building had broken bottles mortared along the top. Originally this was to keep insane people from getting out over the wall and killing everybody. I eventually formed the opinion that the reason this feature had remained into it’s art school incarnation was because the broken bottles helped prevent the insane street people from getting in over the wall and killing all the students. During the entire time I was there nothing good happened. I was trapped in a Roald Dahl story that seemingly had not point, moral or end. Finally one day I did a drawing that I was pleased with. I timidly showed it to the teacher. She looked at it and smiled and in an instant, ripped it in half, again and again at the thew the pieces in my face. She then intoned, “Creation comes out of destruction” a sentiment I feel would have been more at home in a Maoist Reeducation Camp than an art college. I looked down at the pieces of my drawing, around my feet like leaves. About this time I decided to end my life.
I sat on the roof of the dormitory building, ten flights up and dangled my feet over the edge, looking down into the abyss next door, a vacant lot full of debris. I thought about falling forward into that abyss and just ending it all. Somehow, I didn’t. I believe it was the feeling that this would have been a massive betrayal of my parents, who I loved very much. So I didn’t kill myself. I went to plan B. I dropped out of school. I ran away, leaving everything I owned back in the dorm. I took a train out of Philadelphia and sat across from an old black man who held a bloody handkerchief to his mouth. He had just been mugged. He cursed and spat out teeth and blood until he left the train. I rolled on.
I went back to Connecticut, not having a plan or another destination. I couldn’t face my folks and ended up living on the streets, panhandling, staying with my hippie friends and sleeping in my old wreck of a car. Eventually I got work loading crates at a warehouse. Waitering. Delivery boy. Short order cook. A little modeling. A little acting. I scraped up enough money to rent a room in a commune with two nice hippie girls and three nasty biker/ school bus driver druggies. I had a portfolio made out of two pieces of corrugated cardboard held together with duct tape. Whenever I had enough money to get myself to Manhattan and back, I would take my portfolio in to the various magazines and try to sell them cartoons. Eventually I sold two page parody of Jaws to Doug Kenney at the National Lampoon. With that sale as my calling card, I then sold cartoons to Suzanne O’Malley at Esquire. Emboldened by this, I tried Michele Urry at Playboy magazine. We hit it off and I did cartoons for her for decades after this. Along the way I was finally able to face my parents. I started working as an assistant to my father on his new Hagar the Horrible comic strip. I discovered that I liked to draw. I loved to draw. and I loved working with my father. Thus began the next chapter of my life, my partnership with my father. The decade that followed was pleasant and productive and I never again was dogged by the demons of depression and desperation that had marked my early years. If I had flown off that roof in Philadelphia, I would have missed so much. So much joy, happiness, the love and friendship of so many friends and lovers. I would have missed the larger, deeper relationships with family members. I would have missed out on a dozen or so dogs, cats and other creatures that found their way into my heart. I would have missed far too much. I’m glad I stuck around. You have to stay at the party all the way till the end. That’s when the good stuff happens.