Sam the Dog in St. Louis: Ferguson Before the Fact
Decades and decades ago, I did some work for the Collegian newspaper at Kenyon College. That’s a distinguished publication as cartoonists go. The Collegian published a cartoon called Pee Wee Fernbuster by a certain Bill Watterson my freshman year. He was preceded by the great Cincinnati Enquirer editorial cartoonist Jim Borgman (who nowadays draws Zits).
My contribution to the Collegian was a character named Sam the Dog who appeared in strange vertically-formatted thing with an abstract sensibility. I drew Sam in 1980-81 and 1982-83, or my sophomore and senior years. Later my visual proclivities carried me to graduate study in art, and I developed into an amalgam of printmaker/illustrator/cartoonist. (My undergraduate study in art was truncated; I was a history major at Kenyon, all but a second in drama). In 1992 I was hired to a position at the art school at Washington University in St. Louis.
Then, in the late 90s, a quixotic editor named Cole Campbell (now deceased) assumed the editorship of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, once the pride of Joseph Pulitzer. Cole wanted citizens to participate in the newspaper, and I was recruited by editorial page editor Christy Bertelson to get involved. Thus, among the projects Campbell championed was an illustrated serial that ran on the Saturday editorial page, which started out under the name Metro Trap, and starred a central character named Sam the Dog. (The title of the feature changed to Sam the Dog about 40 weeks into the run.)
The St. Louis Sam was acidly satirical: an allegory of race and class in St. Louis. The feature ran for 108 weeks from 1997 and 1999. As at Kenyon, this very different mutt developed a cult following. But many found Sam off-putting, and the serial became a source of controversy in the newsroom.
The fictional town of Trapper City was populated by pigs and horned animals. "Horns" were an inescapable marker of otherness. The most interesting character in the serial was Hoofer Dupree, a Vice President of Appearances at suburban Planetary Finance, who chafed against his role.
Last summer I resolved to consolidate my various efforts on my website. I decided to create a few projects based on older work, starting with the old Post-Dispatch Sam. I had already begun the process when Mike Brown was shot in Ferguson, and all hell broke loose. As I curated the old Sam stuff, I was struck by how plainly the unspoken rules in St. Louis had been articulated in Sam: no wonder people had been pissed off.
Trouble in Trapper City and The Ballad of Hoofer Dupree (Sam the Dog Revisited 1 and 2, respectively) are 40-page books measuring 5.25 x 5.25. They're available here, and will soon begin appearing at select comic book and museum stores.