sam the dog

In the late 1990s, as newspaper publishing began the economic slide that continues today, a quixotic editor named Cole Campbell (now deceased) assumed the editorship of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, onetime pride of Joseph Pulitzer. Campbell sought to engage the city in his newspapering project, to the occasional consternation of his staff. Among the projects he championed was a beautifully illustrated serial that ran on the Saturday editorial page: D.B. Dowd’s Sam the Dog. Sam attracted a devoted following during its 108-week run. But the serial befuddled some readers, annoyed others, and became a source of friction in the newsroom.  

A second look reveals why: the feature was dense, lush and bleak. But it was also true, inasmuch as it skewered some of the racial and class tensions that have long dominated–and still bedevil–the city and county of St. Louis. The area’s problems have not resolved themselves since, as revealed by events surrounding the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014.  

One of the last episodes in the serial concludes with these words: “Soon the pastoral sweetness of gunplay and crabgrass settled over the neighborhood once again. The essential rules and fundamental outlines of Trapper City remained unchanged.”

The spreads shown here are from the Sam the Dog Revisited Project, two chapbooks of excerpts from the series published in 2014.