Okay, this one goes out to any kid who was ever tripped in a school hallway, punched on a bus, threatened in a school yard, humiliated on line, or called a variety of hateful names that I don’t need to specify here. I guess that’s pretty much everybody. For what it’s worth you have my sympathy gang, because while some of the details may be different, I have been exactly where many of you are right now.
As a kid, I was bullied in every level of my school experience, from the grade school jackass who sat behind me on the bus every day for the express purpose of slapping my ears, to the dick stoners in high school who routinely beat me up for not getting high. And don’t get me started on the parade of Star-Bellied Sneetches that made up my college comedy club. It seems every school year brought a series of new shots to my soul, new disappointments I had to choke down and the miserable feeling that just as in years before, I had to gather what was left of my broken spirit and try to survive until June. And I’m not even talking about girls here – I’ll save the dating horror stories for later.
The thing is, somewhere deep inside of me, I had this crazy, impossible little feeling that things might somehow work out all right for me. Even when things were at their worst, I forced myself to trust that feeling. It felt like a little light inside me, and sometimes I was even angry it was there. Why such a pathetic, weak little flicker? I wanted a confident, inextinguishable bonfire. But that weak little flicker is all most of us get at first, and in time, the more we trust it, the brighter it shines. Some days that flicker was all I had to keep me going. And when I felt especially hurt or frustrated, or just so damn lost and lonely, I’d take my sketch book and draw up some little character (in my case a rat) doing something funny, or I’d write a story about idiot gangsters, or superheroes, or I’d find an animation festival playing cartoons by Chuck Jones, John Hubley, Tex Avery or the early Disney crew and watch them over and over. And the more I did things like that, the more I felt, “I’m happy here. I think I want to do this all the time.” And so my refuge eventually became my career. Granted, the ways I dealt with my teen-age trials were not the same way everyone else does, but each person finds their way through the maze of life on their own path. Maybe yours is drama, or mechanics, or sports or taxidermy or whatever. I’m pretty sure everyone has a true path, and you may even need to wander down a few and double back before you find yours. But if you make the effort, you will find it.
So if you’re reading this and you’ve enjoyed one of my comics, or a game I worked on, or a cartoon I had some hand in, I want you to do me a favor. Should you find yourself feeling like the world is set against you and there’s no way to find peace other than by hurting yourself or someone else, calm down, take a breath, and trust that little feeling inside you that things will be okay. And if you’ve searched for it and can’t find it, tell a relative, friend, doctor or caretaker how you feel. Emotional pain clouds reality, and the reality is you matter to a lot more people than you might think. Don’t let the insults shouted by cruel peers drown out the words “I want to help” that are spoken by your true friends. School years are brief compared to the rest of your life. Yeah, they may seem like an eternity, but more than likely, the confident, happy and successful man or woman you will be a decade from now will look back on those frustrating, stupid teen years, laugh and say “What the hell, huh?”
Forgive me if I’ve gone a bit preachy. Years ago I used to write those morality speeches at the end of He-Man episodes and I tend to rattle on. Stay well, kids.