I wasn't a normal kid. In fourth grade when I started brown-bagging my school lunches, I had the uncontrollable urge to make a show out of it. "Peter Paltridge's Lunch Sack" became a daily magazine, complete with wacky comics, jokes, and fake ads like "Bubble Scum," bubble gum in extremely gross flavors. Some of the more disgusting ones my chagrined mother took white-out to before I took the bag off to school. "Bird doo!" was one she censored (making it ironically look like a bird had done its business there). She meant well, but she couldn't stop little boys from loving gross humor, and there were times when she just wouldn't let me be a kid.
Miraculously, many of my old Lunch Sacks survive to this day. Witness this glorious gallery of bag art, and click wherever your interest is piqued to view a bigger scan. In the meantime I'll do my best to explain just what the heck was going on in my mind that could result in this strange content.
The first two weeks were great fun, at least to my memory. Sadly those sacks are all gone, save for one: the ninth. The front is intended to depict a messy room, but I got tired of drawing items and just filled the remainder with curly lines. There's a pretty decent Bubble Scum ad on the back. I still don't see the point of "instant-win" contests where all you get is a coupon you won't use.
One of the earlier missing ones was some guy explaining that lunch sacks can't talk, and then after people read it I was going to put my hand down the sack to reveal a face on the bottom, turning it into a puppet and revealing that it really could talk. The joke played out differently than intended: there was a tongue on the backside where the puppet's mouth would be. Other kids spotted it and said "Hey, the sack is sticking its tongue out! I get it!" Whatever worked.
A few months later, the name was shortened to "The Lunch Sack" and the logo was revised. The well of spontaneous ideas quickly ran dry, and through much of the winter, The Lunch Sack was usually a weird doodle and an artsy depiction of the day's hot lunch menu. "The Bulletin Board" was an idea requiring audience participation, and as a result it didn't take off.
The Lunch Sack wasn't the only thing I created for school. Since second grade I had been buying blank hardcover journals from Hallmark and turning them into "The Classroom Volumes," tales of school that were based on real events, but then exaggerated.
This was, unfortunately, the last time a Classroom Volume would see proper release -- they were coming under fire. Several kids resented being in the books and demanded they be removed from the pages. Some felt I was insulting them, which sometimes wasn't true (other times they were right -- a girl named Billie Jo kept being introduced as "the girl with two boys' names.") I never knew what was going to upset someone, so with the release of "If You Don't Read This Book You're Crazy," I put forth the offer to white out anything someone in the class deemed unacceptable. Instead, the teacher laid down the law and the book was banned, as were all past Classroom Volumes and future Volumes to be. I had grand fun making those books, and I was sad to lose my audience.
I couldn't just stop, so I wrote a few more just for myself. One fifth-grade Volume, "De Mice," was the best one yet, but they would never know.
A typical mid-year Sack.
I wasn't a normal kid. Even my valentines had to be a big deal. I actually drew a small personalized comic for over 20 fellow students and tucked each one into its respective envelope. I only remember a couple of them. One kid got a game show, "Wheel of Misfortune," that was impossible to win and the contestant screamed at the end "WHO CAME UP WITH THIS, AN ENEMY??" "Anenome" was the correct answer to the puzzle and he won.
A girl named Mashayla received "The Committee to Figure Out What Rhymes With Mashalya." The best the committee could come up with was "Crayolela."
Once there was less than a month left in the school year, the sack got its original logo back and the creative Juicy Juice started flowing again, aided by my latest gimmick, taking suggestions from a paper box on my desk. It was at this point Mom started really bearing down on The Sack, even though it had barely displayed anything objectionable at all. "What kind of mother would censor her own child's thoughts?" you might ask. Well, mine would.
Bubble Scum was on the edge of her tolerance level to begin with, but that edge had moved further inland. I was told I couldn't write "scum" anymore because it was a bad word, so I had to change the name to "Bubble Yuck." It didn't appear much after that.
Don't get the "joke" on the front? Don't feel bad; no one else did either. You know that most color print media is made up of little dots, right? This was kind of swiped from a Jughead comic where the Beanied One made a series of lazy paintings, such as a bunch of horizonal lines called "Front Steps of Riverdale High" and a completely blank canvas titled "Closeup of a Crossword Puzzle Square." That comic in itself borrowed a lot from Droodles, but I wouldn't find that out for over a decade.
The response to the request for submissions was initially strong, but the flow soon trickled down to nothing. I didn't understand why at the time, but now I know it was probably because I kept deliberately twisting people's requests into things they hadn't asked for. I thought it was amusing to do so, but it wasn't as funny for them. When they asked for Garfield they didn't expect a lousy riddle and a sloppy doodle of Bo Sheep.
Oh yes...."Bust-A-Bucket." In the late 80's and early 90's the Portland Trail Blazers put out one musical single per year, starting with the embarrassing "Rad Bad Blazers" in 1987. Proceeds went to charity. Our music teacher would play the latest one for us every year, and they were pretty popular with us Portland children, just as the actual Blazers, currently on a winning streak, were. The song's lyrics are about a fan dreaming he's in the game, and they were rewritten here to be about a student.
The Blazers reached the finals around this time, and faced off against the Bulls -- the Air-loaded Bulls. Michael Jordan played what was considered one of the most amazing games of his career. As he passed the camera at one point he gave a bewildered shrug, as if to say "Hey, even I don't know how I'm doing this!"
We were on the other end of that.
"Teacher Appreciation Week"....yeah, the box was getting really low if I was resorting to this one.
This got a total dial-tone reaction from every kid at the lunch table. Not only was a Cheers reference lost on a group of fourth-graders, but none of them knew what the word "peer" meant either. It's interesting this scene of pure insults and violence got past Mom. I guess she wasn't paying attention.
TAG had a separate, weekly Lunch Sack all its own. To achieve the brushed effect on the right sack I carefully colored around the tiny holes made by a half-dry pink marker. It was a pretty labor-intensive effect for a sack of lunch.
A different Christmas-themed sack, now lost, explained that Rudolph had two brothers: Gooralph the Yellow-Nosed Reindeer, and Stoomouth the Green-Nosed Reindeer. "Once they fell on top of each other, and made the first stoplight!"
Boy, did this get blank stares. You don't have much of a chance of getting it either unless I explain what I was seeing in my head. It goes like this: if you recall, the slogan for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in the 90's was "Kraft gets your noodle going!" Well, here, it's "Kraft gets your poodle going." A poodle bites a large wedge of Kraft-brand cheese, and immediately takes off running around its house. The camera is shown from the poodle's point of view, and an old lady is heard going "Hey pootsie snootsie woogums, why are you going so fasty-wasty?" She doesn't finish that sentence because she was kneeling down looking at the poodle coming toward her, and it bashed right into her head. Because of the way I staged it out, leaving out several important details (like the poodle running, the center of the whole "gag") it's nearly impossible to tell what's going on.
"Kraft gets your POODLE going." Reeeeal funny, right?
Sometimes I only felt like decorating one side of the sack and I would write "WRONG SIDE" on the other end. This time, I drew a maniac wielding a flamethrower and yelling "YER ON THE WRONG SIDE!! NOW MOVIT BEFORE I TURN YOU INTO A FUN PART OF YOUR COMPLETE BREAKFAST!!!" If that wasn't tough enough, his shirt says "I ATE KING KONG!!" Don't wanna mess with him.
That's.....a Pancake with an Attitude.
One of the Lunch Sack's most devoted followers was my third-grade teacher. He collected about half of them from the first year, and he eventually made an entire section of the school's art hallway an exhibit of my art (for a limited time). Everything in that display case was mine, including the box of "CNN Cereal" and several Classroom Volumes. The CVs were already banned by that point, yet they sneaked themselves into the lineup.
Several lost Sacks are in this picture. I can't make out everything on them, but the one in the right corner is a guy saying "nothing ever happens around here" as a big hairy monster is about to eat him behind his back. The top middle sack is a depiction of typical elementary cafeteria table manners (one kid is licking the table). Somewhere in here, also, must be "The Dictionary-Spelled Edition of The Lunch Sack," where I wrote an entire paragraph using the pronunciation marks for every word, via looking them all up one by one. He loved that.
When the Lunch Sack began again the following September, it had changed format...not exactly because I felt like changing it, but because Mom thought the variety format lent itself to mischief and it'd be easier to chaperone a comic strip. Even still, she whited out the teacher's original name here. It's been changed to "Lollygag," a word my uncle made frequent use of during the summer of '92 because he thought it sounded funny. I can't tell what the original last name was, but it was more than likely a poop reference.
The Lunch Sack, in strip form, followed the adventures of a fifth-grade girl named "Jessica Blockhead." It may have been a forced change, but everything turned out all right in the end: Jessica was a lot more popular around the table than my old anything-goes doodles. I hadn't expected that.
Most indifferent reaction since "Peers." PBS used to have a program showcasing the Boston Pops Orchestra called "Evening at Pops." Now it's "Evening at Plops," because the players are sumo wrestlers and they sit (or "plop") on the conductor, squashing him. Haha...ha.
I remember thinking "Radio Station K-BLAM," a radio station that made your radio explode, was the funniest thing I'd ever dreamed up. But now? It's just odd.
About the message in the upper left corner: we were supposed to bring live worms to school, for real. This was for a worm-centric nature lesson.
I don't think every school does this, but ours did: beginning the day this sack appeared, my fifth-grade class took swimming lessons in a high-school swimming pool during the mornings, for two weeks. I don't remember the coach being that mean, but I like her style. This is one of the few sacks that's still kinda funny to an adult mind....except for the extremely lame joke at the end, which ruins it.
The sack in 3-D (with provided glasses) was a big hit. Jessica appeared in 3-D at least seven more times before the end.
"Swim Week" is the only sequence of strips I still have in their entirety. This is part of a sequence where Jessica must eat a plate of tofu, but only this bag still exists and I don't remember anything else about the story.
Such biting political commentary. I was too young to really know the difference between Republican, Democrat, and whatever Ross Perot was supposed to be.
Being forced to eat something is one of the more unpleasant drawbacks to being a kid. I drew several cartoons where kids were forced by their parents to eat toxic waste or slug soup.
The Lunch Sack celebrated its series finale in December 1992 with an entire week of strips in 3-D, but I hadn't expected it to be the real end. I was switching schools, and I anticipated starting the sack all over again for a new audience of students. It didn't happen. There was a complete lack of interest, and within a week, my motivation was gone. From then on, I carried plain brown bags to school.
My zest for creativity didn't die -- it just went elsewhere and took on other forms. I lost the Lunch Sack, but that Christmas I gained the Video Painter, and bags seemed like small potatoes compared to TV. Technology only improved from there. One of the reasons I have to be thankful for this century is that the Internet is the ultimate smelly paper sack.
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