Yeah, I know there are more than five candles in that cake. I'm just feeling generous. So generous that I'm going to share a few early, embarrassing versions of Cul de Sac that I never even showed my editor.
Here are the first two strips I tried with the Otterloop family, and you can see just how badly things could have gone. There's something that looks like it should be Alice, but it sure ain't Alice; she's too prissy by half, and that hair.... I think I drew these in 2003. By then I'd shown Wash Post Mag editor Tom Shroder some rough ideas for the proposed new comic strip, including a few featuring a family in the DC suburbs. Gene Weingarten had written a column about parents naming their daughters "Madison", denouncing the name as laughable and pretentious. Reader reaction had been intense and humorless, as you'd expect from people who'd stick their daughters with "Madison." So when Tom made one of his periodic phone calls checking on the progress of the strip, I blurted out something about some kids? maybe a family? who live in the suburbs? and one of them's a girl? Tom asked what the girl's name was. I said "Madison." But only to make him laugh; actually I had no idea who she was.
Tom wanted the family to have a pet, nothing specific, but it should talk whether anybody understood it or not. We'd recently acquired a guinea pig named Scurry that had been evicted from my older daughter's kindergarten class because it wasn't hypoallergenic. And I'd read a comment from a comic book collector who liked the vinegary smell they give off as they decay.
Sam, the Boy Who Talks to Animals, but I changed his name. The new kid was going to be neurotic and timid so he became "Petey" because it's a loose, finger-snappy name. So, y'know, it doesn't fit. And that makes it funny.