Life is about finding your niche. As a freshman, Seth Sheldon wanted to get involved with The Chronicle, but, he says, "I wanted space without any real responsibility." He considered applying to write a humor column, but coming up with so many campus-based jokes on a weekly basis seemed tedious, and, well, overly wordy.
But Sheldon soon found his niche. Over winter break of that year, he created the first ten "pilot" strips of what would become "Stick It," a comic strip published three times a week during the school year.
"Stick It" features, as its main characters, faceless stick figures, a choice that Sheldon, now a senior, says was deliberate rather than a reflection of the limits of his artistic ability. "A person reading a comic is more or less uninterested in how the character looks." Comics like Doonesbury, he says, sometimes get bogged down in the visual details—not to mention the dialogue. Sheldon focuses instead on conveying meaning through movement and positioning. "I'm learning more about body language than I thought I would with stick figures."
Some of his strips will poke fun at things he sees around campus—big sunglasses, funny signs. In one he made fun of a sign in Perkins Library that read: "No hot or odorous foods" by having one of his characters tell a walking female carrot in a bathing suit and a walking onion that they have to leave.
Many of his ideas originate with conversations he has with friends. Sheldon and Ryan McCartney, an editor for the paper, were roommates their sophomore year. The paper's managing editor "would joke that the comic was a portrayal of what our life was like in the dorm," McCartney recalls.
"It turns out it's only loosely based on the two of us," Sheldon says. In fact, he says that the two main characters—neither of whom is ever named—in some ways represent two sides of his own personality. "One side of me will look at something or think of something and think it's kind of funny, and the other side will make fun of it because it is so moronic," he says. "That lends itself well to having two characters."
Just because he was looking for something without too much responsibility doesn't mean he hasn't worked hard. He's never missed a deadline in his memory, even last fall, when he studied abroad in Venice. The strip's main characters toured Europe, appearing twice a week and taking in only the most stereotypical tourist offerings the continent has to offer.
When he's not drawing or reading comics, Sheldon, who grew up in Orlando, Florida, is busy pursuing a major in earth and ocean sciences and a minor in medieval and Renaissance studies. This summer, he has an internship with the Fish and Wildlife Service doing arctic bird habitat rehabilitation on the coast of Maine. But upon his return, he plans to head back to the drawing board.
The longevity of "Stick It"—five semesters and counting—is unusual for a student comic strip. McCartney, who served this past year as the paper's editor in chief, says that the last long-running strip was "Blazing Sea Nuggets," a creation of David Logan B.S.E. '03 and Eric Bramley '03. " 'Blazing Sea Nuggets' had such a role on this campus," says McCartney, who entered Duke as a freshman the fall after Logan and Bramley graduated. "People still talk about it. My next-door-neighbor has one of the cartoons up on his door."
While Sheldon doesn't foresee a career in comics, that type of campus acclaim is something he doesn't mind shooting for.
Seth Sheldon, providing comic relief
August 1, 2007