May 11-17, 2001
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Darden's Snyder named dean at Chicago
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Northwest ties lure Reed to retire

Meditation can assist in the healing process

The Batten Institute spurs innovative business ideas
Intern program offers new job perspective
Nanotechnology: making parts small so big things can happen
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After Hours -- "Slowpoke" moseys along the road of alternative comics

"Slowpoke" moseys along the road of alternative comics

Jen Sorensen
Matt Kelly
Jen Sorensen

By Matt Kelly

Jen Sorensen is slowly making a name for herself in the world of alternative comics, which is appropriate for a woman who describes herself as a slowpoke.

“Slowpoke” is the name of her four-panel weekly comic strip that appears in Richmond’s Punchline and is under consideration by several other publications.

“Slowpoke,” which Sorensen named after her philosophy of life rather than a character in the strip, is populated by Mr. Perkins, who is a prim and proper gent, possibly English, with a large, phallic head; Little Gus, a young man constantly searching for answers; and Drooly Julie, a trench-coat wearing modern girl stalking heavy-metal guitarists.

Sorensen, a night supervisor at Clemons Library, said, “While I’m certainly a moseyer on my own time, I do try to move at an appropriate speed when at work. In fact, I can move with surprising alacrity when necessary.”

And at the end of the semester, Sorensen will start working on Web development for the new Center for Religion and Democracy in Cabell Hall.

As a child, she drew her own comics patterned after the Walt Disney comics she collected and still has. The Lancaster, Pa., native cited the work of the late Carl Barks, who drew Disney’s Donald Duck comic books from 1942 to 1966, as her inspiration.

A solitary child, Sorensen spent her days drawing adventure stories patterned after Barks’ duck stories.

As she grew, Sorensen got away from the adventure narrative. In high school, she drew caricatures for the yearbook and later, at U.Va., she was graphics editor at the University Journal, and contributed illustrations to The Declaration and several other publications as well.

Sarah Dyer, a Staten Island, N.Y., resident who works in the alternative comics industry, saw Sorensen’s work in some U.Va. materials and approached her about contributing to “Action Girl,” a collection of work by female cartoonists. This appealed to Sorensen, who graduated in 1996 with a degree in anthropology. She had considered graduate school, but decided she would like to try her hand at cartooning for a while.

From this, she generated a 24-page book, Slowpoke Comix #1, published in November 1998, which she described as “surreal and whimsical.” She financed the 3,000 issue press run, distributed by Alternative Comics of Gainesville, Fla. She said she sold about 1,700 issues, which allowed her to recoup the cost of production and show a small profit.

“If I get reorders, I may have a second press run,” she said.

Using the comic book as a springboard, she launched the weekly strip, which was picked up by Richmond’s Punchline. She actively markets the strip and said that there are some other publications, some as far afield as Alaska, that are looking at taking it on. Her work has run nationally in Funny Times magazine, a tabloid-size, newsprint magazine of illustrated humor.

She is also releasing a new book in May, Pompous Café, a collection of the weekly strips in a 64-page, 8-by-8 inch, square-bound book. Sorensen said it would be available at local comic book stores as well as at Amazon.com.

The production costs of this book are covered by a 2000 Xeric grant she received last year from a foundation that awards money twice a year to independent cartoonists and artists. The foundation was developed by Peter A. Laird, one of the co-creators of the Mutant Ninja Turtles to assist independent comics artists and writers.

She also illustrated a two-page section in “The Big Book of the ’70s,” published by Paradox Press, a division of DC Comics, one of the big names in the comic book industry.

While that gives her a small foot in the door, Sorensen does not see herself working for the large comic publishers, where the style of art is more well-muscled superhero models. She prefers the realm of the alternative comics.

“I think it’s like making independent films, where you have the freedom to create something intelligent, something with a certain humorous angle,” she said.
“My dream would be to be set up in enough papers to make a living,” she said. Meanwhile she works at jobs that allow her time in the morning, her most creative time, to work on her drawings.

“I’m not a morning person, but I like to have a couple of hours to do my work,” she said.

“I see myself doing something like [the Web development job] alongside the strip,” she said because doing a daily strip would be too demanding and it would consume her life. “But drawing comics will always be a part of my life.”

Sorensen works from a notebook where she jots down and refines ideas, not drawing until the story idea has been worked out. She prefers to work with no deadlines, but manages to get her weekly strip into Punchline under the wire. Last-minute filing is easier with modern technology. She draws and letters the cartoons by hand, then scans them into the computer and transmits the images to the periodicals.

She said she would like to get a week or two ahead, but sometimes enjoys the option of being topical.

“It’s rare that I explicitly state anything,” she said, though she admits that she makes fun of President George W. Bush. She said she has not had a strip pulled because of content.

“There are times when I will criticize the harried capitalistic culture,” she said, pointing specifically to a strip in which a blob of Snooze Ooze mellowed out rushed executives and made them slow down.

Otherwise, she does not translate many of her personal philosophies into Slowpoke.

For Sorensen, modern life has developed a pace that has become unsustainable and unpleasant. She said while she is fond of computers and some technology, she does not understand how people can cope with the speed of modern life. She does not understand how local people can commute to Washington and she herself refuses to drive on the beltway because of the volume and speed of traffic. She lives within a 10-minute walk from her regular job, and her studio is set up in her bedroom, so she does not go far to cartoon in the mornings.

“I tend to be a slowpoke,” she said. “I don’t like to drive fast. I don’t like to do things in a big rush.”

Note: “After Hours” is a feature section exploring the noteworthy non-work pursuits of U.Va. faculty and staff. Please submit nominations for future columns to insideuva@virginia.edu.


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