After being laid off from a graphic design job, Tauhid Bondia was torn between finding another one or giving his dream since middle school one last shot.
Seeking guidance, he turned to his wife. And right there, in an ice cream shop, they started brainstorming.
It all came together on the drive home: Crabgrass, a comic strip based in the 1980s and following the adventures of two best friends.
As he drew comics that weekend, best friends Miles and Kevin were born.
On June 27, Bondia and his family will make an hour-and-a-half drive from their home in Hodgenville, Kentucky, to Lexington, to pick up a copy of his comic in print. Crabgrass will debut in about 30 McClatchy newspapers and websites on Monday.
“A newspaper syndicated cartoonist is like the truest definition of a cartoonist in my mind because I’m of a certain age and that’s what I grew up with,” he said.
Bondia’s passion for comics goes back to his early years. That’s all he wanted to check out during visits to the library. Then he made the transition from reader to creator for his high school newspaper.
After leaving for college in the ’90s, I dabbled in the occasional comic. His first to gain traction was A Problem Like Jamal in 2016.
Three years ago, Bondia connected with Shena Wolf, then a director of comics and acquisitions at Andrews McMeel Universal, and began the development phase of Crabgrass. Wolf would leave notes to make sure the characters developed and the jokes landed.
Bondia based Miles on himself and Kevin on his childhood best friend. But over time, the duo developed personalities of their own. I have experimented with different artistic styles and kept some mistakes, like making their eyes larger.
By his setting the strip in the ’80s, Bondia, 45, wanted to tap into nostalgia and appeal to an older base. But the only signs of the time period are the lack of cellphones and the comic’s name. Everyone struggled to get rid of the crabgrass in their yards back then, Bondia said.
Yet the series has engaged a young audience among its 145,000 Instagram followers.
“It’s hard to imagine that kids are out playing by the creek like I did when I was a kid but apparently, they still are,” he said. “Maybe I’m just old and grumpy and I think every kid has his face on the screen somewhere, but that’s not necessarily the case. They seem to relate.”
Before preparing a strip, Bondia thinks over an idea, feeling or theme until something pops into his head. Whether the boys cook Thanksgiving dinner or watch a wrestling match, he asks them what they would do. And they answer.
Wolf knew Crabgrass was ready for publication when her feedback list included nothing but the occasional comma or misspelling.
“I don’t think I can convey… how many sleepless nights I’ve had over this,” Wolf said. “If he lived anywhere near me, I would be driving a cake over there myself.”
As Bondia celebrates his work’s debut, he also reflects on a change in the industry. Comics today illustrate the needs of a generation of readers who demand new voices, interesting stories and better representation.
Calvin and Hobbes, one of his favorite comics, did not once include a Black character.
“That wasn’t something that I didn’t quite question until I got much older,” he said. “So it was important for me to have a Black character in my comic strip because I am Black and I think it’s an important voice to have out there.”
And now, Bondia will witness his effort and voice come to life. If only he could jump into a time machine and hand his childhood self a copy of a comic of his own.
This story was originally published June 22, 2022 12:14 PM.