2004: Maryland Gazette: Funny Business
by Elizabeth Leis, Staff Writer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
to Aford News Archives
To understand Aford Turtle,
one has to first understand what he is not.
He is not political. He is not edgy. He's not even overwhelmingly
But to thousands of children and adults, he is a humorous
hero reflecting their everyday experiences - even if he is
The man behind the "Aford" T. Turtle comic strip,
23-year-old Pasadena resident Aaron Riddle, said the strip
is influenced by his fondness for animal comics like Peanuts
and Garfield. He began forming ideas for the strip at the age
of 10, he said. His material includes experiences from his
years at Chesapeake High School and the University of Maryland
"The comic has always followed me," Mr. Riddle said. "I
always have pre-printed sheets with panels so if an idea comes
I can write it down. Thinking of the ideas is the hardest part."
Recent strips have included the flood of Aford's home, one
of the more unfortunate parallels to Mr. Riddle's life. In
Tropical Storm Isabel, his Pasadena home, which belongs to
his grandmother, was flooded. The soaked floors and other damages
forced Mr. Riddle to move to a Glen Burnie apartment.
But since Mr. Riddle "looks at my life as a cartoon," he
was soon inspired to exorcise his feelings through the strip.
"The flood was very traumatic in the beginning, which
is reflected in the strip," he said. With the help of
family, friends and his religious faith, however, he soon began
cracking jokes at post-flood life in the strip. Mr. Riddle
said he is now ready to move toward his goal of syndication.
The panel debuts on Page B3 of today's Maryland Gazette and
also is published in nine local papers in states including
New York and Ohio as well as a bevy of newsletters.
By day, Mr. Riddle works as a graphic artist for Erickson
Retirement Communities in Catonsville. By night, he creates
the day's strip and publishes on his Web site, www.http://www.afordturtle.com.
The Official Aford T. Turtle Web site, launched in 1998, earned
a "Chrysallis" Web award and a "Lil' Fingers" Web
award last month for its content.
"If it wasn't for the Web site, it wouldn't have the
popularity it has now," he said. "People from all
over go to the Web site. It's kid-friendly, but for all ages."
Mr. Riddle credits much of the comic's success to his family,
which includes brothers Wyatt, 13, and Josh, 20, he said. Simon
the snake, the strip's "goofball," is based on Josh,
while Robin the bird, whose inability to fly is often the source
of jokes, is based on his cousin, Matt Weireich, Mr. Riddle
Josh Riddle, who like his older brother plays guitar, said
the family's eldest son has a "Type A" personality.
"We're kind of opposite," he said. "But he
has done that comic strip since he was real little. He is sticking
to his guns."
Although he milks his brothers for comic inspiration, it is
parents Mildred and Douglas to whom he gives credit for nurturing
his artistic abilities, Mr. Riddle said.
"When I was young, my mother and father would always
have a pad of paper out," he said.
Although Mrs. Riddle said she is more of a "doodler" than
an artist, she said she "always wanted him (Aaron) to
be able to draw."
"He's very organized and very self-disciplined," Mrs.
Riddle said. "He got the copyright (for Aford) when he
was in middle school."
Mr. Riddle said the Web site is what draws in the majority
of his fans, some of whom write messages like "I love
Aford. If you're not syndicated soon, I'm going on a hunger
strike!" and "Thanks for starting my day off with
a smile and a little laughter."
Aford's ability to click with children is what motivated third-grade
teacher Amy Simpson to incorporate the strip into her reading
curriculum at St. John's Lane Elementary School in Ellicott
"They don't think of it as educational, they think of
it as fun," she said of her students.
"He's very modest," Miss Simpson said. "But
he's so good - he has the confidence in both his artistry and