In junior high school, Wes Oleszewski (’87, DB) loved aviation, space, drawing cartoons and ants.
“I launched a lot of model rockets, and I put ants in them as passengers,” he recalls. “I had a comic strip of ants dying horrible deaths. If you write comics about people getting killed, nobody likes it. But when ants die, nobody cares.”
Fast forward to 1978. Oleszewski is a freshman at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus. The Avion student newspaper wants to run a comic strip starring an Embry-Riddle student. The “student” just happens to be an ant. There’s one problem: Oleszewski can’t think of a name for the strip.
“I was on the bus with the cartoon strip in my folder, and the bus pulled onto Clyde Morris Boulevard,” he recalls. “That’s how the character got its name about five minutes before I turned it in.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 15, 1978, the iconic comic strip Klyde Morris, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, was published in The Avion for the first time. Over the years, Klyde Morris has chronicled the experiences of an Embry-Riddle student, lampooned the university administration and poked fun at the aviation industry.
“Klyde is an ant in a world of giant people and that is what a lot of people feel like,” Oleszewski says. “But Klyde perseveres. He is sort of an ‘everyman’ ant.”
Persistence Pays Off
Oleszewski needed that perseverance himself to earn his college degree and pilot’s certificate with meager financial resources. It took him nearly 10 years to graduate from Embry-Riddle, with periods of hiatus in between.
“Everybody said I couldn’t do it. I come from a blue collar, formerly industrial part of the country. Neither of my parents finished high school,” he says. “I knew when I started Embry-Riddle, I couldn’t afford it. But when I got to campus, I decided I am not going to flunk out or quit. When I was out of school, I worked just so I could get back. My goal was to finish what I started.”
Klyde Morris continued to run in The Avion, even when Oleszewski wasn’t a full-time student, meaning thousands of students read the strip over the years. More than 1,200 Klyde Morris strips were published continuously in The Avion from February 1978 until April of 1988.
“The staying power of the cartoon comes from my phenomenon of working my way through college,” Oleszewski says. “Klyde stayed in The Avion, and as a result, a lot of people who went into the aviation industry were Klyde fans.”
The comics lampooned university presidents Jack Hunt and Kenneth Tallman, but Oleszewski says he was actually friends with both of them. And sometimes, they even collaborated on topics for the strip. During his time at Embry-Riddle, he met lifelong friends, his future wife Teresa (’88, DB) and mentors like Embry-Riddle’s founder John Paul Riddle, who attended Oleszewski’s wedding.
“John Paul Riddle was always on campus, sitting at a table at the university center and telling stories,” Oleszewski recalls. “And he liked my cartoon strip.”
Klyde Lives On
After finishing his degree, Oleszewski worked as a commercial and corporate pilot, but continued to draw the Klyde Morris strip, focusing more on the aviation and space industry. The strip ran a few years in the university’s alumni newsletter, then was launched online in 1999. It was syndicated in 2003 with Aero-News Network. Students can still find the strip in The Avion, as the artist has gifted a free license to the student publication.
Oleszewski is also a book author. “I was flying a lot and in hotels a lot, and there is nothing to do — so I wrote,” he says.
Eventually, he decided to stay home to raise his two daughters and focus on writing fulltime. “After three furloughs in 11 years, I was done,” Oleszewski says. “I’ve had people tell me they need me writing Klyde Morris more than they need me in the cockpit.”
Forty years after the launch of his Klyde Morris strip, Oleszewski has been able to combine all of his passions again. He is currently working on his 24th book, plus he works as a spaceflight analyst and a cartoonist for Aero-News Network, which continues to publish Klyde Morris.
“The strip very often kind of writes itself,” Oleszewski says. “I have a very active imagination and memories of my own experiences.”
Oleszewski says he was never bitter about his long tenure as an Embry-Riddle student, because the experiences he had made him who he is today. “I see finishing Embry-Riddle as my single greatest accomplishment,” he says.