By Nick Hawks
Don Billie doesn’t look like somebody you would call a punk. Well-dressed in a blue, collared shirt tucked into his pants, he sat down with his lunch at Chili’s, where he ordered a grilled chicken sandwich because he tries to eat somewhat healthy. He’s well-spoken and articulate, with a steady career as a computer analyst that has given him the opportunity to comfortably support a family, his kids now in their 20s and 30s.
He’s a Cleveland State University graduate, class of 1981. He runs 5K races every September in Cleveland, which isn’t a surprise, given his slender build. In addition to exercise, another hobby of his is writing, which has led him to pen his first graphic novel, “Hey You Punks!”
As Billie described it, “Hey You Punks!” is a coming of age tale about growing up in Cleveland in the 1960s and 70s, where bullying was seen as a rite of passage and horsing around with the neighborhood kids was more fun than winning math competitions, even if it did get him in the newspaper in seventh grade.
Reading through the graphic novel, it’s easy to see why Billie and his friends were often labeled as punks. The middle school-aged friends would often find themselves on the run from somebody, mostly because they enjoyed the adrenaline rush of being chased. After being hauled in by the police one night for throwing eggs at cop cars, Billie and his friends were nearly sent to juvie. The cops instead decided to take the boys home.
“I don’t know what was worse,” Billie said. “Going home to mom, or nearly going to juvie.”
As it turns out, Billie did not have the best aim, so none of the eggs he threw ended up striking the car, which isn’t exactly what he told his mother.
“I told her I didn’t hit the car, which was true,” Billie said. “I just never told her that I threw them!”
Another theme that is common in the book is bullying, something that Billie and his friends endured throughout middle school.
“Bullying back then was more like the norm, at least in my school,” Billie said. “It was a rough school.”
When asked about what message kids in today’s world can take from his graphic novel, Don contemplated for a moment, chewing softly on his chicken sandwich. He circled back to bullying and how he’s glad kids don’t have to endure what he did.
“Today it’s such a positive message, to not do it to begin with, and if you do get bullied, you should speak out,” he said. “That’s a nice message in general.”
It isn’t the only message that Billie has, as he added that he always identified as a writer, but work and marriage took the front seat.
“Follow your dreams,” Billie said. “It’s such a cliché, but I wish I could have done more writing.”
Although Billie just recently published his graphic novel in June of this year, he clearly has more stories in him.
“I went to juvie for joyriding in a stolen car… We totaled the car, too,” Billie said matter-of-factly, as if recalling a time in which he accidently stepped on an ant, “The car went airborne, actually.”
The rest, he teases, will be saved for the sequel.
In addition to being a former young punk, Billie is somebody with a great amount of pride. He takes pride in being a native Clevelander and spoke glowingly about the renovation to downtown Cleveland over the past two decades.
“More and more often, Cleveland is showing up on tourist magazines as a place to go,” Billie said.
He is prideful in his marriage, which has given him “32 happy years.” He’s also prideful to have been able to live his youth as a punk and come out the other side. When asked about what other future endeavors he’d like to pen, Billie paused, not wanting to breeze by the question.
“I’d like to do a story about so many of the good people I’ve met in the Cleveland area, so many of the unsung heroes,” Billie said.
A young punk maybe, but these days, Don Billie is a shining example of what makes the city of Cleveland filled with so much pride.