Ben Bradlee dies

Nothing in recent years has made me miss newspapering more than reading the obituary for legendary editor Ben Bradlee, who guided the Washington Post through the glory years of American newspapering. I was lucky enough to have worked for a pretty good daily paper during a part of that era.

Alas, that time has passed. Editorial cartooning,  my profession for 31 years at the Rocky Mountain News, has lost much of its potency, as newspapers decline, as publishers have become wary of controversy and as the internet and cable television have given rise to other voices satirizing politics in more immediate and visceral ways. Jon Stewart would have a been a terrific editorial cartoonist had he been willing to work for a frightened publisher at a dying newspaper for a whole lot less money and exposure (assuming he can draw).

I gave up editorial cartooning a few years ago, and I’ve now quit drawing my comic strip; for the first time in 45 years, my work no longer appears in a newspaper.  I’m both sad about that and relieved. One thing newspapers are short on, especially these days, is space. It was always a rare newspaper that was willing to give over expensive newsprint to extended cartoon storytelling, and with papers shrinking, those precious square inches are even harder to come by.

The internet, on the other hand, allows us ink-stained wretches virtually unlimited real estate. We’re not confined to one small drawing a day.

Which is why I’ve decided to start telling stories the way I’ve always dreamed of doing, unconstrained the limitations of space and looming deadlines. I’ll post the first Sleeper Ave. stories soon. I hope you enjoy them, and that you’ll take a few seconds to sign up below to receive them as I post them.

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A Bunch of characters

Running17102014Developing a set of characters for Sleeper Ave (my soon-to-be released webcomic) is proving to be more difficult than I expected. For Freshly Squeezed, my comic strip, I could simply invent them and style them any way I wanted. Here, though, I’m creating cartoon stand-ins for real people.

How do I draw my mother and father, my sister, people I went to school with? I’m not a naturally gifted caricaturist to begin with, and I want a somewhat cartooney look, so I decided not to worry about representing people accurately in the drawings. Instead, I’m designing cartoon characters that may resemble real people in only the most superficial way. The above cartoon of me as a six-year-old is a case in point. Nobody who knew me then would recognize me in this drawing. I’ll have to be content with that.

It’s the stories that matter.

Telling Stories

Designing a webcomic is easy, right? Just start drawing like I always do, and it will work itself out, right? Not so fast. We’re not in a newspaper anymore, Toto. This medium allows me to can do lots of things other than draw sequential cartoon panels. I can tell extended stories, and I can mix art and text in ways I’ve never done before.

For the upcoming Sleeper Ave, I decided to tell a series of short stories, linked together by common themes, rather than try to create an extended narrative.

And what do the stories look like? How much drawing, how much text? What’s the appropriate mix? What do the drawings look like? More like my editorial cartoons, denser, more realistic? More like my comic strip, looser and more cartooney?

Then there’s the whole new character set I’ve never drawn before, not to mention the settings.

Decisions, decisions.  Headshot15102014

The Persistence of Memory

A few years ago I published a story about working in my Dad’s hamburger stand when I was a teenager. My sister and my cousin both said, “That’s not how I remember it.”  Well, duh! Those were my memories.  

Memory is a notoriously unreliable resource, but when putting together a memoir, what else do I have to rely on? I’m doing a lot of research as I create the narratives for Sleeper Ave, the web comic I’m launching soonhoping for as much historical accuracy as possible, but ultimately, my own memory, faulty as it may be after more than a half century, will be my guide.

Wish me luck.

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What a Production

The hardest part of building a new comic feature–and the most fun–is the production design. I don’t really work in any organized fashion. I just draw randomly until I see something I like. In designing the main character (me) of Sleeper Ave, which I intend (hope) to launch soon, I filled pages and pages with quick sketches, hoping to find a look that I liked and a facial structure that I felt I could make expressive enough. Here’s one of those pages. The differences in the different heads, I know, seem trivial, but sketching with tiny variations lets me find something that I’m confident will work in the final product.

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Back to Work

I started working this week on a new long-term project, something I’ve been thinking about doing for the last year or so, but couldn’t really start until I was finished with the daily comic strip.

In the next few weeks (I hope) I’ll launch the first installments of Sleeper Ave, a web comic about–well, lot’s of things–but based primarily on my memories of growing up in a small town in central Texas during a time of enormous social change in America.

Part of the fun of doing a project like this is building an audience. So, if you like my work, spread the word. Here’s a peek at one of the drawings from the first story:

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Post-Season: Cardinals vs. Rockies

For the fourth consecutive year, the St. Louis Cardinals are going to the NCLS. My pathetic Rockies are going to the golf course.

As I’ve pointed out before, the Cards play in the market most like Denver’s statistically. Yes, their payroll is marginally higher, by the price of a top-tier pitcher or two, but nowhere near the stratospheric heights of the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox. Yet their history is a storied one, with numerous post-season appearances and World Series titles. So much for the idea that mid-market teams can’t consistently compete with the big boys.

The difference between the two franchises? Could it be ownership and management?

The Rockies did get a bit of good news today. Dealin’ Dan O’Down, the losingest GM in baseball over the last 15 years, and meddling’ Bill Geivett have (finally) departed the scene, before the lynch mob could form at 20th and Blake.

That makes the Rox 2-0 in the post-season.

You take your victories where you can get them.

Don’t Know Much About History

Students and teachers in Jefferson County, Colorado, are all riled up about changes to the AP history curriculum endorsed by the school board’s recently-elected conservative majority. The board has proposed that the new standards emphasize a positive and patriotic vision of American history.

I’m all for that. We’ve had quite enough of bad-mouthing this great country lately. Leave that negative stuff to Islamic terrorists. Here’s a sample history test they might want to use.

1. The pilgrims first came to North America because:
A. God told them to found a great nation here
B. They wanted to play football and baseball, not soccer
C. Europeans are so smug and irritating and many of them don’t
speak English
E. All of the above

2. Slavery was no big deal because
A. The slaves were better off here
B. They were happy having other people take care of them
C. The Founding Fathers had slaves
C. Hey, we ended it, didn’t we? So, what’s the big fuss?

3. Displacing Native Americans  was okay because
A. They were Godless heathens
B. They’re so much better off on reservations
C. They made lousy slaves
D. God wanted us to have the land

4. The Civil War was
A. Kind of a bummer
B. Just a little family squabble that got out of hand
C. Not really about slavery. That’s just an excuse liberals use
D. Let’s talk about something more positive, okay?

5. Women weren’t allowed to vote until
A. A bunch of them got uppity
B. Liberals whined about it so much
D. We freed the slaves and that gave women ideas
C. We made a huge mistake and have regretted it ever since.

6. What societal forces caused segregation to end?
A. We made the mistake of ending slavery
B. Negroes got uppity
C. Too many liberals were appointed to the Supreme Court
D. We got soft as a nation

7. The three branches of government are
A. Executive, legislative, judicial
B. Conservative, liberal, independent
C. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian
D. The Koch brothers, unions, lobbyists

8. Our economy works best when have
A. Unfettered capitalism
B. The rich running things
C. Low taxes and no government regulation
D. Huge wealth and income disparity
E. All of the above

9. Restrictive voter ID laws are necessary to prevent
A. Voter fraud
B. Republicans losing elections
C. Minorities and the poor being heard
D. “Those people” being elected
E. All of the above

10. Our greatest president was
A. Ronald Reagan
B. Ronald Reagan
C. Ronald Reagan
D. Ronald Reagan

 

 

 

Outrage!

I am outraged! No, more than that. I am livid! I am furious!

Actually, I’m not, but it’s election season and every ad I see wants me to be mad as a hatter at somebody running for office, and I’m just trying to stay current.

Let’s start with Obama’s”latte salute.” How DARE he show such disrespect to our men in uniform when they are fighting and dying for this country!

And then there’s Fox News. I’m so irritated with their relentless assault on the president I could scream! Hello? There actually are other things going on in the world. IS 24-7 coverage of the latte salute really the most important thing on your plate?

And I can barely restrain my fury at Cory Gardner. The guy who relentlessly pushed the personhood amendment, which would have jailed women who sought legal abortions, now wants the pill available over the counter. Can you spell hypocrite?

And that weasel Mark Udall, who is trampling–yes, TRAMPLING! on hunter’s rights by supporting people not killing each other with guns. Get him outta there before we lose all our freedoms!

I’m so angry with Governor Hickenlooper the spittle flies from my mouth when I utter his name! The wuss can’t even bring himself to pull the switch on a convicted murderer like Nathan Dunlap. What will he be unable to do when he has to make a REAL decision?

Not that I’m not just as incensed by Bob Beauprez, whose bank was at the heart of the sleazy loan business that damn nearly bankrupted the country.

And don’t get me started on the morons, miscreants, numbskulls, sleazes, and windbags currently running for or hanging on to their seats in Congress.

More than anything, I’m angry with myself, because I’ve been rendered so completely and hopelessly cynical by the relentless attempts of the political/lobbying/electioneering establishment and the moneyed interests behind them to stoke my anger.

What I should be doing is taking to the streets to demand an end to the sham we’ve made of our democracy, but that would take a belief that we can still actually take back the country, that it’s not already way too late. It would take REAL anger, not the simulated rage the campaigns whip up.

I’m working on it.

 

 

 

 

 

The WATCHING DEAD–FRESHLY SQUEEZED 9/14/2014

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I admit it: I’m a football junkie. I refuse to miss a Broncos game. Yes, I know it’s a ridiculous emotional investment in a team that doesn’t care a thing about me and in players who are devoted to the city and the franchise only as long as their paychecks are signed by Mr. Elway. As the late Steve Pearlman once reminded me, I root for the laundry, as irrational as that may be. But come Sunday, I bleed orange and blue.

The online home of editorial cartoonist, writer and analyst Ed Stein.