Advice

As I near the launch of Sleeper Ave., my new webcomic, I’m getting mixed advice from some of the people I trust the most. My buddy Scott doesn’t like the name; my daughter Natasha, never reluctant to express herself,  thinks it puts people to sleep; my son Gabe loves it. Scott thinks it should be focused more on hard-hitting editorial content, Gabe thinks it should be more balanced with general story-telling but definitely have a hard-edged focus. Both Scott and Natasha think it should look more like a graphic novel.

My instinct is to tell interesting stories and let the editorial focus evolve by itself, and I’m intrigued by the flexibility of the web, allowing me to mix text and drawing in ways I couldn’t in the limited space of a newspaper, and I’ve never loved the graphic novel structure.  Why limit myself when the web allows so many other choices? As for the name, I honestly believe that if the feature is good enough, the name will seem perfect. If not, I could name it Star Wars and it would flop.

Oz-Courage1All this is a tough call. I’m not so self-assured as to believe that my sensibilities are always correct, and the advice I’m getting does give me pause. At the same time, I have to trust my own nose. So, I’ll stick with the name and the graphic structure (which will inevitably evolve over time, anyway), but I’ve been persuaded to adopt an edgier editorial attitude.

Sign up and stay tuned.

End of an Era

Furious Republicans in the House and Senate yesterday reacted swiftly to President Obama’s unilateral actions on immigration, angrily denouncing his moves to temporarily prevent the deportation of some five million immigrants.

“That does it!” a visibly enraged John Boehner exclaimed, his usual orange complexion flushed with red. “The president has made it clear that he prefers confrontation over compromise. The golden age of bipartisan cooperation is over.”

“This destroys the harmonious relationship we’ve so carefully built up over the last six years,” soon-to-be Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell thundered.

“We warned the president that taking this action would poison the well,” McConnell continued. “How can he expect us to maintain our close working relationship after this? Does he really think we’ll continue to green-light his nominees, that we’ll keep funding his priorities like Medicaid expansion, extending unemployment insurance and rebuilding infrastructure, that we’ll keep supporting alternative energy solutions, that we’ll press on with all the bipartisan efforts on behalf of the American people that we’ve worked so closely together on in the past, after this slap in the face?”

“Well, he can forget the Era of Good Feeling that we in the House worked so hard the last few years to maintain,” added Boehner. “I’m so angry, the first thing I’m going to do is schedule a vote to repeal Obamacare.

“Take that, Mr. President!”

Learning Curve

One of the daunting/exciting things about creating Sleeper Ave., my new, soon-to-be-released (promise) webcomic, is learning how to make it work on the web. I’m using a program called WordPress, which a gazillion other folks use successfully, and which is supposedly easy and intuitive. For a Luddite like myself, it’s neither. I am getting the hang of it, thanks to the excellent tutelage of my very computer-savvy son, Gabe.

Polio2-5thWhat’s taking me so long to launch this beast is that I’m so painfully slow on the uptake. I learn something new today, and immediately forget what I learned yesterday. Ten steps forward, nine back.  I’m still making daily emergency calls to Gabe, who has learned to suppress his sighs, although I swear I can actually hear his eyes rolling when I ask him to explain the same thing for the twelfth time. Give the man credit, though, he sticks with me, despite his obvious frustration.

But I will still launch this thing soon, and I hope you’ll click on the link below and sign up to receive it when it goes live.

Second Thoughts

Sleeper Ave., my soon-to-be launched webcomic, is mostly a memoir of growing during a time in America just before we experienced seismic cultural changes. When you’re a kid, you assume the place you live is the way the world is supposed to be. Only later, as you gain some perspective, do you recognize that what you took for granted might not have been the best of all possible worlds, after all.

In that sense, I have mixed feelings about this project. I’m both nostalgic for the world of my youth, and all too aware of its shortcomings. I struggle with getting the right balance in the stories I tell, relating the many wonderful memories I have without ignoring the darker moments.

EddieWill the friends of my youth think I’m misrepresenting the times we lived through? I’ve spent the last 40 years as a newspaper journalist. My instinct is to turn over the rocks to see what’s crawling beneath. Is this causing me to dwell too much on the negative? I don’t want to fall into that trap, but I don’t want to ignore the reality, either. Are my stories nuanced enough? Are they sweet enough, or too sour? Am I getting the tone right? Do the small stories I’m telling add up to an accurate larger truth?

I guess I’ll find out.

Draw and Redraw

I’ve now finished three Sleeper Ave. stories. The problem is that as I’ve become more comfortable with my visual approach I’m no longer happy with all of the drawings from the first two. So, instead of starting the next installment, I’m spending the day redrawing some of the weaker earlier efforts. You can see where Oz8this could lead: spending my life redoing everything in the impossible quest for perfection instead of just getting on with it. Sadly, it’s tempting. Talk about raining on your own parade.

The cure for that particular disease is the daily deadline, which I no longer have now that I’m not working for a newspaper or a syndicate.

If I can persuade myself to settle for the imperfect art I’m creating, I hope to launch the feature as soon as I have a sufficient backlog. And I hope you’ll sign up for it.

Balancing Act

After a post-election day of mourning I’m back at work on the third Sleeper Ave. story (I’ll have the new website ready one of these days soon). The tricky part still is finding the right balance between word and picture; how much to let the drawings tell and how much the words need to add.

I’m getting more comfortable with the drawings, although I think they’re still too stiff. Drawing looser has been a constant challenge throughout my career. My daughter yesterday told me she’d like to see more sketch-like drawings rather than the finished pieces I’m doing now. I trust her sensibilities, but I find it hard to go there graphically. Maybe ending up somewhere in between isTwister the best I can hope for.

What I’m really enjoying is revisiting events through the eyes of a child (my wife and kids will probably tell you I never stopped being one); the drawings are becoming more imaginative and fantastic, which I love, and which never felt appropriate in the comic strip, given its more adult orientation. This is the fun part.

I hope you’ll sign up below to have the feature sent to you when I launch it.

The Good News for Democrats

Well, there is none, but I had to come up with a headline that would make you want to read this.

In the wake of this election, I just want to know one thing: what did Republicans do to deserve being elected? Here are my choices:

A. Refusing at every turn to work with the president on anything.
B. Passing almost no legislation.  Instead,
C. Voting to repeal Obamacare what seems like several hundred thousand times.
D. Shutting down government.
E. Refusing to raise the minimum wage, deal with immigration reform,  fund infrastructure repairs, reform the banking system, simplify the tax code, fund unemployment insurance, establish insurance exchanges.
F. Passing restrictive voter ID laws that prevent millions of poor and minority  Americans from voting.
G. Running election campaigns based entirely on Obama’s unpopularity, and nothing on what they might do to actually govern.

The invariable truth about mid-term elections is that they almost always favor the party that does not hold the presidency. That’s especially true when a president is unpopular, as Obama certainly is. This election definitely followed that script.

The frustrating thing for me as an American is that the GOP seems to have discovered a formula for ensuring the unpopularity of a president. Refuse to work with him, make it impossible to pass even the most necessary legislation or to deal with the nation’s most pressing issues. Make certain that government simply can’t do its job. Support nothing, do nothing, stand for nothing, offer no solutions, especially when  the economy is weak and people are hurting. The president will almost certainly get the blame at the polls if the people are angry and frustrated enough, no matter how much contempt they may have for the folks in Congress who actually created the gridlock. In a two-party system it’s their only other choice.

Obama certainly deserves a large share of the blame for yesterday’s debacle. A great intellect, he was never comfortable with the social part of being president–shmoozing Congressmen, using the bully pulpit, taking his case directly to the people–and as a result, lost control of the narrative. In fact, by his very invisibility he became the narrative.

When he was elected, I hoped he would govern as Ronald Reagan had, using his formidable speaking prowess and personal charisma to galvanize the public and shame Congress into acting, even when it opposed him. Instead, he shrank from the task, never forming alliances with moderate members of the GOP, not to mention his inability to motivate members of his own party. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush faced unending hostility from the opposing party, but were able to navigate those waters with a combination of personal charm and public appeal.

Yet the hostility toward Clinton and Bush never translated into Congress simply refusing to do its job. Things still got done. Now that the GOP has successfully won an election based on nothing but total and absolute opposition, if and when a Republican wins the presidency, will Democrats follow the same script?

Why not? It works.

Second Story, Man

I just finished drawing the second Sleeper Ave. story, about getting the first polio vaccine. People my age still remember the terror of polio, and the miracle that Dr. Jonas Salk gave us, which resulted in the eradication of this scourge from America. Sorry, you can’t see it yet. I’m still building up a backlog before I launch the wPolio4aebcomic on its own site. But you can sign up now to have the stories automatically sent to you when I do launch.

And tell your friends and family. One of the reasons I quit my (paying) gig with the syndicate for this was to see if I could build enough audience to make this a self-supporting enterprise, so I need your help in spreading the word.

The second story was easier than the first to produce, giving me some hope that I can keep this thing going on a regular basis. The fun part is learning the new skills I need to make this kind of storytelling work; the not-so-fun part is struggling to come up with an appropriate drawing style, designing characters, finding the right balance between text and art–all the behind-the-scenes work of making something that looks effortless on the screen. It’s still a work in progress, but I think I’m getting there.

Stay tuned.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

My buddy and fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis thinks Sleeper Ave. is a terrible name for my new webcomic, and keeps encouraging me to change it. While I value his opinion greatly–he’s a very successful editorial cartoonist and comic strip artist and clearly knows what he’s doing–I don’t think the name of a feature is all that important.

Some of the most brilliant and beloved strips have names memorable only because people have come to cherish the content. Peanuts comes to mind. How about Dilbert, The Far Side, Fox Trot, Pearls Before Swine, Brevity, F Minus?  Or Scott’s terrific strip, Prickly City? Would any of those names alone compel you to read them if you weren’t familiar with the work? The syndicate named my comic strip Freshly Squeezed, a name I never really loved.250px-Hw-shakespeare

So I’ll stick with Sleeper Ave., despite Scott’s counsel. If the content is good and compelling, people will read it.

If it’s not, Sleeper Ave. by any other name name will be a snoozer.

Into the Past

One of the more daunting challenges in creating something like Sleeper Ave., my soon-to-be posted (I hope) webcomic, is doing the research. Finding sources of information about half-remembered (or misremembered) events that happened a half-century ago is easier now with all the stuff that’s on the internet, but still spotty, especially when it comes to visual resources. Plus, I can get so caught up in it that I lose track of time and end up not actually drawing anything.

Then there’s the drawing–how to recreate a world that no longer exists. Was our car a ’47 or ’48, Chevy or PonArchaeologisttiac? What did that building look like? Was that street sign flat and printed or raised and stamped? What clothes did people wear? How accurate do I need to be, really, to tell the stories properly?

Do I need to be an archaeologist as well as a cartoonist? A little of both, I’m guessing.

 

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