Truth, Screenwriting and Memory

Three of the films up for Oscars last night,  “Selma,” “The Imitation Game”  and “American Sniper,” have been criticized for the liberties they took with the historical record.

I won’t get into the discussion about whether movies about historical events and people have a duty to represent their subjects as accurately as possible, or whether as works of art and popular entertainment they have license to distort the record in search of great storytelling.

The question for me as a storyteller is somewhat different. In Sleeper Ave., my new webcomic, I’m writing about things that happened fifty and sixty years ago, knowing full well how faulty memory can be. Plus, just as screenwriters need to make their stories compelling, I have to find a way to dramatize these events so that my readers will find the tales interesting. Every writer does that by selectively highlighting certain details and diminishing or ignoring others. Does this mean my work is an unreliable record?

I’m trying hard not to fictionalize anything for dramatic effect, but my memory might already have played that trick on me years ago. The only choice, really, is to tell the truth as I remember it.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Sad State of Colorado Journalism

The  newspaper industry has been on the ropes for years, with devastating consequences for our democracy. As newspapers go out of business, and as the remaining ones cut staff and coverage, we are simply less well informed.

Political parties and their funders now have greater access to the public than the Fourth Estate. This is not good news for a democracy that depends of an informed electorate to make the right choices.   I believe that there’s a direct link between the decline of the press and the rise of the hyper-partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Washington and now threatens to do the same in the Colorado legislature.

Ever since the Rocky Mountain News, newspaper I worked for for 31 years, folded, Coloradans have been missing more and more important stories.

This story in the Columbia Journalism Review illustrates that concern. This is an issue that should have been widely covered locally, yet was ignored by what’s left of our mainstream press.

Off to See the Wizard

I just posted the next SleeperAve. story this morning, about going to see the Wizard of Oz for the very first time.

For a kid, it was a really scary movie, what with tornadoes carrying people away, a genuinely terrifying witch, and worst of all, the flying monkeys. When it was released in 1939, it didn’t do particularly well at the box office, most likely because those grim scenes were too much of a downer for a Depression-weary public. It only became popular through repeated re-releases.

I first saw it in 1955, when my mother and I were on a trip to  Dallas. I’m guessing Waco was too small a market.

I remember being scared, especially by the tornado. I was still traumatized by the giant twister that devastated Waco two years earlier.  I actually thought the monkeys were cool. Despite the scary stuff, I was captivated by the film, and have loved it ever since.

Plus, that movie is the greatest gift ever given to cartoonists. There’s just something about it that generates endless metaphors for political cartoons.

At any rate, check out the new Sleeper Ave. post. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Plus, even though I’ve succeeded in fully funding my challenge at Beacon Reader, there are still a few days left for you to underwrite the project, if you want.


Elections Matter

I know far too many people who sit out elections, especially off-year contests, with the tired excuse that both parties are basically the same. They’re not. Two stories in today’s Denver Post illustrate exactly why elections matter.

Republicans won control of the state senate in November. On certain social issues, the knee-jerk GOP sensibility drives me nuts. Case in point: as soon as they took office, the Republican majority defunding the program that allows legal immigrants to secure drivers licenses.  There are so many reasons to make sure that people who are here in this country legally can drive–to work, to school, to the doctor, to shop–and no good reason not to. The alternative, which should be obvious to anyone who’s thought this thing through, is that we will now have many more people either driving without a license or being forced to make expensive and time-consuming compromises,  harming working men and women and their children who are here legally and who pay taxes, solely to satisfy the anti-immigrant passions of the Right.

Still before the senate is the bill, sponsored by both a Democrat and a Republican, to continue funding the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which has been remarkably successful aa t reducing teen pregnancy and abortion in the state. But, despite the overwhelming success of the program, the reflexively anti-family planning crowd is likely to greet anything to do with women’s reproductive health with hostility. And then we’ll have many more teen pregnancies and abortions for them to rail against.

Next time, remember what you’re voting for.


Vexed by Anti-Vaxxers

Here’s why the anti-vaccine movement drives me so crazy. Actually, there’s more than one reason. The first is that, aside from those who object for religious reasons or think that an organic diet prevents all ills, anti-vaxxers still rely on a wholly discredited 1998 paper based on fraudulent data linking vaccines with autism.

The second is that almost all the anti-vaxxers I’ve heard quoted live in a dream world that they can indulge precisely because of the vaccines that have kept them safe up until now. They simply have no idea what it was like before the  diseases that our grandparents so rightly dreaded were brought under control.

In 1912, the year my father was born, the life expectancy of a male was 51.5 years. Today it’s 76, a 50% increase in a century. That’s a startling improvement in a relatively short time span. What caused it? Partly, better nutrition, but by far the biggest impact was the widespread use of antibiotics and vaccines, which brought the biggest killers of young people to bay. We no longer fear that measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, smallpox, the flu and polio will kill or maim our children.

And the fear of those childhood killers is what we’ve forgotten. If the current trend continues, and we lose the herd immunity that large-scale immunization affords us, our children will suffer, and many of them will die from easily preventable infections.

Maybe then we’ll remember.

When I was growing up, and vaccines were new and miraculous, there were still those who found reasons not to immunize their children. Check out my latest story at

The Glass is Half Full

As an editorial cartoonist, I was a “the glass is half empty” kind of guy, at least professionally. The darker and more pessimistic the cartoon, the better. Such was my life practicing that dour journalistic art (which I loved).

Now that I’m a webcomic artist, my world has brightened, and you’ve certainly helped. In only four days since the campaign to fund Sleeper Ave. began, we’ve reached 50% of our funding goal of $10,000 at Beacon Reader. That glass is definitely half FULL, and I thank all of you who have contributed so far.

Yes, there’s still the other 50% to go, but I’m thrilled with the response so far.


Thanks for Your Support

Only three days into the launch of my new webcomic, Sleeper Ave., the response has been unexpectedly wonderful. Lots of new signups, tons of favorable comments, many of which I’ve posted on my blog at  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished with this new form (for me) of storytelling, and thrilled that so many of you enjoy what I’m doing. If you haven’t yet signed up, you can do so below.

LindaPlus, in only three days we’ve reached 40% of the target underwriting at Beacon Reader, a great website for independent journalists.

I’m a strong believer that good journalism deserves the support of its readers, especially in this brave new era in which more and more writers and artists are losing the backing of traditional media and finding new platforms and new ways to make a living from their work.

So, if you haven’t already, please go to my page at Beacon and help underwrite this project.

How to Support Sleeper Ave.

My new webcomic,, launches tomorrow. Hooray!

Now, for the sales pitch: I need your support. I’m partnering with Beacon Reader to fund my work. If you like my stories, you can support me and a bunch of other independent artists and journalists  by making a pledge at the Sleeper Ave. page on BeaTipscon Reader. You can pledge a monthly amount or make a one-time contribution.

Here’s how it works: I have thirty days to raise $10,000; otherwise the project won’t be funded and the money will be returned, which would be really embarrassing and make me sad.

If you don’t want to or don’t have the moolah to spare, that’s fine. You can still read my work at for free.

But if you can, I’d really appreciate your support.

And if you haven’t signed up yet to get and email every time I post a story, you can do it below.

Thanks–Ed–Coming Wednesday

The time has come, dear reader. I’m launching Sleeper Ave. on Wednesday. Yay! If you haven’t already, you still have time to sign up below to receive each post in your inbox as I post it.Band2I’m also partnering with Beacon Reader to help fund the project. Here’s the sales pitch: if you value great cartooning and great journalism, you can support me and a bunch of other writers and artists by making a pledge to underwrite Sleeper Ave. When you do, you get access to all the terrific journalists at Beacon.

You don’t have to in order to read my work on my own site, but it would be really nice if you decided to support me on Beacon.


Coming Soon–Very Soon

Yesterday I finished the tenth Sleeper Ave. story, about a spooky UFO sighting when I was a kid. That gives me enough of a backlog to feel confident about launching the website. WhileLights4 I was busy drawing, my son Gabe (a.k.a. the internet whisperer),  was busy putting the finishing touches on the website design. When we’re finished with some fine-tuning, we’ll be ready to go. I’m hoping for the week after next at the latest.

So, if you haven’t signed up below or at to receive the stories when I post them, please do. And if you already have, please spread the word.

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