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.


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.


What’s the point, exactly?

Why write/draw about stuff that happened more than 50 years ago? Why would people beyond my friends and family care about the events I’ll be recalling in Sleeper Ave., the new webcomic I’m working on?

Because the past informs the present. We are what made us, and I grew up in interesting times. Waco, Texas, in the mid-fifties and early sixties was a microcosm of the rapid social and economic changes this country was experiencing. In some ways, because of the deep political and religious conservatism of the region, the post-post World War II era was perhaps more wrenching and deeply felt here than elsewhere.

Our tiny frame house on Sleeper Avenue was no different than the thousands of new homes that veterans returning from the war built for their young families,  and our used car, prone to breakdown as it was, was what Dad could afford as he built his business. Throughout my a cartooning career, I’ve always held to the notion that my experiences were anything but unique; that tapping my memories and my emotions meant engaging those of my readers, too. If I tell these stories well, I’ll tell not just my story, but the story of those times, and the story of how we became who we are now.

CarThat’s why.




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 journalism. 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 by 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.



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