Thanks Keith! I'm, um, honored.
On November 20 1995, Stone Soup debuted as a syndicated comic strip, and my life changed forever. Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) had just retired and some of the vacancies he left behind became my new home. I love being a cartoonist, and still can't believe I get to do this full time.
I had been cartooning for many years, but only very part time. I had kids and a day job. Doing the strip full time meant a big jump in the quality of the artwork, and over the time the writing as well. Here's the first strip... compare it to today's and you'll see a lot of change.
I'm very proud of Stone Soup and extremely thankful for my wonderful fans. And for Universal UClick, who got me here. Happy day, everyone! Thanks for reading me.
Dear Mr. Watterson is a new film that debuts November 15. It's a documentary film "about the impact of the best comic strip in the history of the universe: Calvin and Hobbes". Quoting the website.
But who could argue? Watterson is every cartoonist's hero. He elevated the comic strip and argued for more space. He is an incredible artist whose talent we all aspire to. He is a philosopher, a comic, a storyteller. Whenever I need inspiration or a lesson in how it's DONE, Watterson is the cartoonist I turn to.
Filmmaker Joel Schroeder came to my studio last year, a young blond bespecled guy who wears his Wisconsin roots well (I can say that, I spent every childhood summer in Wisconsin). He had emailed me from LA, said he was going to be in Oregon, wondered if he could get my thoughts on Calvin and Hobbes. I said why not.
When Joel arrived, alone, I wasn't sure how big his project could be. No lights, no sound techs, just Joel and a camera. But he is extremely likable, and there he was on my doorstep, so why not? We spent a couple of hours together talking Calvin and Hobbes and life in cartooning.
Well, the movie is out and I am hugely impressed. First and foremost, I don't look too bad or say anything stupid. Second, well...the production quality is fantastic, Joel captured some great interviews with some terrific cartoonists and industry people...so I'm here to tell you to watch for it. Here's a list of screenings, and you can pre-order the DVD now.
There are lots of clips on YouTube as well, and if you want to see MOI, go HERE.
Confession: I am a wannabe marine biologist. I get to pour my love of the natural world into the story lines I write for Alix. Because I want to make sure what I'm writing about is based on accurate facts, I have an excuse to do research. For the story appearing this week and next I contacted the Oregon State Invasive Species Expert. Who knew we had one?? Thanks, Sam Chan for the help!
Lynn Johnston, the cartoonist who created the amazing comic strip For Better Or For Worse has inspired me from the very beginning. Her drawing style and storytelling taught me a lot about cartooning, and her success gave me courage.
Before I was syndicated, Lynn published the Lawrence series—two weeks that explored the truth about Michael's friend Lawrence (he is gay) and the subsequent consequences of this revelation (initially family rejection, followed by acceptance) to the comics page. Besides many acolades, Lynn received a lot of flak for the series, and a big bunch of it apparently came from Southern Oregon. As an Oregonian I was appalled, and wrote to tell her how much I loved what she'd done and how brilliantly, sensitively and lovingly she had handled it.
Of course I included some of my own work, and Lynn did me the huge honor of responding. She called my house on a Sunday morning to tell me how much she appreciated my letter, and to say she liked my stuff, and that she thought I'd "make it". She even predicted a timeline..."In about a year."
Incredibly, she was spot on. Universal offered me a contract about a year later.
So...fast forward to my idea to put a Book Club in Stone Soup. Val would invite other comic strip women into her home for books and wine. Mostly wine. The first character I thought of including, naturally, was Elly. Her appearance, where she meets Connie from Zits, got the whole series started.
Now...fast forward to today. Lynn has done me the huge honor of including these Book Club strips... ALL of them... on her website. You can read them here—fborfw.com/fun/satire/
Thanks, Lynn. Again!
(...The illustration Lynn and I did for the introduction to my first book.)
Lots has happened since my last blog post, and I think I've finally digested it enough to write about it.
...at the beginning of the year, new sales for Stone Soup started rolling in, pushing my newspaper list to over 300. I am ecstatic, grateful, and awed. My syndicate ROCKS. My readers ROCK. My life ROCKS, well, most of the time.
So thanks to the 30+ newspaper editors from Florida to Montana to Califormia to Idaho to northern Illinois (right next to my home town of St. Charles, yay!) and beyond who added Stone Soup to their comics lineup. You've made 2013 pretty stellar so far.
And starting June 10, the Stockton California Record will begin a 3-month test of Stone Soup. I'm really hoping that readers there get attached to the Stone Clan and keep running my strip forever. So if you know anyone in Stockton... ask them to watch for it!
... my explanation for the long absence from this blog. I spent the first 3 months of this year, mid-January to mid-April, in Cape Town South Africa. (I know, I know, I could have blogged from there. But it was meant to be a sabbatical. A rest, a time to recharge. While working. But with lots of time to just fart around in a gorgeous, interesting place. One way to do that? Unplug.)
I rented a house overlooking False Bay and the Cape of Good Hope, packed up a portable light table, scanner, my ink, paper and pens, and drew the strip from there. It was summer in the Southern Hemisphere, sunny nearly every day, the sea was gorgeous and wild and beckoning... which inspired me to work twice as fast. It helped that the phone didn't ring, friends didn't drop by, and my husband, who wasn't working, took care of ALL the everyday household stuff. He's a great cook. He does laundry. He got us tickets to see Rodriguez (Sugarman). Again, my life rocks.
South Africa is a gorgeous place, and False Bay is fed by both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It's green like the Meditterranean but big and wild like the Pacific. Big pods of dolphins, whales, great white sharks... wild beaches where you might also see baboons, ostriches, antelope...
Above, the shark flag. Comes is various colors, denoting the level of alert. The most common is black, which means "we haven't seen any sharks, but the water has poor visibility". Hmmmmm
Did I mention the African Penguin colony nearby? Oh how I wanted to steal the following sign...
We also took a couple of road trips and saw...
...plus zebra, hyena, Cape Buffalo... we missed the lions, maybe next time. The abundance of elephants made up for it.
AND AS IF that weren't enough...
We met a boatload of cartoonists.
Backing up to Christmas before we left for Cape Town, my husband Ted gave me a book on South African Cartoonists in anticipation of our trip.
Written by cartoonist Andy Mason (N.D. Mazin) this book is an incredible collection and historical perspective on South African cartooning, and, by way of that, South African society. If you want to learn about South African history—colonialism, apartheid, the creation of a complex country with a complex lineage—via the cartoons that documented it along the way, read this book. If you want to meet some great cartoonists, read this book. If you want to broaden your cartoon horizons, read this book. READ THIS BOOK. (It's available on Amazon. You have the link. Go for it. It's very well written and you won't be sorry.)
I noticed when looking through this book that a lot of South African cartoonists live in the Cape Town area, so I decided to write the author and ask if he could introduce me to any of them. In an amazing bit of kismet, Andy and his wife Cath lived just 6 blocks from the house we had rented.
Once settled in Cape Town, portable studio up and running, internet connected, car rented and driving on the left side of the road mostly mastered, I called Andy. In another bit of kismet, he said...
"You're timing is perfect... there's a party tomorrow".
And that is how I met nearly all of South Africa's cartoonists in one afternoon, 3 miles from a house I had spontaneously rented after randomly finding it online (that's another story).
the group that day included the amazing Jonathon Shapiro (Zapiro), who is SA's most visible editorial cartoonist and most dogged in attacking government corruption, and a devoted friend of Nelson Mandela. He studied in NY on a Fullbright with Kurtzman and Spiegleman.
Left of Zapiro, with long hair and sunglasses and chin in hand, you'll see American Denise Dorrance, originally from Iowa but who has lived abroad for years (splitting her time between London and Cape Town). She's about to release a book of single panel cartoons called "Mimi".
The black cartoonist in the middle (yes, even in SA there are surprisingly few black cartoonists) is Brandan Reynolds, who recently won a prestigious award for editorial cartooning as well.
Strip cartoonists include Gavin Thompson (look in the upper middle for the rasta dreds and sunglasses). Just right of Gavin you'll see me. Gavin draws two strips, one called Mama Taxi, which is written by Deni Brown (to my right in sunglasses and a big smile) and also Trek Net, written by Dave Gommersal.
At the top center, over my shoulder in a white shirt, is Jeremy Nell, an excellent political cartoonist who was fired from his newspaper for being too... political.
In the center bottom with his kids and wife Michelle is John Curtis, who maintains a site called Africartoons.com, where you can see work by all these cartoonists and more.
Missing were the great Stephan Francis and Rico, who write the acclaimed Madam & Eve cartoon. If you haven't seen it, find it. It's over 20 years old, you should know about it. A wonderful post-apartheid commentary on SA society and politics. I found their books at a bookstore in Haight-Ashbury. I was immediately hooked.
Finally, here are some samples of cartoons done by some of the incredible cartoonists mentioned above. (My apologies to my friends for not getting prior permission, but I'm trusting when I said "I'd like to blog about you all" you knew I'd do this...)
While some of these are unique to South African society, the US social scene, politics and political figures don't go unnoticed in SA, so you might be surprised at what you find and understand here.
The Madam and Eve cartoon below appeared immediately after South African athlete Oscar Pistorius (the Blade) shot and killed his girlfriend... the verdict is still out on that one. Sorry for the quality... clipped right from the paper to scan and send to inquiring minds back home!
That's it. How I spent my winter. What a lucky cartoonist am I.
Well, 2012 is almost history.
As the year comes to a close, I wonder if 2013 will be just another year... or one filled with adventure, discovery, hope?
For all of you, I'm wishing the latter.
I received a lovely email from a Long Island reader, Jean. With her permission, I'm posting it here. messages like this remind me why I love what I do, and what a privilege it is to be syndicated in nearly 300 newspapers. Thanks to all my amazing readers for making 2012 a great year for Stone Soup, and for the honor of the opportunity to bring some warmth and humor to your day.
From Jean in Long Island—
"As 2012 draws to a close, I wanted to thank you for another great year of Stone Soup. This was a tough year for many of my fellow Long Islanders who suffered through Hurricane Sandy. And, then there were the tragic events across the Sound in CT. The only bright spot in the newspaper was the comics. Stone Soup is my special treat every morning, and I thank you for that. Wishing you all the best in 2013."
H A P P Y N E W Y E A R E V E R Y O N E !
Because I have a lot going on this year, I had to turn down an invitation to go back to Haiti and work with Habitat for Humanity International at the Santos community they are building. But I was able to contribute artwork for Women Build t-shirts again...
...as well as new artwork for the Cars For Homes donation program.
Both Women Build and Cars for Homes sponsored houses in Haiti, and the teams can be seen sporting my shirts in these photos and video (link below).
Here, you can see the Cars For Homes artwork on a poster on the house, and many of the team members are sporting their Women Build t-shirts
Below, Cars for Homes team members in the green shirts on the right... Mrs. Carter in the center (white hat) sporting her Women Build t-shirt. She was instrumental in founding Women Build in the beginning.
I am posting these to show how proud I am to have Stone Soup associated with Habitat, and with the community being built in Haiti. In the following YouTube video produced by Cars for Homes Team Member Jesse Beauregard, you can clearly see the need in Haiti... but also the village that we began constructing last year and how it has literally blossomed. I dare you not to shed a tear or two.
As the old year comes to a close, and the new year begins, I hope you all find ways to use your talents to bolster your chosen charities and causes. A pair of willing hands can make a huge difference in the world, and you'll wonder how blisters could feel so good.
Poet Nancy Carol Moody sent me a "spine poem", called "The Simple Truth". Ever seen this or done it? Me neither, but I think it is very cool. Go to your bookshelves right now and try it. Here's the one I received... notice that the last line of the poem is my ninth book.
Speaking of the ninth book, it would seem that my 10th collection is long, long overdue. Fans have been nagging me, my publisher has been nagging me. So, fyi, book 10 is in the works and will come out midway through next year. Working title..."I'll Pretend I Didn't See That". Thanks, all, for the encouragement.
Life has been complicated (or we could say interesting) of late which can leave a person with lots to say, or little. In my case, I'll say less and cartoon more. Hence the infrequent blog posts. But... Thanks to all the dear fans who loyally follow Stone Soup and occasionally send me wonderful fan mail. Here's a recent letter, from a Northwest reader...
I think Stone Soup is one of the very best comic strips in the business. I only religiously read a few strips, some with story lines and some with daily laughs. Stone Soup is the best of both worlds. It's topical without being too topical. It's warm and has a big heart. The charaters have real lives and they jump right off the page. I think your sense of humor and timing is fantastic. Continued Success, I'm happier for seeing your work every day.
A reader from Port Orchard, WA -- Where the salmon swim very fast from all the Starbucks caffeine being peed into the water by Seattlites."
Dear reader, you truly made my day!
And now, back to what keeps me going...
Politics and cartooning... a great matchup that is in danger of disappearing. As political cartoonists drop from the landscape faster than you can say #!&% , the AAEC (American Association of Editorial Cartoonists) continues to meet and discuss the state of their world. Thanks to cartoonist Matt Wuerker, and The Daily Cartoonist, which brought Matt's gift to my attention, you can see all the presentations from their latest conference this last September.
Matt Wuerker, Jack Ohman, Jen Sorenson, Ann Telnaes, Tom Tomorrow, David Horsey, Brian McFadden and so many more. Go! It's worth it. Damncartoons.org