Comics fans, last month we introduced a new recurring feature to our GoComics blog. A few times each month, we're going to hand the keys over to one of our talented cartoonists for a blog post. They'll share the inspirations behind their comedy, how they think, what's next for them and their characters, how you can access more information about your favorite comic strips/panels and support them. Welcome to the "Meet Your Creator" series.
Our next creator is Jan Eliot, creator of Stone Soup. The warm and creative comic strip's name comes from the fable where the moral of the story is a great thing can be created by small contributions from varying sources. There's a truth and relevance of this toward Eliot's work, which has reflected many steps in her life and career. We'll let her take it from here!
I’m typing this at my kitchen counter, wearing shorts and a t-shirt while summer breezes waft in from the garden. This is the best part about being a cartoonist.
The worst part is when I’m slumped at my drawing table staring at my deadline schedule, that bottomless pit of my commitments to the syndicate and all the newspapers that run Stone Soup. There is no escaping those deadlines, even when you are brain-dead. Too bad, get cracking. Be funny for money, on demand, RIGHT NOW.
But don’t let the grousing fool you… it’s a good life. Since becoming syndicated nearly 18 years ago I have been able to make a living drawing, coloring, and cracking jokes. And writing a blog entry now and then, especially when the tall, affable, chubby-cheeked Marketing Director from the syndicate asks me to.
This blog is called MEET YOUR CREATOR. Wow, that’s, um almost scary. But then I guess I am the omniscient creator when it comes to Stone Soup land. After 18 years as a full-time cartoonist I find that the characters in my comic strip are very much alive to me. And unlike my actual family, they all do pretty much what I tell them to. They never talk back, at least to me. When life gets crazy, I take solace in my studio where I get to be completely in charge.
I was a late bloomer, having no clue what I wanted to do with my life until I after I turned 30. Whenever someone asked, “When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?” the only thing I can remember is wanting to be Rob Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show. How cool to be someone who gets paid for writing jokes? Hanging out with Sally and Buddy, eating deli sandwiches delivered to the writing room? (Note I did not aspire to be Sally… even in my teens I recognized that she got stuck doing the typing and wearing that ridiculous bow in her hair. Yeesh.)
Turns out, I came pretty close to that Dick Van Dyke reality with cartooning—except as a syndicated cartoonist I’m alone in the studio, thinking up all this stuff by myself. I envy the collaboration of a comedy writing team, and sometimes miss my days in advertising—what I did to support myself before syndication—when I worked in a roomful of creative types who bounced ideas off one another.
But despite relentless deadlines and occasional brain-dead days, being a cartoonist is perfect for me. As a kid, like most cartoonists, I doodled and thought creatively. That’s code for “flakey” to most parents, but I was the third child and my parents were too tired to protest. I was interested in EVERYTHING… I became a potter, a graphic designer, advertising copyrighter; I aspired to be a marine biologist, write for television, become a Foley artist. I was a dreamer with a capital D.
Then one day a friend told me she thought I was funny and should try drawing cartoons. After a moment’s hesitation I dove in, writing about my money-challenged chaotic life. I miraculously found a small newspaper to publish me after creating just 10 cartoons, and discovered the intoxication of seeing one’s work in print. I loved to write, I loved to draw. A comic strip was the ideal endeavor for someone with big dreams and a short attention span.
My early success gave me a false sense of possibility for my future as a cartoonist. For a single working mom the idea of being syndicated seemed completely ideal. Work from home, make the big bucks. Oh, and win the lottery, because that’s about the same odds as getting syndicated, it turns out.
But I am nothing if not persistent, and I believed Woody Allen when he said that 95% of success is showing up. After 16 years of showing up on syndicate editors’ desks I finally found a home at Universal UClick. The dream with a capital D came true at last.
My characters were originally created from the raw material of my own family and friends. I have two daughters, just like Val, and while Holly and Alix are not “like” my daughters, my years as a mom inform who they are and what they do. Because I did not get syndicated until my daughters were nearly grown, I decided to freeze Holly and Alix at ages that are fun for me to write for.
In truth, most of the characters in Stone Soup are really some part of me. Alix is me at 9. Holly is me at 13. Val is named after my best pal Val, but her character is me when I was divorced and trying to make ends meet. Joan is a younger me, when I had toddlers. Gramma is me when she travels the world doing charitable work, something I have been privileged to do. Wally is a combination of my Dad and a good friend named Wally, but many times he echoes my beliefs and sentiments.
No wonder I love Stone Soup land. It’s all me, all the time.
I still draw with an old-fashioned dip pen on archival paper. I work on a light table, scan the finished drawing, then fix my mistakes and add shading in Photoshop. I have a colorist, Olivia, who has been coloring Sundays for me since she was in her teens, and now she also colors the dailies for online distribution. I need quiet when I write, rock and roll when I draw, and Comedy Central or a long phone conversation when I scan. While I’m very happy with the development of Stone Soup, I still think I have a lot to learn about drawing and writing. I generally aspire to be as good as Bill Watterson, which is never gonna happen. But it keeps me from becoming complacent. I want Stone Soup to be fresh every day.
Speaking of Watterson, there is a new documentary movie coming out this fall called “Dear Mr. Watterson”. The filmmakers interviewed a variety of cartoonists and industry people to get a sense of why Calvin and Hobbes was so incredibly special. Since Watterson declines to be interviewed the filmmakers rely on his peers and fans to shed light on his amazing creation. I was lucky enough to be included. I just previewed it and it’s great—watch for it after it’s release November 15.
I live in Eugene, Oregon. I love summer and boats and skinny-dipping and drawing Stone Soup. I probably won’t become a marine biologist this time around, but I can live that life through Alix. Stay tuned!