Jan Eliot, creator of the comic strip “Stone Soup,” recently announced her decision to retire the daily version of the comic strip. The Sunday version of the strip will continue. Created in 1990 and syndicated by Universal Uclick (formerly Universal Press Syndicate) since November 1995, the comic strip is available in more than 250 outlets worldwide with a dedicated following. The final week of “Stone Soup” dailies will begin on Oct. 12, 2015.
Eliot sat down with Universal Uclick to share insight behind her decision to retire the daily comic strip.
Q: How did you arrive at the decision retire the daily version of Stone Soup?
A: For 20 years, I have held the most wonderful job in the world — making a living in art, creating a daily comic strip that I’m privileged to see published in newspapers. As someone who grew up fascinated by newspaper and magazine cartoons, it is hard to explain the private thrill I get seeing my strip on the funny page, hearing someone comment about it, receiving fan mail. But with this wonderful job comes the pressure of daily deadlines. It may seem like a small task, creating one cartoon a day, but it is herculean in many ways. The pressure to be good enough, funny enough, to create interesting-enough drawings, live up to the standards of great cartoonists I admire and share the comics page with is not a small thing. And every Monday morning, there it is, the blank paper that represents the seven comic strips that need to be created.
I have reached a point in life where I’d like to be free of these daily deadlines — free to travel more, spend more time with family and friends, pursue other creative projects. I love to write. I love photography. I’ve always been interested in marine science and scientific illustration. Who knows what might be on my horizon? It is exciting to think about the possibilities. But most of all, I’m looking forward to having just one great cartoon to create every week, to linger over the drawing and ideas and savor the fun of it.
Q: Reflecting on the last 20 years, what are your overall feelings as the dailies come to an end?
A: I thought long and hard about relinquishing my daily spot on the funny pages. I fought long and hard to get there, after all. But 20 years is a long time, especially when it comes after my previous incarnations: as a waitress, car salesperson, bookmobile driver, community college instructor, graphic designer and copywriter … all things I did along the way to syndication and that inform my characters and storylines now.
Val and Joan and the rest of the Stone Soup cast are old, dear friends. Both Val and Wally are named after real-world friends; Holly and Alix were created while I was raising two daughters who were about their age at the time. Like Val, I was a single working mom. Like Val, I eventually remarried. Evie (Gramma) was originally modeled after my own mother, but over time she morphed into me … or I morphed into her, I’m not sure which. Evie’s travels are my travels and I share her lust for adventure and far-off places. I have been drawing these characters, or some version of them, since I began my very first comic strip Patience and Sarah in the early ’80s. So you can imagine that they are very real to me. I love them all.
Which is why I am so happy to be continuing the Sunday strips. I am not at all ready to give up my Stone Soup family, and look forward to carrying the story on every Sunday. I am very grateful I have the opportunity to do that, and I hope my fans will continue to follow the fun and chaos of the Stone clan.
Q: How are you concluding the daily comic strip?
A: The daily strip will have a “soft” ending, since the strip is going to continue on Sundays. I have the characters reflecting about the past a bit, and speculating about the future. The final daily includes some predictions for the kids as they grow up, which reflect my thoughts about who they are, and will become.
Q: What should readers expect from upcoming Sunday strips?
A: The upcoming strips will continue my favorite Stone Soup themes as well as carry the story of my Stone Soup family forward. Val settling in with Phil, Phil settling in with his new family, Alix and Holly making his new life wonderful and impossible all at once. Joan and Val continuing their philosophical discussions over the fence, Wally being the rock that he is and chief adviser to Phil, since Wally ventured down the stepparent road before him. Gramma dipping back in between adventures, sending her advice via Skype chats in the meantime. Alix will still seek adventure in the great outdoors and in her magic pool, Holly will continue her drama-filled path to adulthood, Val will continue to plug away at her job, commiserate with Rena, and share her deepest concerns with her sister, Joan.
Q: Share a few specific comic strips that provoked strong reactions from readers.
A: Oddly, one strip that provoked a LOT of mail ran on Jan. 9, 2005, and was about gluten-free toast. The characters, Gramma and Val, are in a restaurant, trying to decide what to eat. They eliminate most of the dishes because they are not organic or humane or sustainable … a reflection of the very green town I live in, Eugene, Oregon. Val decides that “you can’t go wrong with toast,” and then realizes when it is delivered that she “should have ordered gluten-free.” Hundreds of readers decided that I was “making fun of” celiac disease, a very serious disease that renders its victims completely intolerant of gluten. After trying to explain that I was not doing that at all, the Celiac Disease Association asked if they could reprint the cartoon in their newsletter because they thought it was funny. Whew! Thank you!
Another strip that provoked reader response ran on April 4, 2011, and discussed teacher furlough days. Val was frustrated because Holly had another day off due to teacher furloughs. In expressing her frustration, my intent was to show her frustration with school funding issues. Somehow, the way I wrote it led some teachers to think I was suggesting that these furlough days were “vacation” for them. A group of teacher who were actually at that very time sitting in a protest on the lawn of the Wisconsin State Capitol (their governor was trying to break their union, as I remember it). They wrote me many letters of dismay, and I did a piece with the Madison, Wisconsin, newspaper explaining that I was a HUGE supporter of teachers, and my intention would NEVER be to suggest that they were slackers. I had to admit that the way I worded the cartoon could have been misleading, and have been very careful since then.
Q: What has been your proudest and most memorable moment as an internationally syndicated cartoonist?
A: One moment? There are so many …
Seeing Stone Soup as a clue in the NYT Magazine Crossword Puzzle was a definite thrill.
Seeing my cartoon printed in foreign newspapers (sent to me by fans).
Seeing my Sunday strip on the front page of many of the Sunday comics pages I am in.
Seeing my work on display at the Library of Congress and the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
Being invited to overseas cartoon conferences … one in Lisbon, Portugal, where I won the “Best Book” award, and another in Algiers, Algeria, where I met female cartoonists from the continent of Africa and the Middle East. I was on a panel with these women, which was quite an honor and very memorable.
But probably, the most memorable moment was the very first Sunday that Stone Soup appeared in my local paper, delivered to my doorstep, with Stone Soup positioned on the front page of the Sunday funnies, directly under Mother Goose and Grimm, Dilbert and For Better or For Worse. A moment to remember!
Q: Your syndicate, clients and readers are saddened by your decision to retire the daily comic. Any parting words to share with these longtime supporters?
A: Please know that it was a difficult decision. I am sad in my own way, because it is indeed an honor to be in newspapers every day and have such an amazing group of loyal readers. But I am now 65, and I have worked fulltime since I was 15 years old — as a waitress, car salesperson, bookmobile driver, graphic designer and copywriter, community college instructor. Cartooning was my last and best incarnation. So, I hope my longtime supporters can understand that now I am ready to have less demands on my time, to pursue creative projects that don’t have such incessant deadlines, to travel and spend more time with family and friends. I will always be incredibly grateful to my readers, and I hope we can keep up with each other on Sundays.