May 21, 2008 10:28 PM
Ed Stein on the finale of Denver Square
Mark_Wolf(Q) So how did you feel when you put Denver Square to bed for the last time?
Ed_Stein(A) Relief, and some sadness, of course. It's been a nice run, and I genuinely enjoyed drawing the strip, but I felt it was getting a bit long in the tooth and it was beginning, for the first time, to feel like a grind instead of a pleasure to write and draw each day. Like any creator, I dread the idea of producing something that isn't top-notch, and I decided to end the strip before it lost its edge.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Is there anything like Denver Square in any other newspaper in the country?
Ed_Stein(A) Not that I know of. The only othr local daily strip was Phil Frank's "Farley" in the San Francisco Chronicle. Phil passed away last year, so that left Denver Square.My buddy Rob Rogers does a wonderful weekly strip in Pittsburgh called "Brewed on Grant," but he doesn't have the cojones to try it daily. Guy's a wimp.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Why did you have the family move away?
Ed_Stein(A) Well, I thought of lots of diffenet endings. They'd drive into the Eisenhower tunnel and never come out the other side. They'd all die in a pileup on I-70. They'd get caught in a crossfire on the Pinon Canyon artillery range. Space Aliens would mistake them for cows and mutilate them. But I went for realism instead. Also, if I decide sopmetime in the future that giving up the strip was a huge mistake, I can bring them back. Not likely.
Mark_Wolf(Q) You've talked about how the characters started talking back to you and developed personalities of their own. Strikes me that's the way novelists sometimes feel. How did your characters evolve from the way you created them?
Ed_Stein(A) I actually had the character mix down pretty well from the beginning, because the precursor was a strip I'd developed for Universal Press Syndicate, so I had a pretty good idea who they were. But, as the strip evolved, the charcaters evolved with it, and began developing new personalities I'd not originally intended for them. For instance, the grandmother, Sarah, originally was a pretty ill-tempered woman, and Irv was annoyingly passive, but he somehow became an abrasive conservative, and she softened. Sam was originally the unrepentant liberal in the strip, but Liz took on that role, and Sam became more of a conflicted character, his essential guyness fighting with doing the right thing. He wants to save the earth, but he loves things that fgo fast on lots of gasioline. He knows that tv sports is a waste of time and energy, but he's addicted. And Nate grew up.
Mark_Wolf(Q) How much of the Stein household and extended family made its way into Denver Square?
Ed_Stein(A) Somewhat, but not as much as readers may think. Our family dynamic is much different than in the strip. What I mostly did was take on the issues that concerned us and ran them trhough the fictional universe I'd created. So, when my kids were taking the CSAPs, I'd use that as a theme, but my family's reactions weren't necessarily the Denver Square family's.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Did you plot the strip over a long arc or let the characters and local events determine the course?
Ed_Stein(A) Both. In ordeer to breathe life into the strip, I had to give the characters a story of their own. So I spent at least a third of the days doing character development, and then let them react to real events as they unfolded. Because they had an emotional life of their own, I could use their personalities as a way of getting to the underlying issues around breaking news events. So, when Columbine and 9/11 happened, they were able to respond emotionally as well as intellectually to real events.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Did you ever reconsider your decision not to include politicians in the strip? That restriction didn't keep politics out of the strip.
Ed_Stein(A) No. I wanted the characters and situations to seem real. Most of us have little or no contact with political figures, so I made a firm decision not to include them in the strip. It did limit the way I could approach political issues somewhat, but that was probably a very good choice, as it prevented the strip from becoming too political and crossing over into my editorial cartoons.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Which of the strips/strorylines generated the most reaction from readers?
Ed_Stein(A) Columbine, without question. The strip was the perfect vehicle for reflecting what the community was going through. I could let the emotion flow throuigh the characters. I still get thank yous from people who tell me that the strip helped them cope with it, by putting into words and pictures what they were feeling.
Mark_Wolf(Q) How will you be filling all this free time now that you're not drawing Denver Square?
Ed_Stein(A) I wish. I'll be increasing the number of editorial cartoons I do, with a distincly more local focus, and I'll be doing a lot more interesting things on the web page. Stay tuned.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Any plans for a compilation book? Or another strip?
Ed_Stein(A) Probably not a book, unless I get about 5000 firm requests from readers. Another strip? Shoot me if I start thinking about it. Then again, I was dumb enough to do it once, so never say never.