What Did I Do?

Family Friday

Guest post by Donna A. Lewis, a doting aunt and mother to four-legged fur-balls

Just before 5:00 am, three Saturdays ago, my phone rang. I dreaded answering the phone. I knew it was the veterinarian and I knew why she was calling. If Addie had shown any signs of getting better in the five hours since I had left the animal hospital, the vet would have let me sleep. A phone call before her shift ended at 7 am meant that Addie was taking the turn we all feared.

I drove the most horrible mile of my life to date and arrived at the animal hospital fifteen minutes later. Addie was in medical distress that couldn’t be turned around.  Even now, after six days of treatment for what might have been pneumonia or a growing cancer or both, Addie’s body just wasn’t fighting back in the critical ways it needed to.

Or, perhaps, Addie’s body was fighting back but no amount of her fighting was enough.

For six days, she had seemed to be trying really hard.

Addie was only 12 pounds and still acted like she was only 12 months old. But, over the course of those horrible 6 days, the veterinarians kept beginning sentences with “Well, if she weren’t 12 years old….”

Read the rest at CurrentMom Blog -

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Lies Your Parents Will Tell You

(This is a Guest post to CurrentMom )

I am an especially good candidate for being an Aunt.

I was a child. I had parents. And I have grown up enough to see how their advice turned out.

From that position of power and wisdom, there are a few things I want my nieces to know in order that they can benefit from my wisdom at an early age and not spend four decades of their life figuring it out (like I did).

1. Your parents will lie to you

Your parents won’t lie as in “telling a fib,” but they won’t always tell you the exact truth or the whole truth or the truth in context. This isn’t because they’re bad people. In fact, it’s anything BUT that. It’s because they love you and they want the best for you and they want your life to turn out as good as possible. So, when it comes to these wonderful, loving people, trust but verify. Just saying.

2. Your parents will say you can do anything

Now, in the United States, where we are, this is true in theory. This is the land of the free – so you are technically free to be whatever you want to be.

But the truth is …. read the rest at CurrentMom !

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Brothers and Nieces

One day, when my niece M was three years old, we walked to the neighborhood playground together for some quality time. At that point in her development, M was obsessed with families. She understood mommies, daddies and sisters. Although there were many examples of brothers in her world, she didn’t really get the concept. She could say that her daddy was my brother, but she clearly didn’t understood what that meant.

Sitting on a bouncy playground apparatus, working hard to balance my weight against that of a three year old, I managed the barrage of questions that flew at me faster than I could possibly answer.

“Are you Addie’s mommy?”

I said yes, acknowledging that I was, indeed, mother to a dog.

“Are you Boo’s mommy?”

I confirmed that I was also the mother to a cat.

I vaguely remember explaining that Addie had a dog mommy when she was born and that Boo had a cat mommy but that I was the mommy who took care of them everyday. I vaguely remember M changing the subject to something more simple.

“Do you have children?”

Find out the answer (and read the rest) at CurrentMom !

Below: My favorite current Brother-Sister comic strip, Oh, Brother! – check it out.  I hope (I’m sure) you’ll love it too.

Oh Brother!, by Bob Weber, Jr and Jay Stephens

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Grammar Interventions

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Your Kids (When You’re Not Around)

Auntie d and Niecey M Wash Addie

Original post at CurrentMom!

A is for annoying.

When you’re not around, your kids are not annoying at all. I don’t say this because they’re related to me by blood. I happen to be related by blood to some highly annoying people. But there is a significant difference between annoying kids and not-annoying kids. And your kids just aren’t even mildly annoying.

B is for bold.

When you’re not around, your kids aren’t scared. They don’t cry. They don’t say they’re afraid. They don’t act afraid. It’s very cool. When you’re not around, your kids chase down the cat and dog and pretty much exhaust both animals in that special way only kids can exhaust animals. And then, when you guys show up, your kids pretend to have anxiety about animals they were bossing around when you weren’t around. It’s very funny to watch. I’m sure the psychology behind it is fascinating.

C is for cute.

When you’re not around, your kids really are cute. And they’re cute in an appealing way. They make me smile when they talk cute and act cute. They especially make me smile when they’re cute just doing nothing.

D is for dinner.

Your kids eat dinner when you’re not around. They get a choice of two things or a combination of both. The food gets plopped in front of them. They eat. If, after about twenty minutes, I notice that they’re not eating, I remind them that we can’t do any of the fun stuff unless they eat. … or else their parents won’t let them come over anymore. That line works every single time.

E is for enough.

Your kids know when they’ve had enough. Thank god. They don’t overindulge.

F is for fun.

Your kids are really fun (especially when you’re not around).

G is for green.

Green is never the favorite color for anything. Nobody ever wants the green one.

H is for happy.

Your kids are truly happy. They’re full of joy and excitement and they are very easygoing when it comes to laughing and joking around. That is amazing.

I is for “Me! Me! Me!”

Your kids aren’t “all about me” when they’re at my house. WHEW. Your kids are curious and engaging and helpful at my house. The word “I” isn’t uttered any more than any other word.

J is for joyful.

See “H” is for happy.

K is for kites.

Your kids do not want to fly kites when you’re not around. For that matter, your kids really don’t want to do very much beyond the basic stuff when you’re not around. They love simple things. They love the playground. They love walking in the woods. They love walking the dog. They love just hanging out. I offer fancier activities, but they never want to do the fancier stuff.

L is for love.

Your kids know what love is. They know how to accept love and how to give love. They also seem to know that love is pretty important.

M is for music.

Your kids not only love music, but they appreciate a diverse array of music. We listen to everything from The Sound of Music and Hair (yes, we listen to Hair) to Free to Be and other music made especially for tots. They’re pretty flexible in their tastes and they’re usually open to trying new things, artistically.

N is for night.

Your kids are very sweet at night (when you’re not around). They go right to sleep. They don’t pop out of bed or ask for anything unique. Maybe they’re scared to piss me off? Or maybe they’re scared I’ll tell you that they didn’t sleep. Or maybe I just exhaust them.

N is also for nice.

Your kids are really and truly nice. I have no idea what they’re like when you ARE around (and I’m not), but when you’re NOT around, your kids are really nice.

O is for over.

Your kids are very interested in what will happen when a show is over or a song is over or a walk, meal or ride in the car is over. They like to know the plan. I don’t think it’s because they’re obsessive. I think it’s because they want to be sure that I know what is next on their very important agenda for us.

P is for pee.

Your kids pee by themselves at my house. They’re very adult about it. They just go. No announcements, no questions, no begging for me to accompany them. It’s almost as if they forget they’re kids.

Q is for questions.

Your kids are helpful communicators. If I’m concerned about the youngest one, I’ll ask the middle one if the youngest is okay to be doing whatever she’s doing. The middle one will assure me that the youngest is okay OR, more often than not, the middle will ask the youngest if she’s okay and report back to me.

R is for right.

Your kids know the difference between right and wrong. And they don’t get the two confused when you’re not around.

S is for sisters.

Your kids know that they’re lucky to have each other. Even when one wants to go right and the other wants to go left, they still understand that the sister bond is bigger than any of them alone.

T is for tying shoes.

Your kids do not ever want to put on and tie their shoes when you’re not around. There is something about putting shoes on that creates all sorts of commitment issues for your kids. Shoes must mean that something is ending, not that something is beginning. It’s not just you. It’s not just something that happens at your house (which I have also witnessed). It’s about the shoes.

U is for undies.

Your kids have the tiniest undies. And I find them all over the place when your kids aren’t there. Do they bring ten pairs per visit? I love finding tiny little pairs of pink and purple undies. It makes me happy.

V is for vanilla.

Your kids are easy in terms of food. I don’t serve them anything too exciting and they don’t seem to ever care. Whatever I have for dessert is something they love. They don’t beg for something I don’t have. Either you raised them to be flexible or you’re totally depriving them of dessert at home.

W is for water.

Your kids like water! It’s so weird! I don’t even think water existed when I was a kid. But yes, your kids like water and will actually choose it as a beverage. Good for them!

X is for x-rated.

Your kids are TOTALLY uninterested in things that aren’t age appropriate. This is both inspiring and comforting to me. Your kids are, despite all of the horrible influences in this society, really just all about being kids. They have no interest in being adults or doing adult things. Thank goodness.

Y is for you.

Your kids love you. And they respect you. And they say nice things about you when you’re gone. They think you’re pretty great. And they think you’re smart. And even if they get upset when you say it’s time to leave Auntie d’s house, they’re still really happy to see you when you get there.

Z is for zoo.

See K is for kites. I offer trips to the zoo all the time but your kids would rather hang out and walk the dog. Go figure.

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Yoga Class Dropout

I failed yoga.

I’m sure any yoga instructor would encourage me to keep at it, arguing that I am young in the process of developing my yoga self.  But after many years of embarassment, I sincerely believe that my yoga self is akin to my rock star self.  It all looks TOTALLY cool and I WISH that I could do it too.  But seriously, my chances of becoming a true yogist are slightly less  than my chances of becoming an opening act for Lady Gaga.

It’s not that I didn’t try.

I attended yoga at many locations, dedicating myself to each location, believing that each new location would be my yoga home.  I tried every variation on yoga, from the gentle beginner yoga to the hardcore 100 degree room where you have to drink two gallons of water afterwards just to make it to your car.

But none of the locations seemed to alleviate that gnawing feeling of being a total flexibility loser. 

It may be true that I would enjoy yoga in the dark….or, better yet, yoga alone. But seriously, when you can barely straighten your leg or reach whatever part of the body the instructor is urging you to reach, it’s tough to look at the person whose face is skin-to-skin with their pinky toe. 

And in DC, it’s even worse.  In DC, the yogists are dressed to the yoga nines. You won’t see anyone wearing their tenth grade sweats or their college boyfriend’s sweatshirt.  No.  In DC it’s all about the gear.  The fashion yoga-show covers everything from those wearing the newest wicking fabrics to those who look intentionally and competitively granola.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike the DC yoga crowd.  I’m just totally jealous.

I want to wear a salmon-colored stretchy half shirt with peaceful sandals and look like I’ve eliminated every toxin from my body.  I want to carry around a mat in a bag that makes me look like my last vacation was in India.  I want a cool water bottle that folks notice.  I want to touch my nose to my toes. 

But that’s just not me.  And after years of trying, I am prepared to admit that it’s not me.

I should have known it when I tried meditation – pre-yoga years – and couldn’t get my ankles anywhere near the top of my thighs. 

No.  I will never be that cool yoga person.

I accept it.

But if there’s any chance you think you can get my ankles to rest upon my thighs in this lifetime, feel free to send me an email with your rates.  Because although I’m officially OKAY with my failures in the flexibility department, I am still unenlightened enough to think that way down deep I have enough of the Cirque du Soleil gene to recreate the Nadia Comenichi of my youth.

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Thinking About Having Work Done.

 

The truth is that I think about having work done all the time.  To myself and to my home.  Part of me is glad I think about improving my looks and my environment.  I feel like it’s a vote of confidence: Yes! We are both worth the investment!

And part of me wonders if I’m being negative to think that my body and my home need work.

I’m sure that both are true.  Recently, I’ve looked at pictures of my old apartments and my old (young) self.  I love them all.  I love the way I looked.  I loved where I lived. 

Is that just the numbing effect of feeling nostalgic?  I can clearly  remember hating my dining room table and wishing for another body a few decades ago.  Now I look back and I miss everything.  Man, I would kill to have that body back.  

I’ve started making lists of what needs help.

One list is about me.  The other list is about my home. 

Then I play this stupid game where I wonder which would get fixed first if I won the lottery.  I’m guessing I’d fix the home first.  Then I’d have a better place to spend my recovery time in.

One of my favorite movies is “Best Friends” (1982) with Goldie Hawn and Burt Reynolds.  The movie is about a couple who has trouble getting married and then trouble staying married.   I only just learned that the movie is semi-autobiographical.  Barry Levinson, my favorite Baltimore movie director, was apparently in the midst of a break up from his wife during that time. 

Interesting, eh?

Anyway, the point is that Paula (Goldie Hawn’s character) has a scene with a best friend where they get a little tipsy and opine on why it might be that Paula fears marriage.  Somewhere after a few drinks, Paula figures out that the only thing after marriage is death….and she fears death…so maybe if she skips marriage, she can skip death.

Brilliant.

And possibly one of the reasons I now want to fix everything.  If you always have a list of what needs fixing, your time can never come, right?

I won’t commit to any comments on the marriage part.  I haven’t quite figured out my feelings about marriage.

But it’s okay. I have a lot of time to figure out marriage, apparently. I’ve scheduled a lot of appointments with doctors and contractors. 

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I Could….

I don’t know whether it was nature or nurture, but I grew up with a dominant ‘should’ reflex.  Whatever I was doing, I felt I should be doing something else.  No matter how much I did, it wasn’t what I “should” be doing. There was always something more important or more meaningful out there that I knew I wasn’t doing.

And then I went through a bunch of difficult should-related phases.

There was the loser decade (the 70′s) where just felt like a loser.  Mind you, I did a lot.  And I even did some amazing things.  But it didn’t matter.  All I could see were the things I wasn’t doing. 

There was the guilt decade (the 80′s) where I just basically obsessed about all of the things I thought I should be doing.  If I did them, I didn’t feel satisfied because I hadn’t gone willingly.  If I didn’t do them, I doused myself in ‘should.’

There was the apology decade (the 90′s) where I didn’t do a lot of things I thought I should do but spent a lot of time (wasted a lot of time) explaining why I couldn’t.  Notice I didn’t explain why I wouldn’t.  Everything was about “couldn’t.”  I just didn’t think I had the right to not do something for any reason other than not being able to.  Let’s just say I created a lot of “Sorry, I can’t” situations.

And then there came the Will or Won’t Decade (this decade)….

It turns out that I’m pretty good at Will or Won’t.

It turns out that I know (1) what I want to do, (2) what I don’t want to do, (3) what I can do, and (4) what I can’t do.  Believe me, I am well-versed in every variation, iteration and nuance of doing or not doing.  And now I’m okay with what I do or don’t do.  Even better, I don’t think I owe too many people explanations… especially since explanations never seem to go over very well with folks who didn’t hear the answer they originally wanted. 

(Hint: other people want to hear that you can and will)

So these days I rarely use the word ‘should.’

I don’t ‘should’ myself and I try not to ‘should’ other people.

If there’s something I would benefit from doing, I usually just decide to do it.  And if I really don’t want to, then I stick with “I don’t want to”…or, as my Big Bro says, “Well, THAT doesn’t sound like much fun.”

There are lots of things I could do these days … with a free afternoon or so.

Not doing stuff is still the best.

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Because You Asked…

Here are some of the questions I’m asked often enough to answer seriously.

Q:  What is the best background for developing a comic strip?

A:  I totally don’t know because I’m not an artist and some of my favorite strips are by non-artists or self-described lesser artists.  Obviously, it’s nice if you can draw, but you have to be able to write also.  The writing seems to be really key.  I would say learn how to write and then learn how to write comedy.  I was an English major who then went to law school (where writing is a big part of the amusement) and tried my hand at writing material for stand up.  You gotta write a lot of bad stuff to get to the good stuff sometimes.

Q:  How long does it take you to draw a strip?

A:  I would say that the average time per daily strip is two to three hours.  I find, however, that if I do two or more consecutively, I work faster.  A Sunday strip takes four to five hours, but that’s just because it’s twice as much work…J

Q: What is your schedule like?

A:  My schedule changes slightly with the seasons because of the weather and the urge to be outside, but generally follows a pretty basic routine.  On weekdays, I wake up, do a few strip-related tasks while fixing my hair, and then I go to my day job.  I am very lucky because my day job is around the corner.  For years, I had a long commute but now I have more time in my day because I don’t spend significant time commuting.

I get home from work around 7 or so, most nights, and then draw comic strips.  Six dailies are due on Monday morning and one Sunday is due on Friday morning.  I plan my stripping schedule around those requirements and around family obligations.  Needless to say, bar hopping and late nights are not a big part of my life.  Weekends are devoted to sleeping late, drinking coffee, relaxing, drawing strips and seeing family.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to draw a comic strip?

A:  I would suggest that you just draw strips and characters and write words and see what evolves.  I hear many people who have a concept for a strip but they haven’t played with it enough to know how it may grow or completely fail to thrive.  Give your ideas and your skills a chance to find their comfy place and then put your work out there to see if there’s any interest.  You will know if there is interest.  People will say things like “I love that” or “that’s so cute/funny/great.”  If there’s silence, check your audience.  If they’re not breathing, find another audience and see if they react.  If you can get some reaction, try asking for some feedback from people you respect.  Go to the artists and/or writers whose work you like and see if they’ll take a look.  Or submit directly to a syndicate or contest.  Feedback can be really helpful.  If ten people say that they don’t get it, you might want to work in another direction.  If nine people say that they don’t get it and one says that they do get it, same advice as above.  You want five out of ten people to like your strip.  Anything above 50% is a good sign.  And yes, it’s okay if they’re all family.

Q:  Is it true that you get hate mail?

A: Yes! I am very lucky in that I have impassioned haters as well as impassioned fans.  It keeps me humble. It’s always nice to get an email from someone who took time out of his or her busy day to tell me how much I suck.

Q:  What comic strips influenced you?

A:  I grew up on collections of the Far Side and Doonesbury.  I would read those straight through and then read them again.  These days I read pretty much any comic strip just for kicks.  I try not to follow any particular strip too closely so that I don’t get influenced.  Stupid, I’m sure, but true.

Q:  How long have you been doing the strip?

A:  I began working on Reply All in June of 2009.  Prior to Reply All, there were about eight other casual comic strips, each with a slightly different theme.  Those were the ‘warm up’ strips.

Q:  Where does the title of the strip come from?

A:   The bane of my existence is the ‘Reply All’ function on email.  There are years where I spent more time correcting ‘Reply All’-fueled dramas than getting any real work done.

Q:  Have you been disowned yet by family who resent your interpretation of their lives?

A:  Disowned?  You kidding?  I am now officially a celebrity in my family.  Unfortunately, the members of my family don’t realize the relatively limited benefits of having a comic strip.  I believe they are preparing for red carpets and Oprah appearances.  In a few years, they’ll realize it was all a bust and will, hopefully, be distracted by other experiences in their lives.

Q:  Will you do an interview for my media outlet, college or first grade class?

A:  Sure, if it seems like a fun time!  Just contact Julie at Julie@replyallcomic.com.

Q:  Can we hire you to speak at our event?

A:   I might love to speak at your event, depending on what type of event it is.  Do you want me to talk to lawyers about how to pursue their passions?  I like doing that.  Or I can talk to kids about how to find and develop their strengths.  I like that too.  I’ve done a lot of public speaking and it usually turns out pretty good with people laughing.  So let me know the event!  Or, shall I say, let Julie know the event…Julie@replyallcomic.com

Q:  Do you ski?

A:  I don’t know why, but I feel like I get that question a lot.  And yes, I do. I ski.  Not often enough.

Q:   How can I email you if I hate the strip?

A:   If you have hate, contempt or criticism in any amount, just send it to ihate@replyallcomic.com.  No, I don’t particularly enjoy reading these, but the syndicate will.

Q:   How can I email you if I like or love the strip?

A:   If you have like, love or lust any amount, just send it to ilove@replyallcomic.com.  Yes, I totally enjoy reading these emails and am always grateful to those who initiate positivity.

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The More Better Answers

Here are the rest of the “more in-depth” answers to some of the questions from the Washington Post Live Q&A on February 28, 2011

http://live.washingtonpost.com/reply-all-cartoonist-donna-lewis.html

Q. Opopo

Describe your process a little. Do you keep rewriting right up to the bitter end?

I’m not sure I really have a process.  I get ideas all day long as things happen that seem silly.  I try to jot down my thoughts.  If I have time, I might sketch out a strip on scrap paper – just to see how the lines work together.

I usually have a few storylines in mind when I head home to write and draw.  I try not to draw the same characters every night and I also try not to use the same background I’ve just used in the previous strips.  If Lizzie is at home too much, I try to get her out.  If she’s out too much , I get her home.

I draw the strip first, knowing the general concept of the lines.  Usually, once I start drawing the first panel, the lines occur to me – so then I know what the characters need to look like, what their expressions will be and who will be focused on in any particular frame.

I add the lines last.  Half the time, the lines are perfect (in my opinion) the way I write them the first time.  The other half of the time, I know what I want the characters to convey but it takes a thousand variations on dialogue to get them there.

When I first began getting feedback from Amy, she would change a word from time to time.  I might write “get it” and she would suggest that “understand” is better.   I don’t remember the last time she suggested a word change.  I now have her voice in my head and pretty much know what her suggestions might be, word-wise.

Once a week or so, I can’t finish a strip at night (which is when I generally work on strips).  I’ll draw the strip and play with the lines but go to bed knowing that the right lines aren’t there yet.  I’ll lay in bed and obsess about the lines and then fall asleep.  Usually, while I’m fixing my hair or feeding the animals in the morning, the good lines will occur to me.

Q. Friends

Have you ever created any hard feelings from friends who saw, or thought they saw, something negative about them in your strips?

I don’t think I’ve created hard feelings from friends.  If I have, they didn’t let on.  There were earlier characters who are no longer in the strip and probably won’t appear in the future.  That’s because the character just didn’t evolve.  Characters have a life of their own.  Some characters talk to me and tell me exactly what they want.  Other characters I control more than they control me.

A few times I’ve drawn somebody and they wanted changes for their character.  That’s difficult because I draw the characters the way I see them – not the way the other person does.

For the most part, though, folks have been really flattered to appear in the strip.  And then there are a few who are vying for a place in the strip.  The good news is that I’m surrounded by friends and family who would make great characters.  The bad news is that there are only so many characters that can fit in the day-to-day of one strip. 

Q. Who Will Relate to ReplyAll?  Who is your imagined audience when you write Reply All? Is it other single women? Or do you think anyone can relate to the strip?

During the chat, I responded that my mother was my audience.  Early on, I realized that my mother provided a very accurate measure of what worked and what didn’t.  I think the combination of my own personal slang and my own edgy, dark thinking had to be balanced with the perceptions of someone outside of my little DC world.  My mother provided that balance. 

I found that most of my friends and family were not good judges of what worked.  I believe that’s primarily because they were too close to the real material that inspired the strips.  One of my friends or family would say that a particular strip wasn’t right or wasn’t the way things would have played out – and then the strip would do really well with the website audience or the Facebook audience.  Over the years, I shifted from ‘trying out’ strips on family and friends to trying out strips on strangers and then showing the successful strips to the inner circle.

For the past few years, I’ve known that the strip plays well across generations (as evidenced from the followers of the strip), across genders, and across sexual preferences.  That’s been nice.  Now that the strip is in newspapers, it’s really great to hear that younger kids are reading it.  That’s very sweet.

Q. Art

How much care do you take in plotting out narrative arcs for the strip? Is there an identifiable moment in your head when you say: “Well, I’ve exhausted THAT thread?”

There are many story lines that I want to either develop or follow in the strip, but the characters are really at a point in their lives where they’re just experiencing the consequences of the roads they’ve taken or not taken.  Lizzie is dealing with the life of a single career woman for whom marriage is not a specific goal. Laura is dealing with life (and kids) post-divorce.  Allison is creeping toward an empty nest and it’s unclear whether she’ll adapt easily or with difficulty to a quiet house.   The stories are less about tackling major goals than living through the ever-changing dynamic of a life that involves other peoples’ dreams.

In terms of exhausting threads, so far it’s been pretty easy.  When I get sick of a thread, I don’t work on it anymore.  I can usually only last for about two to three strips on one thread until I get sick of it.  I might return to it down the road, but I’d have trouble following a longer thread.  I’m far too distracted by whatever is funny right now than to spend days following through on a specific planned storyline.  

Q. Artwork

I’ve seen some commentary about your artwork not being “professional enough” and “hard to look at”…. respectfully, I must disagree!!!! I LOVE the way you draw the characters and their surroundings. They are adorable!

So, the issue regarding my strip seems to be the great divide between those who enjoy looking at it and those who find it painful to look at.  I think I’ve realized that I can only pay attention to those who love the strip (or like the strip).  The folks who hate it will never like it – and some of them have been very rude in conveying their hatred of the strip.  So I’m pretty much ignoring those who don’t like looking at it and hoping they’ll shift their energies to looking elsewhere.

For those who do enjoy looking at the strip, I must say it’s really fun.  I like decorating Lizzie’s house and office and can’t wait to decorate Laura and Mark’s abodes.

Q. Morality

I’m intrigued by the description of Reply All tackling the struggle between id, ego and superego.  If there is a moral to ReplyAll, what would it be?  Does Lizzie have a personal code of ethics or is she just a hedonist?

My response to this during the live chat regarded the moral of Reply All (to get over it). 

Regarding Lizzie’s personal code of ethics….hhhhhmmmm….I think that Lizzie is a good person who wants for things generally to be good.  She has strong relationships with family and friends – and enjoys a level of honesty with them that enables her to engage in “smart ass” dialogue without suggesting disrespect or intolerance.  But the dialogue always has to be based on a foundation of love and respect – otherwise it would just be mean.

Hedonism?  Hhhhmmm….let me look up hedonism.

“Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses.” 

Noooooo….that’s not Lizzie or any of the characters.  When I think of hedonism, I think of Charlie Sheen.  Perhaps there’s a healthier hedonist, but I’m not sure who that would be.

Lizzie is a hardworking individual who is basically just exhausted by the demands of a career and the conflicts faced by women who choose work over love.  She thinks about things that would feel good – like getting her hair brushed for an hour – but she doesn’t actually do them. I think that Lizzie mostly fantasizes about living like a princess even though she’s not particularly indulgent (except for coffee and naps).

Q. Battle of the Sexes

Will Reply All get into the battle of the sexes? Do you think there are things women just don’t get about men and vice versa?

Reply All isn’t really about the battle of the sexes as much as it’s about the coexistence of the sexes in a world where there’s not much mystery anymore. 

Q. ComicsDC

So who approached who – did the WPWG syndicate find you, perhaps due to a Washington City Paper interview, or did you contact them?

So here’s the story:

In late 2008, I began to explore syndication and publication.  Enough people were asking me about it that I thought I should take a look.  I tried to put together a submission but really just couldn’t decide what it should look like and what it should include.  I was very nervous about blowing a chance.  It never occurred to me that a syndicate would look at me more than once or over time.  I figured it was just a one time shot where you either get tossed out or taken in.

I decided to look for some advice and picked Stephan Pastis to ask.  I didn’t have the confidence to talk to any other cartoonists since I didn’t consider myself an artist.  But as a lawyer I had enough confidence to email Stephan (he was a lawyer before turning to cartooning full-time).

I never showed Stephan my strip.  I was scared that he would say it stunk.  I also wanted to be clear that I was looking for advice and not feedback.

That’s my lawyer mind at work, I think.

Stephan was very nice and very responsive.  He basically told me to just send in something because the syndicate would either see something they liked or wouldn’t.  I think he was trying to say that it didn’t have to be perfect.

Of course I thought it had to be perfect, so I didn’t send anything in.  I was very scared of rejection because the writing was so personal to me.  I had submitted a lot of writing to agents and publications over the years and was fairly adept at rejection – but the strips had become my children.  I didn’t think I could bear to hear someone say that they stunk.

In 2009, and very much to my surprise, an acquaintance asked if I wanted to talk to Amy Lago – I hadn’t realized that they were colleagues.  Within a day of saying “YES!!!!,” I had an email from Amy asking me when I could come in.

I don’t recall this, but Amy says I had to reschedule out appointment due to work.  That is probably correct.  At the time, I was working in a 24/7 operation and emergencies ruled. Nobody cared if I had an appointment with one of the most amazing comics editors in the whole world.

Before meeting with Amy, I read anything I could about her and I listened (about a hundred times) to an interview she had given on Coast to Coast, a seriously cool comics podcast.  I worked on a portfolio that I could bring to her and assumed we would be looking at it. 

When I met with Amy, she was VERY nice.  I was a wreck because I was so nervous and she was just calm and smiley and nice.

I was scared to be funny and scared to be serious.  I felt like Amy knew the answer to the only question that mattered: is this material funny?

Amy and I just talked.  We didn’t look at any strips.  She asked about me and my interest in comic strips.  I told her the truth which was that followers kept asking me if I would be published.

Amy told me that she would look at my work and get back to me.  She warned me that it would be several weeks because of her schedule.  She may or may not have realized that I would have waited ten years for her opinion.

Amy did get back to me several weeks later.  She never said that she liked the strips.  She never said that they were good.  She just said that she’d like to see me develop certain characters and stick to certain themes.

I said okay, of course.  I remember that I kept asking her for deadlines and she kept saying “whenever you get it in.”  I remember hoping that my lawyer personality wouldn’t totally turn her off.

I submitted about 40 strips to her soon after.  Needless to say, I spent every waking moment (except when I was at work) doing those strips.  I couldn’t tell anyone because there was too much at stake and because I didn’t want to hear anyone’s predictions of what might happen.  I think I perfected the practice of superstition during that time. 

Amy liked the strips I submitted.  At that point, it was a no brainer for me.  Regardless of the outcome, I was getting feedback from one of the best editors around.  I threw myself into the newly developed strip and watched the characters evolve.

The style of the strips changed a great deal – primarily as a result of me asking Amy stupid questions like “should I put in a desk?” and Amy saying “Sure!”  I just kept adding details to the strips and Amy liked the details.

We had some discussion along the way about my drawing style but Amy generally liked it.  Critics will be shocked to hear that my lines were far sketchier before.  I’m not a big fan of the perfect line.  I like suggestions of lines.  But Amy explained that suggestions of lines wouldn’t translate well for publication and I learned to draw fatter, darker lines – and I learned to close shapes.

Ah….the critics….they’re fun. J

Q. taboo

Are there any topics that are verboten for Reply All? Or is everything up for grabs?

I haven’t run across any verboten topics yet, I don’t think.  However, I don’t want to write strips that teenagers and children can’t read.  I understand that the topics might not always be attractive to teens and kids, but I don’t want to introduce specific topics that they shouldn’t be dealing with before they have to.  Nobody will wonder if they’re pregnant (in any serious way) or have to ponder whether they remembered a condom.  I don’t want my nieces reading that or asking about it.

I remember submitting strips about Craig’s List to Amy and hoping that she wouldn’t be too upset with the direction I was going in.   I was waiting for an email from her saying that they were far too x-rated. Of course it turned out that she loved them.

Q. Comic Strip Temporal Dynamics

Are your characters going to age or grow or does she remain forty-something forever? If not, how do you handle the change in cultural touchstones?

The characters will age and try to deal with aging.

Both Laura and Allison have kids finishing high school and heading off to college.  Lizzie’s mom has grandchildren now.  Lizzie is losing her window of opportunity for having children.  Yes, aging and changes in cultural touchstones are part of the plan.

Q. Questions from an interview

When Lizzie interviews for a job and is asked the stock – “what strengths would you bring to the organization and what are your weaknesses?” – how would she answer?

Lizzie would probably say something annoying like “I have trouble leaving the office.  I like to stay until everything is done.”…..as her weakness.  Strength?  Probably the ability to stop at a donut shop on the way to the office and bring one for everybody?

Q. Questioning Taboo

There are some artists who left syndication for other publishing arenas due to conflict over content. When you say that pretty much any topic is up for grabs wouldn’t that depend to a certain extent on your editor and what papers you’re in?

I think I mostly addressed this a few questions ago, but I’ll add a bit.

Amy and I haven’t had any conflicts yet.  We both want what’s best for the strip and what’s true to the strip.  We both love the strip.  I can’t really see either of us wanting to do something that wasn’t in line with the spirit of the strip or our abilities to support the strip.  That might be naïve, but I think that one of the things we like about each other is our respect for the integrity of the product.

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