Ed Stein ends Denver Square

Rocky Mountain News editorial cartoonist Ed Stein has announced that he will be ending his local daily comic strip Denver Square on May 21st. The feature, which first appeared in January of 2007, was an opportunity to explore an average middle-class family living in Denver without getting into politics, according to Ed.

Regarding the reason for ending the feature, Ed writes on his blog,

Other reasons are more personal. When I started drawing Denver Square, my children were in elementary school. They are now college students, and I’ve lost my insider knowledge of Denver Public Schools. My father-in-law and my father, two models for the irascible Irv, are no longer with us. Many of the strip cartoonists I know tell me that, despite the longevity of Dagwood, Beetle Bailey and Peanuts, 10 years is the functional lifespan of a comic strip. I’m beginning to understand why. The grind of producing a daily strip is starting to tell. I both love and hate the characters. Some days I’m so sick of drawing them, I daydream about doing terrible things to them. Liz joins a polygamist cult. Sam is eaten alive by giant mutant pine beetles. Nate is abducted by cattle-mutilating space aliens. This alone should tell me that it’s time to move on.

If you haven’t noticed lately, the newspaper business has changed. We are now a multimedia information source with an increasingly dynamic Web presence. I can no longer think of myself as just a newspaper cartoonist. The Internet gives me a chance to write as well as to draw, to blog and to podcast, to add motion and sound, to make videos, to create a comic world I never could have dreamed of making in print, to interact with readers in new and more intimate ways. I have plenty of new ideas for projects to fill the time that drawing the comic strip takes up now.

And with that announcement, the last daily local comic in America will come to a close. The local comic strip is a rarity for sure, and with last year’s passing of Phil Frank with the San Francisco Chronicle and the letting go of Leo Garza at the San Antonio Express-News, an era is coming to a close. In addition to the inherent qualities of story-telling and humor that are innate to a comic strip, the local comic has characteristics that may not be recognized or appreciated. It is a recorder of community history, it’s an visual voice in a community’s dialog, and it’s an opportunity for a newspaper to offer something completely unique to its readers. For that reason, Denver Square’s end comes as sad news.

UPDATE: Dave Astor has written about the end of Denver Square and has reposted an article he wrote about local comics that was first published in 2001.

Correction: The beginning date mentioned above is incorrect. Ed began Denver Squares in 1997.

20 thoughts on “Ed Stein ends Denver Square

  1. Did he have it published somewhere else before Jan 07? He seems to say that he did it for 10 years…

  2. We in Kenosha are fortunate to have a local strip in our paper done by Dan Pavelich. It doesn’t qualify as a truly daily strip as it is in ony 3 or 4 days a week. It is a great addition to our paper and truly has its finger on the pulse of our local life and politics. Are there others out there that may not be daily but are at least regular contributers?

  3. Rob Rogers does Brewed On Grant in Pittsburgh. It may not be daily but it’s a great local strip. I don’t think the “era” has entirely closed yet. Besides, newspaper trends aren’t making Ed end this….he’s just tired of doing it.

    I did a local strip for five years in the 90’s. I totally understand burnout.

  4. As many are pointing out, there still exists cartoonists doing local cartoons, but that’s different than what I’m talking about.

    Comic strips are an American creation to sell papers and in the beginning all comics were local. Their focus might not always have been local – but they were produced specifically for the newspaper that employed them. With the rise of syndication (which, for better or for worse, sanitized and generalized the comics), we slowly lost the local dailies that were unique to a community. That is what I’m lamenting with the end of Denver Square.

  5. This is quite sad. “Denver Square” and “Farley” in San Francisco were ENORMOUSLY popular strips with readers, and captured the essence of life in those communities in ways that nothing else quite did. Newspapers just don’t “get” how valuable such local strips are in connecting with and retaining readers.

    I made several attempts myself at such strips in Seattle, the Bay Area and L.A., with the proposals always receiving praise from editors but never with a financial commitment to making it happen (sample strips can be seen on my website link).

    I understand why Ed is ending his strip, and he certainly enriched Denver readers with it. Too bad so few newspaper editors can comprehend the great value of such strips.

  6. Steve York does a wonderful job with his weekly local comic strip, Captain Zero, for The Daily Journal in Kankankee, IL.

  7. “with the rise of syndication (which for better or for worse, sanitized and generalized the comics)”

    Did the syndicates create this G rated sensiblity or are the paper editors and readers responsible for it? As I understand it a syndicate will push any property it thinks will sell. The sales team at a syndicate has an enormous amount of pull in what features get developed inasmuch as they think there is a market for it. If newspaper editors won’t buy anything “edgy” than syndicates are wasting their time developing edgy material. If readers make it known to their paper that they don’t like “edgy”, then papers are not going to waste their $ buying strips that lose them readers or advertisers.

    Speaking of advertisers, I suspect they play a greater role in this equation than anybody as they have more financial clout with a newspaper than the readers. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s I seem to remember a lot of “moral majority” boycotts of businesses that sponsored any TV shows that offended their sensibilities.

  8. Speaking to Anne’s points about “wholesome” comics versus “edgy” ones, I’d like to say that it’s not all about profanity. You can make a modern, relevant comic strip without getting all R-rated about it. Some of the most political Calvin and Hobbes strips were pointedly not topical; that is, they didn’t mention Reagan by name or any particular news item from that week. Yet an alt. weekly cartoonist, such as Tom Tomorrow or Ted Rall, may very well share Watterson’s opinion.

    There are lots of ways to be edgy. Not all of them are flashy, and some are very G-rated. In fact, I’d say it’s even more subversive to be G today than R.

  9. Coming in a little late here, but Denver Square started in January 1997, not 2007. That’s a healthy run for a syndicated strip, and practically unheard of for a local.

  10. Thanks for mentioning me, Anne. My strip “Kenosha County” has been described as “edgy,” but in truth, I’m only commenting on things that are already being covered by the local news. This local strip grew out of my frustration at not being able to get a syndication deal. The funny thing is, now when I send samples to the syndicates, they couldn’t care less that I’m already running in a paper. I enjoy gringing my axe locally, but I’d love to get national exposure.

  11. Anne’s point is very well made. The syndicate supplies the newspapers with what they want.

    The syndicate model will be around for longer than other paradigms like local strips, unsyndicated editorial cartoons, and gag cartoons because the model is almost depression-proof. The cost to each paper is not substantial, and people need to laugh when the economy is dire.

    Anne also mentions advertisers, again they play a significant role. In Chomsky’s model a newspaper is simply a device to deliver customers to advertisers. You can see by the adverts a publication runs whom it believes its ideal readers to be, and their sophisticated reader-profiles will include what comic-strips that reader will likely enjoy, it’s their job to know – although to be honest you can probably stereotype the readers of some publications fairly easily.

    Over here the Murdoch owned Sun has a topless model on page 3, you’ll probably be able to guess they don’t run Doonsbury on the comic page.

  12. Advertisers do have a lot of clout. I’ve had a single panel cartoon in my local paper since ’97. I’ve worked under two editors and have only been censored once. I don’t remember the punch line but it was a cartoon about a car salesman and a lemon. My editor called me and apologized about not running the panel.Car dealerships are our biggest advertisers; we can’t afford to ruffle their feathers, he explained.

  13. Thanks for the plug, Stacy. I appreciate the kind words!

    I’ve been doing Captain Zero weekly since 2001, in addition to five editorial cartoons per week.

  14. This is in response to Dan Pavelich below..

    You may think your comic is considered ‘edgy’ but from my experience as well as hearing from others- it is mostly bland, unhumorous, and sometimes tasteless. Was it really appropriate to do a local ‘comic’ about a local resident who was killed in a woodchipper? Really?

    I’m surprised it is even published in the Kenosha News. Your ignorance amazes me.

  15. Having observed the syndication biz from several angles, it’s difficult to pin down where to put the blame for the blandness that afflicts daily newspapers. Syndicates blame editors for not taking chances, yet edgy strips (at the time of launch) like The Boondocks, The Far Side, Dilbert, Doonesbury, etc. tend to outperform and outlast many of their blander competitors.

    Editors blame readers for complaining about edgier material, but even the most controversial comics only elicit negative responses from a tiny percentage of readers. Most readers, it seems, shrug their shoulders and turn the page.

    And cartoonists blame syndicates for not taking chances, but cartoonists are the ones turning in the blame cartoons they claim to hate.

    I don’t know where the blame lies. But who cares? What’s far more interesting and relevant to me is the fact that bland is not working for dailies, whether with comics or news coverage. The word readers from age six to 66 keep consistently use to describe their local paper is “boring.” Boring doesn’t build reader loyalty, especially not when there’s 500 channels on TV and the Internet.

    Speaking of the Internet, which is a relatively democratic medium, most readers tend to gravitate toward the most outrageous and controversial material. I’d bet my last cent that a print newspaper that ran hard-hitting editorial cartoons, news articles that used the F-word when the vice president utters it, and grizzly photos of torture, war and other mayhem would outperform its competitors.

  16. By the way, I love Calvin & Hobbes. One of the best strips of all time. In no way, however, could Bill Watterson have been considered a political commentator. C&H was no substitute for a political cartoonist–and I seriously doubt he tried.

  17. Wasn’t there a thread here with a link to Bill Watterson’s early cartoons which I believe were editorial in nature? Forgive me if I’m remembering that wrong. But it seems that he deliberately, and perhaps wisely, steered C&H away from that genre.

    But to comment on the topic at hand, local cartoons of any type are becoming rare and endangered species. That might be quite an understatement as it seems print cartoons of any type are in a state of flux.

  18. This is in response to “Kenosha Resident,” somebody who’s trying to pass himself off as a random reader of The Kenosha News. In reality, it’s somebody who’s threatened me for doing a joke about a music festival he was involved with. He’s so brilliant, he did it using his work email. Of course, I’ve saved all of those.

    Also, my strip was described as edgy by Kenosha News managing editor Craig Swanson, a twenty-year veteran of the newspaper game. I’ll take his appraisal of my work over “Kenosha Resident” any day. As far as the remark about my doing a joke about a local resident that fell into a wood chipper, it never happened. It’s a lame attempt to smear me in front of my peers.

Comments are closed.