After Mike’s remarkable appreciation of Stone Soup there’s not much left to say but the basics.
Jan Eliot is not her birth name nor a name she married into. It is her pen(and ink)name::
That’s also when she became Jan Eliot.
Name inspired by author
Her surname at birth had been Buell, and her married name was Graveline, but as she prepared to begin a new life she really didn’t want to be either one anymore.
“I was reading ‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot at the time — I absolutely loved her work — and I knew she had changed her name,” Eliot said. “I thought that would be the perfect name for me.”
above: “Patience and Sarah” strip from Jan’s cartooning origins by Jan
Jan spent her early life doing this and that before:
Eliot’s first years as a single mom were not always easy, she admits.
“I had a series of CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) jobs that there were a lot of in the 1970s,” she said. “I drove a book mobile and did the arts council’s newsletter, and one day I was complaining to a friend that I didn’t have enough money to allow me to do art. She said, ‘I think you’re funny. You should draw cartoons.’?”
Eliot loved the idea, and the two agreed she would create cartoons every week and meet with her “editor” every Friday.
The result was “Patience and Sarah,” a comic about a single mom and her daughter.
“I thought Patience was a good, ironic name for a single mother, and I chose Sarah for the daughter because I’d always wanted to be a Sarah,” Eliot recalled.
Patience and Sarah ran for about three years in the Willamette Valley Observer.
“Then one day I went to the office to drop off the next installment, and the building was chained up, apparently by the IRS for some tax problem,” Eliot said. “They owed me money — at that point, I was broke.”
That would have been in the Summer of 1982.
Jan then spent most of the rest of the Eighties doing odd jobs using her art skills in one way or another, that included continuing to work on her cartooning. And then:
… By then she also had a new friend, Val Brooks, whom she met at work and who also wanted to try her hand at writing.
“We decided to meet once a week and hold each other accountable,” Eliot said. “We still meet for lunch, 27 years later. She’s published short stories and nonfiction and has written a novel.”
Out of that mutual support came “Sister City,” which eventually ran regionally in The Register-Guard, the Cottage Grove Sentinel and the Vancouver Columbian, but Eliot was determined to become syndicated.
above: early Sister City strips (1989-90) via Sunday Comics DeBT
Sister City would introduce Eugene, Oregon readers to Val and Holly and Alix and Joan. The strip ran weekly in the Oregon Life section of The Eugene Register-Guard for five years. By which time:
“I sent Universal a kind of insistent letter explaining why they should take my strip, and I ended it, ‘This is my year,’ ” she said. “A few months later they offered me a development contract for 20 sketches — not finished cartoons — for $200 a month.”
Early in 1995, she got a call from a secretary at the syndicate, saying the editor wanted to fly her to Kansas City. “I said, ‘Why?’ and she said, ’Not to tell you, ‘No.’?”
“Stone Soup” is born
Eliot signed a contract in May. The only thing the syndicate wanted to change was the name, and “Sister City” became “Stone Soup,” which didn’t bother Eliot.
1995 saw the end of the local Sister City and the beginning of the nationally syndicated Stone Soup.
The strip launched in November 1995, “with The Register-Guard and 25 others buying it that month,” Eliot said.
“By the end of the quarter, it was up to 75. Then it hit 100, which is kind of the ‘making a living’ point.”
Distribution now exceeds 250 publications.
Excerpts in this post from an excellent 2015 Register-Guard profile.
Stone Soup began on November 20, 1995 (above) with the Sunday start on November 26 (below).
2015 Jan stopped producing daily strips, the last daily appearing October 17, 2015.
While she has some nostalgia for the daily routine, Eliot doesn’t regret her decision to scale back to Sunday-only, and fans can always revisit her work through the 10 published collections of her work.
And now, on July 26, 2020, we read the final Stone Soup Sunday strip.
The entire Stone Soup archive remains, for now(?), on GoComics. A delightful read.
We certainly wish Jan well, but still hope to see an occasional sketch from her for us fans.
by Jan Eliot
daily: November 20, 1995 – October 17, 2015
Sunday: November 26, 1995 – July 26, 2020
Universal Press Syndicate/Universal Uclick/Andrews McMeel Syndication
[characters introduced in the prototypical Sister City that ran
weekly in the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard from late 1989 to early 1995]