News / People

Alum Ed Stein reinvents his Denver comic strip for a national audience

Ed Stein

Ed Stein's nationally syndicated comic strip is called "Freshly Squeezed."

Fans of Denver Square, the Mile High City-themed comic strip that ran for 12 years in the Rocky Mountain News, might be wondering just what looks so familiar about Freshly Squeezed, a new comic that started running Oct. 11 in the Denver Post.

The answer is that both strips are written and drawn by local cartoonist Ed Stein (BFA ’69), and his characters from Denver Square are back in slightly different forms in Freshly Squeezed, a nationally syndicated daily comic about a multi-generation family forced to live together because of the economic downturn.

“I wanted to do a family comic strip, a humor comic strip, but I didn’t just want to do a gag-a-day strip,” says Stein, 63, who lives less than a mile from DU. “The term I use is emotionally honest. This is about a family that is being forced to live together because of the economy. And there are pluses and minuses to it. They’re a family of people that who love each other, but they also have issues with each other and there’s a certain amount of pain and difficulty involved, as well as joy. I wanted to capture all of that.”

The idea for Freshly Squeezed was born almost 20 years ago, when Stein’s then-70-year-old father called him with a proposal.

“My mother had died and my kids were very young, and he said, ‘What do you think about me moving to Denver?’ I thought ‘great,’ and then I hung up the phone and said, ‘Oh my God, now what?’” Stein says. “This grew out of a fantasy that I had of what would happen if my father moved in with us. He didn’t, but he came here and he spent a lot of time with us, and we still had to reorient our lives to include him in a more intimate way.”

That idea eventually turned into Denver Square, but when the Rocky Mountain News folded in 2009, taking the strip down with it, Stein thought it might be time to go after his lifelong dream of drawing a nationally syndicated comic.

“From the time I was in third grade on, I was in love with cartoons and I wanted to be a cartoonist,” he says. “By the time I got to college it was, ‘You can’t make a living at that, get practical. You’re not going to be a painter, you don’t have those skills, so why don’t you [study] graphic design. So I did.”

But at the same time Stein was drawing cartoons — later for the Clarion but first for a short-lived radical 1960s student paper called the Student Free Press.

“I was the only art major they knew, so they asked if I would draw some cartoons for it,” he says. “So I did, and the next day in the student union kids are going, ‘Did you see that cartoon?’ Wow, that was great — instant gratification. It’s not like hanging a painting on a gallery wall and waiting for somebody to buy it. People were commenting about it the next day.”

So Stein stuck with comics, eventually landing a gig at the Rocky, where he drew editorial cartoons and  Denver Square for 31 years. He submitted his first version of Freshly Squeezed in May 2009, and after some tweaking and rewrites suggested by United Features Syndicate, he launched Freshly Squeezed on the web and in papers around the country on Sept. 20, 2010. 

“It’s like writing a novel; you really have to know who the characters are,” he says of drawing comics. “Years ago when [Bloom County cartoonist] Berke Breathed used to live in Evergreen [Colo.], he and I became friends and we would talk a lot about comics. At one point he said, ‘Do you know what the secret to a good comic strip is?’ and I said great characters. And he said, ‘No, great relationships between characters.’ That always stuck in my mind.”

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