By: Dave Astor
Scott Stantis has created a comic containing commentary he describes as “thoughtful conservatism.” Will the strip fly in America’s polarized political climate? A large charter list of more than 40 newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, think it will.
“Prickly City” — which Universal Press Syndicate is launching this Sunday — stars a conservative girl (Carmen) and liberal coyote pup (Winslow) living in the Sonoran Desert. Its perspective is clearly conservative, but the approach is nuanced. Both sides of issues are discussed, and the comic is character-driven. Indeed, Carmen and Winslow are good friends.
“I want ‘Prickly City’ to have political and social commentary that’s conservative, but to also have characters who are embraceable and likeable,” Stantis told E&P. “The comic is almost sweet. It’s not Rush Limbaugh, it’s not Bill O’Reilly, it’s not Ann Coulter — though their kind of commentary has its place.”
“Prickly City” also subverts ideological stereotypes by having its conservative human star be a female and person of color.
“You can be a conservative and be a feminist,” said Stantis, who’s also an editorial cartoonist for The Birmingham (Ala.) News and Copley News Service, and a former president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
He added: “I’ve been asked if Carmen is black, Hispanic, or Native American. My answer is, ‘Yes.’ She’s all of those. By the time you and I retire, white people will not be the majority in this country. Carmen is the face of America.” As for Winslow: “He’s goofy and big-hearted, and he gloms on to any fad. In short, he’s a liberal! Carmen is much more grounded.”
In one “Prickly City” sequence, Stantis comments on same-sex marriage (without mentioning same-sex marriage) by having Winslow try to get Carmen to marry him. Another strip shows Winslow wearing a device that environmentalists use to track him — while Carmen wears a device John Ashcroft uses to track her. Then there’s a comic criticizing sleazy children’s clothing, violent video games, and the distribution of condoms in schools. John Kerry gets tweaked, too.
One of the strips that influenced Stantis is Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” — another Universal-distributed, character-driven comic with political and social commentary — albeit of a liberal bent. Past strips that had an impact on Stantis as he created “Prickly City” include Percy Crosby’s “Skippy,” Walt Kelly’s “Pogo,” Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts,” Berkeley Breathed’s “Bloom County,” and Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes.”
Stantis, 45, was previously known to newspaper comics readers as creator of “The Buckets.” He has handed that United Feature Syndicate strip over to Greg Cravens with mixed feelings — relief at a reduction in workload but regret at no longer doing a comic whose characters were based on his own family.
But though he partly misses the 14-year-old “Buckets,” Stantis’ comic-strip focus is now solely on his new feature. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said.