Jan Eliot and her husband Ted Lay at Scarborough beach.
Jan Eliot and her husband Ted Lay at Scarborough beach.

Cartoonist spreads Mother City love

By Esther Lewis Time of article published Jul 5, 2014

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CAPE Town has long prided itself on being an international destination. Now it’s got a boost from US cartoonist Jan Eliot in her Stone Soup comic strip. “The landscape and the seascapes never ceased to impress me. You have the most beautiful country,” she says.

Eliot visited the city last year and was so taken by it that she’s included it in her comic strip, syndicated to over 300 newspapers across the world. Most of the newspapers are in the US.

The Oregon-based cartoonist and her husband Ted Lay rented a house in Muizenberg for three months.

They found the home while doing an internet search for “Oregon, seaside”. The Muizenberg house came up because it has oregon pine floors and a view of the seaside.

“I guess it was meant to be.”

It was their many adventures here that inspired several cartoons that were published this year.

When Eliot started out as a cartoonist, she was a newly divorced, exhausted mother of two, juggling her constantly squabbling girls, her job as a graphic designer and meeting deadlines. She worked hard to put her daughters through college, help with their weddings, and then buying houses. But times have changed since then.

“Now they are grown and I work for my own pleasure: plane tickets! My grandmother character is living the life I want to live… travelling, travelling, travelling.

“Like me, she has been to other countries helping with Habitat for Humanity builds. It was natural that I would send her to Cape Town, and it meant that I got to relive the experience through her,” says Eliot.

Her grandmother character, Evie, met her boyfriend Arnold during a Habitat build in Thailand. Arnold was the one who invited her to Cape Town. Of course, she accepted.

The cartoons are a reflection of her experiences of the city through Evie.

The couple went to many restaurants, museums, art galleries, a rugby match and even connected with other Americans from her home town.

Then there were mishaps too, like the time they left the lights of their rental car on while they went to a theatre in Camps Bay. “The battery was dead. It was dark, we knew no one. But a car guard came to our rescue,” says Eliot.

Other than trying to negotiate an adequate internet and cellphone plan, she says their experience of the visit was filled with highs and quite a bit of cartoon fodder.

Eliot has nearly three decades of experience, and 10 books under her belt, but it wasn’t always easy.

She admits she wasn’t very good in the beginning, but her ideas were honest and the readers’ reactions were positive.

She tried to get syndicated, but initially, her work was rejected. She found a few independent papers to publish her work, but she was earning less than $100 (R1 070) a month. Eliot soldiered on, being a graphic designer by day and a cartoonist by night. It took a few years, but she did get syndicated and within months, she became a full-time cartoonist and never looked back.

Her advice to aspiring cartoonists: Work at your craft every day, know that your work will not be “good” in the beginning but you will get better. Do not wear your feelings on your sleeve. You must take criticism and rejection and still try and try again. Meet commitments, make your deadlines, develop some business sense.

“But above all, you must have fun, follow your heart, and be the artist or cartoonist only you can be. It is your unique view of life that will make your work stand out.”


Pitching in to make a life for all

The name Stone Soup comes from an old fairy tale and basically means “something from nothing”. The tale involves three hungry beggars who, after being turned away by the villagers, produce “magic stones” and offer to make a soup for everyone. They cajole everyone to contribute ingredients until they really have a feast for all.

“To me, this is like family life. A little from here, a little from there, everyone pitches in a bit and it’s a good life for all,” says Eliot.

Cape Argus

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