On Sunday, The Inquirer will begin to publish Family Tree, a comic strip by Signe Wilkinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist of its sister newspaper, the Philadelphia Daily News.
Like so many people, the Trees are trying to do right by Earth and by one another. Wilkinson, an avid gardener, answered a few questions this week about the strip, which will appear on Sundays only.
Question: When did you start drawing and writing your comic strip?
Answer: Well, it actually hit the papers in 2008, but I had been working on it for a year and a half beforehand. . . . So in my exquisite timing, it started just as papers really went into psycho mode.
Q: So, was it hard?
A: Yeah, it's been really hard. I have a nice list and it's slowly growing. I'm thrilled to be in the Sunday Inquirer.
Q: Why did you start drawing it?
A: Well, I love my daily cartoons, but I've always wanted to draw things that weren't about day-to-day politics because I really think people don't live their lives as Democrats or Republicans. They live their lives as a soccer mom, a baseball mom, a field-hockey mom, or the mom of the cello player.
In my editorial space, I don't get to do cartoons about lots of things I'm interested in, like mulch, like braces, like school plays.
The other thing is, in politics, when you talk about the environment, you talk about cap and trade, you talk about global warming. At home, you talk about who left the water running or who turned the thermostat up or down. That's where environmental issues get fought on a day-in and day-out basis. And that's greatly interesting territory.
Q: How do you do the drawing?
A: I do a rough, totally by hand, and draw the final drawing with ink on paper. I scan that into the computer, then add color in the computer.
Q: You won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1992; what parenting awards have you won?
A: What are the parenting awards? How about both kids [two daughters] graduated from high school? Both graduated from college and are going to have health care.
Q: How do you describe each character?
A: The daughter named Twig is sort of the animation of the strip. She's the teenage daughter, eco-conscious kid. Her little brother, Teddy, holds her feet to the eco-fire. The dad, Ames, runs a nursery, Tree's Trees, and the mom, Maggie, works. Maggie's mother, Agatha, is a retired schoolteacher and sort of a force of common sense in a world gone crazy - I identify with that the older I get. She's pretty skeptical, but she's a major gardener.
Q: Is Agatha you?
A: My mother thinks it's her. But I tend to identify with Agatha - because I'm always right and so is Agatha.
Q: Do your daughters fight over who's Twig?
A: No, no. I did one last week on the spring play and my one daughter was in plays at school and the other one wasn't. But then, I do other things that the other daughter didn't.
Q: Where does Teddy come from?
A: Actually, I've gone over and witnessed the teenage sons of friends to see exactly how they slouch in front of the TV, exactly how they hold the video game consoles.
Q: Do you ever say anything jaundiced about gardening or environmentalists?
A: Oh, yeah. The problem with teenagers is that they're very earnest but they're not necessarily very consistent. So, for example, Twig is all for organics - except when it comes to her hair products.
So, nobody's perfect. . . . I think most people try to do a good job and know they could do better and someday they'll get around to doing better.