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Writer’s Block and the Comics

Most of you know that cartooning is my full-time job. Only some of you know that I have another gig: writing humorous cards for American Greetings. I’m a contract writer, and I work on cards once a week. I love it, and have been doing it for 20 years. In fact, that’s what brought me to Cleveland in the first place.

As all creative types know, artist’s block comes with the territory. With cards, if I have a bad writing day, the editors simply reject my work and nothing gets published. The end. I move on and hopefully have a better writing session next time.

With comics, it’s different. There are daily deadlines. Daily. If I get sick, have an emergency, or simply need a break, I still must meet the deadline. No one wants a blank spot or rerun in the funny pages (well, not reruns of mine, anyway). Of all obstacles, writer’s block has been my greatest enemy. I mean, think about working when you’re sick, worried, etc. Of course the end product won’t be up to par.


I’ve often mentioned that I write about 4-5 months ahead. Why? I can do my work and then put away the strips until it’s time for publication. This lets me scan the strips more objectively down the road and make necessary changes.

Rarely, I’ve removed strips after reviewing them. I try not to do this because when I take one away, I need to replace it with another. That means more work in less time.

Now think about wanting to remove entire months’ worth of cartoons.

Back in the March-May time frame, I wrote my Aug-Oct strips. A lot was happening in my personal life. Good things. I was preparing a presentation for the Reubens. My daughter was having a Bat Mitzvah. With the latter, I was doing most of the event planning and it felt like another full-time job on top of everything else. My writing suffered from constant distraction. I planned ahead to try and avoid this, but…well, I’m human.

The strips from that time frame recently ran in the papers. I don’t think they were terrible, I just don’t think they were up to my personal standards. They’d been changed and tweaked to be suitable for print, but in all sincere honestly, I cringed. I was just riding it out until they went away. Since summer, I’ve been able to focus again, and I’m much more proud of my writing.

Why am I posting this? It’s not because fans have blatantly said anything, thank goodness. It’s not because I’m really ashamed. It’s because I think readers should understand that when creators have hiccups in their personal lives combined with unrelenting deadlines, there can be a direct bearing on creativity. In the best case, it may not even be very noticeable.

But the next time you read the comics and think to yourself, “What’s up with my favorite cartoon? It just hasn’t been as funny/clever/entertaining as usual. This sucks”…remember that most likely the creator knows it and is just going through something. Be forgiving, because other than an audience, there’s no one the writer wants to please more than him/herself.

New Books!

I am pleased to announce the arrival of two new Pajama Diaries book collections: a compilation of all-time favorite 2011-12 comic strips and a book of Jewish-themed strips. They are available for pre-order now and will be available for regular orders November 1. You can purchase them on my store page or on Amazon. Get them in time for the holidays!


“The Pajama Diaries: Having it all…and no time to do it” is the second collection of Terri Libenson’s popular syndicated comic strip. It documents the hectic days of Jill Kaplan and her family from 2011-12… but with a preteen twist. Like the first book, “Pajama Diaries: Deja To-Do,” this contains full-color daily and Sunday strips, and includes a bonus selection of “The Parents’ Glossary of Terms.”

“The Pajama Diaries: Bat-Zilla” is a comic book-style compilation for fans of Terri Libenson’s Jewish-themed comic strips. Inside are nearly 100 “Pajama Diaries” comics featuring holidays like Passover and Hanukkah, as well as the long-running 2013 story line about the planning of Amy Kaplan’s Bat Mitzvah. Two page-long descriptions provide background for the cartoons, which are divided into holiday and Bat Mitzvah strips.

Third Child Syndrome

So, the husband and I have totally succumbed to second child syndrome. Basically, it’s when you put so much energy and effort into the first kid (a.k.a. “the experiment”), that you’re too exhausted to repeat it with the next one. Talk to the local family therapist for further explanation.

This week, I thought it would be fun to take this syndrome a step further (and thereby follow the comedic “rules of three”) with “third child syndrome.” It’s basically the other malady kicked up a notch. Reason I know about it is because I lived it.


Now I admit, I enjoyed my role as the happy accident 7 years after my sister. I was essentially an only child because my siblings were out of the house as I entered my teen years. But by then — let’s face it — my parents were old and tired. So I pretty much had the run of my life. Sure, it could get lonely, but I had friends, the upstairs to myself (with a hall phone whose cord could stretch through my closed door), and fairly liberal rules. Also, my brother and sister became a doctor and lawyer respectively, thus freeing me to be the unconventional one in the family.

Downsides? There were no more family funds for things like, say, private school; my brother went, my sister had the option; I had bubkes. Okay, so that’s a first world problem, and anyway, I enjoyed public school. But I had practically no baby photos. And, of course, there were the unseen things: I often didn’t garner the same respect as my older siblings.

But I think that last one made me very ambitious. I wanted people to take me seriously (note the irony of my profession). I’m sure some of that was my own nature, but still…it made me want to prove myself.


So here’s to all the 3rd, 4th, 5th (etc.) kids out there. We may not have been fed, clothed, or bathed as diligently as the first or second kid…but all that just made us more self-sufficient, right?

And as the cartoonist, I’ll make sure Lisa’s youngest, Noah, fares just as well.





Chicago Tribune poll

Hi everyone. Pajama Diaries is testing in The Chicago Tribune until Sept. 30. If you could help me out, I’d really appreciate it. Go to this link and vote as many times as you’d like until the 30th. You can vote daily. It’s quick and easy. Thanks for your help!

My critical eye, take two…

Okay, this is probably a clearer example. The image on the left is a snippet from Nov, ’13 that I did on the Cintiq. The one on the right was also done on the Cintiq for December, ’13 — it’s akin to the thinner-lined drawing style that I used when I hand-drew my strips. Drive-Thru_c

My critical eye…

So I’ve been a bad, bad blogger. I apologize. No excuses, just being a lazy lady.

Anyway, this particular post is about a recent artistic insight. If you read this blog, you probably know I work 4-5 months ahead. I also work in monthly batches. I tend to put these batches aside until right before they get published. That way, if there are any changes to be made, I can look at the strips more objectively after not seeing them for a few months.

Well, a couple weeks ago, I took a look at some fall strips that were about to be sent out. I was NOT happy. As much as I love my Cintiq and would never go back to drawing/inking, I realized I used to have a more pleasing delicate line quality with the Micron pens. I seem to go heavy-handed on the Cintiq. I think it’s more intuitive to do that on the digital device, but I still prefer the lighter touch. It’s just a personal preference.

So I pledged to revert back to my more delicate drawing style. Problem is, I’ve already finished strips through November. Started experimenting on the Cintiq with the December batch and am pleased with the new results — I’ve been able to achieve a lighter style as long as I pay close attention. I just have to put up with what I’ve already done in the last four months. Besides, there’s NO WAY I’m redrawing a hundred strips just to meet my own standards.

Here’s an example of before/after. The “before” panel on the left is from 2012, when I used Micron pens and scanned in the images. The panel on the right is an upcoming November one that I did on the Cintiq. I don’t have problem with how it looks online as much I do with the printed version. It’s also easier to draw tiny details using the thinner line.



If you read the strip, pay closer attention in the coming months to the drawing style. Notice how it’ll get progressively heavier-handed between Aug-Nov, and then more delicate early in December. See if you can spot the difference.

And if YOU have a personal preference, chime in!

Coming of Age

I’m finally coming up for air. The last few months have been a whirlwind of events. Taking a cue from summer, I’m slowing down a little and enjoying the lazy days.

I’m also looking around and wondering, where are the kids? Oh yeah, one’s at sleepaway camp for a month, the other is on an overnight trip with her teen camp. Now I know why my summer’s lazy…I’m taking mini-breaks from parenting.

There are other powers at work. When she is around, my 13-year-old would rather be with friends or boys than her parents. Texting is also an adequate substitute. If it weren’t for our mutual love of reading and shopping (and her own desire to be driven places), I don’t think she’d spend ANY time with me.

Did I mention boys? When she does talk to me, half the time it’s about the male species. Which inspired this small series (based on no particular real person, I should add).


It’s weird for me to view my daughter this way. My younger one, yes — she’s been boy crazy since infancy. But my older girl only recently stopped thinking boys were annoying idiots. It’s also hard for me to think about what comes next: big time crushes, heartaches, etc. Let’s see if Jill navigates this minefield better than I can.

And let’s hope she’s not told, in so many words, to “butt out…MUHthur.”


Maltz Museum talk

For local families in Cleveland, I’ll be speaking at the Maltz Museum this Sunday, June 23 at 11:30 am. Here is the info (note: although it’s advertised as a comic making workshop, I’m actually giving a short kids’ presentation about my comic strip with Q & A afterward):

Join the fun as we celebrate Superman’s 75th birthday! The morning brings a kid’s comic making workshop with cartoonist Terri Libenson, author of The Pajama Diaries. Stay for a screening of Superman-themed film at 1:00 pm or head out on Lolly the Trolley for a history of Superman in Cleveland tour. Also at the Museum will be a Gift of Life bone marrow registry drive. Maybe you can be a “super” hero!

For more information, click here.



Reuben Awards Weekend, 2013

Well, it wasn’t pretty, but many cartoonists descended on Pittsburgh this Memorial Day weekend for the National Cartoonist Society’s Reuben Awards weekend. That town didn’t know what hit it. Throngs of us flooded the streets during Sunday’s Comic Arts Festival (sponsored by the Toonseum). You couldn’t toss a stick without hitting a cartoonist. By the way, thank you, Pittsburgh, for not tossing sticks at me.

This was a particularly special Reubens weekend for me. On Friday, I was honored to present in front of my friends and peers. Here I am with a strategically-placed mic obscuring my eyes. Someone must have known I’d want to shamefully hide after reciting a few off-color greeting cards. DSCN4692 I had an even better time right afterward, talking to friends. Here I am with Jef and Patty Mallett. DSCN4705 Another fun shot with John Hambrock, Chris Sparks, Rick Kirkman (who co-won with Brian Crane for “Cartoonist of the Year”) and Jef Mallett. DSCN4706 I also had a great time doodling “Jill” with my left hand…and then right-handed. Quite a brain-muddling exercise. The Jill on the right reads, “You are so messed up.” IMG_20130524_164240_074 That evening, we toured an exhibit of past Reuben winners’ art at the Toonseum. Here I am, studying an Al Capp original. IMG_20130524_181326_490 I got to do some up-close and personal star-gazing at the exhibit. Here I am with the lovely Jean Schulz.IMG_20130524_185221_972 And a few friends: Me, Mark Parisi, and Vicky Smart Gransee. IMG_20130524_185726_590 With Mike Lynch, cartoonist and native fellow Clevelander. IMG_20130524_184502_580 And a nice one with my hubby/editor/business manager, Mike. IMG_20130524_184446_535 Later came the welcome cocktail party. Here’s a terribly washed-out photo of me and NCS prez,Tom Richmond. Yes, his shoulders are THAT broad.IMG_20130524_214705_185 Saturday night, we had a wonderful time at the awards banquet. Here’s a pic of semi-awake Mike and myself during cocktail hour. I had more photos from the evening, but they were pretty dark and blurry. Always happens. IMG_20130525_235707_342 A few character drawings we did that weekend: some, I believe, for the Toonseum, and one for the NCS sister organization in London. IMG_20130525_181439_658 IMG_20130525_181522_082 IMG_20130525_181539_772 Sunday was the Pittsburgh Comic Arts Festival. I was part of a “Women in Cartooning” panel with true greats: Lynn Johnston, Cathy Guisewite, Hilary Price (moderator), and Jen Sorensen. The two latter women had won Reuben awards the night before — score for the ladies. Here are a few shots during the panel. DSCN4722 DSCN4731   DSCN4743 DSCN4751   DSCN4761   DSCN4767 Here, the others are amused at my comic strip…or they’re very good at pretending to be. DSCN4763 After Cathy Guisewite crumpled up a drawing during the panel talk, I collected it and she signed it for me: CathyDrawing Afterward, we all signed books and tear sheets. IMG_20130526_145044_028 All in all, a thrilling, eventful time. Between this jam-packed weekend and my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah the previous weekend, I think I’ve earned the right to relax. Or at least park my fanny in front of the drawing table again.

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