Misanthropic Cartoonist, 41, Seeks Lively Discussion Later This Afternoon


The misanthrope in me is being temporarily set aside.

I am doing a live radio interview this afternoon to discuss my trip to Iraq, as well as other things.

So if you have a question for me, or just want to talk, or just want to tell me how great I look in those Iraq photos, call in.

I’ll be on the air at 5:00 pm (Pacific Standard Time).

To listen live, go to http://www.ksro.com/ListenLive.aspx.

To call in, the toll free number is 877-636-1350.

And be nice.  I’m very sensitive.

UPDATE:  One more thing on the radio interview.  It sounds like we may have some sort of contest where I give away signed stuff to one of the callers.  So call in.

Saddamapalooza, Day 4; or, To Hell With My Fellow Cartoonists

It is late night in Kuwait and we are getting ready to fly into Iraq.

This is the moment each of us gets our body armor.  A helmet and bulletproof vest.  A vest that weighs 32 pounds.

It is the first time I have had to do arm curls to put on clothing.

With the body armor on, I summon my inner GI Joe.  I feel very cool.

I pose for this:


I am immediately mocked because my camouflage does not match.  My helmet is one type.  My vest is another.

I am the military equivalent of a patchwork hobo.

I assuage my hurt feelings by telling myself that at least I look cooler than Mother Goose and Grimm creator Mike Peters.



Not to mention Baby Blues co-creator Rick Kirkman, who clearly looks like something that just stepped out of Hogan’s Heroes :



That’s to say nothing of Family Circus creator Jeff Keane, who is a mixture of not one, not two, but three types of mismatched camouflage.


If I am a hobo, he is Cuddles the Circus Clown.

Our mockery is interrupted by our USO host.

“Alright, everyone, before we get on the plane, I need to write your name on the tag on each of your helmets,” she says. “You are responsible for this helmet.  If you lose it, your trip is over.”

We all hand her our helmets.

“Write ‘Big Hot Stud’ on mine,” I tell her.  “The other guys will know who that is.”

Our USO host says nothing.

When she is finished writing our names on all the helmets, she gives them all back, and we proceed to the C17 that will take us into Iraq.

On the shuttle to the plane, Rick Kirkman takes my picture.

He is much too excited about taking this picture.

Something is wrong.

I take off the helmet and look at the tag.

Rather than tell you what it says, I will simply show you the photo.  But before I do, I want to say this.

Throughout the trip and throughout the re-telling of the trip in this blog, I have shown nothing but the greatest respect and courtesy to these, my fellow professional cartoonists.

And this is the treatment I get.


Saddamapalooza, Day 3; or, Stuck Inside of Kuwait With the Baghdad Blues Again

It is early morning when we hear that our flight to Iraq has been canceled.

The ten of us cartoonists have a free day in Kuwait.

With an entire nation to explore, a Middle Eastern culture to learn and the coastline of the Persian Gulf to roam, we take full advantage of the free time.

We play ping pong.

The table is in a small room at the back of the hotel.

I pick an easy mark.

Cartoonist Jeff Bacon.

Here is a picture of Jeff Bacon:


I don’t want to brag, because I think that’s in poor taste, so I’ll just say this:

I beat Jeff Bacon so bad I made him squeal like the little animal that produces his last name.

Four games to zero.

He did not win a game.



Then came the excuses.

“I think I’m still jet-lagged.”

“I am so tired.”

“My leg hurts.”

Explanations poured out of Jeff Bacon like he was the Excuse Piñata.

Not content with destroying Jeff’s ping pong aspirations, I then sought to crush his morale.

I did this by spinning in circles between shots.  I’d hit the ball, do a 360, and hit the ball again.

It is not easy to do.  And it should not be tried at home.

I don’t want to embarrass Jeff by revealing how he reacted to my acrobatics.  So I will just say this:

He almost started to cry.

Now, as I sit here, I almost feel bad for showing you his picture and potentially exposing him to more ridicule.

I know what I’ll do.  I’ll alter his identity.



Hang on.

That Saddam mustache is probably not enough to make him unrecognizable.

I’ll need to do something else.

I’ll change his shirt.


Now, before my fellow Iraqi-bound cartoonists get ahold of the comment section of this blog and start spreading rumors about something that may have happened later that night when we arrived in Iraq, let me preempt them by saying the following:

Possibly, allegedly, later that night when we got into our base in Tikrit, I may have played a certain Family Circus creator in a casual game of ping pong.  And sources tell me something strange may have happened and I may have lost three straight games.

But I don’t remember it.

Because I was jet-lagged.

I was tired.

And my leg hurt.

Saddamapalooza, Day 2

I am sitting in the lobby of our Kuwaiti hotel.

I am a high-value target.

I am bored.

With no beer to constructively fill my time, I decide to do the next best thing:

Bring peace to the Middle East.

One person at a time.

I approach a Kuwaiti man.

“May I take my picture with you?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says.

But he has a request.

“Can I hold the Kuwaiti flag?”

I want to say no.  But I am a diplomat.  So I agree.

“That would be acceptable to both me and my nation,” I say, speaking for our nation.

We take the picture.


It is one small step for Stephan, but it is a giant leap for mankind.

And it is obvious to anyone watching that the gap between East and West, Islam and Christianity, has begun to close.

Bringing my Nobel Prize that much closer to my deserving hands.

And then it is ruined.

“Can I take a picture with you too,” asks the inappropriately jovial Rick Kirkman, co-creator of  “Baby Blues”.

He is oblivious to the diplomatic moment at hand.   And the history-making event is cheapened to a degree that words alone cannot express.

“Okay,” the man replies.


They take the picture.


Surely, I say to myself, this is not happening.

“Can I take a picture too?” asks Mike Peters, “Mother Goose and Grimm” creator.

It is a full-blown diplomatic catastrophe.

The Kuwaiti man forces a smile.  They take the picture.


More cartoonists walk over.

“One more and I charge you money,” says the Kuwaiti man, intuitively sensing that cartoonists are above all guided by their own cheapness.

“Oh,” the group mutters collectively and shuffles off.

The Kuwaiti man lights a cigarette and leaves.

The peace train is derailed.

My Nobel Prize, gone.

Saddamapalooza: Day One


When you arrive in Hawaii, a beautiful Hawaiian girl places a lei around your neck and says “Aloha.”

When you arrive in Kuwait, a security man with a gun under his shirt places you in a shuttle and says, “You are now all high value targets.”

Said to a roomful of normal people, the line inspires fear.

Said to a shuttle-full of cartoonists, the line inspired pride.

We had never been “high value” anything.

If there was any doubt that we were not in Kansas anymore, that was resolved by the high blast walls surrounding our hotel.  Most hotels I stay in are surrounded by Applebees and Barnes & Noble.

Then there’s the military ship guarding the coastal access to the hotel’s beach. And it’s not pulling any parasailers.

The entire picture is enough to make you understand why there is no “Rick Steves’ Kuwait.”

But the devastating blow was yet to come.

No porn.

That’s right.  Kuwaiti hotel rooms have no porn.  The closest any channel came was a Kuwaiti soap opera where a fully-clothed man and woman sat ten feet apart in the woman’s living room.  When the woman’s husband walked in the front door, there was dramatic music followed by a lot of close-ups:  of the woman, of her husband, of the other man.  This was the Arabic equivalent of “Girls Gone Wild.”

If that’s not enough for you, consider this:

They have no beer.


No alcohol anywhere.

I don’t know what Muslims call this abstention from sex and alcohol, but I know what we call it.

A really bad party.

The whole thing is enough to make you rethink the first Gulf War.

If that’s not enough, the Kuwaitis place a four-inch-high wooden beam on the ground between your room and the bathroom.  Not sure what the design rationale there is, but I will say this — When you really have to go the bathroom in the middle of the Kuwaiti night, there is no greater joy than breaking two of your toes and doing a header into a marble wall.

Now I’m awake and hurt and angry and I have no beer and Arab people are yelling at each other on my television.

Somehow I find myself already yearning for our next travel stop:  Iraq.

You know it’s a bad vacation when you find yourself looking forward to a war zone.

Hope they have beer.

My Wife’s Idea of a Vacation, or, The Horror, The Horror: Part II

We arrived at the Bed and Breakfast.  It was an old Victorian house.  It was dusty and creaky and crumbling.  A review of it on Expedia would read like this:


There was no one inside.  Just a big statue of an elephant.  Not sure what that had to do with a Bed and Breakfast in the wine country, a place not renowned for its elephants, but I had bigger problems.

Like why had I paid $300 to be in the house from Psycho.

Staci looked over at me.

“What should we do?” she said.

“Steal the elephant and go home,” I said.

She noticed a bell on the dining room table.

“Ring the bell,” she said.

“No way,” I said.

“Ring the bell,” she said.

I rang the bell.

The proprietor greeted us.  Which is an elegant way of saying that a fat guy in a t-shirt got up from his recliner in the living room and said hi.

He looked surprised.  Surprised he had a guest.

I was surprised also.  Surprised he didn’t look more like Norman Bates.

“Follow me,” he said, “I’ll show you to your room.”

We walked outside.  It was 102 degrees.

We arrived at the room.  We went inside.  It was 102 degrees.

“How do we turn on the AC?” I asked.

“The what?” he said.

“Air-conditioning,” I said.

“Oh, we don’t have air-conditioning,” he said.

I think he went on to say we could open the double doors on either side of the room and get a pretty good breeze, but I’m not sure, because it was hard to hear him over all my sobbing.

All I knew at that point was that we had two six-packs of Sierra Nevada.  If I kept it all to myself and didn’t let Staci have any, I could drink all 12 bottles in quick succession and hope to pass out.

I looked for some place to chill the beer.

“Do you have a little refrigerator” I asked the man.

“Yeah,” he said, pointing over to it.  “It works pretty good.”

I opened the door of the refrigerator.  I put my hand inside.

It was 102 degrees.

His “pretty good” meant it was a good refrigerator to melt cheese over nachos.

“Maybe the cold’s not turned up,” he said.

He tried to turn a knob inside the refrigerator.

“Wait.  It is turned up.”  He closed the refrigerator door.  It wouldn’t stay closed.  He paused.

“Let me show you where the bathroom is.”

We walked down the hall.  He showed us the bathroom.  Yellow shag carpeting.  Cobwebs on the window.  A sulphuric smell.

“Do you have any questions?” he said.

“What’s your cancellation policy?” I replied.

Staci glared at me.  It’s a face I see a lot.

“He’s just kidding,” she said. “You mind showing us the pool?”

The pool was the only thing that looked decent in the brochure.  In real life, there was a bottle floating in it.  Along with a layer of leaves.

“I don’t remember the bottle from the brochure,” I said.

The fat man said nothing.  He just picked up the bottle.  He left the leaves.

In the brochure, there was a rock waterfall pouring water into the pool.  I saw that the rock formation was there, but there wasn’t any water coming out of it.

“Isn’t that a waterfall in the brochure?” I said, pointing at it.

“Yeah,” he said.  “You want it on?”

“Yeah,” I said, now realizing that I’d have to ask for each amenity one by one.

He turned it on.

That’s when I saw that this little Bed and Breakfast had 300 additional guests I didn’t know about.

All wasps.

And all even angrier than me.

Some vacations just get better and better.

Stay tuned for more joyous adventures from my romantic weekend.

My Wife’s Idea of a Vacation, or, The Horror, The Horror: Part I

Staci made me go to a Bed and Breakfast.

For those of you who think a Bed and Breakfast is a quaint little 19th century abode where you drink lemonade on the veranda, let me give you a more apt description of what it is:

Some shithead’s house.

If you want to know what the experience is like but perhaps can’t afford it, just walk across the street to your neighbor’s house, hand him $300 and sleep in one of his spare bedrooms.

If that isn’t evocative enough for you, consider this:  You share a bathroom.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my vacations filled with this thought: Did the fat guy across the hall wipe the toilet seat?

And none of this had to happen.

You see, Staci handed me the brochure for this place.  I scanned it with a skeptical eye, aware of Stephan’s Law of Hotel, Motel, and Bed and Breakfast Brochures, which is this:  Resorts are only 18% as good as the photos.

And that’s where we ran into our first problem with the Bed and Breakfast depicted in this brochure:

It looked like crap.

The Law of Hotel, Motel and Bed and Breakfast Brochures is not kind in these situations.  For it tells you the following:

You’re screwed.

We went anyways.   I can’t really explain that, except for the fact that Staci insisted on it.  I’m starting to think she’s writing a book on me, and just needs experiences to provide material.

Whenever I brought up the pitfalls, she always said the same thing:  “It will be really different.”

For those of you who think “different” is a neutral word evoking romantic adventure, let me say this:  You’re not smart.

“Different” is spouse-code for “bad.”  And “really different” translates to the type of adventure enjoyed by the men in “Deliverance.”

Which is why when we were driving up the hill to Staci’s choice of vacation destinations I began whistling the “Dueling Banjos” theme.

Staci didn’t appreciate that.  But I didn’t care.  Because on the drive up the hill, she ran afoul of yet another rule:  Stephan’s Law of $300 A Night Lodging.

Stephan’s Law of $300 A Night Lodging says this:

When you pay $300 a night to stay somewhere, you’ve earned a road.

And by “road”, I don’t mean a ten-foot wide chunk of dirt sloped to send you to your death.  Because if there’s one thing that’s sure to draw a low rating from me on Travelocity, it’s my own death.

All we needed was a little rain to turn that slope to unstable mud and you’d be reading “Classic Pearls Before Swine.”

Little did I know the road would not kill me.  No, this Bed and Breakfast would spare me that.  For it had a death in store for me that was slower and more painful.

And best of all, more creative.

Which is what you’d expect when you’re paying $300 a night.

That story to come.