For Countless Disappointed Fans, There Will Be No More Living on the ‘Edge’


Fifteen years ago, Terry LaBan’s dream came true.

After going to school to be an artist and working for a while in the comic book industry, he got what he wanted: to be a nationally syndicated cartoonist.

His comic strip, “Edge City,” ended its run on Saturday after 15 years of being published daily in outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Terry and his wife and co-creator Patty have done a lot of reflecting in the last couple of months — especially about how many “lasts” there would be leading up to this past weekend.

After finding out in June that the contract had not been renewed to continue the comic strip about the Ardins, a hip, suburban Jewish family, the LaBans faced “lasts” like: the last stories — which they actually sent in before Thanksgiving because of the early deadlines for comics — the last months, the last week, ultimately leading up to the last day.

But there were plenty of things that happened in between Saturday and January 2000 to be proud of.

“It’s a really interesting experience to live your fantasy, when you do something you’ve always fantasized about,” Terry said during an interview at the couple’s Wyncote home. “It’s really kind of an extraordinary experience.”

For Patty, who has her own private practice as a therapist, jumping into the cartoon world and working on it with Terry was an adventure.

The comic strip began as the pair was reflecting on the changing lifestyle around them as they started raising their two children.

Terry’s initial idea was to focus on a hipster couple living in what was becoming a gentrified city. After his editor at King Features, which syndicated the comic strip, said he liked the idea, Terry went to tell his wife, who had a different idea.

“Patty said, ‘It’s not really about where people live now — it’s how they live,’ ” Terry recalled. “We had two little kids at the time, and we were experiencing this whole busy parent lifestyle —and so was everybody else.”

“There was a culture that was sort of just coming together at that time, I think, and so that was my point,” Patty added, citing the fact that people were only just starting to use mobile phones all the time at the time. “It was just starting to be where you see a mom with a stroller and a phone and a Starbucks.

“We saw a lifestyle we were entering — it seemed like an interesting cultural shift, and we pitched it,” Patty recalled. She elaborated that the theme of “self-employment” was important for them, showing how these parents managed everything that went into this lifestyle — from careers to family life to the kids’ extracurricular activities.

Ultimately, readers were introduced to the Ardin family and their friends: Len, Abby and their children Colin and Carly. Len and Abby’s parents were also heavily featured characters as were their co-workers.

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Terry and Patty LaBan, creators of “Edge City”

They both said getting syndicated was exciting. For Terry, it was what he wanted from inception.

“I’m old enough to remember when syndicated comics were really a major cultural force in this country,” he said. “Comic strips were kind of on par with TV, certainly radio, a lot of the big mediums. If you wanted to be a cartoonist — and that was what I always wanted to be — you wanted to be a syndicated cartoonist and be in the newspapers. I idolized those people — that’s the thing I always fantasized about doing.”

They both grew up reading the comics. Patty recalled laying on the floor with her sister, each switching pages when the other was done, though she readily acknowledged she never imagined she would be working on one.

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comics were the reason Terry wanted to be a cartoonist. He also cited “Gil Thorp” and “Bird Breath” as favorites from growing up.

Being in the newspapers was something that Terry aspired to because it meant being integrated into people’s lives in a unique way, similar to the comics he read growing up.

“I used to fantasize about seeing my paper crumpled up on train seats or on the street,” he said, laughing.

As they started to get to know the characters better, they began to draw elements from their own lives — but that doesn’t mean every storyline and characteristic the Ardins had was autobiographical.

“They’re kind of like us, twice removed,” Terry said.

Since both are therapists, Patty said she and Abby are more similar than Len and Terry. However, there was one other element that was true for the LaBans that carried over to the Ardins — though not initially: Both families are Jewish.

Since the strip would be partly autobiographical, having the Ardins not be Jewish felt “inauthentic,” Terry said.

They were living in Chicago at the time the strip started, moving to the Philadelphia area in 2002. Patty remembered being at their hometown congregation — they are members of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park here — when a few others asked them if the Ardins were Jewish, since it wasn’t explicitly stated yet in the strip.

“We said, they’re kind of like us — we’re Jewish. We kind of thought of them as Jewish, and they said, ‘Well, why don’t you make them Jewish?’ ” she remembered. “We came out as Jewish in Passover that year.”

“It kind of completed the strip in a way,” Terry added. Using the characters to tell the stories was a key part for both of them, especially when it came to the Jewish content.

“ ‘Characters’ has been a big theme throughout it because we dealt with a lot of different subjects but we tried to filter it all through characters and not make it about the thing,” Patty said. “The Jewish content too, we didn’t want it to be, ‘Oh this is about Jewish stuff’ — we wanted it to be about them moving through this particular thing in a Jewish context.”

As the strip came to an end, they received mail from Jewish readers about how much it meant to see their culture in the comics. Readers who weren’t Jewish mentioned that they enjoyed reading about it and about the culture as it was portrayed in the strip.

“I didn’t really think of it as an ‘ambassador’-type strip, but it really kind of was,” Patty reflected. They would pick storylines that had universal appeal so as to not exclude anyone who didn’t understand it, she added.

Holidays were usually a safe bet; writing about kashrut, maybe not. After picking the storylines, they would simplify it so everyone could understand, even if it hurt Terry a little bit.

“For Passover, we always say find the ‘hidden matzah,’ which I hated,” he said, laughing. “But if you say ‘afikomen,’ [readers] say, ‘What is that?’ Even if people weren’t familiar with that, they would understand— ‘Oh, that’s something Jews do.’ ”

There was also the challenge of being able to play around with insider jokes for the Jewish audience, while wanting to represent Judaism in a positive way, Patty said.

“That was another thing — when we decided to include Jewish material, we didn’t want it to be the stereotypes that we were used to seeing — Woody Allen, either really neurotic or really ambivalent or really self-hating,” she said. “We wanted it to be unambivalent and positive — we didn’t see that in a lot of movies or TV shows.”

They took on subjects such as Bar Mitzvahs — which was one storyline that Terry was most proud of — and showed the process as Len and Abby prepared for Colin’s Bar Mitzvah and how Colin and Carly’s attitudes changed about it.

One of the more memorable stories they did centered around the Holocaust.

Patty had worked with Holocaust survivors for three years and used that as inspiration for the comic strip, but it was tricky because of the medium — Patty said it was a challenge to find out how far can you push it when the story is running in the “funnies.”

The couple has been thinking about what’s next. Patty said she’s more inspired to work on creative writing projects now, something she was not into before working on “Edge City.”

Terry still does freelance cartoon work and is moving in graphic recordings, a method of drawing cartoons that illustrate what a speaker is referencing as they are talking during a presentation, which is more corporate-oriented. He will also continue searching for what’s next creatively.

For now, they are enjoying the feedback from readers.

“It really was everything that I hoped,” Terry said. “I’ve been a cartoonist my whole life, but doing that strip really changed my work. It took me to a different cartooning level, it made me a much, much, much better cartoonist than I would have been if I hadn’t done that strip.”

In the last week of the cartoon, Terry drew in himself and Patty talking to a familiar blonde therapist as they come to grips with the strip ending and what will happen to their characters.

As Len tells Abby after she tells him in the final strip about this couple she saw who draws cartoons: “They’ll live on as long as people remember them.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740


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