Comics pages getting a dose of Jewish life

For years, newspaper comic strips have depicted the high jinks that ensue when cartoon families venture though the ups and downs of everyday life. But none had ever portrayed the daily grind from the perspective of a Jewish-American family — until Edge City, that is.

Created by Terry and Patty LaBan of Wyncote, Pa., Edge City has run in newspapers since 2000, and the strip’s first collection was released in paperback last month. The comic currently runs in 50 papers throughout the country.

Edge City, which deals with the day-to-day life of a Jewish family, seemed like a natural jumping-off point for the LaBans, who have two children. The main protagonists of Edge City, Len and Abby, and their children, Colin and Carly, reflect their creators’ own experience.

“We were just starting our own family then,” said Patty LaBan, and the couple began to see the commonalities in the lives of new parents in their circle of friends, no matter their religion.

The fictional family was not originally conceived of as Jewish. Edge City began as a comic about the trials and tribulations of any young family, with no specific faith in mind.

“People started to ask if the family was Jewish,” Terry LaBan said after a recent book signing at Barnes & Noble in Jenkintown, Pa. He had noticed that no families in the comics ever celebrated Jewish holidays. So the LaBans floated an idea for a Passover storyline to their editor in the spring of 2002. They got a lukewarm response but a green light to go ahead anyway.

The idea paid off: The portrayal immediately resonated within the Jewish community.

“It was a real hit from the start,” Terry said.

That storyline was followed by others with Jewish content, from the cartoon family trying to get their son to go to religious school to a Chanukah dilemma involving a hot new toy.

And along the way, story arcs progressed that were universal, from Len joining a Led Zeppelin cover band to Abby deciding to work from home as a therapist so she could spend more time with the kids.

You might think that anyone could do this, but the LaBans have a good deal of experience that feeds their creative process. Terry spent 10 years in the comic book industry, and 20 years as a political cartoonist and illustrator, while Patty continues to work as a couples’ and family therapist. They moved to the Philadelphia area from Chicago five years ago.

While Terry does the drawing, Patty helps come up with many of the storylines. Because he has spent so much time in the cartoon industry, he insists he doesn’t really know what’s going on in the outside world, and needs to lean on his wife’s professional experience to help create the back-and-forth dialogue and drama necessary to keep the strip’s momentum going.

“There can be no denying that there are some basic similarities” between the characters and the LaBan family, Patty said.

She also joked that some of the plotlines provide good ways for the couple to “work out things at home” through the characters they create.

For Terry, drawing a daily strip is something akin to “a little dialogue you have every day” with the reader — a relationship unique to the medium. And he hopes the product speaks to all families, not just Jewish ones.

“We put the family in a Jewish context, but what we’re really talking about are universals,” he said.

To view Edge City online, visit <a href="