"Reply All" comic strip creator Donna Lewis

Feb 28, 2011

Donna Lewis's comic strip "Reply All" debuts in The Washington Post on Monday. Talk with Donna about the strip, comics and more in this live Q&A.

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Welcome to the chat!

What do you wear when you draw? Or do wear anything?

Ha ha....who wrote this?

I wear a huge black stretchy shirt over a princess mini skirt. No kidding. It's inspiring.

How much of your real life gets incorporated into the strip?

It's not my real life PER SE.....(legal words)....but it's based on real life.  What happens to Lizzue happens to me about 50% of the time.  The lines that come out of the mother's mouth are 100% my mother.

Did you draw when you were a child?

Yes! Yes! Yes!  And created all sorts of things out of nothing!  And wrote a ton!  My parents refused to buy toys....we had no choice but to create from whatever was around.

Who makes you laugh in the comics and why?

Oh no....this question will get me in trouble.  I'm scared to read comics.  I'm scared to get influenced.  I also stopped reading all the genres that look anything like my writing.  I have a fear of being accused of stealing something. 

What is it going to take to get newspapers to stop running (bleep) like "Classic Peanuts"?

I am not allowed to comment on this. 

Actually, I am allowed to comment - but I really hate this discussion...it makes people crazy...personally, I would love to buy collections of old strips and see new content. But that's just me.

Will your strip continue address or touch on psychotherapy? Your earlier work did so in a humerous way. "Serious" people want to know.

HAHAHAHAHA!  Great question!

Without compromising the personal health information (PHI) of myself, my family or my friends, I'll just say YES! One of my favorite topics is OCD...sorry to those who don't find humor in it.

My friends have been reading Reply All on the web and talking about it. Will Lizzy get a boyfriend?

Lizzie will have men in her life.  Whether the men are boyfriends will probably be the topic of discussion...because, really...what defines a boyfriend?

Donna, what does Lizzie do for a living - or does she live off a trust fund? Is Lizzie a Valley Girl? Or does she speak like one? Maybe her cousin is one?

Lizzie is a high up kinda person at a public relations firm.  Don't be surprised if she occasionally (sp?) has to market a concept that she doesn't quite believe in....it's her job.

Donna, we are excited about knowing a celebrity. Our love and best wishes. We are looking forward to your comic strip. Seeing your parents tonight. Love, ronna and arnold

Awwwww...thanks!  My fans in Baltimore!!!!  Say hi to the kids (even the ones in New Zealand)....and kisses to you!

Who were your early childhood comic inspirations? Were you ever a fan of The Archies? and who were you? Betty or Veronica?

Loved the Archies.  I would have hung out with Betty...even though I had darker hair like Veronica.  I mostly related to Velma on Scooby Doo... Velma and I would have been BFFs.

Donna, everyone who closely reviews your strip can come to only one, obvious, conclusion. Your work clearly draws inspiration from Santayana's "The Realms of Being" - Essence, Matter, Truth & Spirit. Are there any other works of Santayana you would identify as inspiration?

I KNEW I would get this question!  This is what I ALWAYS hear!!!!  "Reply All is the new Santayana...blah blah blah"

By my count, you're at least the third lawyer to try his/her hand at a newspaper comic strip. Inquiring minds want to know: What is it about the legal profession that makes you want to become a "stripper"?!?!

If I hadn't gone into law, I probably would have been a stripper (or a variation) sooner.  I struggled between the choices of law or writing.  But I felt very strongly about wanting to pay my rent and never ever ever have to go home again.  So law won.

How would she handle Charlie Sheen?

I LOVE the whole Charlie Sheen thing!!  I think Charlie Sheen is the new Oprah!  He's asking for more money today to go back to the show!  Good for him - he's not stupid - he realizes that whether he's bad or badder, it HELPS the show....I hope he becomes the king of the network.

do you like or dislike comparisons to the strip Cathy, was she an inspiration at all? how are you different?

Comparisons to Cathy are inevitable since Cathy is a 'chick strip" - although 50% of my fans are men (including metrosexuals).   Cathy was great.  I loved Cathy.   I just didn't relate to the female character.  I got the issues and I got the concepts - but I needed a character who was, in most ways, pretty amazing - but her own worst enemy.

Seriously, when do you find the time to work as an attorney full time AND write/illustrate your strip? Inquiring minds (who aren't as well organized) want to know!

Well....since you asked SERIOUSLY....  I am VERY compartmentalized.  No sex in the kitchen....sex in sex places....eating in the kitchen.  Bathroom stuff in the bathroom.  Law when I'm at work, strips when I'm at home....and, for the past few years, not much of anything else.

Is it fair or reasonable to categorize "metrosexuals" as men?

I LOVE METROSEXUALS.  If I ever get married, I'm sure it will be to a metrosexual.

Congrats on launching "Reply All". Is there a "Reply All" app? Any plans for other features with the "Reply All" characters? What about e-cards and coffee mugs?

Sure! Bring on the products!  A Reply All case for carrying feminine products!!  And lipstick cases!  And condom cases!!  For those who overshare!


And yes, there are more characters....but the strip's only been out there for a day (half a day)...we have to give them time to be called upon....

How does it feel to be suddenly famous?

HAHAHA...ironically, I've always been famous in my family.  They have always thought I'm a celebrity.  They're in Baltimore and I'm in DC and you'd think DC was NY from the way they talk.  When they visit here, it's like they're going to see a Broadway show. 

I love when YOU (Donna) laugh so hard you lose your breath. What kind of things cause you such a response and...will such things find their way into Lizzie's world? signed, adoring fan

Are you saying that my strip doesn't make people lose their breath laughing?.....uh oh....need to strip better....

And the serious answer is that most anything makes me laugh...which is why I try to remain highly compartmentalized.  I laugh in places and at times when it's really not so funny...or not supposed to be funny. 

If something happens "real world" and you want to be topical, what will be the lag time between writing the strip and having it published?

No topical....we're running strips in advance.  Prepare to see Valentines Day jokes around Labor Day and snow shoveling jokes around Memorial Day....I write em and whenever they post isn't my problem....hee hee hee.

Will the strip's locale ever be identified as Washington DC or are you going for a more generic "some cosmopolitanesque place"?

It's not DC but it's probably not rural Nevada either.  Lizzie is everywhere....but maybe not some places.  But she's somewhere near a city...she's in a MMA...Major Metro Area....let's just say.   God forbid Lizzie was in DC...how much of a total humor-suck would that be?

How did you decide who/what the characters would be- besides Lizzy, of course.

In the beginning, there were about12 million characters.  Later, after I met the love of my life, Amy Lago, there were about five.  We took the characters that were most relate-able (sp?)....

Are there many Lizzies surrounding you who then become one Lizzie in your strip? Also, I wonder what will happen to Lizzie if a Prince Valiant comes along (assuming they exist). From a FAN

I hope Prince Valiant comes along!!  And if he does, he'll probably live with Lizzie somewhere between their first and second date....and it will be intense....and then he'll remember that he was signed up to climb Mt. Everest....oops!

When do you do your most creative thinking? When you're trying to or when you're doing something else?

I'm most creative when I'm under pressure, which is probably one of the reasons I need to work FT (aside from money).   There's something about an overloaded and stressed out brain that makes everything seem silly.  I grew up in a family where we would laugh until we cried...over laundry...over the phone ringing...over very stupid insignificant things.  That incredibly low threshold for humor has really helped me. :-)

Do you feel a lot of pressure (or panic) with having to continually come up with new ideas/situations for the strip? Also---- since so much of the strip relates to your relationship with family members, do you bounce ideas off of them to get their response BEFORE you might do a strip on a sensitive or potentially "touchy" topic?

I am very lucky in that the material for the strips is delivered to me, en masse, hourly, by family, friends, neighbors, colleagues (who will sue me if I mention them) and, of course, anyone walking a dog.  I would have ten years of material if all I did was watch people walk their dogs.

Does Lizzie live in Washington DC? Will we see recognizable locations? Actually, maybe I should ask whether the strip will move out of her living room any time soon...

Now THAT is a scary thought.  Leave the sofa?  I'll have to take that under advisement.....

Hi Donna. Congrats on the strip! If/when the strip takes off, would you quit your day job?

Quit my day job?  Not a great idea in an economy that's as manic-depressive and generally confused as this one.   Besides, I get lots of material from my job - not because of where I work, but because I work with ....PEOPLE....

Describe your process a little. Do you keep rewriting right up to the bitter end?

I was going to say that I do NOT rewrite up until the bitter end.  Amy Lago is sitting not very far away from me right now (Happy Birthday, Amy!!!) and she has provided an unqualified and enthusiastically disruptive YES.  Apparently I do.

Hi Donna, congratulations on the debut of your clever and funny strip "Reply All". It's nice to see your creativity and hardwork recognized. I look forward to enjoying your work in the future. Charles Richmond, Virginia P.S. Wednesday DVD nights have been suspended temporarily so I can catch up on your presyndication strips ;-)

Thanks!!!  And the presyndication strips are fun, I think...very "un-artful" and just fun.

I don't have a question, just writing to say that I adore ReplyAll and can't wait to see the characters evolve. What do I have to do to get the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle to carry the strip?

Just tell me who to sleep with....I'm available to sleep with anyone anytime if it means that they'll carry the strip....or buy me coffee.

Have you ever created any hard feelings from friends who saw, or thought they saw, something negative about them in your strips?

Ugh....real answer or fun answer?

Fun answer is that a few characters who shall not be named have been quite articulate, from time to time, about their outfits and choice of jewelry.  Aside from that, the folks who inspired the characters are pretty happy to see that I've actually been paying attention to them.

Who is your imagined audience when you write Reply All? Is it other single women? Or do you think anyone can relate to the strip?

My audience is my mother.  Very easy.  If my mother laughs, it's funny.  If she questions it, it's too complicated.  I love women "of a certain age"  - get a laugh from them and you're gold.

In a syndicated strip are you going to be able to reference specific TV shows that Lizzie loves or hates, perhaps specific real housewives who inspire or depress you?

Oh YES!!!!  Housewives are ALL OVER Reply All....we LOVE Housewives. 

P.S. for anyone out there who loves trash tv, I watch Beverly Hills 90210 (original) reruns while I strip. 

How much care do you take in plotting out narrative arcs for the strip? Is there an identifiable moment in your head when you say: "Well, I've exhausted THAT thread?"

That would be a zero....although I do have some narrative arcs, they are almost always postponed while I work on the "laugh of the day"....there is ALWAYS a "laugh of the day"...whatever happened last was funny and makes for good stripping.

Have you received an endorsement from WaPo's self-proclaimed only authoritative objective arbiter of funny?

I've been trying to sleep with Gene for years now and he hasn't answered my emails.

I've seen some commentary about your artwork not being "professional enough" and "hard to look at".... respectfully, I must disagree!!!! I LOVE the way you draw the characters and their surroundings. They are adorable!


You know?  I'm not big into labels or credentials....Bill Gates doesn't have impressive academic credentials and he did okay. (correct me if that was wrong)...

To me, it's either fun to look at or it's not.  That doesn't mean it has to be fun to look for everyone -

What keeps you going after a long day of lawyering, and little sleep the night (or week) before?

NEVER a problem.  I am a Grade A, Ultimate, Uber, Professional Sleeper.  The one thing I do very well and all the time is sleep.  Sleep is the last thing I'll compromise in this lifetime.

...So we can see all the back strips, or at least the most recent. Thanks.

Pre-publication strips are all over the place - on my website and on FB and Twitter....and tattooed on a place I can't say.

I'm intrigued by the description of Reply All tackling the struggle between id, ego and superego. If there is a moral to ReplyAll, what would it be? Does Lizzie have a personal code of ethics or is she just a hedonist?

I think the moral to Reply All is get over it.  The information you hold most dear is already out there.  And the information you want others to know is either something they don't care about or they have totally misconstrued it.  You get out of high school and little-by-little you realize that all the stuff you worried about totally doesn't matter....and the stuff that really does matter is too exhausting to deal with.

I mean in real life, or as real as it gets in DC ... What sort of law do you do? Patents? Criminal? What do your colleagues and clients think of the strip?

I work for Homeland Security and that's about all I can say unless I want to lose my job or be sent a copy of the Ethics rules.

Where can I get a "Lissie Purse" and other Reply All stuff?

Okay, seriously....I am SO READY to do a line of purses!!!  Here's the thing...I carry ten bags on any given day....computer bag, gym bag, purse, mini-purse (for running into Starbucks and to the soda machine).....can't they all match and go together in some artsy fartsy stylish amazing (yet practical) way?

You're prettier than him anyway.

Awwww....I'm prettier than Bill Gates.  That's the best compliment I've ever heard....

Will Lizzie have anything to say on this topic? Will she even get near enough to it?

Oy. Safe sex.

I'm not sure what Lizzie would say about safe sex or whether newspapers would enjoy that theme.

And, by the way, the safe sex jokes are now just FLYING around in my head...

Do you find alcohol helpful or detrimental to the creative process?

Coffee is most helpful.  Coke One is also really helpful.

Alcohol makes me very silly, not very funny (unless the other people are drinking) and VERY tired....not much alcohol in my life although I love the IDEA of alcohol and will taste pretty much any drink.  I want to go to a bar or restaurant where they serve yummy "lite" drinks so I can drink all night and not do major damage.

If you were ever offered a position to work at the Washington Post, would you accept or would you be afraid that Gene Weingarten would steal all your pencils out of professional jealousy?

And what exactly would the WP be hiring me to do?

It doesn't take eight hours for a lousy artist to create a strip...:-)

But I would LOVE to just hang out at the WP.  Just go to meetings and listen...that would be kinda fun.

Will Reply All get into the battle of the sexes? Do you think there are things women just don't get about men and vice versa?

There's a battle of the sexes?  Where the *&^% have I been?

And yes, although I'll just say that I'd represent a male client better than a female client....just sayin'

Any truth to the rumor you're working on a Reply All play?

HAHAHAHA...yeah, didn't you hear?  "Reply All: The Musical!!"

Just like cats....except no cats.  And no music. 

Do you have any longer storylines planned, or are you sticking with a gag-a-day format?

Lizzie is getting some stuff....a dog and then she WANTS to adopt children (or one) but a CERTAIN EDITOR keeps trying to talk her out of it.  Now, please....wouldn't an adoption storyline be FUNNY???? And fun!

Would you rather be a funny lawyer or a serious writer?

Serious writer.


Never gonna happen....:-)

Will we ever meet the "real" inspiration for each character? Do they actually look like their characters?

I would LOVE for the public to meet the real characters!  Guess what....they're FUNNY!!!!  They are all totally and seriously funny....even when they don't try.

So who approached who - did the WPWG syndicate find you, perhaps due to a Washington City Paper interview, or did you contact them?

Hmmmm..... a WCP interview.....hhhmmmmm....

An acquaintance (sp?) (now a friend) sent an email to Amy Lago...and Amy Lago showed up at my door with flowers two hours later.

True story except for the flower and the door.  Amy emailed me and we began many many moons of discussions and failed humor.

Tell Gene you'll sleep with him for a milion dollars. They tell him you will sleep with him for twenty dollars. You'll totally ruin his punchline.


If you and Lizzie got in a fight, could she take you?

No way. I'm a lawyer. I can win any fight.

Sad but true.

Are you working on the "Reply All: The Movie" screenplay?

I'm available to work on the screenplay...you making a  proposal?  I would love to see Lizzie on the big screen...or small...she makes me laugh. :-)

Do you stil have drawmings from when you were a child and, if so, do you see any early resemblences to "Reply All" in any of them?

Get out your violins....I had tons of journals and other creative stuff....and then a BIG BAD FIRE in 1984 (Baltimore, Charles St).   Lost everything. :-( 

'Cause I had that same experience and wonder if it's the same guy!

You have to wait for the Craig's List adventures to unfold.  Warning (and spoiler alert):  I read Missed Connections and the part where you have to swear you're over 18 just for material.

If you can't find a good metrosexual, is there any other type of man you would consider marrying (he asks, totally innocently)?

Any man who doesn't mind that I'm on the laptop ALL THE TIME.  Men have tried...and I salute them (and still love them)....the laptop is a pretty big distraction unless the man loves his just as much. :-)

... or at least for trying. I am so SICK of comic strips that are trying to be hip and inscrutable instead of funny. I turn to the comic pages for a laugh, not to wrack my brain remembering high school philosophy classes.

No problem. I will NEVER be hip.

Are there any topics that are verboten for Reply All? Or is everything up for grabs?

Work is verboten...other than that, it's all up for grabs!  I'm not a fan of politics....so probably not that.

Are your characters going to age or grow or do she remain forty-something forever? If not, how do you handle the change in cultural touchstones?

You kidding? The whole point of the strip is to FREEZE TIME!

Seriously, though...Lizzie and her mom and the others will age....AND have to deal with it....AND hopefully find it more funny than upsetting.

Hey it's me... Jason from High school. I wondered what happened to you. Congratulations! We had some great times eh? Do you still like tequilla and rum?

I SO did not drink tequilla and rum in high school. 

Is Lizzie going to jump into fashion, eco-green, music fads? What does she listen to by the way?

Lizzie has trouble being green because there's too much to keep up with.  She can never figure out whether the cup of coffee she's drinking is green or totally anti-green.  Someone just told her creator that single serve coffee makers are eco-unfriendly. :-(

I don't know what Lizzie listens to!!  I'll have to ask her!

When Lizzie interviews for a job and is asked the stock - "what strengths would you bring to the organization and what are your weaknesses?" - how would she answer?

Oooohhh....GOOD QUESTION!  She won't be interviewing herself, but she WILL be interviewing others....and asking legal but meaningful and insightful questions!!  The questions we WISH they'd ask in interviews!  Little Debbie or Hostess? Pick!

So how do you actually draw the thing? Completely digital?

I do an initial sketch on paper with pen.  Then I transition to Wacom Tablet - I became all digital after I realized there was a future for the strip.  Man, THAT was not easy.

Is the Reply All launch party still black tie? Or just traditional glam.

HAHAHA... way too many ways to answer this question!!!

Is Lizzie secretly having an affair with that Craigslist ex-congressman dude?

Lizzie's not into secret affairs.  She's too nervous about lying to try it. 

Holw long does it take you to produce a strip? How do you balance your creativity and art work with being a lawyer (not to necessarily say that being a lawyer doesn't require some creativity and artistic talents)?

How long to produce a strip....depends....one hour if it's a strip that follows a storyline...but usually anywhere from two to four hours....speed is not my thing.

There are some artists who left syndication for other publishing arenas due to conflict over content. When you say that pretty much any topic is up for grabs wouldn't that depend to a certain extent on your editor and what papers you're in?

Amy and I have no conflict.

RIGHT, AMY?????????

You received a variety of comments regarding your drawing style from one or more slightly more established web cartoonists. Do you hope to develop the visual presentation over time or do you think it stands out in a way that should not change? (yeah yeah yeah "first strip only out today blah blah, answer the question).

Ha ha...thanks for the self-imposed blah blah blah.

I'm a HUGE believer in letting things happen organically.  I think the style questions will work themselves out....my style will evolve (or devolve) over time...and we'll see where it goes and whether it goes somewhere that anyone (including me) cares about.

It seems like Reply All offers strip readers a glimpse of actual interior design. What are your thoughts, dare I say...inspirations for doing this?

I would have the best designed house in the world if it weren't for the facts that I'm (1) totally lazy, (2) hate shopping and (3) pretty cheap.   I'm definitely living vicariously through Lizzie.  Help me, Nate Berkus!!!!!

How did you get a syndication deal?

Amy offered me a deal and I accepted.  That came after a long time of me stripping, getting feedback, incorporating feedback, etc.....my overnight success only took about four years.

I had that same experience and wonder if it was the same guy!

Lots of naked men on CL...eh?

They all seem to be pretty invested in the visuals.

What about your drawing style. It's a little "different" from what we normally see on the comics page.

I'm sorry, did you ask what my website addresses are?

Friend me and like me on FB!

facebook.com/replyallcomic !!

I'm a professional tatoo artist. Do you think you could tatoo me with your characters? I have the tools and can show you how to use them.

Wow. This sounds pretty cool.  How many waivers are you willing to sign?

And if Lizzie were writing a personals ad, what would that say?

Keep reading the strip....that's a topic coming up....SPOILER!!!!

What was the process of submitting your idea like? Were you shopping around your idea for years? What would you tell other aspiring cartoonists?

I hate shopping. I never tried it.  Although I wrote to Stephan Pastis (without ever showing him my strip) for advice about how to submit.  Without going into detail, he basically said that I should just send stuff in and it would make a syndicate laugh or not....

Do you feel the comics market is segmented where there need to be certain 'types' of strips such as family humor, chick strips, hipster comics, urban humor, etc.?

My next strip will be about a mixed race gender-confused individual with questions about his/her abilities and disabilities.  PSYCH!!

What does success for Reply All look like for you

I'd be happy if Reply All continued to run.  I like writing it and I like drawing it and it brings a lot of laughter into my sad, pathetic life.

Were Lizzie to be tattooed on a guy, WHERE would she want her tattoo to end up?

Can I think about that?  Wow....so many options...will take that under definite advisement.

Do you get ideas in the shower?

I am a 100% BATHTUB girl.

And no....I'm way too busy in the bathtub (didn't mean that provacatively) to think about strips.

No taboo? Not even, say, consensual adult spanking or why a duck is a duck?

Hey. My mom would TOTALLY laugh at consensual adult spanking......in fact, can I use that?

Doing a strip every day is a lot. Ever worry about burnout?

No. I worry about other things.  I worry about parking at a meter that requires 3 quarters for each minute.

I receive several emailed strips each day from a couple of Comic Strip websites. Will yours be available?

Stay tuned.....AND on that note....visit Reply All on FB!  Bring your questions!  Bring your comments!  And, if you ever see me in real life, be sure to say hi -

Thanks everyone!  Youse guys are FUNNY!!!

In This Chat
Donna A. Lewis
Donna A. Lewis is the creator of Reply All, the fabulous new comic strip in The Washington Post. Donna is an attorney by day and a cartoonist by night, weekends and federal holidays. Donna is a writer who accidentally put a funny line on a doodle one day in early 2007. That might have been the end of it, but her family and friends kept asking for more doodles with funny lines and a few years later Donna was producing a daily strip. Reply All is about the id and ego and the conflict between them. And oversharing. Reply All is about oversharing too.
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