Stone Soup, renamed for the stone soupfable, is an internationally syndicated Americancomic strip written and illustrated by Jan Eliot. The comic strip began as a weekly in 1990, and ran for five years in the Eugene, OregonRegister-Guard under the name "Sister City", before being syndicated. The syndicated daily strip debuted in November 1995. Universal Press syndicate reportedly requested the name change because they felt that the original name might be perceived by some readers as too "feminist" in orientation. In October 2015, the strip ceased daily production but Eliot planned to continue producing the Sunday version.
The Stone family features a family headed by single mother Val, an uncommon contrast with the ordinary nuclear family depicted in more traditional strips. As the author explained,
When I write I am writing first and foremost for single and working parents. I often felt very isolated and "put down" because of my circumstances (I was a single working mom for 10 years). I even had a teacher tell me that their school "was a better place before all the single moms arrived". My daughters both turned out fabulously, thank you, and I think I was a good parent.
It is common for strip storylines to consist of household squabbles and arguments that are not resolved. Unlike many strips, the characters do age, but at a very slow rate. Val has celebrated her 38th and 39th birthdays in the strip; Alix and Holly were 9 and 12 when the strip began, and are now 10 and 13.
Valerie (Val) Stone is a 39-year-old widow, at the start of the strip, with two young daughters. She has a professional job which allows her to help support her mother and, in the early years, her sister Joan. On the job she is openly disconcerted by her co-workers' political machinations. Her home life, however, is the greater source of aggravation, especially when dealing with her daughters. She loves women's sports. In July 2015, she got married to motorcycle police officer Phil Jackson.
Holly Stone is Val's 13-year-old daughter, prone to vanity, entitlement, and getting into fights with her younger sister Alix. She is the stereotypical teenager, viewing her family as "abnormal." She rarely passes up an opportunity to challenge her mother (she taught Alix to say 'Muhhhtherr') and sees almost everything in terms of herself ("In what universe is tuna noodle surprise a reward?"). She loves dressing in revealing or provocative clothes, but she is a feminist at heart. It is revealed in the July 22, 2015, strip that she is allergic to chocolate.
Alix Stone is Val's 10-year-old daughter, a blissfully naive (and pugnacious) tomboy mystified by her sister's histrionics, but often easily influenced by her illogical and lazy behavior (like wearing flip-flops in the November cold). She still has the innocence of youth but Holly tries to teach her cynicism and sarcasm. Val considers her the model of calm and reason among the chaos, almost all of which comes from Holly ("I dress like someone who values freedom and mobility over style").
"Gramma" Evie Stone travels the world with her husband Arnold. She visits the family occasionally, and Skypes often. She lived with her daughter Val and granddaughters from the inception of the strip, until 2009. She comes across as crotchety and overly stern with her family, but cuts loose in Reno or when painting. She has no patience for modern parenting methods and rarely passes up the chance to express her views on anything. The kids regard her as a mixed blessing, especially since underneath it all she can often be a barrel of fun. Her cooking is generally much better received than Val's. In 2006, she went abroad to Uganda to build houses for an aid organization. It was revealed in a strip that she had gotten a tattoo of a butterfly on her shoulder sometimes in her 60's, much to the dismay of Val and Joan. On November 27, 2009, she went to Thailand to work with Habitat for Humanity where she met her now husband Arnold, with whom she travels the world on humanitarian voyages. Her daughters worry about her. On 1 July 2010, she told Val she was coming home for the summer as she (Val) could use the help with the girls. On 14 July 2010, she arrived to a very joyous family reunion with her oldest and the grandkids. In the summer of 2014, Evie married Arnold while visiting him in South Africa. She continues to be a part of her family's lives through video chat.
Joan Stone is 36 years old, rarely seen without her glasses on. She is Val's younger sister. At the start of the strip, Joan was an unemployed single mother and dependent on Val. Her son's father was Leon, called "Uncle Leon" by Alix. Joan starts her ownfreelancecopywriting business, working from home. Joan took back her maiden name after her divorce, and kept it when she married Wally in strips that ran on Oct 14-15, 2000.
Wally Weinstein, introduced in 1995, is Val's down-to-earth next-door neighbor. Wally married Joan in 2000 after a long engagement. A balding and bespectacled insurance salesman, he can cook, loves being a dad, and is handy with tools. He thinks hot chocolate and donuts are a panacea.
Andy Gilburt is Wally's 16-year-old nephew, who doesn't think too highly of rules but has no qualms about playing hard rock music at earsplitting levels. Andy moved in with Wally during Wally and Joan's engagement. He has endeared himself to Holly in countless ways. Recently his parents decided to divorce and Andy chose to live permanently with Wally and Joan.
Max Krabowsky is 3 years old. He is the preschool-aged son of Joan from her first marriage. Max has two stock emotions: thrilled with life or utterly miserable. He worships action figures, as evidenced by his sudden comprehension of potty training simply by wearing superhero underwear (much to Joan's dismay).
Luci Stone Weinstein, Wally and Joan's daughter, was born in strips that ran on July 6–8, 2007 (although her birth certificate stated that she was born on July 8, at 1:30 AM, weighing 9 lbs., 8 oz.) after a pregnancy storyline that began in October 2006.
Phil Jackson, Val's husband, was introduced in the book Stone Soup The Comic Strip. He is a motorcyclepolice officer, and the campus cop at Holly's school. He fears the world is becoming too hurried for his liking. He was Val's on-and-off boyfriend, breaking up when he "freaked out" about dating someone with children. In strips collected in the "Desperate Households" book (2007) they are reunited. In December 2014, Phil asked Val to marry him and she agreed. Val and Phil married in July 2015. Early on his complexion was slightly darker than Val's. Over time his skin tone became darker until he was almost certainly African American. His aunt, Junie Ferguson, lives just down the street from Val. She seems to be a good friend of Val's mom, Evie.
Norton Dickerson is Val's coworker and adversary. He is the stereotypical "suck-up" in the office. When he's not brownnosing the boss, he tries to impress Val with tales of entertaining their boss on his (Dickerson's) boat. In strips collected in the 2007 "Desperate Households" book Dickerson is laid off as was Val, but she gets re-hired after the company starts to spiral downward. Dickerson has yet to return. Everyone thinks he has a thing for Val, though she doesn't really believe it. Dickerson apparently lives with his mother.
Rena is Val's office buddy and confidante. Working with Val reminds Rena to enjoy being single and childless. When it comes to cooking, she doesn't think outside the box ("make?").
Leon Krabowsky is Joan's first husband and Max's biological father. He went out for milk one night and ended up in the Virgin Islands. Leon and Joan are divorced when the strip begins, but he occasionally drops by to mooch.
Susan is the neighborhood vet who also coaches the girls basketball team. She once dated Wally but they broke up when he found out that she didn't want kids and he did. Sometime while Val and Phil weren't together, she and Phil dated (this was never seen in the books).
Biscuit is the apple of Max's eye, but to everyone else, a "yappy little mutt". Officially Holly and Alix's dog, found as a stray, the girls bring her home and promise to take care of the little pup - originally named "Lily" but the family decided on "Biscuit" since she seems to answer to the name. Val provides care and Max provides adoration. Biscuit has a thing for Val's bunny slippers. During Biscuit's first visit to Susan the vet, it is revealed that Biscuit is female.
Val belongs to a book club with an assortment of characters from other strips, including Elly from For Better or For Worse, Alice from Dilbert, and Rose/Vicki the biker chick from Rose Is Rose, and Connie Duncan, the mom from Zits. Cathy was mentioned, but "couldn't come till she found the right man and lost 10 pounds." The book club also threw a baby shower for Joan, which takes place in the book There's No "WE" in Crowning (published in 2007). This is a short collection that takes the reader from the first onset of Joan's pregnancy till the birth of Luci by a midwife at home. Strips featuring the book club have appeared on at least three occasions and are republished in the 2005 trade paperback collection. (See below.)