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How a St. Louis cartoonist replaced 'Dilbert' in the Washington Post

A Black person with a pointy septum piercing, short braids with beads on the end, sparkles and eyeliner as their makeup, and a beret looks just past the camera.
Steenz Stewart
Steenz Stewart's "Lost and Found" collection will hit store shelves on April 4. Early copies are available from Stewart at Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2).

As soon as they landed in Seattle to speak at Emerald City Comic Con, St. Louis-based cartoonist Steenz Stewart learned that their comic strip “Heart of the City” was picked up by the Washington Post — not even three years into drawing the comic. “Heart of the City” replaced “Dilbert” after the satirical comic strip was dropped from the publication because of creator Scott Adams’ racist remarks on his YouTube channel.

In 2020, “Heart of the City” creator and cartoonist Mark Tatulli handed over the reins to Stewart after 22 years. Stewart made headlines as one of the few syndicated Black cartoonists in the United States.

An illustration of four characters from the comic strip "Heart of the City" for the new book. The characters eat lunch in a school cafeteria, looking like they are having fun.
Steenz Stewart
Four characters from of "Heart of the City."

The comic follows a young girl named Heart and her group of theater friends as they navigate the crushes, hobbies and changing relationship dynamics of middle school.

“The series is really about her growing up and trying to be the best actress that she can be,” Stewart told St. Louis on the Air. “They're just regular nerdy middle schoolers, and it's all about their growth.”

Stewart said that now they are more comfortable writing longer story arcs than when they first started drawing the comic.

“I'm finding that these stories end up being longer and more complicated, because life is complicated,” Stewart said. “I like to show real relationships in this comic.”

Stewart said they pull from their own memories of middle school when exploring the characters’ more nuanced feelings. Stewart shows up in the strip, as well.

“I'm even illustrated in the comic several times. I'm actually Charlotte's neighbor,” Stewart said, referencing one of the characters. “I like the idea that these characters are real. They're real as magic is real. Even though they are not actually real people, they are real to the readers.”

The second “Heart of the City” collection, titled “Lost and Found,” will be available in bookstores on April 4.

Related Event
What: Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2)
When: March 31-April 2
Where: McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60616

Hear the entire conversation by listening to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

How a St. Louis cartoonist replaced 'Dilbert' in the Washington Post

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Avery is the Production Assistant for "St. Louis On The Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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