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Drawing attention to the funny side of divorce - Ottawa Citizen

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Ottawa's Rebecca Rotenberg revives plucky cartoon

Cartoonist Rebecca Rotenberg's secret weapon is empathy. Half the cartoons in Flying Solo are written from the male perspective, as if the man is the injured party.

Photograph by: Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen Cartoonist Rebecca Rotenberg's secret weapon is empathy. Half the cartoons in Flying Solo are written from the male perspective, as if the man is the injured party.

Rebecca Rotenberg calls it "practicing for Oprah."

She's preparing herself mentally, working up quips and inspirational real-life moments, so she'll be ready when Oprah interviews her about Flying Solo, Rotenberg's one-panel cartoon and desk calendar about the funny side of divorce.

Rotenberg is kidding about Oprah, sort of. But she firmly believes the day is coming when Flying Solo will be a publishing phenomenon, and her books will be "on every bathroom counter."

Her raw material is marriage and other romantic entanglements that burned brightly but left only cold dead ashes behind.

Rotenberg's take on her divorce explains why she has "a very good relationship" with her ex.

"It's because I take 50 per cent of the blame. You have to assume some responsibility. It's very important to try to look at both sides. I never thought for a moment that he wasn't entitled to see his children every weekend.

"When you realize that he's not the only one to blame, the empathy flows out of you."

Her empathy is Flying Solo's secret ingredient. Half the cartoons are written from the male perspective, as if the man is the injured party.

"Last thing I wanted was to be angry; I wanted to show empathy to both sides. Men are often forgotten in the divorce wars. What I do is turn circumstances, which are so challenging and devastating, turn them onto their heads to make you see the absurdities of life. People burst with laughter when they see the cartoons."

Rotenberg's humour is observational.

"I've not written any cartoons that were about my own life. The only reason I'm able to write is being able to put myself in of the people's shoes. I started writing cartoons on gum wrappers. They just started coming to me -- nothing that I had gone through myself -- just things I thought (newly) single people were going through."

Sharp-eyed readers may notice that the cartoon characters look familiar. That's because the artist is Gord Coulthart, a well-known local animator and cartoonist.

Rotenberg's best stuff is delightfully skewed -- but has a sting in its tail. One cartoon shows a businessman begging on a street corner, with a bum about to drop a few coins in his open briefcase. "How do I know you're really gonna use this to pay child support?" the bum demands in the caption.

You know the "kiss-cam" at Senators' games? It shows couples' smooches projected on the giant scoreboard screen at centre ice. One Flying Solo cartoon riffs on the concept, with inspired results. The cartoon depicts a couple in their seats, consternation on the guy's face. The scoreboard screen shows the woman holding a signing saying, "I want a divorce."

As a newly single mom 20 years ago, Rotenberg created a Flying Solo logo, which depicted one parent and children flying in an airplane. The logo was used on coffee mugs and clothing, sold in stores and shops around the city.

The idea was to give single parents "a handshake of recognition," a way to spot each other and feel less alone, she says. Rotenberg also had a one-panel cartoon that ran in the Citizen for a few years.

But then Flying Solo was shelved for 15 years while Rotenberg got on with her life, raising her children and working full time in the administrative side of Ottawa's Youth Service Bureau.

"I got divorced, and then my parents passed away so I put Flying Solo on the shelf. All the while I'm panicking, knowing I should pick it up again. It's so relevant."

Last June, Rotenberg revived Flying Solo with a self-published book and desk calendar.

"I put the project on the shelf for 15 years and pulled it out at the worst economic time for media and publishing. It's very hard for one girl in Ottawa who is self-published, even as chutzpahdic as I am," says Rotenberg, who is in a relationship and has no plans to marry.

Rotenberg keeps pushing for wider success, writing to famous cartoonists for advice, sending e-mails to key booksellers and distributors. She's already thinking spinoffs -- a line of greeting cards based on the cartoons.

"It's still uphill," she says. "I'm constantly knocking on doors. But I know, I'm certain, there's a place for it out there."

The book is available at area books stores and can also be ordered through This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Her blog is

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