Cathy to utter final “Aack!” after 34 years

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cathy Cathy to utter final Aack! after 34 years
Universal UClick has announced that Cathy, the long running strip of single female frustration, will end on October 3. Creator Cathy Guisewite is quitting to spend more time with her family and other life pursuits that 34 years of daily comic strip production have postponed.

The strip began in 1976 at the height of the “women’s movement,” but Cathy’s adventures and downfalls mostly centered around the self-torture women put themselves through to find a man. Although not always politically correct –and the notion of what was politically correct changed greatly during the strip’s 34 year run — this suffering was certainly grounded in reality. Cathy’s world of battle with bathing suits and ice cream and the quest for the one pair of shoes that can solve all life’s problems still resonate today, and was germane enough to find recent spoofage on 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live.

Eventually running in 1400 papers, Cathy was a newspaper staple. Though Guisewite’s untrained art was often the object of derision, the razor-sharp writing, surgical observation and eye for a catchphrase made it as quotable and referenced as any strip of its era, as with the “Four basic guilt groups” of work, relationships, food, and mom.

Guisewite won the Reuben Award in 1992 and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 1987, and the strip has been collected in more than 30 books. Extremely private aside from her strip, Guisewite eventually found love with screenwriter Christopher Wilkinson, which prompted Cathy to marry her on again, off again steady Irving in a comic strip extravaganza in 2005.

Universal Uclick made an “exit interview” with Guisewite available and we’ve reproduced it below.

Why have you decided to retire Cathy now?

201008121135 Cathy to utter final Aack! after 34 years
CG: I’ve loved doing the Cathy comic strip and feel so honored to have had my space in so many papers for so long. This career has been a miracle – it let me turn every anxiety into art, be paid for it and connect in such a deep way with millions of other women. But after almost 34 years of meeting newspaper deadlines, I’m facing personal deadlines that are simply exceeding my ability to procrastinate any longer: a daughter who’s starting her last year of high school, who I want to be able to be there for completely while I still get a teeny vote…beloved parents I want to visit more often…and a biological clock that’s hitting 60 and panicking about doing everything else in life I haven’t had time to do yet.

How did the strip come about?

CG: My career is the triumph of the pushy mother. In 1976, at the height of the Women’s Movement, I was feeling the full confusion of succeeding at the “new” dream of having a fabulous career in advertising, but failing at the “old” dream of having a relationship. I send little stick-figure sum-ups of my frustrations home with letters to my parents. My mother – who’d said everything I touched since birth was “good enough to be published” – insisted these new scribbles could be the start of a comic strip. When I refused, she marched to the library, researched comic strip syndicates and typed a list of who I should approach. It was only when she finally threatened to send the work herself with a “cover note from Mom” that I send a package to Universal Press Syndicate, the company at the top of her list. Instead of the rejection letter I was planning on, they sent me a contract. They said they loved the emotional honesty of my submission, and that they were confident I’d learn how to draw if I had to do it 365 days a year.

When you started, could you imagine Cathy becoming such a huge hit?

CG: The first day that Cathy ran, I spent most of the day hiding in the ladies room of the advertising agency in Detroit where I worked praying that no one would read the newspaper. Even though I’d been frantically working on learning how to write and draw a comic strip every night and weekend for seven months, I hadn’t told anyone except my immediate family that I was doing it. The first strips were so personal and vulnerable at a time when women were celebrating such new confidence and empowerment. I thought I was the only woman in the world who came home from a day in her brilliant career and ate a pint of ice cream because Mr. Wrong didn’t call. I couldn’t believe I’d ever shown my drawings to anyone, let alone that they were being published. Couldn’t imagine that anyone felt the same way. Could never, ever, have comprehended that Cathy would have so many biologically unrelated, deeply connected “sisters”.

201008121139 Cathy to utter final Aack! after 34 years

How much of the strip throughout the years has been autobiographical?

CG: Pretty much, the more humiliating the admission, the more autobiographical it was. The seven different sizes of jeans in one closet…the three-year, $75/month membership to the gym that I went to twice…the begging my mother to return the delusional New Year’s Eve outfit because I couldn’t face the saleslady again: all me. The visions of total organization, efficiency and clarity: not so much. I didn’t want to call the strip “Cathy” because I wanted to at least get to pretend I wasn’t writing about myself. Universal Press thought that people would relate to it more personally if they saw the main character and I shared a name. In keeping with the complete lack of decision-making skills that fueled my whole career, the strip stayed “Cathy” because I couldn’t decide on another name in time.

How do you go about creating the strip on a daily basis? What is your creative process like?

CG: My creative process has almost always started with me dumping my purse out on my desk, praying I’d written some partial joke on a fat-free energy bar wrapper, and concluded with my deadline just hours away and me desperately calling my sister, Mickey, to ask if she thought any other woman every experienced what I was writing about, or if it was just something women in our family did. Mickey’s the only person on earth I ever tried strips out on before they were published. I’ve never once had that experience of just being out and about and having fabulous ideas flood into my brain. I can only write if I’m sitting in a room completely alone, with my phone set to speed-dial my sister.

Who are your influences?

CG: I never would have created Cathy if I hadn’t grown up reading Peanuts. It never would have occurred to me to work out my anxieties and insecurities in four little illustrated boxes. Charles Schulz not only opened the door for my whole career, but saved me thousands and thousands of dollars in therapy.

What has been your favorite part of doing the strip?

CG: I’ve loved creating something that helps women feel they’re not alone. I’ve loved creating something that men will never completely understand. I’ve loved getting to connect with women where we live and aren’t usually seen: weeping on the floor of the swimsuit dressing room…planted in front of the freezer at 2:00am…stuck behind the desk in the fabulous powersuit we couldn’t zip after lunch…standing in the ladies room rehearsing “date” conversations or trying to blow dry the part of the outfit that just fell in the toilet…and that secret special place in our brains that we go to where we can believe, just for a little bit, that the right new pair of sparkly, stiletto sandals will fix everything.

In what ways have you seen the strip impact others?

CG: I’m extremely proud that my work’s been hung on the world’s most important museum: the refrigerator door. It doesn’t get anymore significant than to be displayed that close to someone’s food. My favorite letters have been from mother/daughter teams who have written to tell me the strip has helped keep them speaking to each other. My own mother, incredibly, still cuts out my strip and sends it to me with little notes saying, “See? We’re not the only ones.” Besides the fact that I work alone, I’m a really solitary person by nature. Except for family, I go huge stretches of time with- out seeing or talking to anyone. When I have gone to book signings or given speeches, it’s been incredibly moving to me to meet, and feel an instant connection with, women who have followed my work. I’ve had women hug me with tears rolling down their faces and tell me how reading the strip helped them through horrible, lonely times in the exact same way that writing the strip helped me. The women who have shared that with me have changed my life. I’ve gone home so inspired…and then, of course, so utterly panicked that I’ll never be able to create anything else that will live up to the high regard these beautiful women have of me.

What are your favorite Cathy storylines, and why are they your favorites?

CG: I’ve loved getting to scream for all women at the swimwear designers…to defend our need to have 15 virtually identical, but completely different pairs of black shoes…to question the male brain’s ability to remember every play of a football game twelve years ago, yet forget that Valentine’s Day is on February 14…to explain concepts: Why chocolate eaten directly from the freezer has fewer calories because of the extra energy the body expends trying to not rip the fillings out while eating it. Why a salad with 8 ounces of ham and cheese and 2 cups of croutons has 500 fewer mental calories than a sandwich. I’ve loved celebrating the giant tangle of mothers and daughters. I’ve been criticized sometimes for reinforcing negative stereotypes of women by writing so much about weight and shopping, but to me these subjects are a rich microcosm of the extra pressures and expectations that women live with every second of the day. Now, with so many powerful, positive role models, they’re also a microcosm of the feelings of isolation women feel when we try to live up to 10 images at once and can’t. In what universe would men one second of life trying to squash themselves into “sexy workout wear”?

Can you offer any insight as to how the strip might end?

CG: The strip will end with me weeping at my drawing board, mascara and anti-aging serum dripping all over the blank page…one hand clutching a pen, one clutching a spoon…on the speakerphone with my incredible parents, snapping at them for calling with their loving support right when I’m so busy being hysterical…frantically rethinking my whole decision… ….Oh. You mean how will it end in the paper? If I had the sort of brain capable of planning two weeks ahead I never would have been able to create this strip for the last 34 years.

Looking forward, what are you hoping to do with your free time?

CG: For almost 34 years I’ve dealt with every frustration by writing a comic strip about it…so I imagine for quite awhile there will be a little trail of crumpled-up drawings following me wherever I go. Besides finally being available 24/7 to hover over my 18-year-old daughter and parents and drive them insane with my love, attention and opinions, I want to pursue my lifelong goal of cleaning out the trunk of my car. Most of my huge fantasies at this age involve the storage room: re-packaging the last 60 years into neat little plastic boxes… labeling and backing up five crates of miscellaneous family videos…all 45,000,000 digital and non-digital photos edited, organized and popped into pretty albums. When I even think about it, I start seeing the words on the page. I know my next creative project isn’t far behind.

What would you like to say to your fans?

CG: I’m profoundly grateful to Universal Uclick and the newspapers for taking a chance on me, standing by me all these years and allowing me to have this incredible career. To the readers who have cheered, cried, screamed, stomped, rallied, wailed, and started all over again and again with me, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will always be there with you in the great dressing room of life, reassuring you you’re not alone, cheering you on to march out into the world with your head held high, and giving you permission to go by way of the food court.

Comments

  1. Cathy is still running?

  2. Todd, yes it is. Sorry you did not notice the obvious.

    As for the Cathy strip, good for Guisewite, she’s accomplished a good run and she should be quite proud of her work as an artist / creator. Having the ability to quit and spend time with family is a luxury we all wish we could afford. I know many devalued her artistic talents and others moaned the strip’s constant theme, but in my view if the work can last that long and create a strong fan base then the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Guisewite wins.

    Good luck to her further adventures, whatever they may be.

  3. I, a male, even get a laugh out of some of the Cathy Sunday strips. Not every one of them, I reassure you, but enough to keep reading them. Squiggly drawings and all.

  4. Thank god, it’s about time. I think it was Bill Griffith who wrote that the strip looks like string dropped onto paper.

  5. Here’s a good take on it: http://www.racomics.com/

  6. she comes across as very funny in that interview. That’s a gift!

  7. She sounds funnier than her strip in that interview.
    I’ve never been a fan of Cathy, but I give her credit for leaving gracefully instead of turning it into a legacy strip.

  8. Also, it is nice that she did ALL the work herself after all these decades (to my knowledge). It’s not uncommon for some strip artists to hire out their work. I admit, I’m not a fan, but I respect all forms of art, not just the ones I like, especially when they’ve instituted themselves within the culture. The strip has been around longer than some have been alive to criticize it. It finds new generations of readers and for that I give her props.

  9. I still remember when Johnny Carson would have her on The Tonight Show from time to time, which was pretty remarkable for a cartoonist. Although her good looks undoubtedly had something to do with it, her dry wit definitely seemed to click with Carson.

    I don’t have much to say about the strip itself, other than to agree with Guisewite’s own summation as “…something that helps women feel they’re not alone” and “…something that men will never completely understand.” That pretty much sums it up for me.

  10. Dougtron 3030 says:

    I’m with Jimmie. The strip was not at all to my tastes, but I say hats off for 34 years of doing something you love.

  11. Not my cup of tea, but I give her props. It’s a grind and she deserves every ounce of respect.

  12. Brett says:

    I like the strip.

    For some men, its a window into the female mind and I certainly have become more compassionate and understanding to the women in my life because of it.

    A lot of people are going to miss it when its gone.

    Thanks to Cathy for sharing such a great character with the world.

  13. I will never forget reading this strip as a kid and being thoroughly confused on multiple occasions.

    I have to go with a majority of commenters, Hats off to a long run. Whenever a long running comic strip creator retires it’s such an odd thing. All these different strips have always felt like constants growing up.

  14. So how soon before IDW prints a collection?
    (Interesting… she does not own the copyright.)

    And here’s another prescient(?) reaction:
    http://www.gocomics.com/lio/2010/08/11/

  15. I must admit envy at her career and accomplishments. She really did create her own thing and not just homage to her influences.

    They need someone like her on the View.

  16. Her interview is pretty par for the course for some of her strips, which was one of her selling points. There’s a reason Cathy was popular, and it wasn’t just from constantly exploring Women’s hobbies.
    http://sundaycomicsdebt.blogspot.com/2010/08/cathy-gets-wise.html

    There’s a surprisingly amount of Sunday strips that’ve never been reprinted and that’s a shame considering how funny some of them are.

  17. Torsten: The creator not owning the copyright is sadly common with newspaper strips (much like recording artists and their music). You might (sometimes) get the creative “purity” of a single creator writing and drawing years of strips without help… but don’t assume they own it.

  18. michael says:

    with the amount of derision her strip has recieved here and elsewhere, it’s honestly kinda weird to have this ‘memorial’ article for her and the strip as if it was something that was more honored…

  19. Oh, I know lots of strips are owned by the syndicates. It’s just that after 34 years, I figured she would have renegotiated her contract at some point.

    Tangential question:are legacy strips better when produced by offspring?

  20. Wait, let me get this straight – Cathy Guisewite doesn’t have the rights to her own creation, even though she worked on it for 3 1/2 decades? And of course, the corporation’s stance is, “we gave her a chance at distribution?” Very similar to the S-hero companies.

    As pleased as I am that she’s finally getting out of the business past her prime, this is very disappointing for someone in her position. She LITERALLY was the voice of the working woman (even though that relevancy pandered out), so the fact that such a figure can’t even get their own rights settled is very distressing to hear.

    It reminds me very much of the Voyager episode where the Doctor wrote a holo-play about the lack of rights of holograms, and couldn’t get any copyright protection because holograms have no rights.

  21. Even Sparky never got Peanuts back. All he was able to renegotiate from the syndicate (aside from creative control and money, obviously) was the right to discontinue production when he retired.

    “Tangential question:are legacy strips better when produced by offspring?”

    Is it better to be hit by a speeding bus or a speeding truck?

  22. bogartist@aol.com says:

    “Pogo” was revived in 1989 under Neal & Sternecky and the response was lukewarm. Then Walt Kelly’s kids Carolyn and Pete took it over and came much closer to their father’s look and feel. Unfortunately by then, the strip had lost too many papers. (And probably shouldn’t have been revived in the first place.)

  23. bogartist@aol.com says:

    My mistake, it was Doyle and Sternecky on “Pogo.”

  24. I don’t know that Sparky even tried to get the copyright back. However, it’s not true that all he ever got was the promise not to have Peanuts continued – he also got, over the years, much more control over the licensing. He built a substantial concern to approve license and artwork, Creative Associates, which was under his control.

    Similarly, I don’t know if Guisewite has tried to get or wants the copyright.

    Their situations are different from the old blues musician who signed away all rights, or from many old comics creators. They both appear to have had agreements in place from day one that granted them strong financial involvement. I’ve met both Sparky’s widow and Cathy, and while they’re both svelte, trust me, ain’t neither one of them is starving.

    (As it happens, the Schulz clan now co-owns the Peanuts copyrights, but that is a recent development.)

  25. Pogo was continued for about two years by Walt Kelly’s widow and son.

    Given the high standard set by Kelly, the small size mandated by newspapers, and the reluctance by newspapers to carry a story strip, the Doyle/Sternecky version was pretty good.

    If you need a reminder just how good the comics can be, try:
    http://www.pogopossum.com/gofizzicklepogo/go01.htm
    Yes, the strips have been formatted into what we now call “graphic novel” format, but back then were called “bestsellers”.

  26. Highwayman says:

    Is it me? Or are most of the comments about the “Cathy” comic strip and its author’s impending retirement from males. That would be ironic for a strip that catered to the “liberated working woman” tied down with the same insecurities as other females past.

  27. Highwayman says:

    Is it me? Or are most of the comments about the “Cathy” comic strip and its author’s impending retirement from males? That would be ironic for a strip that catered to the “liberated working woman” tied down with the same insecurities as other females past.

  28. Part of the reason why more men than women seem to be responding to this piece of news is that it’s more likely that males are more likely to navigate these kind of comic news sites than females. It may sound surprisingly sexist, but can you offer up a better alternative?

  29. I know a lot of women read this site but they don’t comment for whatever reason. Come on ladies!

  30. John Tebbel says:

    I wrote off Cathy for years until I saw Guisewite do a press conference/chalk talk at the booksellers’ convention some years ago. As reported above, she is charming and funny in person, so much so I began reading the strip. Being able to put a voice and inflection, etc. to the strip increased my enjoyment over the years.

    Disguised as a sitcom, Cathy had the guts to go after American Consumerism and its destructive effect on our souls. This was not always a pleasant subtext.

    Her drawing skill, as measured by her adherence to those “established standards” we all know and love, is closer to the mean when she leaves the field than when she entered.

    Part of this is directed to an Entertainment Weekly editor I met at Jerry Beck’s place one night. He went on and on about how I was “weak” for liking the strip. Putz.

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