Cathy: The Comic for Women

cathy-collageMost comics are targeted toward boys.  Some are written for children.  Others are intended for teenagers and adults.  The only comic I have ever found for women, though, is
Cathy
by Cathy Guisewite.

Cathy is a single, working woman plagued by fashion crises, food cravings, trendy diets, and shopping addiction.  These are not the only plagues of Cathy’s life, though.  At times her circle of family and friends are even more bothersome.  Her parents are kind and sympathetic, but Cathy’s mother has a tendency to worry and stick her nose into Cathy’s love life—and life in general.  cathyCathy’s perpetual boyfriend Irving is an inert character who unwittingly spurs Cathy on in her quest for beauty and a slender figure, for Cathy is always trying to win Irving’s attention away from sports on television.  In the early comics, Cathy has a best friend named Andrea.  Andrea is an outspoken supporter of women’s rights and is fond of criticizing the other sex and encouraging Cathy to stand up for herself and attend feminist conventions.  In later comics, Cathy becomes friend with a coworker named Charlene.  They share many experiences together, from shopping trips to love life experiences, such as video dating.cathy-and-video-datingThe last and littlest character is Cathy’s spoiled dog Electra, to whom Cathy often talks, and who sometimes talks back.  Electra often has attitude problems as a result of her pampering, especially after Cathy’s parents take care of her and spoil her even more than Cathy does.

I have read two collections of Cathy comics.  The first was The Cathy Chronicles, a collection of the early Cathy comics that Cathy Guisewite published in the 1970s.  More recently, I read a 1992 collection called Only Love Can Break a Heart, But a Shoe Sale Can Come Close.  The art in both books is idiosyncratic.  Guisewite’s style has an amateur air to it which continues even as she standardizes her way of caricaturing the world and characters of Cathy.  I doubt the comic could have survived on its artwork alone, but the clever dialogue and the quirky pictures create a winning combination.

Author Cathy Guisewite ingeniously uses everyday life to provide her audience with relatable humor that connects well to shared experiences.  The portrayal of women is particularly perceptive.  While I doubt any woman would match all the characteristics Guisewite presents (and I certainly hope no one does), I can spot many similarities to myself and people I know when I read the Cathy comics.  More than the characters, artwork, and storylines, I think this aspect is what makes Cathy amusing and fun to read.

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Note: I have not read any recent Cathy comic strips, so I don’t know whether the comic has continued to be as good as it was in the ’70s and ’90s.  However, if you’re interested in reading more recent installments, here’s a link to a website that has individual Cathy comic strips.

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Two Fun Family Comics

I recently discovered something about two of my favorite newspaper comics:  they are both written by Jerry Scott.  Although I have been reading Zits and Baby Blues for many years, I never paid much attention to the author’s name and somehow missed the connection.  My discovery that the comics shared their author piqued my curiosity, so I decided to round out my knowledge of both comics a little more and review a collection of each.

Random Zits

Exaggeration plays a big role in Zits, a newspaper comic strip about a teenager named Jeremy Duncan, his crazy friends Pierce and Hector, girlfriend Sara, and frustrated parents Connie and Walt.  From Jeremy’s trademark oversized shoes to some of the craziest contortions comics have ever seen, artist Jim Borgman uses visual exaggeration liberally.  zits-cavemanThese over-the-top illustrations fit well with the only slightly less far-fetched storylines in which Jeremy struggles with his old van, hangs out with his friends, torments his parents, eats inordinate amounts of food, and sleeps all the time.  As one common saying goes, “There’s a grain of truth in every joke,” and this seems quite true in Jerry Scott’s comic strip Zits.

Unlike some comics, Zits is almost entirely episodic, and its few linear stories last for only a few installments.  Perhaps this is why I like reading Zits.  It provides instant laughs, with little or no need to check what happened the day before—although I usually do go back to previous comics because I want more laughs.

Random Zits is a humorous collection of Zits comics that makes for some light entertainment.  This book is especially good when one doesn’t have long stretches of time to read.

No Yelling!

As much as I enjoy the comic strip Zits, I prefer Baby Blues because it is less sarcastic, has a more family-centered story, and is more relatable.  The characters are both funny and endearing, and like Peanuts, Baby Blues occasionally has sweet episodes where characters display kindness instead of constantly pulling pranks, speaking unkindly, or complaining.

baby-blues-hugDarryl, Wanda, Zoe, Hammie, and Wren MacPherson may appear to be the stereotypical family at first glance.  After all, Darryl is the working father who doesn’t always understand his wife or children.  Wanda is the overworked mother who struggles to keep her children out of trouble.  Zoe is the fashion-conscious little girl who tattletales on her brother.  Hammie is the younger brother who constantly picks on his sister and gives her reasons to tattletale.  Wren is the baby who fascinates her family and follows Zoe’s (and sometimes Hammie’s) lead, whether she should or not.  These characters may sound predictable.  Look again, though, and one will discover that beneath the expected character traits are unique personalities and moments when the characters almost seem real.

No Yelling! is a collection of Baby Blues comics.  An interesting aspect of this collection is that it contains commentary by the writer Jerry Scott and artist Rick Kirkman.  Other aspects of this collection that I enjoyed were the colorful, creative title panels that the newspapers I read omit.

no-yellingAs I learned from the authors’ comments in No Yelling!, Scott and Kirkman draw a lot of their ideas from their own families and everyday life.  For example, Kirkman bases the appearances of random characters in the comics on strangers he has met in real life.  The discovery that Baby Blues draws on real anecdotes and encounters makes a lot of sense and explains why the comic is so good.  Personal experience is one of the best foundations for stories, and the strength personal experience gives to comics in particular is that the audience is more likely to understand the humor of a comic strip when they can relate to what is happening.

In Conclusion

Jerry Scott has created two distinctive comic strips that ring true to his audiences and leave them laughing.  Zits and Baby Blues may share the same author and the same focus on family relationships; nevertheless, they are independently excellent comics that each contain their own unique characters, wit, and artistic and narrative style.  For those seeking a fun comic strip, the yelling, randomness, relationships, ironic humor, and endearing characters of the MacPherson and Duncan families will not disappoint.

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-ARRIETTY-

Three Newspaper Comics and Avengers: Age of Ultron

Flint has been busy penning articles about comic books and movies at our other writing blog this year.  Here are two reviews he has written, one of something old and one of something new.

Prince Valiant

Prince Valiant

3 Titles from the Golden Age” – Flint discusses Terry and the PiratesSecret Agent X-9, and Prince Valiant, three newspaper comic series which began in the 1930s and later became standalone comic books.  Several years ago, Flint and Bone briefly reviewed Prince Valiant in their “Ten Great Newspaper Comics” article.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron – Flint analyzes the story and entertainment value of the Avengers film which came out in May of this year.

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Calvin and Hobbes for Christmas

Sled rides, slush balls, Susie Derkins, Santa Claus, deranged snow goons, a sneak attack tiger, and a wildly imaginative boy are all part of what make Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson perfect for the winter season.

Several of Bill Watterson’s collections of Calvin and Hobbes contain delightful and entertaining wintertime stories.  Comic strips set during winter can be found in Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons (pp. 68-108), in It’s a Magical World (pp. 137-end), in The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book (pp. 44-54 [this repeats part of the winter section in The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes] and pp. 91-103), in The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes (pp. 104-138), and in several other collections.  Each story is packed with humor as Calvin combats his desire to be on Santa’s “good” list with his desire to slug Susie with a snowball.

c&h2Calvin’s letter-writing marathon to Santa takes different approaches at pulling the wool over the old man’s eyes – from legalistic arguments to “presume innocent until proven guilty” to fine print qualifications of the statement “I have been extremely good* this year.”  Then, there are the hilarious snowball fights, death-defying sled rides, encounters with snow goons, and monopoly games which end in scuffles and name-calling.

These stories are not merely fun, though.  The characters ask many good questions that readers ought to consider.  For example:

Bottom Comic

 

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Even though the comic’s conclusions are usually shallow, that does not mean one’s own conclusions have to be.

For a short wintertime adventure full of comedy, philosophy, hyperactive imagination, a tiger named Hobbes, and a boy named Calvin, sit down by a fire with a cup of hot cocoa and read Bill Watterson’s timeless comic.

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One Big Happy

With so many famous, funny, family-centered comic strips, like Baby Blues, Zits, Sally Forth, and Cul de Sac, who would have thought that another comic on the same topic could be innovative and good?  But somehow, One Big Happy by Rick Detorie has done the impossible.

In the small town setting of One Big Happy, the reader will find a little six-year-old girl named Ruthie, her brother Joe, her parents Frank and Ellen, and her grandparents Nick and Rose.  Ruthie is a humorous little girl with innovative ideas, a love for pets, and a comical family.  Like most young children, she translates everything, from questions to information, very literally, which leads to a lot of humorous misunderstanding.  1Eight-year-old Joe spends a lot of time playing with his sister Ruthie, and they even run their own paramedic service together when the mood strikes them.  Both Ruthie and Joe have creative ideas – although their parents might wish they didn’t have so many.  2Despite being elderly, Ruthie’s grandparents sometimes have just as much silliness in them as their little grandchildren.  The grandfather has a quirky sense of humor, and the prim and proper grandmother is the perfect counterpart to her husband’s rowdiness.  3Ruthie’s parents are kind and considerate of others.  Of all of the comic strip parents I’ve encountered, I like Frank and Ellen best because they are very supportive parents and rarely complain about their children, even when things get chaotic.4

One Big Happy is a pleasurable comic to read, and I highly recommend it!

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Gary Larson Greatness!

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A few weeks ago I wrote an article (here) about Dave Coverly’s comic strip Speed Bump, in which I mentioned another comic strip called The Far Side. While The Far Side is no longer being actively produced by its creator Gary Larson, the strip’s magnificence has been well documented in multiple book collections for those of us (like me) who are too young to have ever read it in the newspapers.

006  005Larson uses role reversals between animals and humans, science, as well as a keen knowledge of the English language to create humorous situations. I have always gotten a kick out of reading the collections of The Far Side comics, and would highly recommend them. You won’t be able to find any of The Far Side comics available on the internet, but check at your local library or buy a volume or two for your own collection.

Note to Parents: The Far Side contains an evolutionary worldview in many of the strips. However, while possibly being a negative, it could also generate good discussions about science. Also, some of the jokes can be crude and are not suitable for younger readers.

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Cul de Sac

A four-year-old girl with a wild imagination, a small neighborhood, a crazy family, and gullible friends sound like the makings of a great comic strip.  That is why Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson has become such a success and was published in over a hundred newspapers, including the Washington Post, and in several books.

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Little Alice Otterloop stars in Cul de Sac as a brown-haired preschooler with an imagination that turns her own grandmother into a witch who tempts the unwary to their doom.  Alice treats life like a game, and often her antics exasperate her family and friends.  Alice’s elder brother Petey is obsessed with becoming the pickiest eater in the world and also has severe allergies, to most things in general, fears sports, loves to read about a comic book character named Neuro, and possesses an imagination almost as lively as Alice’s.

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Then there’s Mrs. Otterloop.  She’s not the typical down-to-earth comic strip mother who becomes exasperated at her children for their craziness, like Calvin’s mom in Calvin and Hobbes, the mother in Zits, or Hammie and Zoe’s mother in Baby Blues.  Mrs. Otterloop enjoys jokes and strongly encourages her children, oftentimes too strongly.

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Mr. Otterloop is the most sensible member of the family, yet even he has his odd streaks, which cause him to make crazy jokes that none of his children understand.

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Dill and Henri are Alice’s neighbors and best friends.  The three spend a lot of time together playing and sharing tall tales their elder siblings feed them.

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Finally, there is Mr. Danders, the talking school guinea pig, who suffers through life at Alice’s preschool and sometimes embarks on adventures of his own.

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Richard Thompson’s art style is unique.  His drawings vary from rough pencil sketches to carefully crafted watercolors.  The art animates the story and looks child-like, probably because the main character is a preschooler.

Sadly, Richard Thompson stopped creating Cul de Sac on September 23, 2012, due to health problems.  On the bright side, however, there are several collections of Cul de Sac available.  These include: Cul de Sac: This Exit, Shapes and Colors, Children at Play, and Cul de Sac Golden Treasury.

Those who enjoy Calvin’s wild imagination in Calvin and Hobbes or little Ruthie in One Big Happy will find these same elements in Cul de Sac, and, brimming with light-hearted entertainment that is relatable and humorous, this comic is a wonderful reading choice.

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