Aack — Cathy is Gone!

By Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director

I grew up loving comic strips. As a young girl, I read and re-read the hundreds (maybe thousands) of Peanuts cartoons in my extensive box set. As I got older, I moved on to collecting the big books of Bloom County, Doonesbury, The Far Side, and, yes, even Cathy. I was a tween when Cathy debuted, and its take on the life of a single young woman really appealed to me. I looked up to Cathy and her feminist friend, Andrea — yearning for the day when I would live on my own and have a job. I eagerly followed Cathy’s struggles with her on-and-off boyfriend, her mother, her weight and her career.

Even though I grew out of Cathy long ago, still I was sad to hear that creator Cathy Guisewite would be retiring the strip this month. This loss got me thinking: I haven’t read the comics regularly in more than a few years, so I opened up The Washington Post’s Style section and turned to the funny pages to check out the bylines. Of the 40 daily comic strips published there (including two that run on an earlier page), one — that’s right one — is produced by a woman. If you zip on over to The Washington Post website, you’ll find lots more comics, and the same dearth of female creators.

What’s up with this? A similar situation persists in the political cartoon domain, where — except for a few amazing cartoonists like Ann Telnaes and Signe Wilkinson — few women are featured on a consistent basis in mainstream publications. Female cartoonist Jen Sorensen muses that it has something to do with cartooning being a “nerdy guy thing.” If you look at comic books, that theory seems to make sense, but the act of creating a comic strip seems, at least to me, a natural fit for women.

Some people might say, what’s the big deal if men dominate the world of comics? But, hello, it’s the year 2010: Why would it take so long for women to integrate a field like cartooning? It can’t be that women aren’t as talented or as funny as the guys. Recently a young woman — Olivia Walch — won Washington Post’s America’s Next Greatest Cartoonist Contest. Congratulations to Walch for taking that big step, but we still have a long way to go.

Women’s perspectives are important, even in cartoons. Who knows what untold influence Cathy had on that 12-year-old version of myself? The girls of today and tomorrow need their own Cathy to laugh at and their own Cathy Guisewite to emulate.

What’s YOUR take on this — why aren’t there more comic strips by women? What women cartoonists deserve greater exposure?

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