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Monday, August 23, 2010

Ack! The Truth about Cathy

ENTERTAINMENT - Love her or hate her the popular comic strip 'Cathy' is ending on October 3rd 2010. Cartoonist Cathy Guisewite is ending the comic strip after 34 years of what she calls the "four basic guilt groups" of food, love, mothers and work. Oh and shopping, don't forget shopping.

Cathy was a groundbreaking comic strip. When it first appeared the vast majority of comic strips were male-dominated... ie. Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, etc. Married female characters like Blondie were hardly pushing the envelope... and then along came Cathy, a single woman with no children, trying to find love, unable to resist the urges of chocolate and shoe shopping, while juggling work and the generational gap between herself and her mother.

At its peak Cathy was in 1,400 newspaper funny pages. In recent years its dwindled to 700, not because she's not still popular, but because newspapers have been making cutbacks in recent years as the internet becomes the new medium of choice. Cathy Guisewite, 60-years-old, decided it was time to focus on her own family and other creative pursuits.

“Nobody is more shocked than I am, believe me," says Cathy Guisewite in her California studio. "If you read the strip, you’ll know that I don’t make decisions lightly. I go to 400 malls to buy one pair of socks. So it was a very big decision for me to give this up."

The cartoon started when Cathy Guisewite was working at a Detroit ad agency (a bit like Mad Men) and was sending cartoons home to friends and family depicting her troubles at work / etc. It was her mother who convinced her to send the strip to Universal Press Syndicate, now known as Universal UClick. Her mother even threatened to go there herself with "a cover note from Mom." (Thus it was the same pushy mother who made Cathy a reality.)

What followed was 30 books and hundreds of pop culture references in many shows thanks to Cathy's infamous catchphrase: Ack!

But not everyone likes Cathy. They don't get the humour in making fun of female stereotypes like chocolate and shoe shopping. Its a bit like the male obsession with meat, cars and power tools, except men don't get upset about that stereotype. If anything men embrace that because it reinforces their masculinity.

Some women, including a few feminists, just don't understand the humour that comes from being self-deprecating. ie. A man who jokes about his small penis is waaaaaay more funny than a man who brags about the size of his. Not only is it more humourous, but it also means he's not worried about trying to impress women and that shows more confidence.

In Cathy's case its rather autobiographical. The cartoon does reinforce stereotypes about women, but its also making fun of those stereotypes at the same time, which for the cartoonist are very personal.

Typical themes in her cartoons include women who ruin their finances by overshopping, treating nice guys like crap even though she knows they make better marriage material, the horrors of being single... all the anxieties that women have and often don't get to express them.

Sometimes Cathy is empowering and other times she is filled with self-doubt. She's human and not afraid of her faults.

To Rina Piccolo, creator of the cartoon 'Tina’s Groove' and part of the all-woman team behind 'Six Chix', Cathy Guisewite was a trailblazer. "All the female characters were like Blondie. They were either a housewife or a glamour girl. Cathy totally changed the page. Here’s a young woman talking about, basically, her fat ass and how she couldn’t fit into a swimsuit or that she had had it with her boyfriend and all the little neurotic things that a lot of women go through in day-to-day living. She was the first female character to really let loose and say what a lot of women were thinking at the time," says Piccolo.

After four decades Cathy Guisewite ran the gag into the ground. There was nothing more for her to talk about and make fun of. She had done it all. For those that don't like the comic strip the shtick had gotten old and people were starting to get sick of it.

Even the classic "Who's On First" is only funny the first couple of times you see it. It stops being funny and just becomes moronic after you've seen it 5 or more times. Its entirely possible many of Cathy's jokes just aren't funny any more because they've become a cliché.

And if they're that classic that they've become a cliché... well then its probably a good time to retire anyway.

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