Creator of the syndicated cartoon, Cathy, which humorously chronicles the ups and downs of a single woman's life, Cathy Guisewite (born 1950) has created an endearing character whose thoughts, words and actions are humorously paralleled in the lives of millions of people (mostly women) who appreciatively follow her cartoons in over 1600 different newspapers around the world.
Cathy Guisewite's immense and sustained success is partly due to the fact that she fashions her comic-strip character's adventures after her own life's experiences, which, in turn, reflect those of the population at large. Thus, Cathy readers can readily relate to "bad hair days, " Saturday nights without a date, or maybe a credit-card shopping spree. When another cartoon character asks "Cathy" what she is doing for lunch, she responds, "Writing a presentation, paying my bills, having a root canal, going to the bank and picking up my cleaning!!"
The Brainchild of an Achiever
Guisewite, an Ohio native, originally started a career in advertising after her graduation in 1972 from the University of Michigan, with a degree in English. She became a writer for the Campbell-Ewald agency in suburban Detroit, Michigan, then joined Norman Prady, Ltd. in 1973. Shortly thereafter, she moved to the advertising firm of W. B. Doner & Company in Southfield, Michigan, where she advanced from a group supervisor's position into the executive ranks in 1976. That same year, Guisewite negotiated a long-term contract for her newly-created Cathy with Universal Press Syndicate in Mission, Kansas (later in Kansas City, Missouri).
Guisewite's first cartoon book, The Cathy Chronicles, (1978) was an instant success. The timely appeal of her cartoons' subject-matter is apparent in the titles of her equally successful subsequent books, including What Do You Mean, I Still Don't Have Equal Rights??!!, (1980); What's a Nice Single Girl Doing with a Double Bed??!, (1981); It Must Be Love, My Face Is Breaking Out, (1982); Cathy's Valentine's Day Survival Book, How to Live through Another February 14, (1982); How to Get Rich, Fall in Love, Lose Weight, and Solve all Your Problems by Saying "NO", 1983; Eat Your Way to a Better Relationship, 1983; Climb Every Mountain, Bounce Every Check, 1983; Thin Thighs in Thirty Years, 1986; Why Do the Right Words Always Come Out of the Wrong Mouth?, 1988; $14 in the Bank and a $200 Face in My Purse, 1990; and Revelations from a 45-Pound Purse, 1993.
Guisewite also created three Emmy award-winning Cathy television specials. Cathy has also appeared on calendars, coffee mugs, sweatshirts, mouse pads, and pajamas around the world. The staying power of Cathy owes as much to the familiarity of her face and image across the media as it does to the constant resourcefulness of Guisewite's humor and insight.
During Guisewite's 1993 acceptance speech for the prestigious National Cartoonist Society's Reuben Award, Editor & Publisher reported that she told the audience, "A lot of my material comes from my mother, and a lot of my sense of humor about my mother comes from my father!" She also admits to bouncing material off her sister, Mickey Guisewite, a talented writer and advertising executive. Guisewite illustrated her sister's book, Dancing Through Life in a Pair of Broken Heels. Guisewite also credits Charles Schulz, the artist of Peanuts fame, and Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois, " for "paving the way" for her and other cartoonists into syndication. Although Guisewite was a finalist for the Reuben award in the three previous years, she shared the honor of being only the second female to actually receive the award since its inception in 1946. (Lynn Johnson, creator of For Better or For Worse, was a prior recipient of the award.)
According to writer Tony Case of Editor & Publisher, Guisewite told attendees at a 1995 American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) convention that when she first created Cathy, young females dreamed of becoming "housewives." However, Guisewite added, the average woman today wants to be "a dynamic businessperson, financial wizard, nurturing homemaker, enlightened and involved parent, environmental activist, physical fitness expert, low-fat chef, champion of human rights, alluring and responsible partner, community activist and a size five, all at once."
Cathy vs. Cathy
Guisewite reportedly told the same audience that if she had to do one thing over, she would not have given her comic-strip character the same name as her own. Guisewite stated that she found it humiliating that readers might assume they were reading about the "less-than-perfect" moments in her own personal life. "Of course, " she advised the audience, "it's even more humiliating when they are reading about the less-than-perfect moments in my own life."
The real Cathy moved to California in 1980 and has her own studio set up in her Los Angeles ranch house. She starts her day early, with her dog, Trolley, underneath her drawing desk, and a jar of M&M candies at her side. Drawing from her own family experiences, Guisewite works with India ink on a layout pad stretched across her wooden desk, creating workplace scenarios, kitchen disasters, or mother-daughter exchanges between cartoon-Cathy and her cartoon-mom. "I think the truest thing in the comic strip is Cathy's relationship with her mom, " Guisewite told Redbook's Carole Saline. "It's a rich tangle of devotion, anxiety, friendship, love, a need for dependence, and a need for independence…. Around [my] Mom, I still behave like a six-year-old."
In real life, Guisewite's mother began collecting wedding silver for her daughter when Guisewite was still a baby. When Guisewite remained single at the age of 35 years old, her mother gave up all hope and handed the collected pieces to her, assuming she would continue being a single career woman just as in Cathy. Her mother didn't have to wait much longer. In 1992, Guisewite adopted a daughter named Ivy, and in 1997, she married screenwriter Chris Wilkinson in a private Los Angeles, California, ceremony. However, she intends to keep her creation "Cathy" single, advising Good Housekeeping's Charlotte Latvala, "I was single a long time, so I don't have to be single to write about it."
Further Reading on Cathy Lee Guisewite
Guisewite, Mickey (illustrations and introduction by Cathy Guisewite). Dancing Through Life in a Pair of Broken Heels, Bantam Books, 1993.
Biography, April 1998, pp. 48-52.
Editor & Publisher, October 20, 1990, p. 42; May 15, 1993, p. 43; January 28, 1995, p. 36; April 29, 1995, p. 50.
Good Housekeeping, November 1997, p. 27.
New Woman, March 1990, p. 90.
Publishers Weekly, April 19, 1993, p. 43.
Redbook, April 1997, p. 104.
Savvy Woman, January 1988, p. 50.