Farewell, Cathy, We Knew Thee Too WellKJ Dell'Antonia
Did you love it? Did you loathe it? DId you love it and then learn to loathe it? You can’t possibly have missed it. 34 years, 30 books, and countless unfortunate mugs, greeting cards and refrigerator doors later, Cathy Guisewite, creator of the “Cathy” comic strip, is calling it quits.
She wants to spend more time with her family. She’s tired of deadlines. And it’s true that with the strip still running in 1700 newspapers (I’m frankly a little surprised there still are 1700 newspapers), no one can say she’s not still a success. But is it possible that we can finally admit that Cathy jumped the shark in about 1989, and never looked back? (And, in spite of countless shopping trips, never changed her wardrobe much, either.)
I actually adore the “funnies,” I grew up on the daily strips in the paper and they were the first thing I read on newsprint. My family was one that cut them out, hung them on bulletin boards and handed them off to one another as tiny talismans. If you gave someone a really good, really relevant comic, you were essentially saying “I get you.”
If you handed someone a “Cathy” comic, you were pretty much saying just the opposite. “I like to think that ‘Cathy’ is the voice for women who can’t say, ‘I feel stupid about something silly, but it still really ruined my day,” Guisewite told the Chicago Tribune in an interview about the end of the “Cathy” strip, planned for October. In the same interview, she admitted to preferring to write about stereotypes about women like their feelings about weight, style and commitment.
Unfortunately, for many women, “stupid” and “silly” came closer to describing the way they felt about the character than about the things that happened during their day. It might be true that we struggle with trying on bathing suits, ice cream cravings and men who don’t call or, since Cathy’s marriage to longtime boyfriend Irving in 2004, husbands who hog the remote. But we—ok, I— don’t want to read about them anymore, or if we do, we would prefer not to read the exact same joke we read on the same subject in the same forum this time last year. Focusing on stereotypes may be fun, but it’s also repetitive. Cathy had its moments (particularly on the topic of mother-daughter relationships) but it worked best in small doses. If you could read it only during some relevant, brief period of your life, it might have stayed fresh, the way Seventeen magazine feels new to each group of 14-year-olds, who cast it aside the instant they reach its title age.
But read regularly over the course of 34 years (and I probably came close; with the exception of my decade in New York I’ve always flipped to the comics at least once a week in every town I’ve lived in, and even in New York I sought them out whenever an appropriate paper came my way) Cathy palled, and once she became something sent to me occasionally by my tone-deaf grandmother, I came to resent her continued flailing, incompetent existence. She never changed, never grew, never kicked the bathing suit saleswoman in the shin and just bought something she felt good in. Even her dog was more canny. I might feel hapless some days, but I never felt like I needed an equally hapless alter-ego.
I prefer For Better or For Worse, whose characters grow and change with time and the times, even now that it’s in flashback mode. I miss Bloom County, I miss Calvin and Hobbes. And for true comic art, for change and growth and literary but biting story lines, one comic strip, Doonesbury, is always on point. I won’t miss Cathy. In fact, I’m glad to see her go. But when Garry Trudeau hangs up Mike Doonesbury’s hat, I’ll mourn.