Cathy and Sylvia (8/12/10)

It was only yesterday that cartoonist Cathy Guisewite announced plans to retire her comic strip, but I’m already yearning for its replacement. Like many readers, I never much cared for Cathy. More often than not, I found it to be exhausting, which is quite an achievement for a comic strip.

It’s not just that I’m a man or that I couldn’t care less about swimwear. It’s that the aesthetics of Cathy truly irk me. Most strips go something like this: a joke is telegraphed in panel one. Panels two and three overwhelm us with details, few of which are funny. Panel four offers a quaint summation.

And the visuals are uninspiring, to say the least. Crudely drawn characters spewing loads of neurotic text? No, thank you. But that’s not to say Cathy is without its virtues. The strip did last 34 years, no doubt thanks to the tenacity of its creator. And it appealed to a lot of women who weren’t previously represented on the comics page.

It’s also possible that Cathy paved the way for strips like Dilbert and Pearls Before Swine. I’m not much for the writing in Cathy, but the strip’s preference for language over artwork is remarkable and may very well have opened the door for talented writers (who could draw passably) to get into comics.

So how can newspapers replace Cathy? I’d love to see the empty spots go to up-and-coming cartoonists, but newspapers will probably want to cater to those legions of readers who revel in their daily “aack!” If that’s the case, I have a modest proposal. Come fall, replace Cathy with Sylvia.

At first glance, these strips seem to have a lot in common. They’re both written by women, they’ve both been syndicated for decades, they’re both drawn in a jittery style, and they both employ ungodly amounts of text. But Sylvia is no Cathy. It’s main character is confident, unapologetic, playful, and political. She also smokes cigarettes and eats donuts.

I’m sure this strip would rub most Cathy fans the wrong way, but I’d also like to think there are “aack” addicts out there who would enjoy Sylvia. Here’s hoping they’ll get a chance to discover it this fall.

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