Cathy Guisewite scribbled her way to a newspaper comic strip

Cathy Guisewite, 68, is a comic artist who created the “Cathy” comic strip. The syndicated strip ran from 1976 to 2010 and poked fun at women’s personal and professional issues. She is the author of “Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault” (Putnam). She spoke with Marc Myers.

A “Cathy” moment in my early childhood came on Halloween in second grade. Everyone brought a boxed costume to school that day, but one girl convinced a few of us to organize a rebellion.

Instead of wearing the little tiger outfit my mom bought me, I put on the headband and clumsy skirt my friend gave me. Then she marched us around the room in protest, leaving the teacher in shock and me embarrassed.

Cathy Guisewite, front left, with her parents, Anne and Bill, and sister Mary Anne, at their home in Midland, Michigan, in 1955.


Guisewite family

I was torn between my heart and my head – a conflict that would resurface regularly in my comic “Cathy” in the years to come.

I grew up in three homes in Midland, Michigan. The one I remember best was a two-story brick house with a large backyard at the end of a cul-de-sac. Beyond our backyard was a stream and a huge field. Our cat caught mice there and dropped them outside our front door. My father built a small hospital for injured mice, but I don’t know if we saved any.

Midland was an incredibly gentle and safe place in the 1950s and 1960s. My older sister, Mary Anne, and I walked to school every day.

My father, Bill, was co-owner of a small advertising agency, Church & Guisewite, and a design studio, C&G Graphics. Virtually everyone in town worked for the Dow Chemical Co.

My mother, Anne, had a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kent State. She then earned her master’s degree at Central Michigan University. She never shared this part of her life until a few years ago.

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While my father was in World War II, my mother worked as a copywriter at a local department store. When he came back from the war, they got married and she stopped working. In my mind, giving up his career was a great injustice. But she never expressed regret.

At home, I shared a room with Mary Anne until I was 10 when our younger sister, Mickey, was born. After that, I got my own room. I covered the walls with pictures of dogs – a campaign I led to convince my parents to buy me one.

Left to right: The Mickey sisters, Cathy and Mary Anne Guisewite, in Midland in 1963.


Bill Guisewite

At school, I hung out with a small group that was neither cool nor uncool, just nice. We were all Girl Scouts and very involved in religious groups. I have never been bullied at school. I never told a single joke either. I was a quiet child who stood back and listened. I was the girl at the community center dance, back against the wall, just watching.

After high school, I attended the University of Michigan. I majored in English literature and took a creative writing course. After the second assignment, my teacher was so impressed that he let me write whatever I wanted.

After college, I went to work for an ad agency in Detroit as a copywriter. At 25, I was vice-president, an honorary title but a measure of success.

In the late 70s, I was between a brilliant career and a miserable love life. The world was changing dramatically for women, a huge societal rebellion that I wanted but didn’t want to join. At night, I would sit at my kitchen table and write in my journal about the confusion I felt, always waiting for the wrong person to call.

Sometimes I would pause in the journal and scribble pictures of my frustration. Seeing myself in my drawings made me feel good. I sent some to my parents to let them know how I was doing.

My mother had always encouraged me to write about feelings instead of talking about them. She immediately said that my doodles could be a comic. I was beyond shocked. They were pictures of me at my most vulnerable.

Illustration by Cathy Guisewite, May 18, 2018.


Cathy Guisewite

She went to the library to research comic syndicates. Then she sent me a typed list of companies I should contact first. Universal Press Syndicate was in the lead. I made a small presentation book and I sent it. Within a few days, Universal wrote back to me wanting to sign me to do a comic. I didn’t know how to draw, but I loved challenges.

Most mothers would have simply taped the drawings to their refrigerator. What my mother had suggested seemed insane. In the end, she was right.

Today, I live in the Studio City section of Los Angeles in a ranch-style house with an upstairs room for my office.

I quit stripping in 2010 because my daughter was starting her senior year of high school, my parents were 90 in Florida and I was 60. I wanted more time for my life.

I don’t miss the deadlines, but I do miss the connection I had with the readers. Many women have been through the same things as me but had no place to get rid of them. I could vent their frustrations.

Mom supported me when I told her. She told me how proud she was. Then she said, “You know, we don’t really need help here.

Drugstore scale in Cathy Guisewite’s house.


Matthew Scott Granger for The Wall Street Journal

Cathy’s jokes

Favorite dessert: Dairy Queen Vanilla Ice Cream Dipped in Chocolate

Best makeup tip: don’t go out

Favorite mascara brand: Maybelline Pharmacy

Type of balance owned: A vintage vertical drugstore model that you drop a coin into. It also indicates your fortune.

Everyday car: All-electric white Fiat 500E. It looks like a cartoon car.

Cooler car: A beige Jaguar XKE from 1968 bought in 1984. It is under a cover.

Does it work: No, but I plan to have it repaired this summer.

Favorite swimsuit: There will never be a favorite swimsuit.

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