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Video: Aack! ‘Cathy’ comic ends 34-year run

  1. Transcript of: Aack! ‘Cathy’ comic ends 34-year run

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Well, after 34 years filled with laughs, diet issues and boyfriend problems, the popular comic strip " Cathy " came to an end on Sunday. NBC 's George Lewis caught up with its creator, Cathy Guisewite .

    Ms. CATHY GUISEWITE: I started illustrating the worst moments of my day. I would send the drawings home with notes to mom and dad telling them I was doing OK.

    GEORGE LEWIS reporting: She sent those angst-ridden doodles to a comic strip syndicator and immediately got a contract, launching her career as a cartoonist.

    JANE PAULEY reporting: Cathy Guisewite is 27 years...

    In 1978 , with her strip in a handful of papers after two years, she appeared on the TODAY show .

    LEWIS: The women's movement has put a lot of us in the position of kind of suddenly we're floundering between two different ideals. On one side we have the traditional values of home and motherhood, and on the other side there's a whole new set of values for kind of a whole new set of woman. I remember being paralyzed with fear and, in fact, I was. I could barely speak.

    Ms. GUISEWITE: It was the first time a comic strip dealt with the struggles of a

    LEWIS: battling to fit into a bikini, waiting for her boyfriend to call, or coping with advice from mom. The real Cathy 's relationship with her mother was something they talked about in a 1986 interview.

    modern woman's life: Like so many mothers and daughters, our relationship is founded on me begging her for advice and then screaming at her when she gives it to me for butting into my life.

    Ms. GUISEWITE: If I like what I see in the newspaper, I think, 'Well, isn't that nice? Cathy knows me so well.' And if I'm not so keen about what she's put in the paper, I think, 'Well, maybe there's a mother out there like that.'

    Guisewite's Mother: Some of the best mail I've ever gotten has been from mother-daughter teams who write to tell me that, you know, the relationship between Cathy and her mom is just like them.

    Ms. GUISEWITE: Some feminists have criticized " Cathy " as playing into stereotypes of women. Do you think that criticism is unfair?

    LEWIS: I feel that women who bound out of bed in the morning and go do their 45 minutes of exercise and have the low-fat breakfast and go off to their great jobs, they don't need to read " Cathy " in the morning. I write the comic strip for the woman, you know, who spends that extra 20 minutes in bed trying to remember what it was she ate before she went to bed and what impact that will have on the dress-for-success outfit she was hoping to get into today.

    Ms. GUISEWITE: She's culturally relevant enough for Tina Fey to acknowledge her in the sitcom "30 Rock."

    LEWIS: One of the proudest things about my career is knowing how many refrigerators have Cathy 's -- have had Cathy 's comic strips posted on them. I don't think there's any greater honor. These books have every strip that ever ran in them.

    Ms. GUISEWITE: But finally, with more than 10,000 daily strips, Cathy decided she needed more time with her own daughter and her real parents. What was it like sending off the last strip?

    LEWIS: The experience of drawing the last strip and sending it off was -- oh, I'll start weeping. It was -- it was very emotional. The panic of almost missing the last deadline, you know, overcame the emotionalness of the moment a little bit because, yeah, that would be even worse to be so upset about sending the last one in and have it be late.

    Ms. GUISEWITE: Right. Longtime fans of the strip can sum up its disappearance in one Cathy -esque word, "aack!"


Universal Uclick
Looking over 34 years of “Cathy” strips, a TODAY producer found that it was the ones about mother-daughter relationships that still resonated most.
TODAY contributor
updated 10/4/2010 9:03:36 AM ET 2010-10-04T13:03:36

AACK! As Cathy would say.

It’s the end of an era: The comic strip “Cathy” is kaput. Its final frame ran in Sunday’s newspapers after 34 years of daily strips in as many as 1,400 newspapers.

And 32 years after Cathy’s creator, Cathy Guisewite, gave her first television interview to then-anchor Jane Pauley on TODAY, the cartoonist gave her exit interview to TODAY’s George Lewis. And I got to produce it and meet her.

Of course, I’d already known her cartoon namesake a long time. When “Cathy” first appeared in the late ’70s, it was groundbreaking. Sure, there’d been other comic strip chicks — Blondie and Brenda Starr, Betty and Veronica — but I certainly wasn’t drawn to those dames. We had nothing in common.

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‘Cathy’ then and now
The Women’s Lib movement was in full swing when “Cathy” burst on the scene, and up until then, nothing on the funny pages had reflected the struggles of me and my college-age gal pals. But Cathy’s daily dose of neurosis, insecurity and angst pretty much reflected what we were dealing with: shoving our butts into teeny bikinis, or waiting for boyfriends to call, or — as a result of no phone call — trying to resist the temptation of comfort food. (Cathy’s choice is chocolate; mine is a tub of home-style rice pudding.)

My generation clipped “Cathy” strips and Scotch-taped them to our dorm doors, then graduated her to our desks at a succession of low-level jobs. I surprised myself when I noticed I had a yellowed “Cathy” about yearning for lunch on my office wall. (It’s right next to a photo of a young starlet with cellulite: You figure out the juxtaposition.)

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When the strip started, “Cathy” was a reflection of the real Cathy Guisewite. Not so much anymore. When we got to Guisewite’s home for the interview, it was the complete opposite of the chaotic mess that cartoon Cathy’s place comprises: It was so clean you could eat off the floor. And there wasn’t a single doughnut.

Mind you, I did see real Cathy eat — a couple of slices of honeydew melon. In fact, Guisewite says that the most common reaction people have to her when they meet her is “You're not fat.” What could be better? Please note that my goal is to have someone, just once, say that to me.

Video: Web only: ‘Cathy’ creator’s life on the strip (on this page)

I expected “Cathy” cartoons to be hanging all over the house, but instead her office hallway and the bathroom beside it are covered in framed comics from many of her greatest admirers, such as “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz. Bathroom reading was never so much fun.

34 years of smiles
When Guisewite announced she was ending the strip, there was an avalanche of columns about how its relevance had come and gone. At first I felt that way too, although I hadn’t read “Cathy” in years (what with all the rehabbing celebrities, Tea Party candidates and the miserable Mets to keep up with, I no longer have time for leisure reading).

Then it became my job to pore over 34 years of strips. Sure, some of them were corny. And in this post-“Sex and the City” world, they lacked the edginess of Samantha’s bed-hopping and Carrie Bradshaw’s million-dollar shoe collection.

Video: TODAY 1978: ‘Cathy’ cartoonist talks feminism (on this page)

But I came to a renewed appreciation for the strip. While I didn’t howl with laughter, I kept turning the pages with a knowing smile, nodding my head in agreement — especially the pieces about the mother-daughter relationship.

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You try being funny and meaningful and spot-on every day for 34 years. Maybe the cartoon Cathy didn't keep up with the times by climbing the corporate ladder or hitting the glass ceiling or enjoying motherhood (much to the relief of Guisewite’s real-life daughter, I suspect). Maybe Cathy’s long-awaited marriage to her schlubby boyfriend Irving didn’t tackle the gritty problems of recession-era romance or martial infidelity. But I’d sure give anything now to have a life full of Cathy’s low-level anxieties about weight and shopping and boys and motherly smothering. I thank Cathy — the real Cathy — for her gentle humor about all that.

Now pass me a doughnut. And some rice pudding.

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