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Women Cartoonists Panel at the 53rd NCS Reuben Weekend

May 7,1999
San Antonio, Texas

Moderator: Jan Eliot - syndicated strip Stone Soup
Anne Gibbons - greeting cards, cartoons and illustrations
Etta Hulme - editorial cartoons for the Fort Worth Star Telegram
Lynn Johnston - syndicated strip For Better or For Worse
Hilary Price - syndicated strip Rhymes with Orange
Paige Braddock - illustrator and web strip Jane's World

Jan: I think that one of the best reasons to do this panel was brought to my attention by Rick Kirkman about three minutes ago when he came up to me and said, "I didn't know that Judge Cohen was a woman." So this is one problem - androgenous names, that's one problem. Another reason why I think it's important to do this is because out of 550 National Cartoonist Society members - counting 33 working women cartoonists - that is about 6%. Given that only about a third of those, as far as I can tell, come to these events, we're pretty easily lost in the crowd.

Last night at the airport, I had an experience which if the man which I had this experience with who's here will for give me for telling this story on him - I won't give his name. I was waiting in line for a taxi - my husband and I - and the man behind us wanted to know if we were coming to the Hyatt Regency. And I said, "Yes, are you with the NCS?" and he said "Yes, I am," and I said, "What's your name?" and he said,"(Jan mumbles)." I said, "That's great," and I said, "Your name is kind of familiar to me. What do you do?" He said, "(Jan mumbles again)" and I said "Oh... did you win an award in Asheville?" and he says, "Yeah, I did." We got into a conversation and got into the car and he sat in the front and my husband and I sat in the back and he turned around to my husband and said, "Now I didn't get your name. What feature is it that you do?"

Now, I wasn't mad, because to me, it's an honest mistake. It's just what happens and he was very apologetic when he realized his error. But with only 6% of us being female, we really are lost in the crowd. One of the reasons I wanted to do this panel was so that I would have the opportunity to meet more of women that belong to the NCS, and also to try to come up with some way of encouraging more women to take part.

One of the biggest boosts in my career came in 1982 when I got invited to a National Cartoonists Guild meeting in New York City that featured women in cartooning. I met a lot of wonderful women there including Nicole Hollander, Sarah Gillespie - who's here today, Trina Robbins, Angie Ward, Anne Gibbons - I didn't actually remember that I met Anne Gibbons but she remembered my work and years later we ended up reconnecting on the phone and since have become friends. Being in a room full of women-only cartoonists - there were men there - but the focus was on women, and there were about 200 of us - was an amazing, amazing thing. That energy that I got from that, even though it took me another fourteen years to become a self-supporting cartoonist, really fueled me for a long time.

I don't know exactly what we can accomplish today, as I said in the beginning, my main goal was to get everyone together and start talking about this issue and to just point out some of the work. I have managed to gather a little work from women who belong to the NCS. This is not actually everyone - I didn't receive work from everyone. It is more than the women who are represented here however so it's a little bit broader than what you can see.

What I want to do today for a format is I'm going to introduce everyone, and I have a couple questions for our panelists and then I'm going to open it up to the floor for questions from you. And if we run out of time I may cut you off - though forgive me if I do that. Hopefully there will be enough questions that we will run out of time. And then we're also going to pass out a sheet, which I hope you'll take the time to fill out and it's basically a place you can put your name and a place for you to write what you think the NCS could do to become a little more appealing and beneficial to it's women members. If you don't have an opinion, you don't have to write anything. But if you do have an opinion, I'd really love to hear it.

I especially want to hear from women in the audience; I think you have a unique perspective. And when it comes time for questions, if you'll give me this one license: I've notice in these groups women tend to hold back. So when it comes time for questions, I want all the women to go first. I want the men to hold back, and I want the women to go first. And I want you not to be shy. So thank you very much.

To my right is Anne Gibbons. Anne Gibbons does greeting cards with Recycled Paper Products. She's an extremely successful greeting card artist, and I'm very envious because I tried doing this for a period of time and had very little success at it, so this is Anne Gibbons. [applause]

This is Etta Hulme. Etta is up for an award for editorial cartoonist. She works for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Etta Hulme. [applause]

To my left is Lynn Johnston. She does the comic strip "For Better or For Worse," and Lynn is one person who reached out to me when I was asking for help and suggestions. She called me on Sunday morning when I'd just gotten out of the shower, and shocked the heck out of both my husband and I. It was a wonderful 45-minute conversation of encouragement. It meant a lot to me, so I'm thrilled to have her here. [applause]

In the middle is Hilary Price. She does the feature called "Rhymes with Orange" for King Features. I don't know how many papers it's in. How many papers, Hilary?

Hilary: Millions. (laughs, crowd laughs)

Jan: Millions of papers. Hilary Price.

Jan: And the person on the end is someone who thought the entire conference of this panel should be all of us yelling, "Chicks Rule!" is Paige Braddock. Paige is the Graphics Editor of the Atlanta Constitution and has a web site cartoon called, "Jane's World."

This panel represents a little-bit broad group of expertise, age and experience, and all that - it's not broad enough - we don't have an animator with us this time. Hopefully, if we do this again it will continue to broaden and we'll get some more important people.

My first question, and I'm going to start with Anne: I wanted everyone on the panel to speak to what is their biggest barrier towards becoming successful, or to becoming even more successful if they already are.

Anne: I feel as if my ...[muffled on tape]... teacher had told me the question earlier, like I had time to think about this ... so for me the biggest obstacle is dealing with competition. And merciless competition and feeling the rejection - it's really been the hardest in a constantly changing market. So the traditional market - you can't do what cartoonists used to do to make it - it's harder. Traditional markets seem harder, and things are constantly changing, so you kinda never know which things to focus on, and just handling the psychological and practical difficulties of rejection. Etta: I heard the question earlier but I forgot. [audience laughs]

Etta: The biggest obstacle for me has been most of you editors and the biggest asset has been white out.

Lynn: I hope because of the gender thing; I think the biggest obstacle is myself. And having the time now to work amongst all the phonecalls and interruptions I get during the day. At one time I had a lot more free time. And I can't say I've ever felt discriminated against except when I was president of the NCS and the guys all wanted me to make lunch. [audience laughs]

Lynn: I think the same obstacles apply to me apply to everybody else. Just finding the time and energy to get working.

Hilary: Instead of talking about my [current] obstacles right now, I'd like to mention one of my obstacles from when I was starting out... I think for me, finding female role models - female role model cartoonists, was the most difficult thing. I loved the comics as a kid, but as I was reading them I didn't know of any female cartoonists. But in my 7th grade, I was floored - absolutely floored when I found out that Boynton, that greeting card artist, was a woman. It was a life-turning moment. Because I think I was operating under the assumption that women didn't do it. So that was my biggest obstacle starting out. Just to know that there had been others that did it - that Lynn did it, but they were the pick of the litter. There wasn't this broad base that I was aware of at the time.

Paige: Probably, I'd say the same experience as Hilary. When I was a kid I remember always practicing drawing cartoons and all the cartoons I'd read were Beetle Bailey or Popeye or... I got Snoopy with the other ones, but most of the characters were male characters. And it never dawned on me that that's what I was doing - that in imitating the people that I was admiring, I was doing all these strips about guys and then when I was in high school - I was about 16 - I met a cartoonist named Dave Graue, who unfortunately is not here this weekend - he did Alley Oop for a long time - and he asked me... you in life sometimes you have these turning point questions where someone who maybe doesn't even know you that well will ask you a question you can't answer, then all the sudden it changes your whole perspective? He had called me up to say, "how would you like to come to my studio and see some artwork?" My parents of course where like "who is this strange man inviting her over to his studio to see artwork?" [audience laughs] So my father escorted me up there to meet this wonderful cartoonist and the pivotal question he asked me was, "why are you drawing a guy character?" I was doing this comic strip about a cowboy, and I was like, "I don't... I don't really know." [audience laughs] He basically said you're never going to be any good in this business until you draw what you know - until you find your unique voice. So for me that was a drastic change in the way I thought about my work, and even knowing that it should have a voice... and I guess that wasn't an obstacle, but he was pointing out the big obstacle I had set up for myself in the material I was choosing to use. My biggest obstacle now is having to keep my day job in order to pay my mortgage. So I have less time to draw my web feature.

Jan: Ok, I guess I'll go last. I took 16 years to become syndicated so I guess I had a lot of obstacles. But for me, and I guess it's why gender is a little bit of an issue, in the beginning, in 1979 when I first started, my main obstacle was Lynn and Cathy because every syndicate seemed to think there was no more room in the entire market for any other women cartoonists besides Lynn Johnston and Cathy Guisewite. That seemed to be the pat answer that I got over and over again, "well we have Lynn and we have Cathy - so what do we need you for?" Well, because I'm funny? And that has gone away, thank goodness, and years later it's much more about what you have to say and whether you're funny. The second obstacle, like Paige, was that when I first came out with my strip which was about a female head-of-households, the first two syndicates that I spoke to said "when are they going to get married? And their whole focus was that it was sad because there wasn't a boyfriend and sad because there wasn't a husband, and who wants to read about a bunch of women? And like Paige, my strip was talking about what I know: I was a single mom for ten years, and what I know as a single mom and I can write about that. Hanging in there until someone - thank goodness Universal Press was ready - to be interested in what it was that I was writing about, was my biggest obstacle. Hanging in there.

Jan: The second question is: what has been the biggest help - since everyone here is a working cartoonist - what has been your biggest help to making that happen?

Anne: Jan opened up these things I wanted to talk about... I also had the Lynn/Cathy barrier - alternative things would be Nicole Hollander - and that was one of my senses is that there are so many varied viewpoints among women just as many as there are among men, and that's something I thought about saying today. The biggest thing for me, I almost feel like born again by this downcliff I took a few years ago because I felt like I've spent many years developing a style. I understood the artistic - what you needed to do to do the best work you could do, but as I said before, the marketing was so hard, that I thought I had to do more than I was doing, and I had to get away from the traditional ways that cartoonists market because I can't make a living. So I took a sales class in New York with people who were selling real estate, an interior designer, somebody from a gallery and it was just a very nuts and bolts of sales. When I first stated that class, it was like taking Drawing 101. It was like, "I don't know how to do this!" and it was to get the sales skills which are essential. The class cost me $1100, which I thought was insane when I did it, but I made that money over and over and I feel like it just gave me this resillience that I think we need. Jan: I think you all need to be impressed that Anne is a non-syndicated working cartoonists who maintains both a home and a studio in New York City. I just think she's so amazingly successful.

Etta: New York City? [audience laughs] I remember years ago, Natalie Palmer took exception to people coming up to her and saying, "you draw like a man!" What's the big deal? Men draw like James Thurber and they draw like [inaudible on tape]. I think that it's the individual perspective, whatever it is, that is [the biggest asset] and the biggest help is white out. [audience laughs]

Lynn: Well I think like Anne, my biggest problem was my inability to sell myself. I mean I didn't think I was that good. I like to draw funny pictures and people laughed - I did it for fun. But if it wasn't for other people who kept pushing me to say, "you can do it, you are marketable," and people who actually bought my work. I just never had courage, and again didn't have anybody out there who was a role model. If it wasn't for other people pushing me, I never would have had the job I have now. If it wasn't for June Andrews at Universal Press Syndicate, who saw some potential in some really awful stuff that I sent I would never have been syndicated. So it's really having the courage and the marketing knowhow that's so helpful. I don't know why the guys have the courage to submit. Even now when I get packages at work from people who say "please look at my work," 99.9% of the packages come from men. I don't know why that is. Hilary: To comment on what you just said Lynn, I think the cartoon market is kind of like the garage band/rock band market. It seems like a teenage boy thing like we see - guys start in their garage and they have a band and they learn to play and they get better and go out and then they get a contract signed, eventually. You get girl bands, but you don't really get girl bass players or girl drummers - you don't get that as much and I wish there was a way that - I bet when there are more girl rock bands there will be more girl cartoonists. That's just my theory. My big... what was the question? [Jan prompts Hilary] I think for me also it was the realization that this is a business. I'm sure all of us cartoonists - that realization that not only are we sitting around drawing pictures but we've got to find a way to believe in them and find creative ways to get other people to see them. So I think to have a growing knowledge about the business of drawing is an asset.

Paige: This may sound kind of corny, but I think one of my biggest assets has been very supportive professional cartoonist friends who have kept me encouraged when things didn't go so well. I know that when I was in college the fellow I mentioned earlier today, Graue, introduced me to Sarah Gillespie and she gave me unending great feedback for a couple of years that I think really helped improve my cartooning craft. It seemed like everybody into comic strips the goal is to be syndicated and if that doesn't happen after about five or six years you get really discouraged and feel an internal evaluation, "am I really a cartoonist, do I really have anything to say." I left the south and went to work at the Chicago Tribune as an illustrator and when I came back south and reconnected with George Briesacher, he got me back into the NCS. I really credit this organization and the support system it has for getting me fired up again about cartooning, and helping me find out what my motivation was for doing cartooning. I mean I think of any artist - fine artists, musicians, whatever - you have to find out what your inspiration source is. If your driving force is to be syndicated, maybe that's not the best source because all the creative work you do hinges on that golden prize - that syndication contract. So at some point when I discovered the web, that became a great asset for me. That's why I'm on this panel - the new media end of this. Because what is it that's so great about being a cartoonist - it's finding your voice and being able to deliver that voice to an audience and then get feedback from that audience - how they feel about your cartoon. The Internet which started out kind of slowly has been a great vehicle for that, and now it's - I don't know how to describe it - it's been a metamorphosis for the last two years - just in having that creative outlet and doing Jane's World three days a week and getting immediate feedback from other cartoonists online and people on the street. I feel like it's improved my work. I don't know if I had not had a support system that came behind me and said, "you know, you can do this - don't get discouraged," if I hadn't had that, I don't know what would have happened. I'm really excited that the end of my foot sticks out so you guys can see my new tennis shoes, [audience laughs] well at least the people in the front.

Jan: Can you talk about the Underground Women's Forum? Can you talk about that? Paige: No. [other comments unintelligible on tape] Jan: For those of you who are internet seekers, there's a great chat site kind of connected loosely to the Reuben site called the Underground Women's Forum. And it's all women and it's pretty great. You'll have to email me if you want the address because I didn't bring it with me. I thought Paige might know - you are the web queen.

Paige: You know, I am, but I don't know how to do the chat thing. Art Roche is always giving me a hard time about being on the Wisenheimer and I'm like, "but I don't know how." [audience laughs]

Jan: I think that my biggest challenge the... actually I have to credit my husband for the first five years of our marriage said "you really can do this - I believe you really can" - I had been trying for ten years at that point to become a cartooninist and still hadn't made it somehow. He was able to maintain faith in my dream. And I really appreciate that. But even before that, I think that having contact with other women - which was my whole point in wanting to have this panel to get something sterted in the NCS that was a little more networking between females, is that having contact with people like Nicole Hollander who invited me to New York in the first place in 1982, having contact with Lynn Johnston who would take time out of her Sunday to call me up and talk about the work I had brazenly sent her and give me to encouragement and feedback and then continue to answer my questions after I had first entered into syndication and was totally freaked out and didn't know what half of it meant. She continued to talk to me patiently about how to handle it all. Anne Gibbons as I waited and waited and waited for something to happen would keep telling me that they were stupid for not taking me on and all those kind of good things you like to hear from your friends. It makes a difference, and you need to hear it from your peers, not just from your pals. So having peers matters, and having peers has been a huge help to me.

Jan: What you see around the room is a collection of our work and a few women who aren't here with us today. The first panel is from Trina Robbins wonderful book called A Century of Women Cartoonists. One of the things I would have loved to have done today - if there had been time - is talk about all the great women who have gone before us. There are women on this panel who actually don't know - I'll say the young ones on the end over there - who don't know who some of the great women cartoonists are and I did want to pay homage to Edwinna Dumm and Dale Messick and Hilda Terry who are still with us, and Rose O'Neill. So if you look at the first panel, you get a glimpse of some of the really wonderful, amazing cartoonists that have gone before us.

Editor's Note: Next was a question and answer session, which due to time constraints, has not transcripted. We will make efforts to add this part of the session later.