My first contact with the creator of “Cathy” was a phone call.
“Hi, there…My name is Stephan Pastis, and I draw the comic strip Pearls Before Swine.”
Long pause. Awkward. Chilly.
“I know who you are,” replied Cathy Guisewite.
No “How are you doing?” or “Nice to meet you” or even “Hello.”
Just a “I know who you are.”
It’s the kind of greeting a Nazi hunter would give to Josef Mengele when he found him hiding behind a South American palm tree.
I suppose I should give you some back story. Better yet, I’ll show it to you.
You see, when I first came out of the gates as a young cartoonist, I was throwing more stones than a mob of Palestinian children. And most of them were at my fellow cartoonists. And I didn’t just lob one.
There are many more also, but they’d fill the entire blog, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Now in fairness, Cathy never told me she was angry about these strips, and she certainly never referenced them, but it was there in her voice. Particularly when I said what I said next in the phone call:
“I am doing a comic strip where I have you, Cathy Guisewite, playing naked Twister in my comic strip.”
“No, you’re not,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said, “I already drew it. But don’t worry, I don’t show you naked. I only reference it.”
“I don’t want you to do that,” she said.
“But I already did. I’d have to pull the strip.”
“Then you have to pull the strip.”
“Oh, c’mon,” I pleaded, “It’s not that bad.”
“I’ll tell you what,” she said, “I’ll ask some other people and get their opinion and call you back tomorrow.”
“Who are you gonna ask?” I said, pushing my luck.
“My husband, my mom and my dad.”
“Well, now that’s not a very fair jury,” I said.
Protest aside, we ended the call, and the next day she called back to say that no one in her circle of jurors wanted me to run the strip. So I pulled it.
Here is the strip in question:
And here is what it got changed to:
I always thought that Cathy’s refusal to let me run the strip was in payback for what I had done earlier. But she never said that. In fact, other than not letting me run this particular strip, she never fired back at me in any way. She never said a word.
Well, that’s not true. She did say one thing.
In May, 2004, Pearls was nominated by the National Cartoonists Society for Best Comic Strip. The presenter of the award was none other than Cathy Guisewite. I had never actually met her face-to-face and knew that if I were to win the award, she would undoubtedly say something to me.
Sure enough, I won and went onstage to get the award from her. There was no way for her to say anything at that point, because the band was playing and I had to give a speech and all, but after that, it’s tradition for the presenter and winner to go off to the side of the stage while people take photos of you together.
This would be her big chance to let me have it. To ream me for the meanness of my prior strips.
And sure enough, as the flashbulbs were popping, she leaned in to say something.
“I am so proud of you.”
Funny how a little comment like that can teach you more about grace and class than an hour-long lecture.
So good luck to you, Cathy. Enjoy your retirement.