On the Retirement of the Comic Strip “Cathy”

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.

58 thoughts on “On the Retirement of the Comic Strip “Cathy”

  1. Man, Karma really is working in your favor. I always did wonder what the original for that strip was. Curiousity kills me. Now I know, and I will say that changing that strip destroyed a little perk of brilliance. Oh well, I guess that’s what your blog is for. It reveals what WE WOULD be reading.

  2. Hey pastis, has anyone ever mentioned to you that you look like Sylvester Stallone? Uncanny resemblance.

  3. What a great story. And what a class act Ms. Guisewite is. May her retirement be all she hopes it to be.

  4. Pingback: Women cartoonists pay tribute to Cathy Guisewhite The Daily Cartoonist

  5. I like how now only did it change from Cathy to Dilbert, but somehow your neck disappeared in the first panel.

  6. Speaking of “encounter” : I have a Pearl Before Swine comic book passed on from my father’s side of the family, and the book is dedicated! Weirdly enough, not by Stephan, but by his dentist. The note read “The author of Pearl Before Swine goes to the same dentist as I do”, followed by my aunt signature and her dentist’s.

    It’s really weird.

  7. Wow that is an awesome story! First, because every time I re-read that strip (thought at the moment I can’t remember which book it is in – but I know it is a treasury because you talk about having to change it) I have wondered who it was that objected. Awesome to know who now! And boy, that was so cool of her – I can understand the chilly phone call (though those are all awesome strips you did) but the “I’m proud of you” – so awesome. Shows that she really is a classy lady!

    But if it were me I would have let you run it – I don’t understand to the objection to being called hot!

    And I was wondering when you would post about the end of Cathy – I hope you will do something about it in the strip (like you did when FoxTrot went to Sundays).

  8. Nice work, Mr. Pastis, but don’t let it stop you from making fun of other cartoonists in the future. I think that those are some of your greatest strips.

  9. Ah-HA! You said you would leave the artist in question UNNAMED! But we now know!
    I’m going to pencil that into The Crass Meanagerie real fast.

  10. LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!!!! You’ve chased the poor girl into retirement. Ahh, who’s next?

  11. I hope the “right” strip will be reprinted in the new treasury to come!!!!!

    And, yeah!!!!, she is hot!!!!!!

  12. Oh, and maybe if you had let Ms. Guisewite SEE the comic she would have been more amenable. After all, any item which describes a middle-aged woman as “hot” can’t be all bad….

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  14. I am very surprised that Cathy ran for 35 years. No offense intended against the lady who obviously turned it into a very profitable franchise, but gee-whiz, how many jokes can you make about a bathing suit not fitting like you want it to?

  15. I think we are all losing sight of the fact that in light of this new info, alot of people have been misled about Dilbert.

  16. I write to send hilarious praises for the Bea Arthur strip today Aug.15! I don’t usually read comic strips unless Hubby wants me to see one. I was laughing with tears at the first frame, then the 2nd, then 3rd, and on. Ahaaahaha.. Ok ya got me..I’m a new fan. I’ve found you here and you’ll be brightening me days!! Thanks!

  17. I’m sorry Stevie … I couldn’t stand Cathy … I smiled to myself when I heard she retired … time to go, Cathy.

    Paula Poundstone agrees with me ~ she said so on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me …
    I’m an NPR junkie, as well as Pearls … Rat rocks …

  18. Did Dilbert get a reach around from Cathy during the Twister game? Just askin’.

  19. HOLY CRAP! I own the crass menagerie collection and you mention this, but you didn’t say it was her by name, in fact you left it as a mystery in that book. But now I win Stephen, I WIN!

  20. Great experience and life lesson. And by the way, the original cartoon is funny! Thank-you, I needed a good laugh today.

  21. I love this. Thank you Mr. Pastis for a laugh out loud lunch time. Great story. Love your strip and share them regularly with friends and co-workers. Being both of fine and foul mouth I appreciate both the intelligence and the profane elements in your comic.

  22. The comic character Cathy. I do not want Cathy to be the representaive of women. She’s a shopaholic scatterbrain wuss.

  23. Nice that you admit your shameful tactics, but they’re still abhorrent. I can’t understand your hate for cartoons like Family Circus or Cathy. I’m not even a fan of either, but it’s low, even for an ex-lawyer.

    Your cartoon strip is the comic embodiment of the ad hominem tactic and McCarthyism. Again, I respect you a bit more seeing you admit it like this, but I still dislike that you use such tactics anyway.

  24. If anyone were to use freedom of speech to yell ‘Fire’ in a theater or freedom of the press to slander (or drop a printing press on someone’s head from 5 stories up) I imagine it would be you. While I always respect honesty, I can’t understand why you would keep attacking other cartoonists who have apparently done nothing to you, and try to drive others out of the business. Perhaps trying to eliminate what you see as your competition?

  25. “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.”

    Ironic that a strip named Pearls Before Swine would make it a point to not just throw the first stone but catapult the first boulder with consistency. I don’t get it Pastis. You seem to recognize what you’re doing is wrong – yet do it anyway.

  26. It’s nearly impossible to find experienced people in this particular subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  27. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who had been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me dinner due to the fact that I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk about this subject here on your site.

  28. Just curious, (four years too late): if Ms Guisewite didn’t want you to run a comic referring to her as the naked object of your characters’… lust, I guess?… why did you include that comic on a public blog that’s ostensibly to honor her?

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