Mark Your Calendars! October 3rd is the day!

It might even be the the greatest day for American women since August 18, 1920. “That will be a national day of celebration for feminists (and, really, for all human beings) everywhere, with dancing in the streets, parades, and fireworks. That is the day that the final Cathy comic strip will be published.”*

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the comic strip, which has been running for 34 years chronicled the life of a woman who spent most of her adulthood freaking out about her weight, embracing a variety of tropes about the planetary origins of men and women, desperately trying to find Prince Charming, and dealing with her mother. Pretty much every strip involved a gag about how Cathy didn’t fit into a bathing suit, a state of complete and total agitation, followed by making a total mess and winding up covered in chocolate. About 30 years into the strip, Cathy married her hapless boyfriend Irving after many, many years of terrible jokes drawn from The Rules and other similarly awful dating advice books. And for the most part, Cathy had the personality of a poorly drawn wet mop. I honestly have no idea how it lasted so long telling the exact same five jokes over and over.

I’ve always gotten the impression that Cathy was meant as something for women to bond over, but for the most part it just reinforced a lot of wretched stereotypes about women: chocoholics who are always desperate to lose weight but can’t part with the carbs, women who ruin their finances by splurging on overpriced handbags and shoes, being mean to Nice Guys™ knowing in the end that they’re the reliable and steady kind you want to marry, mortal panic about being single, etc.

I can remember reading the comics in my local paper at about the age of nine and thinking that Cathy was particularly ridiculous. Wasn’t she ever going to DO something? Didn’t she like herself? What was going on with all the chocolate, shredded wrapping paper, and bemused looking dog? I really wanted her to have a decent relationship with her mother rather than one premised on her mom’s desire for her to find a nice young man and have a respectable life, and wondered why she had the same conversations over and over and over.

Looking back on it, I have (probably vain) hopes that whatever replaces Cathy in most newspapers will feature a strong female lead character who grows up, has adventures, and evolves in her relationships with other people. It’d also be really nice if there weren’t jokes about being single, PMS references, or an attempted genetic explanation for chocolate consumption. (If anyone knows of a good comic strip or webcomic that meets such criteria, please share in comments!)

*The blogger hopes that Cathy will go out as a suicide bomber and take out a handful of other noxious comic strips. I’m not a fan of that idea, but I have to hope that the end doesn’t involve metaphorical muzak with slow motion montages or whatever the comic strip equivalent is.

Hat tip to Melinda for the link.


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57 Responses to Mark Your Calendars! October 3rd is the day!

  1. Julia says:

    I like Questionable Content. It starts off being about a guy but there are more female characters than male & they do talk about things other then men! There’s even a queer lady character!

  2. KW says:

    Maybe the strip will end will Hilary Clinton waking up in bed and saying “Oh thank god, it was all a dream!”.

  3. Arresi says:

    I like Girl Genius. The lead character (a young woman), is a (mad) scientist/inventor in a steampunk setting who grows up, has adventures, and evolves; a mix of male and female villains; men who are way more invested in marriage than the women; and a bunch of interesting women characters in the background. (It also features practically the only love triangle I’ve ever liked in fiction.)

    And ditto on Questionable Content.

  4. October 3rd is my birthday! What a birthday present!

  5. Pony says:

    Try Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto. ‘sbrilliant.

  6. La Lubu says:

    Heh. Sex in the City is Cathy with fancier clothes.

  7. Naama says:

    So glad someone already mentioned Girl Genius.

  8. Cathy was a caricature even in the beginning, and an unbelievably consistent one who was about as two-dimensional as they come. It was a one-joke strip, which hashed out the same basic plot over and over and over again. But this is, of course, the fate of many commercial vehicles written by cartoonists who have long downshifted to autopilot.

  9. Pingback: Mark Your Calendars! October 3rd is the day! — Feministe « Calendars

  10. Jennifurret says:

    Two comics I like with strong female characters:

    Questionable Content

    Something Positive

    Both happen to be taking a break from their main storyline today, so stick around a bit to give them a chance. If you like a bit of sarcasm/dark humor, these are for you.

  11. ScaryJoann says:

    Hehehe, all my favorite comics are already mentioned! Happy moment.
    It’s already ended, but DAR was an awesome and beautiful comic as well.

  12. akeeyu says:

    Ha!

    You’re right, this will be a fantastic day for women.

    I’ve really enjoyed your guest posts, by the way. Thank you.

  13. Xeginy says:

    I think it’s kind of funny that everyone is mentioning online comics opposed to newspaper strips. I guess it’s not just me who grew out of the funnies a long time ago…

    I wish they would bring Calvin and Hobbes back, though.

  14. Erin says:

    I’m a fan of Venus Envy, a webcomic whose protagonist is a transgender teenage girl.

  15. Bitter Scribe says:

    If you’re interested in “Cathy,” it’s worth reading this post in The Comics Curmudgeon. The comments go into great depth about how horrible the strip is, but there are some surprisingly thoughtful pro-Cathy comments.

    As for me, I could never get over how, not just Cathy, but every single female in the strip was a hysterical ninny, forever obsessing over weights, clothes, shoes and–above all–men. That strip lowered the glass ceiling about a foot. Good riddance.

  16. evil fizz says:

    I wish they would bring Calvin and Hobbes back, though.

    I used to wish that, but then I read a recent interview with Bill Watterson and all the seething misanthropy just got to me. We have a couple of the book collections and reading all at once (instead of spaced out over days) really drives home how bitter the strip was a lot of the time.

  17. Bitter Scribe says:

    evil fizz, seething misanthropy forms the basis for a great deal of humor. Why do you think comedians are some of the unhappiest people around?

    You can take that for whatever it’s worth, coming from a guy whose Internet handle includes the word “bitter.” (Of course yours has “evil,” so maybe you can sympathize?)

  18. TrinaLina says:

    Seconding (billionthing?) the Questionable Content, Girls With Slingshots and DAR recs. I’m going to have to check out Girl Genius and the other recommendations in this thread! Great antidotes to Cathy and all others of its ilk…

  19. Artemis says:

    evil fizz: I wish they would bring Calvin and Hobbes back, though. I used to wish that, but then I read a recent interview with Bill Watterson and all the seething misanthropy just got to me. We have a couple of the book collections and reading all at once (instead of spaced out over days) really drives home how bitter the strip was a lot of the time.

    Do you have a link to the interview? I can only find the one he gave last February, and it’s awfully innocuous and bland so I can’t imagine that it’s the seething misanthropy one!

  20. Mandolin says:

    It’s a book, not a strip, but I can’t recommend Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword enough. The tagline is a great teaser: Yet another comic book about a troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.

    I’m one of Barry’s first readers, so I’ve been intimate with the project for a couple years now, and I’m really excited to see it out in November.

  21. Mandolin says:

    Also, Riot Nrrd seems pretty new, but it’s definitely got the girl power and some good politics going. The archives amused me, especially this strip–http://www.riotnrrdcomics.com/2010/05/checking-in-with-joss-whedon-puppy-again/

  22. Blue Jean says:

    Hmm…have you checked out Nemi yet? It’s a Norwegian comic (don’t worry; it’s translated into English in the link) about a Goth party girl who loves sex, dragons, Edgar Allen Poe, Tori Amos, headbanger music, and yes, chocolate. (Hey, can’t break the stereotype completely, can we?)

    What I like most about it is Nemi’s perverse pleasure in wreaking havoc on the more staid conventions. That may just be the Aquarian in me talking, though.

  23. Blue Jean says:

    Aaand…once again, I fail to close tags. Sorry about that!

    [sorted ~ mod]

  24. D says:

    It’s written by a man, and not a comic strip, really, but Jaime Hernandez’s “Locas”/”Hoppers 13″ (part of the Love & Rockets comic book he did with his brother, Gilbert, for almost 15 years, and still does in some sense today) is one of the best comic sagas ever written. It’s about a mechanic, Maggie, and her best friend Hopey, and their adventures in the Southern California punk scene and beyond (dinosaur jungles, all-women’s wrestling leagues, etc). Seriously, it’s beyond good–as serious and considerate a work of literature as comic books can be. There’s also an insane amount of it–hundreds and hundreds of pages, side stories. I can’t recommend it enough…

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fantagraphics/1920554735/in/photostream/

    http://www.fantagraphics.com/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=shop.flypage&product_id=738&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=62&vmcchk=1&Itemid=62

  25. Blue Jean says:

    Ah. Thanks for sorting that out!

  26. Shiyiya says:

    The female lead from the first volume isn’t in the current storyline , but I really really love Skin Deep. The main characters in the Liverpool cast are mostly male, but everyone’s really well hashed out and there are also gay and bi characters. And strong female characters, though they’re a little backgrounded in Liverpool. Half of the Missouri cast protags are female, though. (The author is a woman, also.)

    I was going to say Riot Nrrd because it is AMAZING but someone beat me to it :)

    I read about a million other webcomics but I’m just going to stop there >_<

  27. Aydan says:

    Though it’s no longer running, and the main characters never grow up past 10, I recommend Ozy and Millie. It’s about a couple of foxes growing up in animal suburbia and questioning pretty much everything.

  28. Lisa says:

    I always felt a lint of depression when I read Cathy. Even as a kid, I thought it was such a waste of space. I thought, “I hope women aren’t really like that when I get older. It sounds really boring.”

    Good night and good luck, Cathy.

  29. Mizz Alice says:

    Good riddance. Even as a kid I found her very annoying and a point of reference of how not to be. I never cared why she was so full of anxiety and stress and tears.

    I’ve never really read web comics, and I haven’t read the funnies in years since the only ones I really enjoyed were Garfield and Calvin and Hobbs but now have the books.

    A comic I really enjoy in reference to this that I can’t help but share with everyone is Strangers In Paradise.

  30. convexed says:

    I remember my mom telling me she loved the Cathy strip because it was a ‘realistic woman with realistic concerns’. So I guess there’s the pro-Cathy point that women who embrace and identify with the hysteria-chocolate-diet-hysteria stereotype need affirmation and solidarity too?
    My response would be that women offer each other better support than that, Mom, and isn’t it more useful to use humor to work through and past our insecurities/frustrations rather than indulge them for 30-some years?
    Cathy lacked any critical aspect at all, unlike so many long-running strips. It’s not like Cathy’s tribulations were ever the premise for actual growth or self-realization, or even any sort of commentary other than ‘boy isn’t swim-suit buying stressful if you feel like you need to be thin to buy a swimsuit?’. Minus a critique of the pressures on women—just a wallow in those who obsess with the pressures to the point of tantrum throwing and sweat flinging off the eyebrows…

  31. Watch the Toes says:

    Aww, I thought Calvin and Hobbes was the shit growing up. I certainly don’t remember it being misogynistic, but of course I also haven’t read any of their strips in years, so like you say, evil fizz, it just might be so. I really hope not, because I always read it as Calvin was just a rambunctious, mischievous, highly imaginative little kid who’s “arch-nemesis'” were the same “arch-nemesis'” most six year-old boys of Calvin’s nature have at one time or another – the “spoil-sport” girl-next door Sally, his cranky old teacher Mrs. Woodworm, and on occasion his parents when they asserted their authority to Calvin. And to me, I always felt that Watterson made sure to make all of these “arch-nemesis'” sympathetic characters because, a. They had to put up with a child as independent and obstinate as Calvin, and Watterson showed their side of it, and b. the “arch-nemesis'” weren’t always painted as the bad guy – You could feel for Mrs. Woodworm who has to be more of a disciplinarian than teacher with a boy like Calvin, and in the few strips where Calvin has “duplicated” himself so that he’s the perfect child at home and school while the other Calvin gets to be himself, Mrs. Woodworm is shown as a very kind and supporting teacher. And his parents, for all the times they’re battling Calvin, you’re shown that they’re just doing it because they’re good parents who aren’t going to let Calvin just do whatever he wants. There’s also plenty of times where you see them being loving and sweet with Calvin as well, which seems like a normal dynamic between parents and high-maintenance children. And Sally, well, even though Calvin will taunt her and launch surprise water-balloon attacks at her, but she’s not a helpless little girl and she’ll turn around plots her own “revenge” on Calvin. Plus, Hobbes totally has a huge crush on Sally, so you know Watterson means that to be that Sally’s not all that bad.

    Sorry for the rant – just a Calvin and Hobbes fan :-)

    P.S. Cathy bites the dust – amen!

  32. Got an Answer says:

    Other People’s Business by Sandra K Fuher. Features an all female main cast with some of the most interesting complex character development I’ve seen in a long time.

  33. chipchop says:

    So I went to the Cathy website, where several commentors on the later strip are pleading with the author to leave Cathy pregnant at the end of the series. o.O

    Watch the Toes, evil fizz said that Calvin and Hobbes was misanthropic, rather than misogynistic. Y’know, just loathing everyone, rather than women in particular :)

  34. Ninny says:

    Watch the Toes, the neighbour girl was called Susie, not Sally. chipchop, the comic (Calvin & Hobbes) had too many misogynistic undertones. And I found it very disturbing that the comic was constantly underlining the view that Calvin was a “genius” because he was a boy and he was right to think girls were “obnoxious”, “slimy” “like bugs” etc. etc. because no adult ever contradicted him on this (Susie was left alone to do this). Not once is Calvin told that Susie is a human being that should be respected.

    Examples: Calvin’s mother says to his father: “It’s your fault we didn’t have a sweet little girl! Your chromosome! Not mine!”. The mother is just a housekeeper, staying home even though Calvin already goes to school. The father assumes absolutely no responsibility over being a parent but openly gripes about having the kid: “I wonder if I could sleep at the office” and “All I know I offered to buy us a daschund, but NOOO, you said..”. The father does absolutely no housework (correction: he was seen vacuuming once and making dinner once) and the mother only drives if the father isn’t around. So, all philosophical discussions in C&H aside, it’s really not that much different from Cathy, eh?

  35. Ellid says:

    I SO miss Dykes to Watch Out For. That was the best strip ever.

    I really enjoy Knit Princess. Anyone who knits will know what I mean.

  36. scary joann says:

    Wow. Ninny just shifted my thoughts and C&H, and part of me is sad for it. I had noticed a few of those elements in the comic, but never took the time to really think about it. Good argument.

  37. fire says:

    Ninny, I think that your reading of Calvin & Hobbes is pretty shortsighted and conflates Calvin’s attitudes with the strip’s. Calvin isn’t to be read as a “genius” by any stretch of the imagination–he’s a selfish but precociously imaginative little boy standing in for a sort of rambunctious egoism that society can’t really deal with, both because it’s inappropriate AND because social institutions are terrible at relating to it. The strip is extremely humanizing to Susie (moreso, I think, than any other character), lampoons the normative marriage of Calvin’s parents, and Hobbes (arguably a sort of narrator presence that obviously can’t come 100% from the kid’s imagination) does a fair job of reminding Calvin of what a jerk he is and undermining his crueler efforts–particularly those aimed at Susie. The strip is interesting and far more considerate because it doesn’t simply present one-dimensional characters without irony; THAT’S what makes it better (and better re: women) than something like Cathy.

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  39. Jay@racialicious says:

    These comic recs make me feel like deja vu

    A lot of the comics there should be good (I like most of them even if nearly all of them disappoint me in one way or another).

    Strangers in Paradise was one of those. David reminded me too much of the Nice Guy (TM) archetype (even though he was Asian American created in an era where AA leads were virtually unheard of even in comics). The fact that Katchoo liked him at all seems a little weird. It did a lot of things right, but that always nagged at me.

    Avatar the Last Airbender (not a webcomic) would be my rec for the day. Strong female characters, and the sequel will have a female Avatar (who is the focus of the story). Also weaves in Asian cultures fantastically and respectfully.

  40. ACG says:

    I have to agree with fire – Calvin & Hobbes definitely reads one way if you’re seeing through Calvin’s eyes and another if you’re seeing through your own. That’s one thing I always enjoyed about his little escapist jaunts–in his mind, he was any kind of an action hero battling evil Susie-monsters and Mom-monsters and Dad-monsters, but snap back to reality, and he’s just kind of an asshole. It’s not endorsing his behavior–it’s presenting him as a bit of a punk.

    As for his seeing girls as icky and being mean to Susie, well, not to completely stereotype, but that’s just what little boys do. They explore changing relationships and new feelings and situations and sometimes puff themselves up by acting like jerks. What really interested me about that dynamic was Hobbes–if we’re really taking him as Calvin’s subconscious, we’re definitely seeing a side of him that has different feelings about Susie than those he’s expressing, and he’s sometimes even at physical odds with the part of himself that really likes her. If anything, Hobbes was the one who spent the most time defending Susie. And now I feel horrible trying to psychoanalyze Calvin and I’m going to stop before I ruin him for myself.

    I always loved Calvin for his imagination. I know I’m not the only kid who identified with him and his need to travel through space and time in a cardboard box with my trust tiger best friend. I’ve always been jealous that my imaginings were never quite that vivid.

    And whatever about Calvin’s family. As fire pointed out, it more lampoons their normative relationship than endorses it, and you know what? Sometimes moms stay home, even after their kids are at school. (And seriously, “just a housekeeper”? Ouch.)

    Totally going back and re-reading those books. Maybe I’ll build a transmogrifier when I’m done.

  41. Politicalguineapig says:

    I loved Calvin and Hobbes, but Garfield was my role model as a kid. And yes, I hated Cathy. She was one of the major reasons that I wanted to change sex when I grew up. I came out of second grade absolutely loathing girls my age, and thought my choices as a woman were:housekeeper, frazzled career mom, Cathy, or crunchy hippie earth woman, my mom, or my aunt. The first three sucked, so I thought my only recourse was to become male.
    As for the last three:
    Crunchy hippie earth women don’t often get to eat tasty food (one of mom’s friends was this, and when I stayed overnight with her, my tastebuds were always screaming afterwards.) And as for being my aunt, I didn’t have the musical talent. Mom-well, I’m about as far as being her as I am from being cannonized. And she likes my brother better any way.

  42. dave says:

    aww cathy has enough problems without everyone being mean to her, too. i mean it can’t get much worse than to be an unfunny comic strip character :(

  43. tinfoil hattie says:

    As for his seeing girls as icky and being mean to Susie, well, not to completely stereotype, but that’s just what little boys do.

    How many little boys do you have? My two never behaved that way. Still don’t.

  44. Bagelsan says:

    That’s one thing I always enjoyed about his little escapist jaunts–in his mind, he was any kind of an action hero battling evil Susie-monsters and Mom-monsters and Dad-monsters, but snap back to reality, and he’s just kind of an asshole. It’s not endorsing his behavior–it’s presenting him as a bit of a punk.

    Yeah, I always thought Calvin was a situation of a very unreliable narrator. Stuff like the Spaceman Spiff comics just made the unreliable narrator particularly explicit.

  45. Politicalguineapig says:

    Hattie: ACG’s right. I have a little brother and all of his friends thought girls were icky. The only reason little bro wasn’t completely unmanageable was that the girls outnumbered him at home.

  46. sophonisba says:

    that’s just what little boys do.

    And “Cathy” is just how women are.

  47. Politicalguineapig says:

    Keep in mind, a lot of people do live down to their stereotypes.

  48. d says:

    I vote for C’est La Vie.

    http://clv-comic.com/

    CLV IS syndicated, but it doesn’t have a wide readership. Newspapers are afraid of it. Mona Montrois is a sarcastic, wicked, pessimist of a French woman. She smokes constantly, hates people, and her stuffed bunny of yore, Mr. Smokey, is as much a character as any of the humans. Her roommate, Donna, is a SatC-loving bimbo. Her brother is a womanizer. Though they live in LA, Mona dresses all in black. It’s an excellent comic.

    Even better, it deals with the same fundamental issues Cathy has. Mona is highly educated, and so jaded as to come off as almost asexual. Contempt is her default mode. And yet, an encounter with a handsome man can turn her usually rational mind upside down–THAT is what life is like for the modern woman!! We want to have our shit together, for the most part we do, and then life throws us a curveball.

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  50. jabial says:

    Whether you like it or not, many people, men or women, are like that: inconsistent, weak-willed and not that good at introspection.

    Women read the Cathy strip for the same reason that men read the adventures of Rincewind, a “hero” who is the epitome of a coward who runs from even the hint of danger. This is because they want to read about a character that sounds real, not a two-dimensional character that would succeed at flying if he really tried.

    Now, of course, if you are a part of the elite who is consistent, self-disciplined and good at learning from your past errors, of course you read that and think “what a moron”. The fact that most people don’t should tell you something, preferably not just the fact that you’re stronger than they are.

  51. Bushfire says:

    Did you know that your article was quoted in the Toronto Star? They quoted three internet feminists in their Cathy article, and Feministe was the first one! I’m so proud!

    Here’s the link.

  52. evil_fizz says:

    Bushfire, thanks! That’s so cool.

  53. sgcgabe says:

    convexed: My response would be that women offer each other better support than that, Mom, and isn’t it more useful to use humor to work through and past our insecurities/frustrations rather than indulge them for 30-some years?

    I’d argue that maybe not all women provide better support than Cathie. Sometimes women are going through a situation and want to read about someone in a similar situation, but handling it much worse so that the woman will feel better about her own situation. I’d guess that if most of you actually met a “Cathie-type” of woman, you’d mock her horribly before you actually attempted to help her solve her issues in a non-condescending manner.

    That’s not to say I particularly care for the strip or care whether it continues, but I do think there was a place for the comic and now it has come to its end.

  54. Politicalguineapig says:

    Jabial: It isn’t just men who read the D’world novels. Yes, I love Rincewind because he’s such a coward. And you pretty much nailed the reason I dislike the human race in general.
    But I don’t think Cathy is actually a real woman. Most of the single women I know hate shopping, won’t diet except for health reasons, and figure if love happens, it happens but they won’t go searching for it. (In this economy, why bother with love anyway? Dating’s too expensive.)
    If you want real women, check out for Better or For Worse, or On a Claire Day, which is quite new. Claire, unlike Cathy, actually demonstrates intelligence and deals with more realistic challenges (family, apartment issues, pet issues.) I wish it appeared more then once a week.

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