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When life becomes a comic strip

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Not since the New Yorker's Helen Hokinson so deftly pruned the world of garden club ladies has there been such a successful woman cartoonist. She is Cathy Guisewite (pronounced "Guyswhite"), the creator of the syndicated comic strip "Cathy," which runs in 150 newspapers around the country.

Her Cathy is a muffin-shaped girl-woman who semi-copes with contemporary life. Coping includes what to do about: her boyfriend, a self-satisfied jerk named Irving; her inordinate passion for Oreos, Twinkies and fudge ripple ice cream; being dumped on as the token woman at work; her feminist chauvinist friend named Andrea; and a proctective mother who's ready to pour soup on the guy who robbed Cathy. Cathy wears her heart on her collarbone and her hair in her eyes.

Cathy's creator, the leggy brunette who has not yet had to cope with a 30th birthday, says the roots of the cartoon strip are in her childhood. As children , she remembers, "we were forced to make greeting cards for each other, for family members. You could not buy a birthday card or Christmas card. In fact, you couldn't buy a present, really. It was only a meaningful gift it was something you made. So over the years I've drawn a lot of little cards and little books. We always used to make little books for each other for presents. I was dragged into this from childhood." She laughs, a low laugh; there's nothing like being dragged into a smashing success.

She was already a successful advertising copywriter as vice president of a Detroit agency when her cartooning started. She began sending drawings instead of letters home to her parents to let them know how it was to be on her own, single, with heer first job, and apartment. Her mother thought the cartoon letters so terrific she threatened to take them to Universal Syndicate if Cathy didn't do it herself. Universal took and look, bought the strip, and sold it off the bat to 66 newspapers.

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