“Cathy” lives on Instagram — and she’s a character fit for these frazzled times.
A decade after the eponymous comic strip’s lengthy run ended, cartoonist Cathy Guisewite brought back her much loved and much mocked character (whose struggles with the four “guilt groups” of work, food, love and mom never abated, even as new generations of women embraced changing sensibilities) in single-frame cartoons, shared through @cathygwite.
Since March, Guisewite has been capturing our collective pandemic anxieties and ack-worthy quarantine moments in a series of daily “Cathy” posts called “Scenes From Isolation.”
We talked with Guisewite, who launched the paperback edition of her essay book “Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault” this spring, about her latest cartoons and how she’s managing solo self-quarantine in California with her dog. She’s missing her 98-year-old mom, yet finding solace in old routines — and even Cathy-haters have reached out to say they suddenly relate to the character.
Q: How did you decide to begin posting a comic every day during the pandemic?
A: After all those years of doing the strip, when my anxiety builds up in me, I have to kind of dump it out on paper. So I found great solace in dumping some of this out. And, truthfully, this is a time when people are reconnecting with old friends, old foods, old people they know.
Q: Are you finding the daily routine helpful?
A: This is kind of my comfort zone, I’m afraid, waking up in the morning and being panicked that I need an idea for the day. There’s something very comforting about that, because that was the rhythm of my life for all those years I did the comic strip. It’s partly just kind of a natural relief — getting some of the angst on paper.
Q: Cathy’s frazzled nature seems to be something many of us are tapping into right now.
A: We’re all carrying this giant weight of terror about everything. One of my favorite ones I did is one that’s just labeled “Coronaphobia.” Cathy’s kind of leaning over the countertop, holding her squirt bottle of “anti-bac” and it says “Fear of absolutely everything.” It’s hard to not be anxious when that’s kind of our collective mental state.
Q: What have you been hearing from your Instagram followers?
A: I’ve heard from a lot of people who say, “Omigod, I used to relate to Cathy, but now I really, really relate to her.” They have greeted her like a long-lost old friend. But I’ve also heard from quite a few people who have said, “You know, I used to really not like Cathy, but now I really love her, because now I’m kind of like her, now I’ve got my face in the bowl of mashed potatoes like Cathy and I’m throwing the scale in the trash, like Cathy.”
Q: How is drawing one-panel cartoons different from having a running strip?
A: It’s simpler to not be worrying about a story line. It’s just a different discipline. It’s also interesting, because the four panels of a comic strip are very restrictive; you can only say so much in four boxes. When I ended that, it was really with the dream of getting to write something longer, where I was not constricted by the four boxes.
So when I had the chance to do the book of essays, I mean, it was like coming home and taking off the Spanx. This was liberating. Because I could write on and on about subjects a lot more thoughtfully and with a lot more depth. ... It’s kind of funny to me, I’ve gone from my dream of the big essays, which were my dream coming from the four boxes of the comic strip, and now I’m down to one little three-inch square.
Q: Which “isolation” cartoons have struck the biggest chord for readers?
A: I got a great response from [one of the] poems I did, which was a poem of disgust. It’s a close-up of Cathy in a shower cap. And it’s titled “A poem of disgust.” And she looks disgusted. On one side of her is a bottle of soothing bubble bath, and on the other side is a box of calming tea. She is saying, “Another bubble bath, another cup of tea. I’m safe from the virus, but I’m oh so sick of me.”
Q: For you personally, what has been the most difficult about this isolation time?
A: I am so sick of cleaning things, that’s the worst. I don’t see any humans, at all, except for the ones that I glare at when I walk my dog. Everybody’s trying to use the same side of the sidewalk. I’m missing people, and I miss human contact, and I miss not being afraid of everything.
The thing I hate the most, on top of everything else is that my mom is 98 years old in Florida and I can’t get on a plane and go spend time with her. I don’t know when I’ll be able to do that, and it makes me crazy.
Q: So is Cathy back in your life for good now?
A: It’s my personal commitment to do one every day for a while, during the quarantine anyway. I don’t think that I’m going to continue doing one every day for a long time, but, yes, I think I’m going to keep doing something every week. I love that connection with people.
Reconnecting with people on Instagram, it’s just reminded me that it’s nice for the character to be out there for that. I really like feeling like, in the same way that she could give somebody a smile way back when, that she can give somebody a smile right now about these times.