How Do I Love Thee, Sylvia

For more than 30 years, Nicole Hollander syndicated her heroine, Sylvia, in newspapers around the nation. Last February, Sylvia — and several other strips on the Chicago Tribune comics pages — were canceled. The Tribune, like newspapers everywhere, had taken to publishing its comics in sizes so small they were nearly impossible to read. Like so many in America today, Sylvia was homeless.

Hollander recently finished a round-up of Sylvia’s stoic romp through the American dream, titled The Sylvia Chronicles: 30 Years of Graphic Misbehavior from Reagan to Obama. As a fan of the strip, I asked Hollander how she was feeling now that her alter-ego was evicted.

Sylvia was discontinued after 30 years as a continual comic. Was it time for her to retire? No, she wasn’t ready to retire. She kicked and screamed and carried on in an unseemly way. I am still syndicated, just not in the Chicago Tribune. I do the same amount of work for half my previous income — a  heart-breakingly familiar story.

Newspapers are in states of flux. They are not the only venue for comics anymore. But how do you feel about losing sinecure for your creation? I’ve been thinking about taking Sylvia online for a few years. It took me two years to ask the right questions and find the person to put up the  blog and work with me. As it evolved, it turned into a conversation between Sylvia and Nicole, with Sylvia taking her natural role as an undercutting ironic voice. The blog is called Badgirlchats and it has been more fun than I ever imagined. I can write the way I always longed to. Before I started writing the blog, I had no idea that I wanted to write this way, so it has been a revelation.

We have a time machine section and I draw from my 35 years of cartoons to illustrate the blog. I am doing new drawings as well. When I responded to Diane Von Fustenberg’s  design for hospital gowns, I drew my own. Re: sinecures: There are no sinecures any longer. For each of us finding that out is a very unpleasant jolt, but positive, unless it isn’t.

Jules Feiffer wrote the introduction to your recent book commemorating Sylvia’s existence. He gave up his strip when he felt he could no longer make effective satire in this form. Do you have similar regrets? I was thrilled that Jules wrote my introduction. Jules found his new career in writing and illustrating children’s books. Who would have imagined that? They are edgy, real and quirky. So I think he is very happy. Also he teaches writing to students, which he loves.

What’s next for you and Sylvia? I’ll be teaching a course in the graphic novel in the fall at SAIC to students in the MFA writing program. A course in the graphic novel for writers, who don’t draw. A neat trick if it works, right? I hope I do Badgirlchats for a long time — as long as I did the Sylvia strip. That would make me a one hundred and ten years old,  give or take a few years.

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