In recent weeks, as Cathy Guisewite began to draw the last strips ever for "Cathy," the comic she created in 1976, her emotions paralyzed her at first, then tears began dripping onto the page as she visited the characters for the last time.
"It was very emotional to do the last strip," she said. "It was so hard to draw."
Today her fans will say goodbye to Cathy, Irving and all the characters who have paraded through the groundbreaking comic strip since it started chronicling the feelings of women in the 1970s, when women were either expected to be at home taking care of families or in the workplace fighting for their rights.
Guisewite remembers feeling alone in her empathy for both sides and her ambivalence about which camp she was in.
"I was definitely a full-on product of both," she said. "It created a lot of angst to me. I felt very alone at the time."
By day, she was a college graduate working at an advertising agency. At night she was waiting by the phone for "Mr. Wrong" to call. For therapy, she started putting those feelings on paper and sending them to her parents, who urged her to send them to a syndicate for publication.
The drawings "were very honest kinds of explosions of emotions ... for women at that time," she said.
Universal Press Syndicate executives sent her back a contract right away, thinking the concept and the writing would resonate with readers. However, they urged Guisewite to learn how to draw before the first one was published. So she bought some books on drawing cartoons and started practicing before the first strip came out about five or six months later.
Hers was among the first comic strips drawn by a woman that spoke to women of that time period.
Readers over the years related to Cathy's angst over dieting, shopping for clothes in a skinny woman's world, boyfriends, her parents, careers and the women who left careers behind to stay home with children. Guisewite has had the character revisit some of those women in recent weeks and wrap up dangling storylines.
"I identified with her," said Oklahoma City resident Mary Price, who connected with Cathy over the years as the character struggled to get organized by buying cute crates, tried to fit into bathing suits, rolled her eyes at her mother who was a lot like her and rationalized chocolate binges. "I've cut out so many 'Cathy' cartoons and sent them to my own daughter or put them on the refrigerator.... You just recognize yourself."
Starting Monday, Todd the Dinosaur will move to the colored comics pages. On Sundays, readers will see an expanded version of Slylock Fox.