Visual Art

Illustrating the female perspective

Sandra Bell-Lundy says this is one of her favourite and most memorable cartoons.

Sandra Bell-Lundy says this is one of her favourite and most memorable cartoons.

When Sandra Bell-Lundy, creator of the Between Friends comic strip, first introduced children into her series, it was an emotional experience for both her and her readers.

“I had problems with infertility, so when I decided that I wanted to bring children into my comic, I didn’t just want my character to suddenly get pregnant,’” says Bell-Lundy, 55. ‘It seemed like a fairytale because of all the problems I’ve been through. So I ended up having my character adopt.”

In the specific strip, Susan, one of the main characters, sees Emma, the seven-month-old adopted girl, for the first time being held by the social worker. Susan says, “Hello, Emma” and then tries to get Emma to come into her arms by showing her a musical Big Bird toy. Throughout the strip, Susan slowly becomes more confident because of Emma’s interest in the toy and by the end, Emma is in Susan’s arms and says “Hello, daughter.”

“Someone wrote to me [the day the strip was released] and she said to me that her daughter asked her that morning ‘Mom, why are you reading the comics and crying?’” Bell-Lundy said.

Bell-Lundy, who lives in Welland Ont., has been creating comics for over 24 years. Her work is syndicated to 175 newspapers including the Toronto Star, and her themes cover everything from infertility to domestic abuse. She also did some work for the Canadian Cancer Society using characters to promote regular mammograms in the early detection of breast cancer, consistently using a distinct female perspective in all of her strips. According to her, comic strips have the unique potential to get an audience’s attention in a way that other formats do not.

“When I wrote the domestic abuse story line, somebody wrote me from one of the women’s shelters and said that they thought it was a really good idea to write about it in the newspaper comic because it was a non-traditional venue,” Bell-Lundy said. “It was a good way of spreading the message, because it was not the typical venue for exploring that topic and their point was that perhaps somebody else would see this topic being discussed who had not seen it somewhere else.”

Cathy Thorne is a Toronto freelancer who creates single-panel cartoon illustrations. She believes cartoons are impactful because of they have an immediate effect on the reader.

“It’s the ‘a picture is worth a thousand words; kind of thing,” says Thorne, 47. “So there’s an impact. It’s fast. So that’s why I think political cartoons are also so potent-it’s just immediate. It’s immediate and you get it. They don’t do what an article would do where both sides are represented. Instead it’s fast to the point…kind of impact is a cartoon for sure.”

Thorne’s weekly cartoon, Everyday People is featured in Good Housekeeping, The Toronto Star, Reader’s Digest and also in Sydney, Australia’s Sunday Telegraph. She has been in the business for 14 years and, in 2010, Reader’s Digest appointed her as one of five cartoonists in Canada to watch. In her comics, she blends humour with everyday problems, which allows people to laugh at themselves while relaying a message.

One of Thorne’s favourite illustrations shows a princess lying draped across a pedestal with her head back and legs down, looking distraught. The caption says “It’s just so lonely up here.”

“It illustrates, I think, so well the position we put ourselves in when we decide that we’re better or worse than everyone else,” Thorne said. “And it’s the same whether it’s elitism or snobbism-I don’t think it’s something we don’t experience, I think we all do at some point then another, think ourselves better then the people we’re surrounded by and those positions offer nothing of value to the world or to ourselves.”

According to Bell-Lundy, herself and Throne are one of the 10 per cent of women from the 225 syndicated cartoon artists in North America, in mainstream newspapers.

“There are more men cartoonists then women cartoonists and that’s just because that’s where we are in time,” Thorne said. “Twenty years ago there were even less women, It’ll even out, I’m certain. I just don’t know when, but it’ll even out for sure.”

Grace An, 20, is a cartoon illustrator based in Toronto, who recently created a comic strip called Sunshinable. When she first started, her comics were humorous and light-hearted, but as she kept writing she realized the potential and impact the medium can have. As a result, she started to shift toward serious topics. Now An’s work mainly deals with of issues specific to women.

She believes that having a visual aspect along with the written word in a comic can send an important message in a very subtle way.

“No one would expect to learn anything or feel very affected by reading comics or cartoons, but by reading them, they could unconsciously be affected by the medium,” An said. “That’s why I like it. Anyone can do it and the medium can easily change people without knowing it.”

– Vida Korhani

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