Kathleen Andrews: She Helped Give Garry Trudeau, Cathy Guisewite, and Ziggy Their Start

From a New York Times obit by Penelope Green headlined “Kathleen Andrews Dies at 84; Helped Give Ziggy and Others Their Start”:

Kathleen Andrews was missing her husband, Jim, who had been on the road for weeks trying to drum up interest in his new company, a fledgling syndication business, when she came across a little gift book titled “When You’re Not Around.” It featured a hapless, hairless, pantless and as yet unnamed character — a hard-luck antihero whose wan exploits fit her blue mood.

That character would ultimately become the downtrodden but appealing Ziggy, of newspaper cartoon fame, and Ms. Andrews’s serendipitous find would help keep her husband’s company afloat.

Ms. Andrews would later become the chief executive of the company and help grow the careers of Garry Trudeau, Cathy Guisewite and Tom Wilson, Ziggy’s creator….

Ms. Andrews, known as Kathy, “was the mom in the mom-and-pop store in the basement that once drew young creators to Leawood, Kansas,” Mr. Trudeau said.

The pop was Jim Andrews, her husband, who, with his best friend, John P. McMeel, concocted a newspaper syndication company from the basement of a rented ranch house. Ms. Andrews, who had a master’s degree in mathematics, kept the books. They called it Universal Press Syndicate because, Mr. Trudeau said, “it sounded bland and boring and like it had been around for a hundred years. I thought it sounded like James Bond’s cover.”

They had a mail drop with a Fifth Avenue address in New York City (Mr. McMeel lived in a walk-up nearby). Mr. Andrews gave himself a pseudonym, John Kennedy (for his hero), and it was “Mr. Kennedy” who wrote to Mr. Trudeau while he was a junior at Yale and writing a comic strip called “Bull Tales,” about a college quarterback, for the Yale Daily News.

“He wrote and asked if I was interested in a career as a syndicated cartoonist,” Mr. Trudeau said, “basically offering me the job I still hold and with me literally paying no dues whatsoever. I signed with the total absence of the technical skills traditionally associated with the craft.”

“Bull Tales” became “Doonesbury,” which first appeared in newspapers in 1970 — marking the debut of Universal Press Syndicate as a proper company — and won Mr. Trudeau a Pulitzer Prize in 1975. It was the first comic strip to earn the award….

Eventually, the company moved out of the Andrews family house and into actual offices in Prairie Village, Kan. Mr. Andrews and Mr. McMeel began scooping up writers like Seymour Hersh — they syndicated the rights to “My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath,” Mr. Hersh’s 1970 book on his coverage of the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam — as well as cartoonists like Ms. Guisewite.

Ms. Guisewite was a 25-year-old copy writer at an ad agency in Detroit in the mid-70s when she began chronicling the fraught female space between the housewifely ideal of the ’50s and the ambitions of second-wave feminists by conjuring an ambivalent, hard-working, love-seeking, diet-addled and endearing avatar named Cathy. She crafted a booklet of Cathy’s experiences — scarfing fudge ripple ice cream while waiting for Mr. Wrong to call, for example — and sent it to Mr. Andrews, who took it home to his wife.

It was a Hail Mary pass on Ms. Guisewite’s part, and it landed at just the right time. No other cartoonist, she said in a phone interview, was addressing the frustrations of young women or speaking in their voice. Mr. Andrews and Mr. McMeel were actively looking for that voice, she said, but all the submissions they received were from men.

“They didn’t have the emotional honesty,” she said. “That’s what Kathy responded to. She said it was authentic.”

“She loved my work,” Ms. Guisewite added, “and she believed in it and she laughed out loud when the men in the room were silent. My career was founded on Kathy’s kitchen table when she looked at my cryptic and weird scribbles and said, ‘This speaks to women.’”…

In the early days of the company, Mr. Trudeau recalled, he would visit the Andrewses to work on his nascent strip, as all the syndicate’s artists did.

“I would go and stay with them and help them pretend they had a viable business, which unbeknownst to me was very much in jeopardy,” he said. “I didn’t realize until much later how much trouble they were in, but Kathy knew. She was incredibly overqualified to simply keep the books.

“Jim would show up at breakfast in a coat and tie,” he continued, “and after having a few cups of coffee we would all head down to the basement, where he would loosen his tie and take off his jacket and start the day. Kathy would be upstairs with the books. Since there were so few dollars to count and so few features to edit, there was a lot of downtime and a lot of laughs, which is I think what kept them afloat. Together, Jim and Kathy were unstoppable.”

Mr. Andrews died at 44 in October 1980. Ms. Andrews joined the company six months later, and very quickly became chief executive of its publishing business….

Universal Press Syndicate rebranded itself in the late ’80s as Andrews McMeel Universal. By then it had picked up Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side,” as well as Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes,” Dear Abby and Erma Bombeck. It is now the largest independent newspaper syndicate in the world. Ms. Andrews retired in 2006….

Ms. Andrews and her husband had minor character roles in “Doonesbury.” It has been Mr. Trudeau’s habit, he said, to name-check his friends and family in the strip, and to make them do awful things. “It’s how I show the people in my life I love them,” he said. Mr. Andrews appears as the craven, much-married businessman of the same name who collects trophy wives, shills for BP after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and performs other despicable acts; Ms. Andrews is memorialized as wife No. 1.

She was also ever-present in Ms. Guisewite’s “Cathy.” The character did not have a last name for the first few years of the strip, but eventually she became Cathy Andrews — in honor, her creator said, “of the woman whose kitchen table blessing of my scribbles launched my strip.”

Penelope Green is a feature writer in the Style department. She has been a reporter for the Home section, editor of Styles of The Times, an early iteration of Style, and a story editor at The New York Times Magazine.

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