Interview List

Lynn Johnston
Creator, For Better or Worse
“I probably was just like Sylvia who I always enjoyed, you know.  I really– I was just saying what a lot of people didn’t say, they thought.”

Sara Paretsky
Author, V.I. Warshawski Novels
“During the confirmation hearings, it came out that Reno’s mother had wrestled alligators professionally, and Nicole said if I could change one thing about myself, I wouldn’t be so shy. And I said if I could change one thing about myself, I would have a mother who wrestled alligators because I thought if your mother wrestled alligators, you would grew up in an environment where you knew that you could do anything and so Nicole used that in a cartoon which I was very proud of.”

Audrey Niffenegger
Author, The Time Traveler’s Wife
“I’ve no idea why they dropped her [Sylvia]. The Chicago Tribune, as you may or may not know, underwent a kind of implosion in which it became a parody of its former self, and the real excellent journalists who worked there were sort of forced to be dictated to by clowns and so that may have had something to do with it. I don’t really know. I was incensed. I mean that’s crazy because most of the comics that the Tribune runs are the most banal things you can possibly imagine. I think they are just designed to be something that you sort of take with your morning coffee and forget about instantaneously, and for my money, the only really great strips that they ran were Doonesbury and Sylvia.”

Alison Bechdel
Graphic Novelist
“Yes, the first time I met Nicole was at Smith College. I was living in Northampton, it was 1985, I was 24 or 5, and I saw that she was coming to campus to talk about Sylvia so I was really excited and I went. There’s this big crowded auditorium and she talked about being a cartoonist and what it was like to gather material for her comics, and what it was like to draw them and I was just mesmerized.  I’d never seen another cartoonist in person and I was just getting started myself with my own comics so after it was over, people were like all flocking to talk to her and I did go up to her and I said, HI! I just said I like your stuff. I was like so nervous that I couldn’t say anything else to her, like I secretly wanted to say I’m a cartoonist too, I’d love to talk to you about cartooning but I didn’t have the nerve. But later I did!”

Tom Bachtell
Illustrator, The New Yorker
“To be honest with you, I was both drawn into Sylvia, you couldn’t help but not be drawn into Sylvia, but there’s something a little bit intimidating about Sylvia, because Sylvia the character doesn’t care what you think, and I think Nicole has probably said, she often speaks for Nicole. She says what Nicole wishes she could say, although I think in reality Nicole is perfectly capable of saying what she wants to say and she does it, but you know a lot of the other characters in the comic strips were you know, they’re like these little vaudeville characters that were sort of up there and performing for you, you know, and it’s like you’re morning cup of coffee that they’re familiar and they’re not going to offend you. They’re not going to do something unexpected that you don’t expect from them, whereas Sylvia, from the start, she didn’t care what you thought, she was going to say it anyway, and so it was an entirely different experience from that regards.”

Carol Anshaw
Author, Carry the One
“Oh, everything was going on. Everything was going on in the early ’70s. We all thought we were gonna change everything, and we all thought it would be in an uproar for much longer than it turned– than the uproar lasted. And what’s happened since to me and probably also to Nicole is I don’t think we’ve become any more– I don’t think we’ve moved further left. I think that we stayed in exactly the same position and the country has moved to the right, so it’s the ground that moved under our feet rather than us moving further left.”

Gordon Quinn
Artistic Director & Founding Member, Kartemquin Films
“I mean everybody was a fan of Sylvia. When we conceived of this film, The Gender Gap film, we knew we wanted some humor in it. We want it to be funny. We didn’t want it to be a political kind of diatribe. We were trying to get women out to defeat Reagan and we wanted to make something that was a platform for people to talk about issues, but also had some humor in it and just it was a natural fit, and so we approached Nicole, who was immediately liked the idea and I think it’s been interesting to watch Nicole go from being a cartoonist and always pushing the– sort of trying to bust out of the frame of the cartoon newspaper. She had greeting cards, she started doing books, and then she started writing and performing and you know– doing plays and you just see her moving outside of that confined space and here I think she was excited by the idea of animation and actual dialogue.”

Trina Robbins
Comics Artist and Writer
“But yes, if you criticize Crumb, he’s like up there, and if you dare to criticize him, you’re opening yourself up to a lot of sometimes rather vicious name calling and– but I have to say what I believe. I’ve always had to say what I believe. And he has been extreme– I haven’t seen anything by him recently, but in the past, he was incredibly misogynist. I mean, you know, beyond misogyny in which he gloried in the drawings of women being raped and mutilated and murdered, and this simply was not funny and these images are not funny.”

Margo Kasdan
Best Friend
“She had left her husband, for one thing, which I thought was just also so daring. To be a woman alone in the ’60s when the whole idea of being alone was the most frightening thing that they could put out to you, so yeah she was very independent, she was very, very willing to try new things and she was very, very conscious and very sensitive to the fact that she was not being appreciated.”

Mike Miner
Staff Writer, Chicago Reader
“I’ve never met her. I’ve talked to her on the phone. Probably had to steel myself to call her the first time since famous cartoonists are all sort of iconic in my mind, and I tend to think why would they want to talk to me, but they do. And I’ve talked to Nicole more than probably any other comic strip writer that I’ve known. Sad to say I had to write that story twice. In 1990, when the Sun-Times discontinued Sylvia, that had a happy ending, the Tribune picked it up immediately. And then two years ago when the Tribune discontinued it, and it just went away, went away from Chicago, and it wasn’t long before she was a little too discouraged to keep drawing it at all.”

Sarah Becan
Comics Artist and Writer
“Right, she is very tiny! But even that was a surprise to me because a lot of people associate her with Sylvia the character, and Sylvia the character is brash, and larger than life, and a force of nature by herself. And so when you meet Nicole, she’s– there’s such a contrast that she draws Sylvia as kind of big and bold and raven-haired, and then Sylvia’s, or Nicole herself is petite with bright white hair and so small and so cute.”

Susan Figulio
Editor, Sylvia (1980-2010) ??
“I loved the one in which Sylvia said to the television set, the television declared: Women hold up half the sky, and Sylvia told it: In a poor neighborhood. I loved the title of one of the books in which the– old, old commercial, woman said– it’s a tune– I bring home the bacon and cook it up in a pan and never let you forget you’re a man, and that’s coming off the television to which Sylvia replies, that woman must be on drugs. So it was you know things that were in my world.”

Tom Greensfelder
Friend, Sylvia Book Designer
“I think the drawing is remarkable. It really added a new voice, I would say, in the look of a comic strip. There are a lot of unique voices in the comics in the daily paper, but a lot of them are pretty redundant and kind of clones ofkind of each other. Those are clones and sort of hackneyed drawings. But Nicole’s approach to style is kind of described as Egyptian. Everything was in profile. The linework was also inspired. There’s a kind of energy to her line that you don’t see in a lot of drawing in the paper or anywhere else for that matter.”

Jim Rinnert
Assistant (1990-???))
“I just think that she was able to keep a flame of the spirit of feminism alive in many readers around the country as Sylvia started appearing in more newspapers. I think it was ’91 when I worked for her in the early ’90s. I worked for her awhile as her assistant when I– my typesetting job phased out when computers came in and as it is we’re working on computers, and so I was out of a job for awhile. I stayed home for a couple years and wrote a mystery novel, which I refer to as my stupid fucking mystery novel and it’s in the box there and she, as an act of generosity I think implored me to be her assistant and I did for maybe two and a half years. It involved dealing with the phone calls that she would get about the strip, and then everything was through the mails and if they haven’t gotten the strip, the newspapers they would call, I would deal with that.”

Lucy Caswell
Founder & Former Curator
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum,
Ohio State University
“I would argue that her use of xerography is a part of her creative process because she wants Sylvia to look exactly the same in certain circumstances and certain settings. And on another level, it’s a pretty smart timesaver, and with the computer technology today, a number of major comic strips have not gone to xerography, but they’ve gone to digital images of various characters in various poses, and they don’t draw these everyday over and over and over. So I think she may have just been ahead of the curve.”

Bob Koehler
Former Editor, Tribune Media Services
“And I don’t remember exactly when I first encountered Sylvia. I guess it was running in the Sun-Times I think, so obviously I would have seen it in there. I begun seeing it in there. I feel like I saw a copy of an early book once, but I don’t remember. Suddenly Sylvia just was a presence; she was like Peanuts! And it was like– this was just one of the commentators on American life. She had grabbed hold of that niche, and there she was. She was simply there, and was somebody that we could– that I could look to everyday or at least six days of the week to turn that little perspective and go okay, yeah alright, and get my day going.”

Roz Warren
Writer
“Well, technically, I’ve never actually met Nicole because although she’s been very important to me, she’s been a profound influence in my life and I love her dearly, I hope I would recognize her if I pass her on the street, but I’m not entirely sure that I would because we’ve never met in person. I became aware of her work because I was a feminist growing up, I went to the University of Chicago in the ’70s and that’s when she was doing her early Sylvia strip. So this was kind of the water that I swam and she was the only cartoonist who was articulating my point of view that basically was a feminist, and was a feminist who was clearly having fun enjoying the world. “

Nick Rabkin
Producer, Sylvia’s Real Good Advice Musical
“Sylvia was the show, and Sylvia was REALLY hard to cast. We auditioned, well I’m sure I’m exagerrating, what seemed like hundreds of actresses to find Sylvia and we were really tearing our hair up because we just could not settle on anyone who we thought could really turn the– turn it– turn it around and make it work, until THE very last woman who auditioned. I mean, boy, if you haven’t found her, you should.”

Tom Mula
Director, Sylvia’s Real Good Advice Musical
“Well, I think, men are put off by a strong woman. I did a little work for Nicole. It was a summer when I was having troubles stringing dollars together, and she employed me as kind of an au pair, and I did some work for her trying to hawk the strip to newspapers that weren’t carrying it at the time and this would have been– around that same time so– late 80s early 90s. And– some editors were very forthright about– about Sylvia not being to their taste. And they weren’t– they didn’t apologize for it. They just said, ‘I don’t think it’s funny.’ And of course I just didn’t agree because I think it’s hysterical, but you can really see how a very male worldview would be challenged by this wise-cracking woman that sees things from exactly the oppposite place.”

Steve Rashid
Musical Composer, Sylvia’s Real Good Advice Musical
“[Nicole] said, well, the cats just kind of own everything so it kind of has to be everything here is mine, like this is mine, this is mine, this is mine, and I said, I think you just wrote it. And she said, what do you mean? I said, well how about that just that and I went — Everything here is mine, everything here is mine, this is mine, this mine, this mine, this is mine to. And that was it and that’s what we ended up with and that was note for note, word for word that was what was in the film.”

Arnold April
Director, Sylvia’s Real Good Advice Musical
“Now something you may notice, is that Sylvia drinks beer and not wine. And there is a stereotype that women prefer wine to beer. My own experience is it’s not accurate, but in terms of stereotypes, it is. So I think there’s several reasons. One is, Sylvia has a little bit of working-class style. So some of that is we think of beer as being working class, and wine as being a rightist middle-class or elites. So some of that is she is a regular person. The other thing is Sylvia crosses gender stereotypes so she takes action that we stereotypically think are reserved for men. So she’s not a man, she’s very much a woman, but that isn’t gonna stop her from drinking beer.”

Arlene Crewdson
Sylvia’s Real Good Advice Musical ??
“I think she dealt with many of the inadequacies of which women are facing. I mean you ask me to look at this strip, and here’s just– here’s the one I picked out: “There’s no place for special treatment in the business world. If women want time off to bear children they can’t be expected to be treated as equals.” And Sylvia says, “Ok, give men time off to bear children.”

Jana Carpenter
Sister
“Having lived with her for almost a year, and having her go through the anguish, or watching her create the cartoons, and how much work goes into whether they’re feel like a lot of words, it’s not that much, but it takes a really long time, both to have the idea and to make it just right. It’s a lot of work to give us all this enjoyment.”

Richard Bready
Long Term Fan
“There is a story that the person, the man who was selling Sylvia strips for the syndicate, the various newspapers, was used to taking it in to the newspaper office, showing it to the editors, and having them say, this isn’t funny. This isn’t what we want to do, and he reached a point where he learned that he would say show it to the secretaries. And they would go out, and the women, who were at that point were the secretaries, would look at the strip, and burst out laughing, and announce, This is wonderful!”

Elizabeth Leavy
Long Term Fan
“Where men show up in Sylvia, they’re usually treated as pretty clueless. –Just rereading some old ones where Sylvia used to hang out in a bar, and she clearly has a great relationship with the bartender, but he absolutely says things like, yes– she says to him you’re an emotional cripple, you have all the charm of the elephant man before your first cup of coffee in the morning.And his returns, you know, I don’t wanna talk about my body, I don’t want to talk about my feelings, like he’s portrayed very kind of stereotypical character, and then of course, she interacts with men who come into the bar and say things like, you know I find an older woman attractive, and she just looks at him and says, yeah, I’ll pass that on.”

Bob Greensfelder
Friend
“Well, for one thing, most comic strips are puerile, if not infantile or adolescent, and it’s the intellectual context, the intellect behind it and the intellect that’s revealed in it and the sense of– oh, my vocabulary’s failing me– wonderful irony, comic irony and a very– I can’t find the word– acidic I want to say a-c-i-d-i-c, acidic outlook on things and great satire and any number of adjectives and it’s just wonderful to have a comic straip that is so obviously driven by a great– a very, very fine intellect and having it not lugubrious or labored but really funny and just the satire of all kinds of mores and political situations.”

Christina Platt
Friend
“Nicole and I met each other through our husbands. We were very young, faculty wives at Harvard. And Paul Hollander her former husband, and my former husband, Jerry Platt were colleagues in the Social Relations Department. They were both sociologists, and– Paul and Jerry really took to each other and in those days, the husbands made all the social arrangements, so Paul and Nicole invited us over for dinner, and that’s how we met. And I just– I still have an image in my mind of going to their apartment and the door opened and here was this petite, very exotic-looking woman with paint, oil paint, under her fingernails and on her hands. You could smell turpentine in the apartment and I just– I was just struck! I’ve never met anyone like her.”

Donna Dunlop
Friend
“I don’t think it’s just female friendships, certainly I think we tend to focus on female friendships because we’re females, and certainly Nicole’s whole thing, the whole identity of Sylvia, who, you know, alter ego as it were, I think is a real melting point of female friendship. I think that the way that Nicole interacts with the women in her life is moving, important and very moving to her and to us.”

Olivia Petrides
Friend
“I think she falls in love with her friends, and I think she, it’s a sort of a total commitment for as long as that lasts, and sometimes that lasts for years and years and years. I mean there are fallings out, there are all of these things that very intense relationships have, but I think that her friends feel enormously honored to have that attention. I mean she’s charming and she’s generous, she’s funny, and I think it’s a real treat to have her as a friend.”

Judith Arcana
Writer
“It was extremely satisfying to see a woman who always had a comeback. It was gratifying. It was thrilling and it was RARE which is part of why it was satisfying, gratifying and thrilling because it wasn’t happening very often EVEN in the period of tremendous action including action at the street level, action in the media, even then the numbers were not what we would like them to be on a daily basis throughout history.”

Sharon Evans
Friend
“She’s a good friend because she’s a good listener, and I think part of that is her career requires her to be a good listener. She’s almost an eavesdropper on the world at large, that’s where she gets a lot of her cartoons.”

Fay Clayton
Friend
“When Sylvia was first created, the politics for women was pretty awful. We were in need of women’s liberation movement, which thank heavens, we got and Nicole was one of the real stalwarts of that movement. It was in the early ’70s and I was raising small children, but coming to be aware of the problems in our society and the unfairness of women having to take a backseat to men in practically every regard.”

Janice Elkins
Friend
“It’s not only that you find her so funny that you appreciate her and you have to have a certain substantial level of intellectual curiosity to be able to understand her because she’s very very bright, and that’s why a lot of people are drawn to her because she has a wonderful mind. She has a wonderful sense of observation, and I think her writing is terrific!”

Karen Fishman
Friend
“Well, then Nicole started doing the script and decided to to pursue syndication of her strip and did that on her own, quite remarkably, which was such a hard thing to do. And the economics of syndication are war against anybody who’s doing anything different and isn’t in 400 newspapers, and she really– she just loved doing it and really was commited to it and tenaciously created a career out of it.”

Nancy Meyer
Friend
“Sylvia fans and Nicole Hollander’s fans are legion. In Chicago, there’s obviously a community around Sylvia and around Nicole because Nicole has been such an important person in Chicago and is from there and has been so active in so many different ways in Chicago and the city and the arts and so many things, but around the country she has so many fans.”

Moira Collins
Friend
“I think Sylvia’s cartoons really helped you to realize that this was for real and these issues were very serious and they gave you–. I mean humor is the great leveler but I think she’s so– I think she’s– all the great cartoonists saw that she was great.”

Nicole Ferentz
Friend
“I think when she got out school, she first was gonna work as a graphic designer, and did that until about age 40, and like everybody else, didn’t really like it. If you want to be an artist, and you become a graphic designer, there’s kind of a crunchtime where it feels like torture, and then she started doing some drawings for some clients and that just turned her into a cartoonist.”

Barbara Ciurej
Friend
“Oh, I always loved The Woman Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You, and she does summed up the craze of Martha Stewart, and this rise of the domestic sphere as the fine art of the domestic sphere. Probably that spoke to me because at that point I was raising children at home and feeling the inadequacies of being inundated, and there she had this character who always did– you could aspire and hate.”

Malcolm Edgerton
Friend
“She finds that unreasonable, and I think it’s not me. It’s something to do on her past like her father was always sleeping on the couch and so she finds it unbearable but I– what’s wrong with it. It’s just sitting there and she’s not sleeping on it, and I like to take naps. She thinks other people should think it’s bad too which is even worse.”

Paul Hollander
Ex-Husband (1958-1962)
“I know Nicole Hollander from my first year in this country when I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a Teaching Assistant, and she was in my class. We were kind of discussion group class. Well, you know it was so long ago that I cannot remember. I’m sure she was attractive, so you know, looks matter, even in our enlightened age. So that’s how I met her. She was my student. “

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