Nicole Hollander retires Sylvia after 33 years

Sylvia creator Nicole Hollander has announced that after 33 years she’s retiring her strip in newspapers, but will continue to post relevant strips from her archive on her blog.

From her blog:

After the Chicago Tribune dropped Sylvia, my income was cut by half and Sylvia disappeared from my hometown. I felt the loss. I decided that I wanted Sylvia to be available to her fans and that I would create a presence online for her.

Getting BadGirlChats designed and up and running took over a year. The blog has been more satisfying than I could have imagined. A community of like minds and caring and talented people has grown up around us. You give us sustenance. Sylvia will live on the blog.

37 thoughts on “Nicole Hollander retires Sylvia after 33 years

  1. Sorry to see “Sylvia” retired, but thanks to the Internet, we’ll still see her. Congratulations to NIcole Hollander on a long fun run!

  2. OK, I respect her 33 years of cartooning but, honestly, her work looks very amateurish. Hey, I hate to be so brutally honest but I was a bit mystified when I first stumbled upon ?Sylvia? and noticed how recreational the art looked. Everything artistically about her strip goes against everything I?ve been taught to do as an aspiring cartoonist. And the gags aren?t that funny, to put it nicely. Look, I congratulate her for being syndicated for that long and I wish her the best with her blog (I really do), but in my eyes, ?Sylvia? doesn?t seem to measure up to any basic standards of newspaper cartooning.

    Are my thoughts warranted ?

  3. Ryan, that’s one of the nicest complaints about an established cartoonist that I’ve read here. Really. Usually it’s some sort of personal attack.

    I was never a Sylvia reader, and I didn’t understand it when I was younger, but if we’re truly given a diverse offering of comics there will be plenty that we don’t get.

    I don’t think the drawing style is the point. If you look at her blog and the responses to her stopping the strip, it’s mostly women. I think it’s a matter of us not being in her target audience. I feel the same way when I see all of the good comics devoted to video games and I don’t get any of it.

  4. Sylvia has been a great strip, Her insights on being a woman ,mother and daughter have been some of the best the cartoon page has offered.Sylvia has been Incisive , funny and sometimes bitter , and that spectem of emotions on the comic page is going to be missed and may not be understood by someone who specializes in Teenage Mutant Ninjas.

  5. I won’t throw stones at Hollander’s art, Ryan, but I will say: When I said to a friend thirty years ago that Sylvia wasn’t very funny (I was even so unkind as to suggest nepotism must have been involved in the syndication contract), I was strongly assured that I only have the wrong set of gonads to appreciate it.

  6. Thanks, Stephen. Everyone on here deserves respect first and foremost, no matter how opinionated our view may be. I get your point about the target audience. Maybe I sort of shot from the hip because ?Sylvia? has never been in my city?s newspaper, so obviously I don?t have any sentimental attachments to it from growing up. So the first time saw it online a few years ago my opinions about the art came to me immediately. And I understand the old adage that good writing can compensate for weak art, but some aspects of her strip comes off as unreadable to me. The lettering is awful. It makes for a tough read. But, I guess in the end I have to respect the fact that she’s been able to relate and sustain a 33 year career, so hats off.

  7. I’m male, and I’ve always liked “Sylvia.” But there’s definitely an audience gender gap with that comic.

    Many years ago, Nicole Hollander told me this anecdote: A syndicate sales rep showed ?Sylvia? samples to a (male) newspaper editor, who said the samples weren?t funny. Then the sales rep begged the editor to show the strips to (female) clerical staffers. They laughed uproariously, which embarrassed the editor into buying ?Sylvia.? Then he never published it!

  8. @Mike?.I have no qualms with your assessment of ?Sylvia?, except that it?s a ?great? strip. It may be considered a good strip by some but I think in order to call strip ?great? the art has be at least on par with some of the better cartoonists in the business, and hers (in my humblest opinion) is not.

    @Paul…Nothing wrong with who appreciates it, but I also appreciate good art also.

  9. I think I’ve really learned something here. That as long as a strip can connect to a large audience or demographic, then the quality of the art almost inconsequential.

  10. Rules are made to be broken. If it had a classic newspaper comic style it wouldn’t be the same comic. I like the underground/diary-style drawings in Sylvia. I think it was hard to decipher when I first saw it because I was still a teen.

    @Dave, That’s a very revealing story. “This has been proven to attract an entire demographic of readers, but since I don’t get it I won’t run it”. Newspapers had problems long before the internet.

  11. Drawing style has as much to do with the voice of a comic strip as the writing does. Sylvia would not have worked as well if it had been drawn in the style of Garfield or Blondie.
    There is a lot an aspiring cartoonist could learn from a cartoonist who has been doing this for 33 years.

  12. @Stephen #13. Thanks! Your comments that some editors can’t see past their own tastes and that “newspapers had problems long before the internet” — both very true!

  13. @Stacy….not saying it should be in a classic Garfield or Blondie style, that’s not what I was saying. But at least (in all respects) make it look better than something I couldve done in 6th grade. And tne lettering, has anyone noticed her lettering ?

    Im just saying

  14. @Dave 15….I’m the kind of person who can see past my own tastes, but there’s just something about “Sylvia” that just wouldnt fly with me. And I hate to appear so darn critical, but I can’t help it with this one.

    I’m sorry Nicole Hollander

  15. I always loved this strip – partly because it looked so different, but especially for the writing. I still get it in my email every morning.

  16. I never wanted anyone to get the wrong idea about how I feel about Hollander?s work. I?m just an aspiring cartoonist and she?s been in the business for 33 years, so I am in no place to disrespect her. I can learn a lot from her about syndication and longevity. However, my opinions about her strip are strictly technical. We all have different drawing styles, and since I?ve been an aspiring cartoonist I?ve studied, sought advice and learned things that have aided my development as well. But what gets me is the technical aspect of how ?Sylvia? is drawn contradicts everything I?ve learned as to what makes a good comic strip. Lettering, text placement, camera angles, overcrowding the panel, readability, etc. But, judgment is really in the eye of the beholder.

  17. Never cared for the strip when it was in the Boston Herald, but what a great run she had!

    33yrs… was Nicole Hollander one of the first syndicated female cartoonists? Seems she was syndicated within a few years of Cathy Guisewight. Kudo’s on the trailblazing front.

    Hope she does well with her blog/comic efforts.

  18. @Ryan: I wasn’t familiar with the strip at all, so reading your comments I thought hmmm, maybe it is crappy. So I went to her blog and I think you’re wrong. What I see is a “legitimate” style. And as simple and maybe even sloppy as it might appear, she doesn’t contradict any of the “rules” of “Lettering, text placement, camera angles, overcrowding the panel, readability, etc.” I can tell she understands them and fully applies her style to those design principles. You can see this kind of style in gag cartoons and greeting cards as well. It really comes down to tastes–preference of one style over another, but I wouldn’t see it as a lack of talent (or knowledge).

  19. @Ryan #17. Totally understand about people having different preferences for different comics. And some editors ARE open-minded about running some comics they don’t like personally.

    @Eric #21. Yes, Nicole Hollander was one of the few syndicated women comic creators when she started. And Cathy G., as you mentioned, and then Lynn Johnston starting in the late 1970s.

    Of course, one of the real pioneers was Dale Messick with the 1940-launched “Brenda Starr.” As many readers of Alan’s great blog know, she changed her name from “Dalia” to sound more gender-neutral in those more sexist times.

  20. You’re right, Ryan. Sylvia is a very unconventional strip in appearance. If you’re taught how to make comics, comic books, storyboarding (or whatever) you’ll be instructed to learn the basics, make your lettering very legible and all of that.

    There is a division between cartoonists who have a very fluid and loose style (like Richard Thompson — my fave by the way) and something like Garfield or PVP, which can look like an animation cell. Both can be great in very different ways while still adhering to the “comic strip basics”.

    What’s fascinating about Sylvia, even to people like me who are outside of her audience, is that all of those technical rules were broken and yet the comic still worked, earning a very loyal audience. That’s pretty rare. I would even say that’s extremely rare.

    Finding your voice, and learning about your audience, is probably the trickiest technical problem of any comic. I think that’s what Nicole Hollander mastered and why she could break the rules.

    But I could be wrong. The rules aren’t what they used to be.

  21. ” and that spectem of emotions on the comic page is going to be missed and may not be understood by someone who specializes in Teenage Mutant Ninjas.” _Mike Peters

    Well said and if he uses lines like this at the commencement speech, it might go right over their heads.

  22. @Stephen #24….I agree it is extremely rare to do what she’s apparently done by breaking all of the technical rules and still been successful. Heck, I applaud the accomplishment. I was just so surprised to see it done that way.

    I also prefer the looser styles such as a Cul de Sac, Zits and The Duplex. They seem to be a more entertaining read. It’s just so hard for me to place “Sylvia” even in that pack.

  23. Sylvia reminds me of Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek, very stream of conciousness, lots of humorous introspective prose with ugly art. Ugly art can be good or bad, it all depends on how funny the artist is. Matt Groening has lousy technical skill, but amazing sensibility, the combination can be magical.

    I’m undecided on Sylvia, just heard of it today, I don’t hate the art, but I also don’t love it. The book titles are hilarious, but the few strips I’ve read are hit and miss. I’m guessing her interest and the quality of the strip began to fade after 33 years. That’s still an enviable run, so it must have had some charming quality.

  24. And then there’s the stick figures, math, and computer science of the hugely popular xkcd. I’m not wild about the stick figures and don’t understand much of the math- and computer science-strips. And I love this comic.

  25. I think it all boils down to personal taste. Just like some folks like rock and roll and some folks like Jazz. Yin and Yang, etc.

  26. I always liked Sylvia (even went to see a musical based on the strip) and am very sorry to see it go. I must confess to occasionally glossing over some of the wordier strips, but almost always regretted having done so after going back and re-reading them. Maybe my testosterone level is deficient.

  27. I guess what really pissed me off , was saying something bad about Nicole Hollendar right when she was at the lowest point in her career. She Lost her main paper, has to give up her strip and then someone comes out and tears down her style, her writing and everything she loves right at that moment. It just struck me as a heartless thing to do. Mike

  28. If I came off as insensitive then I truly apologize. I guess you can blaim the countless articles and stories I?ve read about newspapers dropping comics, so I?ve become a little numb it and that?s the reason why I went straight into critique mode. And also, this is coming from a person who?s NEVER been syndicated so obviously I?m not able to empathize with her loss the way other syndicated cartoonists can, but I truly understand that this must be a tough time for her and I apologize if I came off in any wrong way.

  29. I’m not a trained cartoonist, or even artist, but I always thought that Nicole’s art was hilarious. I first discovered her in Portland, where *The Oregonian* ran her strips and my daughter had some of her books. The way her characters would hold things with open hands – the countless tchotchkes (gads – have to look up the spelling of that every time!) with eyes staring at the ceiling – the dialogue with the little pointer-line too close to the characters’ mouths – the alien with his many chins – and countless other quirks – were, to me, simply charming. I didn’t view the lettering as amateurish, but simply funny. I’ll miss your daily comic,Nicole, but thanks for many years of smiles.

    My favorite strip was one where Sylvia was trying to butt into a grocery-store line (as per usual) with the excuse that she needed to get home before the sun went down because she was a werewolf. When the man in front of her expressed surprise that werewolves needed to grocery shop, she listed a few things werewolves do like the rest of us, including something like “we need to dye our hair.” And the man said, “That must be quite a job.” I love those subtle, double-take lines.

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