Shary Flenniken, from Air Pirate to NatLamp Star

Shary Flenniken ran away from Seattle and became a cartooning star.

In her free time, she started illustrating covers and comics for the fleet of underground newspapers that were springing up around Seattle in those days: the Helix, the Seattle Simpleton and the Seattle Liberation Front’s flagship title, Sabot.

After a few false starts, Flenniken ran off to San Francisco and joined the Air Pirates, a notorious California satirical cartooning collective, in 1971.

As an exercise, the Air Pirates “did improvisational comics work,” Flenniken says. “And one of the things that we did to facilitate that was to look at the art style of other cartoonists who had come before us, like E.C. Segar, who did ‘Popeye.’” As her muse, Flenniken selected H.T. Webster, an influential early-20th-century cartoonist of vaudevillian characters like Caspar Milquetoast.

The Seattle Times interviews Shary about her career and about her “dark little feminist” NatLamp strip.

The first Trots and Bonnie strip (November, 1972) © Shary Flenniken

Old saying: “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can;t take the country out of the girl.”

Even though she was about as far from Seattle as she could geographically get in the United States, Seattle still figured prominently in Flenniken’s work.

“Trots and Bonnie” ran in National Lampoon for 18 years, and the strip’s juxtaposition of elegant old-fashioned cartooning skill and filthy ultramodern comedy attracted a rabid fan base of cartooning aficionados. Bonnie and her faithful pup represent Flenniken’s raging id, let loose in retrospect on the manicured lawns of Magnolia.

Shari gets well-deserved attention due to the highly anticipated release of a Trots and Bonnie book.

When National Lampoon stopped running “Trots and Bonnie” in 1990, fans began clamoring for a collected edition of the strip they could keep on their bookshelves. Flenniken courted multiple offers to reprint the strips, but no publisher could live up to the exacting standards she envisioned for the project.

Finally, Flenniken was approached by the prestigious New York Review of Books, and their collection of “Trots and Bonnie” finally arrived in bookstores this week. Flenniken took great care to reproduce all the strips from her original illustrations, capturing details in the art that the Lampoon’s relatively crude mass market printing couldn’t manage at the time.