For 34 years, Cathy had a complicated relationship with food, mom, work, and love. Her public conversations gave voice to its readership’s family, professional, and social concerns and preoccupations. The comic strip's creator, advertising industry executive Cathy Guisewite, created a prototype of the character to placate her mother and was surprised when it hit a nerve.
Universal Press Syndicate agreed to sign her up on her first submission because the character met an unfulfilled need, giving voice to the daily struggles of a large part of its readership. From the start, the daily comic strip addressed very personal issues women face. Between 1976 and 1980 Guisewite was undaunted by the steep learning curve and the grueling work of holding down a full time job and figuring out how to deliver the strip ready for production.
Due to the personal nature of the story line, a woman going through her week, Guisewite ended up naming the character after herself. Along with clarity of identity, the first shift from drawing for herself to drawing for her audience required some mastery of technique. At the time the technology for drawing cartoons for publication was using a pen to trace ink on Bristol board.
The strip became popular quickly and in the second year of her producing it, someone at the syndicate got interested in merchandising. Universal Licensing was built based on her enthusiasm for doing merchandise and they tried things including T-shirts, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and calendars. But once the business grew, Guisewite started handling it herself, growing a staff to 8 people as licensing company Guisewite Studios.
And that's when she learned a lesson many business people learn as they start chasing the market, rather than providing a service or product they believe in, that comes from their “why.” She says:
and that is, the farther you get from the truth of what it is that you do—in my case, me with a blank piece of paper and pen—I think that the messages were the clearest, the art was the cleanest, the designs were the simplest when it was just me.
I think the farther I got from that, the worse the products looked, the less connected to the essential message, the less well things did. And I got more disconnected, anyway. After many, many years of trying that, I got in the position of having to sign up new licensees to get enough money to support the company that existed.
So I wound up agreeing to put Cathy on things in ways that I really didn’t like, but I thought, “Oh well, we need the money, we’ve got to do that.” When you get in that situation, it’s not good.
To make things right for audiences and customers, we need to stay true to why we're doing something, this is what directs value. Clarity of message comes from clarity of identity, consistency of experience comes from mastery of technique.