In 2006, on the old Beat, I wrote a post called “Women in Comics: Who is Anne Cleveland?” and I wondered if there hadn’t been more now forgotten women who created comics prior to…well, whenever you think women started making a significant contribution to comics, which is usually about 20 years from the present day. The post elicited a bit of comment at the time, but a few years ago, the old Beat from Comicon was taken down, and the original post was removed.
But you can still find it at the Wayback machine. Back then, I wrote:
Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be some women artists out there who toiled away but fell between the cracks entirely. Up until recently, the only woman painter who existed before the “modern era” was Mary Cassatt who painted babies. A little scholarship turns up the fact that before that there were some pretty decent painters like Angelica Kaufmann and Artemisia Gentileschi, not to mention a few genuine visionaries like Hildegard of Bingen. But they are never just artists, always “women artists.”
Maybe the same thing happened in comics. I was surfing the net the other night and hit on the Cartoon Retro forum on Shane Glines excellent site of old cartoon and comics art. I saw this odd little message thread:
Who was Anne Cleveland? An illustrator? A cartoonist?
I found this book in Maryland several years ago and still refer to it.
Who indeed. A quick google reveals she produced some books of cartoons about Vassar in the 40s, where she graduated, and a solo books of cartoons. And then…what? She got killed in a car crash? She got knocked up? She settled down? What? Her art is pleasing and charming. She’s no long lost John Stanley, but whatever she had to say about the world has been all but lost forever.
However, it turned out she did have some admirers, and her book It’s Better With Your Shoes Off evidently stayed in print for a long time. But Cleveland herself was lost to all but a few blog postings.
Cleveland died recently, and now her daughter, Susan Whitcher, has told the Oregonian what did happen to Anne Cleveland, and the article title tells the story: Terrific cartoonist of 1950s fled from her talent. You should really just read the whole thing, but it’s the common story of an artist whose complicated life — family commitments, depression — keep that first line from going on the paper for year after year.
Anne just never pushed for a big career in art, Susan says. “She was curious, she was tempted, she’d dream about it.” Anne had the talent. “But then she would let the dream stand in for the reality and she would withdraw.”
It would probably please Anne Cleveland to know that the degree may be small, but she hasn’t been lost forever after all.