Cleveland Pub Bar1
Shaenon Garrity takes a look at the history of her fellow Vassar alum Anne Cleveland:

So who was Anne Cleveland? Hardly anyone remembers. In addition to drawing cartoons about Vassar life, she published It’s Better with Your Shoes Off, a lovely and very out-of-print collection of Gluyas Williams-esque cartoons about Americans living in Japan. A Vassar girl, a cartoonist, and a proto-weeaboo; could I choose a more perfect role model? I think not. And so, this summer, when I returned to the Vassar campus for the first time since graduation, I tracked down all public evidence of Anne Cleveland.

This is sort of gratifying to me, since I made a bit of a stink about Anne Cleveland a few years ago, in a post on the Old Beat, now removed, but archived a bit here by Garrity. My point then was not that Cleveland was a lost seminal genius of cartooning, but quite the opposite — she was a talented and somewhat successful female cartoonist whose name had been completely lost to the sands of time in the great lost era between Rose O’Neill and Julie Doucet, and how women of her level of achievement were almost always lost to the sands of time, leaving those who come behind to have to reinvent the wheel over and over again.

I was struck again by this, though, when reading a short bit on the Comics Reporter this morning:

By the way — Sean T. Collins noted to me in conversation that Art Out of Time has led to something like a half-dozen books or future book projects, which will likely add to its reputation over the years as an important book.

Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900-1969 is a wondrous collection of obscure and little-recognized cartoonists or roughly the O’Neill to Doucet Era, give or take 15 years on the modern end, and all 29 artists within are men, a fact that author Dan Nadel has had to defend several times, but, to his credit, he always sticks to his guns. At the Post Bang Symposium back in June, in a panel with Nadel and museum curator John Carlin, Nadel mentioned how canons were inherently limiting and many cartoonists awaited discovery. But he also said that no women cartoonists of the period made the cut of cartoonists who should be rediscovered because their work wasn’t on a high enough level.

This thought always depresses me no end. Women artists of the period were talented enough — they made up their share of the greatest illustrators of the era — but comics were a dead end for that talent, whether through social forces (i.e. “sexism,” whatever that is), inherent lack of interest, or other even more mysterious forces.

My personal inquiry remains ongoing.


  1. As part of your personal mission, how about a post on Lynn Johnston? You’d have to knock your self-hype out of the top slot, but she’s had a pretty remarkable week even if she didn’t eat any superhero friends.

  2. Johnston’s FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE is my favorite ongoing daily strip (PEANUTS is the all-time favorite), because she does such a good job of mixing humor, drama, and engaging personal moments. She managed to give the impression that Elizabeth’s love life steadily progressed, even though the actual panels devoted to that love life were limited in number, and not surrounded by the daily routines that prose stories would provide. Her work is worth knowing.


  3. My grandmother died in February 2009 (she was born in May 1916, not 1917, so the previous age was wrong). The Oregonian refused to publish a paid obituary with a cartoon instead of a photograph– yeah, I know, my mother is up in arms about it.

    Anne had a twin brother, Van (short for Van Buren; I think that was his middle name), and two younger brothers, Stanley and Harlan ( ). Her father had volunteered as a clergyman in WWI; he died of a blood infection contracted during that time period when Anne was a girl (somewhere between ten and thirteen). Her mother supported the family; she worked at Andover as a house mother for a while, and eventually became Dean of Women at Rollins College ( ).

    Anne started out at Vassar as a classics major, and soon switched to art history. (There are several family legends about her ability to identify art forgeries.) At some point she taught a few classes at Rollins; during WWII she worked for the WAC, drawing maps. (My mother has some sketches of Anne’s fellow WACs.)

    My grandfather’s name is Augustus R. White; to this day, he says that he married Anne because she was the most brilliant woman he’d ever met. Anne and Gus had two children, A. Tobias White ( ) and my mother, Susan (now Susan Whitcher). Gus’s family had lived in Shanghai before the War, and maintained business interests in Japan afterwards; that’s why Anne spent time in Japan (where my mother was born).

    I understand that in addition to the books, which one can buy on Amazon, Anne published some cartoons in the New Yorker, but I have not yet tracked them down . . .

    Anne & Gus divorced c. 1965. After that, Anne spent a couple of years in New York, battling depression, then moved to Ashland, Oregon. She lived in Ashland until the early 1980s, until she moved to Baltimore to be closer to my mother; she moved back to Portland, Oregon with my family in 1992.

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