Prairie Views & Slivers of the Past
The vastness of a prairie view and a roll of blank paper gave cartoonist Nicole Hollander (’66) space to sketch her past
For more than 30 years, Nicole Hollander’s cartoons were syndicated nationwide. Every day, a fresh Sylvia strip would spill from her pen, the eponymous central character providing sharp—often biting—commentary on political and social issues. Sylvia, said Ms. Magazine in 2010, was a “feminist heroine for the ages.”
And then in 2012, Sylvia was retired and Hollander (’66) found herself staring at a blank sheet of paper.
Freed from the pressure of daily output, Hollander took up a two-week residency at Ragdale, a nonprofit artists’ community on the edge of a 50-acre prairie in Lake Forest, Ill. She arrived with “huge rolls of really beautiful, heavy, white paper” and some charcoal—and little idea of what to do with them.
She stapled the paper to the wall of her temporary studio—a room with an old radio and expansive, pastoral view—and stepped back.
“To have a huge space, to be looking out at another huge space, that freed me up to think about the past,” says Hollander.
To have a huge space, to be looking out at another huge space, that freed me up to think about the past.
She started drawing a sliver of her childhood.
As a kid, Hollander lived in an apartment building in Chicago’s West Garfield Park, then not one of the city’s best neighborhoods, now one of its most dangerous. At Ragdale, Hollander sketched the archway leading to her section of the building, filling the picture with memories: her mother listening to the neighbors through a drinking glass on the floor; a police officer ready to confront her father, “who had once again decided to tear up the ticket that he was just given.”
The past continued to flow onto the paper, eventually forming Hollander’s graphic novel memoir, We Ate Wonder Bread (Fantagraphics, 2018), lauded by the Chicago Review of Books as “a hilarious, heartfelt excavation of a lost Chicago, as well as a perfect introduction to Hollander’s trademark wit and style.”
“I just started drawing,” says Hollander of capitalizing on the freedom her prairie view gave her, “and that was really the best thing to do.”