Sunday, January 13, 2008
Cartoonist Report: Julie Larson and The Dinette Set
My favorite cartoon in our local newspaper is relegated to the classified advertising section, but it is funnier than anything on the comics page. It is called The Dinette Set and is drawn by Julie Larson, who lives in the small town of Lincoln, Illinois, about an hour west of here.
Ms. Larson came over to our town this afternoon to speak at the local library and to sell and sign her books. I missed her the last time she was here, so I made sure to get over there today. She is as delightful as her cartoons, with a very dry, understated humor. She said there is a "Midwestern humor" that plays well everywhere, because Midwesterners move all over the country, except in the Northeast. They don't get it she said.
The Dinette Set is about the banality of small town life. Ms. Larson's characters, the Penny's and their family and friends, are good hearted people, but totally self-absorbed. She said her characters have a "sheep mentality" and are incurious. She gets her material at Wal Mart -- the Wal Mart shoppers, that is, not its shelves.
I asked Ms. Larson if she gets any flack from her neighbors who see themselves, or think they have been picked on in her cartoons. "All the time," she laughed. She said sometimes people will out themselves, accusing her of using them as fodder for an episode in her drawing when she was thinking of someone else. "I don't want to see myself in your cartoons," is what people tell her, she said.
Lincoln, Illinois, besides having the distinction of being named for Abraham Lincoln before he became president, has a rich literary tradition. It is the hometown of William Maxwell, the novelist and revered editor of The New Yorker magazine, and the writer, Langston Hughes, spent several of his growing up years there. (Not that the people of Lincoln care, according to Larson. "All they care about is basketball," and they're more excited that Brian Cook, a minor NBA basketball player is from Lincoln.) Julie Larson is in 75 newspaper markets across the country, and people in Hollywood have been talking to her about using her strip as the basis for a television cartoon series. Some day soon, Larson will be in that Lincoln literary pantheon, and, I predict, she will be remembered for her work, long after the shots have stopped falling for Brian Cook.