Catching up with "Rhymes With Orange's" Hilary Price on the 15th anniversary of her national syndication
Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Hilary Price about the upcoming 15th anniversary of the national syndication of her popular comic strip, Rhymes with Orange. With its debut, Hilary Price became the youngest woman ever to have a nationally-syndicated cartoon strip at age 25. She is also one of a handful of lesbian cartoonists, and is one of 9 women highlighted in JWA's feature on Jewish Women and GLBT Pride. Hilary Price also does speaking engagements for Jewish organizations, particularly women's groups, in which she talks about the ways Judaism informs her strip.
LB: Fifteen years ago, you were the youngest woman to have a nationally syndicated cartoon strip. How do you feel?
HP: It’s a nice opportunity to look back and remember when I first heard that I got syndicated and it takes me back to living in San Francisco in a flat in the mission with four other housemates. Doing the strip is an interesting journal of sorts because with lot of strips – I can see the strip and remember where I was or what was happening in my life during the time of the strip.
LB: Do you feel that your work has changed a lot over the last 15 years? Are you working with new or different themes today than you were 15 years ago?
HP: I’ve gotten much more comfortable drawing. I think everybody does this, but I look back on the drawings from a long time ago and realize that I have progressed on the drawing front. And on the writing front, I’m better at an “economy of words.” When I look back on some of the older strips, I feel like I’ve gotten to be a better editor. You want to get your message across as quickly as possible, and there’s such a small space in which to do it in. So the fewer words you can use, the better.
On a different level, though the strip launched when I was 25, I started working on the strip when I was 23 and my life was a bit different then. I was having a great time in San Francisco, and the whole 20-something scenario of living with housemates in that post-college phase with not a lot of responsibilities was a great place to be and informed my work at the time. Now, my cohort is different. People have families, they have grown up, and they have houses. Now I live in a much more rural community than I did when I was in my 20s. In a way, with my life as a 40 year old writing about houses and dogs and relationships - more people can actually relate to my situation than perhaps they could when I was talking about the subjects I talked about in my early 20s, like sleeping on a futon, having a million housemates, eating Ramen…
LB: Oh, stuff I can relate to now.
HP: Haha, I’ll send you the archives.
LB: So a lot of your strips have to do with pets. Are you a pet owner?
HP: Yes, I have an overly large dog and a hoodlum cat.
LB: Let’s talk about where Rhymes with Orange is now and how the strip is doing.
HP: Sure. Geographically, the strip is in about 150 papers. The difference now is that in my 20s, a couple of my friends were getting married. But now I can talk about people getting married and people getting divorced because I’ve entered the point in my life where that type of thing happens. So it’s about relationships, dogs and cats, social commentary, and tiny minutia.
LB: You say that one of your goals was to inspire other women to join the field. Do you think it has gotten any easier for women in the traditionally male-dominated field of cartooning in the last 15 years?
HP: That’s a tough question to answer. I think the cartooning industry is in a real state of transition. I was just visiting a newspaper the other day, and there’s no foosball table, it’s not like Google or Yahoo. Newspapers are in a state of transition. People like funny words and pictures, but where will these images end up?
But in terms of women in cartooning, I feel that my goals personally have been to talk in schools so when people think, “what is the face of a cartoonist?” they can fill in the face of a female cartoonist. Left to their own devices, they would think of a male cartoonist. So getting out there and showing my face, that’s one important thing.
I had a fantastic intern last year, and I’ve got another intern this year, both women, and I’m showing them the ropes. I feel like when people email me and say “I’m a budding cartoonist,” regardless of whether they’re male or female I welcome them to show me their work and we talk about it.
LB: Do you see a lot of Jewish women in cartooning?
HP: No. There are a couple of us. Terri Libenson does the Pajama Diaries. Patty and Terry LaBan, they do another strip (Edge City) that mentions Jewish holidays and references Judaism. And that’s all I know!
LB: Seems like a pretty small pool. Do you think there is any reason why cartooning isn’t a bigger field for Jewish women?
HP: There are a lot of Jewish women in comedy, and cartoons are only one way to express it. There’s no lack of funny Jewish women. It’s more about the small number women in the profession than it is Jewish women. There are a handful of lesbians in the profession also. There’s definitely representation from lesbians.
LB: Do you feel that you’re part of that representation?
HP: Sure! Talking about role modeling, when I go to schools I mention that I’m gay and ask, “So how do I talk about relationships in cartoons?” How do I talk about something that’s happened to me in a same-sex relationship, but I feel like is a universal theme for all relationships regardless of whether they’re opposite sex or same sex? What are the different things I do to broaden the subject so it’s about relationships and doesn’t get tied down to gender? And as a result, I’ll use two furry monsters talking, or I’ll use animals as a way to take gender out of the equation.
And since I don’t have characters, I’m not playing off the personality of any character, so that makes it more challenging to say “this is a strip about relationships with two women or two men.” Comic strips deal in stereotypes. It’s a shorthand language. If you see a guy with a beard in the clouds, you immediately know it’s going to be a God strip. If you see a woman in a robe in the clouds, it’s a God strip but it’s going to be a strip about God being a woman since that’s not the symbol of God in the shorthand. So when you see two women in the strip, your mind immediately goes “this is a friends strip, this is two ‘girlfriends.’”
LB: I think I’m going to have to go back and look at your fuzzy monster strips with a new eye.
HP: I’m also one of those grammar-be-damned people because I will use “they”instead of “him or her.” Because I want to change the language – I don’t want it to be gendered. That’s something that I hash out with my editors, saying “Nope, I’m not going to change it.” When I have my characters talking about their sweetheart, saying “My sweetheart, they…” that’s intentional so you can put in whoever your beloved is. And I feel that the gay people who read the strip totally pick up on it because it’s part of the underground language that gets spoken in offices and such.
LB: Do you do any strips that are specifically about GLBT issues?
HP: Yeah, I remember when I did one about “who should wear the dress.” And I get flack for it, certainly. You get people who write: “The newspaper shouldn’t have any politics in it,” and they immediately say it’s political, which is ridiculous!
LB: Since when does a newspaper not have any politics?
HP: Exactly. So I haven’t done anything about Pride month, and in a way it wasn’t on my radar. I feel like I know when Jewish holidays are coming up, and I start thinking, “Rosh Hashanah is coming up, what can I do?”