by Don Maley, Editor & Publisher August 9 1969
When Mary Gauerke (nee
Flanigan) was a wee lass, her father, Lon, got himself enmeshed in the
sauerkraut business in Geneva,
New York. Young Mary grew up
never realizing there was anything funny about her father being the Irish
Sauerkraut King. "But when he appeared on 'What's My Line?' years
later," she now admits, "I finally thought it was funny."
But for years she's been
seeing humor in other situations. Despite life's apparent grimness Mary Gauerke
thinks that life can be beautifully funny — and since 1947 has been putting
humor on paper with a fine brush dipped into black India ink. The petite
housewife is a rarity — a female in an almost exclusively male profession:
"I didn't know that
cartooning was a man's world," she admits, "when I first started
doing it soon after getting married in '47." Since then she has sold
cartoons to Look, The New Yorker, Playboy, National Review,
True, Family Circle and a variety of newspapers, including The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and The National Observer.
After more than two decades
of depicting life's humor for magazines Mary created a six-a-week panel cartoon
called "The Alumnae," which is being distributed by The Register and Tribune
Syndicate. The well-drawn and completely contemporary panel pokes fun at
distaffers. "The theme of the panel," explains Mary, "revolves
around the diverse activities of four women with contrasting personalities.
DeEtte, the youngest, is a caricature of youthful, frivolous femininity who
lives only to be dressed up. The avant-garde Magda keeps her ear to the ground
for current fads in the arts, politics, and social problems. She is feverishly
determined to stamp out middle-class values, which, in turn, are feverishly
determined to stamp out Magda. Helen is a calico-kitchen housewife forever
engaged in a losing—sometimes gaining—battle with a self-indulgent appetite.
And Myra is the
organizer and leader of the group—a somewhat officious club-woman always
seeking outlets for her frustrated executives urges." The girls' husbands
were originally drawn into the panels but were later excluded.
'Not Paper Dolls'
Mary says the flavor of her
creation is contemporary. "The characters are not paper dolls," she
says, "but are rather designed to suggest their real-life counterparts,
especially to women readers, particularly those in the younger age
Before signing with the
Register and Tribune Syndicate Mary was turned down by two other major
syndicates. "We saw a great potential in it," says Denny Allen, the
syndicate's managing editor. "We felt it was well done and that it filled
a void. Many affluent and educated people have moved to the suburbs and we find
there isn't too much in the paper today for the typical suburban housewife.
She's no dummy and deserves more than she's getting. We feel 'The Alumnae'
should appeal to her." Allen, who was instrumental in signing the feature,
feels it's "sophisticated and intelligently constructed." "Mary
uses empathy in 'The Alumnae,'" he says, "and the whole thing is tied
into our times. The art is fresh and the humor is thought-provoking." To
date over 30 newspapers feel the same way and have signed the panel.
Mary says her humor is
universal and her panels are checked by the syndicate before being distributed.
"If I can understand them anybody can," says Allen. But before the
cartoons are sent to the syndicate Mary's husband, Carl, checks them.
"He's deaf, dumb and blind to all art," she says, "but he's got
good taste when it comes to my cartoons. I show him a batch of my latest ones
and he picks the ones he thinks are best." Husband Carl is with the
Mergenthaler Linotype Company where he is manager of their overseas sales
division. "He's happy because I've signed with the syndicate,"
confesses Mary. "Now that I'm working he can retire and play with his
weather machines." (Carl is a frustrated weatherman and has a gaggle of
weather-checking instruments in the Gauerke's Tenafly, New Jersey
Ideas for "The
Alumnae" come from inside Mary's head. "They're exclusively
mine," she says. She skims through most magazines and newspapers to see
what's new in the world and draws "three or four months ahead." Taboo
subjects are strictly taboo in her panels, although they are slowly meeting
with approval elsewhere in the media. "If she draws a panel involving the
Pill," says Allen, "someone is bound to complain to a newspaper
editor somewhere. And if readers complain then the whole thing is ruined and we
defeat our own purpose."
Dreaming up situations for
her four girls to get into takes up most of her time. "I'm only a
part-time housewife now," she admits, "and I work whenever I have a
chance to get to my drawing board." Her studio is the biggest room in her
three bedroom home. Besides her family and her cartooning she has another
passion. "I'm a puzzle buff," says Mary, who is so proficient at
crossword puzzles that she's one of the few people able to complete The New
York Times crossword puzzle— a feat accomplished only by English professors.
"It's really an addiction, one that's worse even than booze or
heroin," she complains. Another complaint: "When you live in the New York area there are
very few comics available now that most of the papers are gone."
Before getting married Mary
studied art at Stevens College in Columbia,
Missouri, and her son, Carl Jr.,
shows inherited artistic talent. "He'd be a good cartoonist," says
his mother, "but he just can't sit still long enough to draw." Carl
Jr., 20, is a sophomore at the University
of South Carolina and
brings his college chums home on weekends. "He just brought up a whole
bunch of hippies," says Mary, "and I think some of them are planning
to stay for the summer."
Labels: News of Yore