'Cathy' creator and her sister team up for a book of essays

June 29, 1993|By Ellen Creager | Ellen Creager,Knight-Ridder News Service

They should have collaborated on a book before, if only for a way to write off those $300 monthly phone bills between Michigan and California.

"For many years, Mickey has been my sounding board. I try out strips on her. Is a joke funny? Is it too embarrassing?" says Cathy Guisewite, Los Angeles comic strip author who has illustrated her sister Mickey Guisewite's new book, "Dancing through Life in a Pair of Broken High Heels" (Bantam, $14.95).

"We're genetically programmed to obsess over the same things," says Mickey, a former associate creative director at Ross Roy advertising agency in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Since last year, Mickey has worked full-time as an author from her Bloomfield Township, Mich., home.

"When you work alone in a little room, you just want to make sure you haven't drifted off into the ozone, so we talk on the phone," she says.

The sisters obviously are delighted to be traveling on their first book tour together, which includes appearances on "Good Morning America" and "Entertainment Tonight."

They're toting a publicist, plus Cathy's 1-year-old daughter, Ivy, and Ivy's nanny, "the critical piece of equipment in motherhood," says Cathy.

"We call it baby's first book tour."

It's also Mickey's first book tour.

Though Cathy is 43 and Mickey is 33, they look nearly like twins. Both are small boned and slim, not sharing cartoon Cathy's problem with weight.

With long, fine brown hair and brown eyes, wearing expensive high heels and elegant pant suits, they sit close to each other in an interview.

Frequently, they turn to each other and laugh, talking in a cheerful cadence of regular interruptions which intertwine their sentences.

They collaborated on this book this way:

"I beat my head against the wall writing the essays," says Mickey, "then I'd Fed Ex [Federal Express] them to Cathy, and. . . . "

"And then I'd beat my head against the wall thinking of how to illustrate the essays, then I'd Fed Ex them back to Mickey," says Cathy.

"Actually, Fed Ex should get credit for this book."

Mickey's career change came one day when her car rammed into the car in front of her on a Detroit street.

"I was trying to simultaneously drive, talk on my new car phone and eat a Happy Meal," she explains. "And I just felt compelled to go home and write about it."

Her regular job kept getting in the way of her avocation, so finally she resigned.

"I was an associate creative director at Ross Roy," Mickey says.

"But you were a vice president, tell her that, too," Cathy cuts in.

She turns to the interviewer. "She was a vice president."

"Yes, and we all know how few vice presidents there are at an advertising agency," Mickey retorts. "Anyway, I sent the essay to Cathy, and she says, if you can come up with 40 more of these essays, we can write a book."

"Dancing through Life in a Pair of Broken High Heels" contains quirky essays.

They're short. They're stressed. They're about fat thighs and home decorating, crying at work, trying to make quick dinners, smart dogs, baby pictures and why it's dangerous to read Cosmopolitan magazine.

Actually, they're kind of like "Cathy" the comic, but in book form.

Says Cathy, the artist: "This book is for women who are hurling between one disaster in their lives and another.

"They have time to pick up the book, get a laugh, then go back to their lives, and . . . "

"It's a valuable primer for men on the inner workings of the female brain," cuts in Mickey. "It took me 33 years of building up the anxiety and three months of putting it down on paper."

In her real life, Michigan native Cathy Guisewite has departed from her comic strip alter ego. A year ago, she took five weeks off to adopt a daughter, Ivy.

Two years ago, she moved her work from her home in Los Angeles to an office, "because I got tired of seeing Cathy's picture all over my house," she says, and because she had decided to control the licensing of "Cathy" products and needed more room.

"Now, I have this fantasy that I can work at home while the baby plays quietly," she says.

"But . . . I find I get hypnotized by her."

Mickey is married (not to blab her secrets, but her husband loves to watch Nick Faldo golf instruction tapes, according to the book). She has a collie-shepherd dog, Lupe. She writes about her dog in the book, too, "but I changed his name because I didn't want to get sued," she says.

If you're a comic strip writer, much of your real life spills over into your work. That's just the way it is, says Cathy.

"For years, there has been no tragedy, no hideous experience to befall me that people haven't said, 'What a great idea for a strip,' " she says.

And now Mickey can have the same experience -- writing about her thinly disguised real life for the world to see.

"And I'm kind of jealous, because I only get four little boxes to work with," says Cathy. "Mickey can . . ."

"I can blab on for pages," says Mickey.

Then it's out the door, two entertaining sisters and their entourage.

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