NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
Kathleen Andrews was missing her husband, Jim, who had been on the road for weeks trying to drum up interest in his new company, a fledgling syndication business, when she came across a little gift book titled When Youre Not Around. It featured a hapless, hairless, pantless and as yet unnamed character a hard-luck antihero whose wan exploits fit her blue mood.
That character would ultimately become the downtrodden but appealing Ziggy, of newspaper cartoon fame, and Andrews serendipitous find would help keep her husbands company afloat.
Andrews, who would later become the chief executive of the company and help grow the careers of Garry Trudeau, Cathy Guisewite and Tom Wilson, Ziggys creator, died on April 16 at a hospital on Amelia Island, Florida. She was 84.
The cause was congestive heart failure, her son Hugh Andrews said.
Andrews, who was known as Kathy, was the mom in the mom-and-pop store in the basement that once drew young creators to Leawood, Kansas, Trudeau said by phone.
The pop was Jim Andrews, her husband, who, with his best friend, John P. McMeel, concocted a newspaper syndication company from the basement of the Andrewses rented ranch house. Kathy Andrews, who had a masters degree in mathematics, kept the books. They called it Universal Press Syndicate because, Trudeau said, it sounded bland and boring and like it had been around for a hundred years. I thought it sounded like James Bonds cover.
They had a mail drop with a Fifth Avenue address in New York City (McMeel and his wife, Susan, lived in a walk-up nearby). Jim Andrews gave himself a pseudonym, John Kennedy (for his hero), and it was Mr. Kennedy who wrote to Trudeau while he was a junior at Yale and writing a comic strip called Bull Tales, about a college quarterback, for the Yale Daily News.
He wrote and asked if I was interested in a career as a syndicated cartoonist, Trudeau said, basically offering me the job I still hold and with me literally paying no dues whatsoever. I signed with the total absence of the technical skills traditionally associated with the craft.
Bull Tales became Doonesbury, which first appeared in newspapers in 1970 marking the debut of Universal Press Syndicate as a proper company and won Trudeau a Pulitzer Prize in 1975. It was the first comic strip to earn the award. (The central character of Bull Tales, who became part of the ensemble cast of Doonesbury, was the regressive but sympathetic B.D.) In 1971, Ziggy made his dolorous appearance.
Eventually, the company moved out of the Andrews family house and into actual offices in Prairie Village, Kansas. Jim Andrews and McMeel began scooping up writers like Seymour Hersh they syndicated the rights to My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath, Hershs 1970 book on his coverage of the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam as well as cartoonists like Guisewite.
Guisewite was a 25-year-old copy writer at an ad agency in Detroit in the mid-70s when she began chronicling the fraught female space between the housewifely ideal of the 50s and the ambitions of second-wave feminists by conjuring an ambivalent, hardworking, love-seeking, diet-addled and endearing avatar named Cathy. She crafted a booklet of Cathys experiences scarfing fudge ripple ice cream while waiting for Mr. Wrong to call, for example and sent it to Jim Andrews, who took it home to his wife.
It was a Hail Mary pass on Guisewites part, and it landed at just the right time. No other cartoonist, she said in a phone interview, was addressing the frustrations of young women or speaking in their voice. Jim Andrews and McMeel were actively looking for that voice, she said, but all the submissions they received were from men.
They didnt have the emotional honesty, she said. Thats what Kathy responded to. She said it was authentic.
She loved my work, Guisewite added, and she believed in it and she laughed out loud when the men in the room were silent. My career was founded on Kathys kitchen table when she looked at my cryptic and weird scribbles and said, This speaks to women.
Kathleen Virginia Whalen was born on March 12, 1937, in Ashtabula, Ohio, the youngest of seven children. Her father, Leo, was fire chief of the town, about an hour east of Cleveland. Her mother, Isabelle (McNamara) Whalen, was a homemaker.
She graduated from Notre Dame College in South Euclid, a suburb of Cleveland, with a bachelors degree in mathematics in 1959 and four years later earned a masters from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where she met her husband.
In the early days of the company, Trudeau recalled, he would visit the Andrewses to work on his nascent strip, as all the syndicates artists did.
I would go and stay with them and help them pretend they had a viable business, which unbeknownst to me was very much in jeopardy, he said. I didnt realize until much later how much trouble they were in, but Kathy knew. She was incredibly overqualified to simply keep the books.
Jim would show up at breakfast in a coat and tie, he continued, and after having a few cups of coffee we would all head down to the basement, where he would loosen his tie and take off his jacket and start the day. Kathy would be upstairs with the books. Since there were so few dollars to count and so few features to edit, there was a lot of downtime and a lot of laughs, which is I think what kept them afloat. Together, Jim and Kathy were unstoppable.
Jim Andrews died of a heart attack at 44 in October 1980. Kathy Andrews joined the company six months later, and very quickly became chief executive of its publishing business, said her son Hugh, who would later hold that title. He recalled her signing every artists royalty check and sending it out with a personal note. She knew everyones family and how they were doing, he said.
As the youngest of seven, she grew up sleeping three to a bed, Hugh Andrews added. She was a humble lady. Not being in the spotlight was not an issue for her as long as everyone was working.
Universal Press Syndicate rebranded itself in the late 80s as Andrews McMeel Universal. It is now the largest independent newspaper syndicate in the world. When Kathy Andrews retired in 2006, she was vice chairman.
In addition to her son Hugh, Andrews is survived by another son, James; a sister, Annabelle Whalen; and six grandchildren.
Andrews was awarded multiple honorary degrees and doctorates. With McMeel, she established a scholarship fund in her husbands name at the University of Notre Dame. She had been a member of the board of trustees there since 1993; in 1996, she became a fellow of the board, the first woman to do so. She often described that 12-member organization, which is the universitys core governing body, as 11 fellows and one gal. One gal from Ashtabula.
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, the universitys president, said in an email: As one of the first women to take a leadership role on Notre Dames board of trustees, Kathleen combined strength with her characteristic kindness. While others might raise their voices, I remember Kathleen telling me, with her warm smile, that one of my decisions was plain wrong.
Andrews and her husband had minor character roles in Doonesbury. It has been Trudeaus habit, he said, to name-check his friends and family in the strip, and to make them do awful things. Its how I show the people in my life I love them, he said. Jim Andrews appears as the craven, much-married businessman of the same name who collects trophy wives, shills for BP after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and performs other despicable acts; Kathy Andrews is memorialized as wife No. 1.
She was also ever-present in Guisewites Cathy. The character did not have a last name for the first few years of the strip, but eventually she became Cathy Andrews in honor, her creator said, of the woman whose kitchen table blessing of my scribbles launched my strip.
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