Humor's Edge Pulitzer Prize-winning Cartoons by Ann Telnaes

Ann Telnaes contributes sharply humorous drawings to Six Chix, a comic strip that she and five other women cartoonists produce collaboratively. This unique strip, which highlights contemporary women's often comical points of view on everyday life, is distributed by King Features Syndicate, which launched it in 2000. Each cartoonist creates a strip for one day of the week—Telnaes's day is Thursday—and the six creators trade off Sundays. Having never drawn a comic strip before, Telnaes finds Six Chix a personal challenge because she wants to make political cartoons out of what she draws. Comic strips must be done four weeks ahead of time, unlike editorial cartoons, so it is difficult to integrate current events into them. Telnaes often uses the theme of fairy tales because “they are inherently sexist.” She typically turns these familiar stories on end and reworks them in order to comment wryly on women's situations today—in the workplace, at home, in relationships, and as consumers. In addition to Six Chix and cartoons on women's issues that are more political in content, Telnaes sometimes makes visual commentary on women prominent in public life, as seen in the drawing in tribute to Katherine Hepburn, which was published as a “commentoon” for Women's eNews.

May-December Romance

Telnaes's cartoon conveys her frustration over the ease with which people commonly accept a May-December romance between an older man and a young woman. “Nobody lifts an eyebrow,” she points out “But what happens when an older woman is with a younger man?” In this drawing she makes clear what each one of the couple sees in the other.

“ Why, yes. . . It's easy to see what attracted you to each other. . .”, in Six Chix, September 7, 2000. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04714; LC-USZ62-134255. © Reproduced with special permission of King Features Syndicate (2)

“Female Humor” With an Edge

Women may not always have all the opportunities men have to succeed in the workplace, but statistically, they live longer. Recent comparative data on the life spans of men and women in industrial market economies (including Western Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand) in the late twentieth century supports the little girl's statement in this example of what Telnaes calls “female humor.”

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I Didn't Touch Him. . .
, in Six Chix, September 20, 2000. Brush and ink and opaque white over blue pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04625; LC-USZ62-134252. © Reproduced with special permission of King Features Syndicate (3)

TV Update on Snow White

In this cartoon the story of Snow White is turned upside down. No longer cooking and cleaning for the seven dwarves, she has joined the ranks of HBO's recent hip show “Sex in the City,” whose young female stars assert that they have as much right to being cared for and pleased as men do. In Telnaes's cartoon, both Snow White and the dwarves look happy.

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Snow White and Sex in the City
, in Six Chix, April 25, 2002. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04716; LC-USZ62-134253. © Reproduced with special permission of King Features Syndicate (4)

Whose Power Breakfast?

This comic strip mocks and challenges the notion that today's women will willingly perpetuate traditional female roles, as symbolized by the long-standing practice of making the morning coffee. Telnaes's cartoon also plays off the idea that everything from exercise to diet to meditation can bestow power on those who are ready to take it.

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Fix Your Own Power Breakfast
, March 8, 2001. Brush and ink over blue pencil and graphite underdrawing with opaque white. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04626. © Reproduced with special permission of King Features Syndicate (60)

How the Fairy Tale Really Ended

Telnaes often uses fairy tales in the comic strip Six Chix because, as she comments, they “are inherently sexist and have great potential for cartoons.” In this example, a group of fairytale princesses gather to commiserate and exchange frustrations about how their relationships really turned out. Cinderella, whose glass slippers sit by the tub where she soaks her feet, has reservations about Prince Charming, and Snow White, who sits next to a bowl of apples, expresses second thoughts about her rescue.

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When Fairy Tale Princesses get together, in Six Chix, October 8, 2000. Brush and ink over pink pencil underdrawing with opaque white. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04715; LC-USZ62-134254. © Reproduced with special permission from King Features Syndicate (75)

The Changing Roles of Women

The use of a little girl in this early cartoon for Six Chix lends a humorous edge to a topic that continues to be highly charged today—women with ambition. Although the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s achieved gains in women's rights and status, their changing and changed roles continue to be debated by both men and women.

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“And What's A Nice Little Girl Like You Going To Be . . . ,” in Six Chix, September 10, 1999. Brush and ink and opaque white over violet pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04628; LC-USZ62-134303. © Reproduced with special permission of King Features Syndicate (62)

Advice for Today's Princesses

In this updated version of a fairy tale-whether Cinderella, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty—a young princess listens reluctantly as she is admonished not to rely solely on romantic love for happiness and fulfillment. Telnaes implies that modern-day heroines should be ready to rely on themselves.

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“First you get an education, then you can marry your Prince Charming,” in Six Chix, November 13, 2003, Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04790; LC-USZ62-134302. © Reproduced with special permission of King Features Syndicate (61)

The Ultra-Thin Ideal

Models appear as a separate species of human in this cartoon that stresses the ultra-thin body image promoted by advertising and popular culture. Thin is considered ideal for women, regardless of body type. Obsession with weight, however, can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia—the serious message of Telnaes's humor.

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“Don't Feed the Models, Honey,” in Six Chix, May 31, 2001. Brush and ink and opaque white over blue pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04629; LC-USZ62-134304. © Reproduced with special permission of King Features Syndicate (63)

An American Icon

Katherine Hepburn died on June 29, 2003. Soon after, Telnaes published this caricature of the actress that captures her spirit of elegance, independence, and strength.

Color print from digital scan

Katherine Hepburn, 1907-2003, July 2, 2003. Ink brush over blue pencil underdrawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04722; LC-USZ62-135305. Courtesy of Women's eNews (76)

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