It is hard to imagine a comic strip featuring a loud mouthed fiftyish feminist these days, but Nicole Hollander’s “Sylvia” had quite a run. First published in the late 1970s, it was syndicated in eighty American newspapers in its heyday. I got to know it in the LA Times, where I enjoyed it for at least a decade.
So who was Sylvia? Picture a double-chinned mother of one who apparently earned her money as a stay-at-home writer. Sylvia railed against gender inequality, the cosmetic industry, and politicians. She came up with offbeat money-making schemes, like “The Sylvia School for Total Listening,” which taught how to appear interested in men’s conversations “through a combination of self-hypnosis and old Marilyn Monroe movies.”
Leafing through a collection of Sylvia comics from the eighties, I was bowled over by her originality. She was not “a woman who did everything more beautifully than you,” a recurring character in the strip. Sylvia spent hours watching soap operas, sometimes while in the bathtub. She smoked a lot and drank even more. And her outfits! Rarely in pants and almost always with some kind of head covering, her style might be characterized as vintage/hippie/fortune teller. It would be an understatement to call her a fashion eccentric.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Sylvia was that she didn’t seem to worry about her size, even though she wasn’t the sleekest of women. Here is the title of the collection I read: My Weight is Always Perfect for my Height–Which Varies.