| Rhymes With Orange
If dogs ruled the universe, squirrels would probably run a lot slower, kitchen counters would be lower, back doors would be perpetually held open and every day’s schedule would be filled with walks, games of fetch and plenty of treats. Wait……perhaps we humans merely think we’re in charge. Who is always being pulled around by a leash, or in constant demand to throw, toss, or scoop? Who opens the treat jar, like a well-trained creature, when the canine performs some simple task or merely looks longingly at the goodies on the counter? Isn’t it true that every bit of furniture in the house, every moment of your schedule and, in fact, your entire life, is orchestrated by the needs and desires of your dog?
“It’s how things work in my household,” said cartoonist Hilary Price, whose recently published book, “Reigning Cats & Dogs,” took its name from one of her strips that depicts a seated couple, completely draped in cats and dogs. The woman is saying, “Don’t’ you think ‘It’s reigning cats and dogs’ makes more sense?”
The strip, labeled “The Typo,” features a small title section adorned with a crowned dog, whose face is utterly regal and condescending. Little ink is wasted on the sparse line drawings, typical of the intelligent, understated humor that has earned Price national recognition as a syndicated cartoonist.
After obtaining her English Literature degree from Stanford, Price moved to San Francisco, where she took a position as an ad copywriter, and quickly realized she was in the wrong field. Having been a doodler since she was a child, Price never thought she had enough artistic talent to make it as a cartoonist. She got her first big break when some of her cartoons were published in 1993 in the San Francisco Chronicle’s now-defunct Sunday magazine. In June 1994 King Features Syndicate launched the “Rhymes with Orange” comic strip, and the 29-year-old Price was heralded as the nation’s youngest female syndicated cartoonist.
As if being a woman in a heavily male-dominated field wasn’t enough, Price ignited interest within the typically under-represented 20-something audience with her intelligent, edgy humor and became a recognized entity in publications coast to coast. Today, at the ripe age of 33, she holds onto the title of “youngest” in her position, but her work has matured with the artist.
“Initially, the strip was for people like myself, right out of college and making their way in the world,” Price said. “As I’ve grown older, my themes have opened up and don’t cater to a particular niche.”
The cartoonist routinely receives e-mails from people of “all different ages and sexes,” and Price is often honored with what she feels is the greatest compliment of all. “When people say, ‘Hey, that’s on my fridge,’ that’s like being in the cartoonist’s Louvre gallery.”
No subject matter is off limits to Price, who describes her audience as smart, witty and incredibly good-looking. “I don’t feel like I need to appeal to all of the people, all of the time,” she said. “The first test it has to go through is that I have to amuse myself. That’s one of the best parts of the job, and it’s always a good skill, especially if you take long car rides. My partner usually drives and I entertain myself so she can drive peacefully.”
Price lives in Northampton, Mass., which she describes as the “best, small artsy-fartsy town in America,” with her partner and a “brood” that is comprised of two dogs, two cats and two fish. Although any of life’s infinite, minute details may become the subject of a “Rhymes with Orange” cartoon, a brood that size provides constant fodder for Price’s work.
She told of a recent dinner party with friends, during which one of the cats popped into the cat door no less than twice, each time delivering a mouse. It was very comical until about 4 a.m. when the cat awakened everyone in the house, barfing up partially masticated rodent. “There’s a lot of vomit in our family,” Price said.
Although the strip does appeal to a more-educated segment of the population, barfing and shedding play as prominent roles in the comic strips as they do in any animal-lover’s life. Price knew “Reigning Cats & Dogs” would appeal to other animal lovers who “know about shedding, barfing and stuff,” she said. “They play a huge part in my life and I chose a dog and cat book for a couple reasons. One of them was purely because people love to see their experiences reflected on a comic page. Dog and cat owners feel like they know what it’s like to have a brood you are attached to.”
Dogs have always been a part of Price’s life. “You can never ring the doorbell and expect silence,” she said.
Every morning, Price pulls out her bicycle, leashes up Doxy, her 14-year-old, pit bull/husky mix, and the two head off to her studio in the renovated Prophylactic Toothbrush Factory a mile away. (Doxy runs alongside, while Price pedals.)
The little-known secret about riding one’s bike with a leashed dog and not spilling over is coaster brakes, said Price. “That allows you to have your weight distributed on your rear instead of forward on the hand brakes, and that makes you much more stable,” she said. “Lance Armstrong was wrong. It is all about the bike.”
At the studio, Doxy positions herself in her overstuffed, fleur de lis-print chair that is strategically situated “so she can see the front door and bark at the UPS guy without getting up,” Price said. It’s not that Doxy is lazy, but rather that she is more of a matriarchal figure, one who can command from afar.
Price works daily to generate her strip, which now appears in 100 papers across the country. During the day, Doxy often amuses herself by “trick-or-treating” for biscuits door-to-door at the other offices and studios in the building. However, the morning jog helps her to maintain a trim figure.
If Doxy could have Hilary’s job for a day, “she would first draw a tree, then a squirrel, then herself with climbing gear on or something,” Price said. “She would not draw cats. She would draw herself, and lots of dogs below her, and she would draw lots of delivery people that she could bark at. She would also probably draw lots of biscuits.”
Although she sort of “fell into” what has been her first steady job since college, Price said, if she were to design a dream job for herself, it would look slightly different. “I enjoy the creative piece, but I would enjoy a more social aspect, something that would involve more collaboration on projects,” she said. Since she moved to Northampton, Price has taken advantage of her Wednesday night gathering of friends for feedback and critiquing. “I’m particularly looking for a laugh, so I want to gauge it. I think if I were to be doing something that didn’t need that particular important piece, I might be less criticism-oriented.”
She recently began meeting weekly with another writer to work on writing exercises. “I would like to not only do my cartooning but incorporate writing, personal essays, sort of like David Sedaris – basically, longer cartoons without the picture.”
Price would also like to see “Reigning Cats & Dogs” expand its market from the huge, chain bookstores to pet specialty stores. “If I could rule the world, I would have people get the book and show it to their favorite mom and pop boutique pet store, the sort of place where they go when they want to get a present for their dog or their friend’s dog,” she said.
To date, the book is doing much better than her first, 1997 books of bests, which Price attributes to
her increased notoriety (er, popularity). Learn more about Price and see more of her “Rhymes with Orange” humor by checking out her website at www.rhymeswithorange.com.