Terri Libenson apologizes for the state of her office. She knows it’s not what you would expect to see in the workroom of a cartoonist. So brace yourself.
As soon as you enter her home on a quiet residential street in Mayfield Heights, you find yourself in what Libenson promises is her office. That assurance is needed because, for this nationally syndicated creator of The Pajama Diaries, there is a distinct lack of paper anywhere to be found. No blank pages on the desk waiting to be filled. No storyboarding on the walls or floor. No discarded ideas crumpled up in the trash. The only paper in sight is a small sketch taped to the top of a 16-inch interactive tablet.
“I know. It’s really neat in here,” she sighs. “My family makes fun of me for it.”
She sits at her desk in front of the tablet, picks up her stylus and begins to fill in the panels of a comic strip that will be printed six months from now. In this particular story, three women are discussing menopause over a bottle of wine.
Her stylus flows effortlessly across the screen, brush strokes creating one character’s hair in long swooping strokes. One woman’s frown is quickly erased and replaced with an upbeat turn of the mouth. Dialogue boxes are drawn, erased and redrawn in rapid succession.
“I always struggle to make wine glasses symmetrical,” Libenson admits.
With every tiny addition to the panel, she clicks the save button so that none of her work is ever lost. It is a painstaking, incremental process, not at all how you would expect the strip’s Jill Kaplan, Libenson’s alter ego and working mother of two, to come to life.
But then again, there really is nothing expected about Libenson’s place in the funnies. She is a female cartoonist in a male-dominated field. She draws characters who age in real time when most other comics are frozen in place. She doesn’t hesitate to depict issues of feminism, equality and intimacy in her pages. She has even launched a series of graphic novels, including her latest Positively Izzy, which debuted in May, targeted at preteen girls.
As she tinkers with those wine glasses, Libenson can’t help but smile. She is exactly where she wants to be: in her home, surrounded by her family, creating her art.