Sylvia is someone Hollander's known and drawn for 35 years, and they've been through plenty together. In 1990 the Sun-Times dropped Sylvia. But Hollander and Sylvia are hometown gals with a lot of friends, and the Tribune quickly picked it up. But in February the Tribune dropped Sylvia, and the hue and cry raised by those friends cut no ice.
Alicia Eler is but 26 but she and Sylvia are not breeds apart. Eler's website identifies her as a "Social Media Consultant and Writer, specializing in the arts," and my guess is that Sylvia would say, "All that means is you know how to stick your nose in and you tell other people to stick theirs in too — just like I do." That's not all the two of them have in common. A couple of weeks after the Tribune laid off Sylvia it laid off Alicia Eler too. For the previous year she'd been "arts and culture community manager" for the Tribune's Chicago Now blog network, overseeing about 50 bloggers. A reorganization and a budget cut cost her her job. Times are tough.
More importantly, Eler created a new blog for Hollander, BadGirlChats.com. [The s is crucial.] It just went up. Hollander chats away. Sylvia chats away. Hollander posts new Sylvia strips there and she posts old strips — whatever comes along, at some time in the past 35 years Sylvia said some wise ass thing that's right on the button. And what's great is that Sylvia is drawn four weeks ahead of publication, but on Hollander's blog she and Sylvia can weigh in on any topical issue that gets their blood up and post immediately!
For instance — Clarence Thomas's wife calling Anita Hill and telling her it's never too late to apologize. Bad Girl Chats went live on November 1 and Hollander immediately had her say on this wacky episode. She noted that Hill isn't the only woman on earth who's said Thomas has issues and she posted the Sylvia strips she'd drawn back in 1991 that were inspired by Thomas's confirmation hearings. She even drew a new cartoon.
"I couldn't have done that in a strip," says Hollander. "I'd have had to wait four weeks to say that and by that time it wouldn't have been funny."
Something else she couldn't do in her comic strip that she can do now — she can draw any way she pleases. "Sylvia was a character. She had a certain quality," says Hollander. "I couldn't suddenly introduce a new kind of drawing style and just play with it." Now she can and maybe she will. "That's for the future," says Hollander. "It's an opportunity to do new things."
Hollander already had a home page, nicolehollander.com, and a blog when she met Eler "but I didn’t really have an idea what [a blog] was. I'd write something and forget about it." Or she wouldn't write something and the blog would get stale fast. And where was Sylvia? Hollander had things to say, but the voice of Sylvia should have been the main attraction. So Hollander and Eler started from scratch, called the new site Bad Girl Chats, and made it Sylvia's new daily conversation. The old sites are still there, abandoned, relics of the time when Hollander didn't quite get it.
On her blog's "store," Hollander peddles signed copies of old strips on "archival paper," and her latest collection, The Sylvia Chronicles. It looks pretty mercantile, but when I say something to Eler about monetizing Sylvia online, she turns out to be a skeptic. "I'm not expecting she'll make a living off of this," she says. "Blogs are not a way to subsist — this is not a replacement for a newspaper. We're at a point where people are expected to have a presence online, and social media and blogs are a part of that. It's more about having visibility. You have to have visibility at this point. Maybe online will not be monetizable. But this is a question that distracts from the blog itself. This is an amazing blog. And at this point, for Chicagoans, it's where to find Sylvia."
Hollander doesn't disagree. "I don’t quite see the checks coming in yet," she allows. "Yes, its been a week — well, why not! I guess what she’s saying is, you can't count on that."
Eler mentions a couple of other clients of hers — artists Peregrine Honig and Aspen Mays. For them she has either written or is writing Wikipedia pages. Hearing this startles me — Eler says Wikipedia draws the line at self-defined encyclopedia-worthies posting their own pages, but apparently the task can be jobbed off. "We're not saying, 'Hey, Wikipedia, I'm paying someone for this,'" says Eler, "but Wikipedia is not edited by an editor, it's edited by the masses, by people who hang out on Wikipedia all day. I believe it's important for artists to have accurate information written in a way that's clear and respectful. It's important to have that presence online.
"This is a service I offer."
Hollander has her own Wikipedia page. It showed up a few years ago in the mysterious process that I had assumed somehow just happens whenever a subject joins the ranks of those Who Truly Matter. "My Wikipedia page says something like, 'She was born in Chicago,'" says Hollander.
Actually, the four lines of biography don't get into that much detail. They do say she lives here.
"So there I am, just barely born and that's it," says Hollander. "Alicia's shown me various pages. The character Garfield has his own page. So one can really go the distance with this."
"Eventually," she says. "I think she'll insist that I do."