Nicole Hollander eases up a little | Bleader

Nicole Hollander eases up a little


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


  • Sylvia
This week Nicole Hollander dropped the second shoe. She announced that she's bringing her comic strip Sylvia to an end in April. The first shoe fell 26 months ago, when her hometownTribune canceled Sylvia, cutting Hollander's income roughly in half. On Wednesday I asked Hollander how she's doing. "I'm fine," she said. "I'm in the stage after you ask for a divorce and you feel really terrific." What's the next stage? I wondered. "Sometimes it's a sense of loss," said Hollander, who went through a divorce many years ago. "I remember the stages. Not quite as many stages as dying, but it's in there."

But Hollander doesn't intend to stop drawing Sylvia altogether, nor does languishing fit into her schedule. She tells me she's been confronting certain personal deficiencies. "I don't know how to embroider or sew," she says. "I worked with a woman from Lill Street. She knows how to embroider and she taught me as much as she could. But I will never learn the womanly arts."

She learned what she needed to know. She just did a drawing of Marie Antoinette and embroidered a great big pimple on her nose. She wrote on the drawing "Marie Antoinette has a pimple on her nose. HEADS WILL ROLL!" A headless doll was added, gallery owner Avram Eisen put everything in a handsome frame, and voila!—the work of art you see here.

A Nicole Hollander original
  • A Nicole Hollander original

"I always hope I'll have a show," says Hollander. "Now that I have time to think of these things, I'm thinking of approaching galleries with this work my house is full of."

She recently spent time at Ragdale working on a graphic memoir, huge sheets of paper she's drawing on in charcoal to remember the life she lived from the age of six to 14 in a yellow-brick six-flat at 3914 W. Congress. "I started doing it in black and white," she says, "but I took a photo on Google maps and blew it up and there was actually a parking space in front of the apartment so I put my father's Hudson in it in color." She's assembling the drawings into strips 16 inches deep and seven feet wide. She's finished five strips so far.

And some friends of Nancy Pelosi who were throwing a party for her asked Hollander to create a poster. "I didn't make any money on that," she says, "but she did send me an orchid."

The Pelosi poster
  • The Pelosi poster

The last time I talked with Hollander, in November of 2010, she was bouncing back from the Tribune cancellation and trying to figure out the Internet. The good news was that a young 'net whiz named Alicia Eler had decided to take Hollander in hand.

Eler has moved on to a full-time job at (she's now at, but she provided Hollander with a successor, Deanna Trejo—who manages the website Eler created for Hollander,, and also Hollander's Facebook page. The other paid member of Team Sylvia is Laura Zinger, a documentary filmmaker whom Hollander calls her financial "strategist," explaining, "Because the blog is not monetized, I have to think of some way to earn money to keep going. And what she helps me do is contact libraries and universities. I give talks and I get paid. It's a mystery to both of us how you get ads [online]. We'll learn it eventually. Laura felt I should tweet. We did that for a while—I would write it and she'd put it up. But that did nothing.

"I haven't figured out how to put the cat to work.

"It's the way I've lived my whole life. A little bit of money comes in every month, from unexpected sources." She mentions book illustrations, an assignment from Lilith magazine when it redesigned, the Pelosi poster. Hollander is 72 years old, and although Sylvia never ran in many papers Hollander's been drawing her for more than 30 years; and there are ways to monetize icons. I bet that when Nancy Pelosi saw her poster she didn't have to ask who the artist was. If Hollander didn't make any money on that poster, maybe she should have. Not that an orchid isn't nice.

"I've been sitting here answering the comments on the blog, which are really touching," Hollander says. "Some people have decided to be in denial, and some are saying they don't see how they can be happy for this. I say I'm retiring and I have the blog and the blog is really satisfying, but I think they're worried they won't have new strips and I won't be commenting on things that are happening right now. My partial answer is that I have 32 years of strips and many of them, unfortunately, are as relevant now as they were then." She intends to dust off and post those old strips as appropriate. SCOOP ALERT! "And if I don't have to do six strips a week, I think I can manage one that is current. You heard it first."

When we talked in 2010 we discussed her Wikipedia entry, which was four lines long and didn't even say that Hollander was born in Chicago. On this front, the progress has been astonishing. Her current Wikipedia entry is a thing of beauty, rich in biographical detail, references, links, and even "critical commentary."

I ask if Eler put it together.

No, she says, it's a guy who lives near Seattle who's a fan. He used to be a senior editor at Encyclopedia Britannica here in Chicago. She's never met him.

Add a comment