Love is cartoon by Kim

Kim Casali is world famous for 'Love Is...', one of the most iconic romance-themed newspaper cartoons of all time. A merchandising success since its debut, it's still in worldwide syndication today. Casali created its original one-panel cartoon format, which was soon taken over by Bill Asprey, who also enriched it with a Sunday comic strip. Despite mainly being popular with general audiences 'Love Is...' has proven to be a mainstay. The recognizable love situations have endeared readers for half a century by now. Sadly enough, the creator's own love life was more tragic...

Marilyn Judith Grove was born in 1941 in Auckland, New Zealand. Throughout most of her young adult life she was a globetrotter, travelling to Australia, Europe and the United States, where she met her future husband Roberto Alfredo Vincenzo Casali. He was an Italian-American computer engineer who attended classes in the same ski club in L.A. where she went. They got engaged and she took a job at Max Factor, sticking labels on packaging. Later she became a receptionist for a design company. Grove described herself as a romantic soul. She was always very moved by romantic media, particular music by Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Neil Diamond, but didn't consider herself to have any talent for it. She had the same feeling about her own cartoons. Grove occasionally made little drawings which she scribbled in her personal letters to Roberto. Others she left under his pillow or in his drawers. They were meant from private use only, since she disregarded them as nothing more but "doodles". Since she never received any artistic training Grove even referred to herself as a "fraud cartoonist". Her husband liked them, though, and never threw one away. Instead he showed them to his friends, who all encouraged her to try and get them published.

Love is cartoon by KimLove is cartoon by Kim
Love is... cartoons from 1972

'Love Is...' debuted in The Los Angeles Times on 5 January 1970, published under her pseudonym Kim. The cartoons' title was named after the tagline "Love is never having to say you're sorry" from Erich Segal's popular novel 'Love Story' (1970) and Arthur Hiller's eponymous film adaptation the same year. Published in an one-panel format it stars a young couple. They have big round heads and are completely nude, yet lack any secondary sex characteristics. Apart from their occasional children and a pet dog, Samson, there are no other recurring characters. Marilyn meant the pair as a tribute to their own intense romantic relationship and therefore dubbed the woman 'Kim' and the man 'R.' (for 'Roberto'). Unusual for a cartoon published on a daily basis, it's not really a gag series. The partners are always depicted in various romantic situations: In some episodes they are married, expecting a baby or in the presence of their children. All these situations are always accompanied by the banner 'Love Is...' and a description of the situation in question. There are no punchlines, only endless summarizations of moments the author considers to be an example of "true love". In some case the descriptions are quite direct: holding hands, kissing and cuddling one another, enjoying the same drink through a straw, having a candlelit dinner... Others are more metaphorically, such as "having something to hold on" or "stronger than anything".

'Love Is...', however, thrived on its recognizability. Many readers felt heartwarmed and even joined Casali when her newspaper wrote out a contest to come up with new "definitions" of what "love" is? So many people replied that she had inspiration for months to come. She decided to make these contests an annual event and pick out a winner each time, whom she gave credit afterwards. In only a few years 'Love Is...' became an million dollar enterprise, decorating greeting cards, books, T-shirts, jewelry, calendars, posters and associated merchandising. Marriage counselors used the cartoons in their work. A company, Minikim, was founded to guard the cartoons' copyright. Since the cartoons were simple, non-offensive and only required one sentence to be translated they also became a success in other languages. More than 60 countries, from Turkey to Japan, published them. Of course, the sentimental tone also resulted in easy ridicule. Critics felt the cartoons were kitschy and nothing but simple-minded observations anyone could come up with. Since 'Love Is...' never moved beyond the same formulaic set-up, minimalist cast and not even made any attempt at storylines or gags other illustrators decried it as very primitive and amateuristic. Others felt the whole concept was bizarre. In the episode 'A Milhouse Divided' (1996) of Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons' Homer tries to solve the marital troubles of Milhouse's parents by suggesting: "You know what you two need? A little comic strip called 'Love Is...'. It's about two naked eight-year-olds who are married.", which makes everybody stare back at him for a few seconds. Nevertheless 'Love Is...' has proven to be so timeless and universal that it still remains popular today, even after nearly 50 years of non-stop syndication through Tribune Media Services. Casali also moved beyond the simple descriptions. Some cartoons had more introspective and sophisticated messages, while she also used some of them for charity.

Unfortunately, Kim Casali's personal life was less idyllic. Her husband's company closed down in 1970 and, being illegal immigrants, they were soon forced to leave the United States. They moved back to New Zealand, where they married in 1971. With the success of 'Love Is...' they were able to buy two homes, one in Weybridge, United Kingdom, and a second one in Los Angeles. They had two sons, Stefano and Dario, but tragedy struck in 1975 when Casali's husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. She became preoccupied with hiding his condition from him and trying to find a miracle cure. To keep new installments of 'Love Is...' running she hired a new cartoonist. Dale Hale drew the feature for about a year, but since his heart wasn't really into it he was replaced by Bill Asprey. Asprey not only continued the one-panel cartoons, but also developed a more humorous gag comic strip around the characters, which was published from 1978 on in Sunday editions. As her husband's condition worsened she had to tell him the bad news. They decided to use in-vitro fertilisation so that she could still have a third child from him, even if he died. Roberto Casali passed away at the age of 31 in 1976. Their third child was born 16 months later. At the time in-vitro fertilisation was still a new and controversial procedure, so the birth got quite some press coverage. Even the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano condemned it as "immoral". Halfway the 1980s Casali moved to New South Wales, Australia where she had a selective breeding farm for Arabian horses. In 1990 she and her family went back to Leatherhead, Surrey in England. She never remarried and also passed away from cancer in 1997.

Kim Casali

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