Love is cartoon by Kim

Kim Casali was a New Zealand cartoonist, world famous for 'Love Is...' (1970-  ), 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...

Early life and career
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 creative talent, despite occasionally scribbling little drawings in her personal letters to Roberto. Others she left under his pillow or in his drawers. She considered them as mere doodles and thus only meant them for private use. 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.

Kim and Roberto Casali in the Los Angeles Times of 24 August 1971.

Love Is...
'Love Is...' debuted in The Los Angeles Times on 5 January 1970, published under Grove's 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 similarly titled film adaptation the same year. Published in an one-panel format, the cartoon series 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. Grove 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... Other sentences have more metaphorical meaning, such as "love is...having something to hold on" or "love is... stronger than anything".

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

Love Is...' thrived on recognizability. Many readers felt heartwarmed and helped the series grow into a million dollar enterprise. When The Los Angeles Times organized a contest to let readers think up a definition of what "love" is, thousands of people replied. Casali had inspiration for months to come, but nevertheless decided to make these contests an annual event. Each time she gave the winner credit. In only a few years 'Love Is...' became an million dollar enterprise, reproduced on greeting cards, books, T-shirts, jewelry, calendars, posters and other merchandising. Marriage counselors used the cartoons at their job. Since 'Love Is...' was simple, non-offensive and only required one sentence to be translated, the series also achieved success in other languages all across the globe. More than 60 countries, from Turkey to Japan, published it. 

In December 1973, the Los Angeles Times organized a debate between Kim Casali and 61-year old housewife and retired greeting card distributor Edith Zaslow, who was offended by the sexist and offensive tone of the cartoons towards women. These cartoons could find Mrs. Zaslow's approval...

Criticism and defense
Despite the mainstream success, 'Love Is...' also attracted criticism and ridicule. Critics dismiss it as banal, kitschy and formulaic. They deride the clumsy artwork and sentimental tone. The minimalist cast never moved beyond the couple, their children and their pet dog. By lack of storylines or gags, 'Love Is...' comes across as the absolute bottom of the barrel in terms of gag-a-day newspaper cartoons. Even the "messages" have been criticized as plain, simple-minded observations anyone could come up with. Other critics 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 between 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 50 years of non-stop syndication through Tribune Media Services. Casali also moved beyond the simple descriptions. Some cartoons have more introspective and sophisticated messages, while she also used some of her drawings for charity.

...but these couldn't.

Personal life
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. Thanks to 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 didn't tell him the bad news, but instead tried to find a miracle cure. It all left her with less time for her daily cartoon. Casali hired a new cartoonist, Dale Hale, who 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 from 1978 on also developed a spin-off Sunday comic strip around the characters. 

Meanwhile Casali's husband's condition worsened and she eventually told him he was terminally ill. The couple decided to use in-vitro fertilisation, so she could still have a third child from him, even after his death. In 1976 Roberto Casali passed away at age 31. 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".

Final years and death
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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