Love is cartoon by Kim
'Love Is...'. 

Kim Casali was a New Zealand cartoonist, world famous for the 'Love Is...' (1970) cartoon series. She created the main characters: a loving couple modeled after herself and her husband. Originally, when the series was still an one-panel cartoon, Casali drew all episodes herself. Later, she passed the pencil to Bill Asprey, who expanded the feature with a Sunday comic. 'Love Is...' was translated and printed in countless newspapers all over the world, gradually growing into a colossal merchandising success. Critics mocked its sentimental and basic formula, but 'Love Is...' remains beloved, having endeared audiences for over half a century. Sadly, Kim Casali's own love life was torn apart by the early death of her husband, which depressed her so much that she never remarried and retired from cartooning after only five years.

Early life and career
Marilyn Judith Grove was born in 1941 in Auckland, New Zealand. During most of her young adult life, she was a globetrotter, traveling to Australia, Europe and the United States. In 1967, at a Los Angeles ski club party, she met the man of her dreams, Roberto Alfredo Vicenzo Casali, an Italian-American computer engineer. After they got engaged, she took a job at the cosmetics brand Max Factor, sticking labels on packages, and then worked as a receptionist at a design company. Even if these jobs weren't exactly dream professions, she was very happy in her relationship. Kim Casali always described herself as a romantic soul. Books, films, TV shows or songs about love always made her very emotional. The music of Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Neil Diamond moved her.

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

Love Is...
Since Casali loved to draw, she sometimes made little drawings in her personal letters to her husband Roberto. Others she left under his pillow, in a drawer or in other places for him to find. But she didn't think much of her self-described "doodles". Casali had no academic training and even called herself a "fraud cartoonist". Roberto, on the other hand, found her work cute and never threw her gifts away. He showed them to his friends, who encouraged her to try and get them published. Through his efforts, Casali managed to get a cartoon series titled 'Love Is...' printed in The Los Angeles Times.

'Love Is...' debuted in The Los Angeles Times on 5 January 1970, published under just her first name Kim. The title referred to the tagline "Love is never having to say you're sorry" from Erich Segal's popular novel 'Love Story' (1970) and its film adaptation by Arthur Hiller that same year. Published in a one-panel format, the cartoon series stars a young couple with big round heads. They are completely nude, yet lack any secondary sex characteristics. Apart from their occasionally appearing children and pet dog Samson, there are no other recurring characters. Casali meant the pair to be a tribute to her 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, 'Love Is...' is not 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 caption describing the situation in question. There are no punchlines, only summarizations of moments the author considers to be an example of "true love". In some cases, the descriptions are quite direct: holding hands, kissing and cuddling, enjoying the same drink through a straw, having a candlelit dinner. Other sentences are more philosophical, 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.

With the daily cartoons thriving on recognizability, newspaper readers felt heartwarmed by these odes to love. When The Los Angeles Times organized a contest to let readers think up their own definition of "love", thousands of people replied. Casali had inspiration for months to come, but nevertheless decided to make these contests an annual event. Every reader who gave her a good suggestion was credited and thanked in the next episode. In only a few years' time, 'Love Is...' became a million dollar enterprise. Since the cartoons were non-offensive and only required one sentence to translate, they easily found success all across the globe. Since 1970, Tribune Media has syndicated 'Love Is...' to more than 60 countries, from Turkey to Japan. The characters and their romantic definitions were reproduced on countless greeting cards, mugs, T-shirts, jewels, calendars, posters and other merchandising. Some marriage counselors would use the cartoons in their job.

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 cartoon's sexist and offensive tone towards women. The four cartoons depicted here were found acceptable by Edith Zaslow.

Criticism and defense
Despite the mainstream success, 'Love Is...' also attracted criticism and ridicule. Critics derided the clumsy, simple artwork and formulaic tone. The cast is so small that it never moves beyond the couple, their children and their pet dog. As far as daily newspaper cartoons go, there are no narratives, nor gags. Apart from the Sunday comic, 'Love Is...' can't even be called a gag-a-day comic. The episodes are basically an endless series of observations. All the captions are only a sentence long. Some found the entertainment value is just as bizarre as the entire concept. For example, in the episode 'A Milhouse Divided' (1996) of Matt Groening's animated sitcom '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.

'Love Is...' also attracted criticism from feminists. Some episodes enforce stereotypes about docile housewives and the expectation that all women should be submissive to their husbands. In December 1973, greeting card distributor Edith Zaslow went into debate with Kim Casali about the content of her work in a combined interview with the Los Angeles Times. Zaslow directly addressed the problematic portrayal of women in 'Love Is...'. Another recurring criticism of 'Love Is...' is that it defines love in a simplistic and narrow manner, as a series of sometimes poignant, other times banal observations and situations that couldn't possibly all be examples of a healthy relationship. The couple is rarely portrayed in a conflict or any serious challenge to their partnership.

The feelgood episodes of 'Love Is...' leave no room for major character development or broader discussions about love and relationships. The main characters are basically stand-ins for a standard couple, serving more as a metaphor than complex, fleshed-out personalities with specific ideas about their bond. Casali never had any high ambitions. All she wanted to do was express how great the feeling of love and happiness within a relationship can be. She nevertheless did make attempts to move beyond the simple descriptions. Some of her cartoons have more introspective and sophisticated observations. Casali also used her work to support charity. In the end, the timeless and universal simplicity of 'Love Is...' could be described as its true genius.

The four cartoons depicted were found objectionable by Edith Zaslow in her December 1973 debate with Kim Casali.

Personal life
Unfortunately, Kim Casali's personal life was less idyllic than her comic. Her fiance's company closed down in 1970 and, being illegal immigrants, the couple was soon forced to leave the United States. They moved back to New Zealand, where they got married in 1971. Thanks to the success of 'Love Is...', they were able to buy two homes, one in Weybridge in the United Kingdom, and a second one in Los Angeles, California. The couple had two sons, Stefano and Dario, but tragedy struck in 1975 when Casali's husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Kim Casali later said that she "spent the next year fighting for a cure and trying to keep the bad news from him". To take over her daily workload, Casali hired Dale Hale to draw the 'Love Is...' feature. After about a year, Hale discovered his heart wasn't really into it, and 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, Roberto Casali's condition worsened. Wishing to have another baby, the couple decided to use in-vitro fertilization, so she could become pregnant by him even after his death. In March 1976, Roberto Casali passed away at age 31. Their third child was born 16 months later. At the time, in-vitro fertilization was still a new and controversial procedure, so the birth got a lot of press coverage. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, for instance, condemned it as "immoral".

Final years and death
Halfway through the 1980s, Kim 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 didn't return to cartooning. She passed away from bone and liver cancer in 1997.

Kim Casali
Kim Casali. 

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