Chicago Tribune: Nicole Hollander’s “Sylvia” Finds a New Life on Her Blog, BadGirlChats.com

Two weeks ago, when Nicole Hollander started a blog, she immediately notified the people who protested when the Chicago Tribune dropped her comic strip, “Sylvia.”

She wanted her loyal readers to know that there was a new spot to find Sylvia’s feminist wisecracks and cranky deep thoughts, even though the strip had vanished from Chicago newsprint.

“It made me feel I can still do something,” she said on Friday morning, curled into a teal Deco armchair in her Roscoe Village two-flat. “It takes the pain away from being dropped.”

When the Tribune dismissed “Sylvia” from its comics pages in February, Hollander thought things would work out the way they sometimes had in other places.
Sure, there were people who hated Sylvia, with her liberal politics, caustic quips and permanent cigarette. But readers who loved Sylvia loved her hard, and Hollander figured fans would protest. Their passion would melt editors’ heart. “Sylvia” would be reinstated.

It didn’t work that way, despite some protests.

“It was a body blow,” Hollander said, tucking her feet more tightly into the chair seat. “The world had changed. I realized that I had better start thinking about how to change.”

If this were, say, Cleveland or LA or Tucson, Hollander might not have felt so hurt. But this is where she grew up, made a home, grew a garden and, recently, buried her cat.

And even though after her comic strip got famous she would say that Sylvia lived in Detroit, Sylvia, too, was a Chicago gal back at her creation in 1979, modeled on Hollander’s mother and two of her mother’s friends.

Through the years, Hollander liked running into people in Chicago who read the strip, first in the Sun-Times, later in the Tribune.

Readers often didn’t remember what they’d read. “But,” she said, “they’d say, ‘I liked the one today.'”

In the past few months, that’s what she has missed as much as the extra money in her paycheck.

“The connection,” she said.

Except for her tart thoughts, Hollander isn’t much like Sylvia. Sylvia is a big, blowsy woman who rarely sheds her bathrobe. Hollander is small and, in her word, shy. A painter by training, she dresses with an artist’s verve. Some days that means jeans and a white shirt. On Friday, it meant rust-colored corduroys, a yellow turtleneck and a cropped mustard-colored jacket.

While Sylvia still pecks at a manual typewriter and watches a boxy TV with rabbit ears, Hollander watches a flat screen and works on an iBook. Sylvia is forever 50-something. Hollander, who was 40 when she invented Sylvia, is 71.

“I joke with my friends that she’s a 71-year-old hipster,” says Alicia Eler, the 26-year-old social media consultant who runs Hollander’s blog. “She is actually cooler than any 20- or 30-something hipsters I know because she is the original hipster — someone who is truly doing her own thing, and speaking her mind.”

Read Mary Schmich’s full article, “Sylvia Finds New Life on a Blog,” on ChicagoTribune.com (or on page 6 of the Sunday, November 14 issue of the Chicago Tribune newspaper).