From Whizzer to Cici: Seeing the College through MHN comics

BY LINDSEY MCGINNIS ’18 

Mount Holyoke News has a long history of running both original student art and nationally syndicated comic strips. The creative commentary on college life has added a note of levity to the weekly news and campus discourse, and even helped launch successful careers in illustration. 

The American newspaper comic tradition began in the 1890s, according to The New York Times, but Mount Holyoke News didn’t truly embrace “the funnies” until the 1960s. Even then, it was mostly in the occasional, stand alone panel. This changed in the mid ’70s when the clever, troll-like characters created by Beth Epstein ’76 appeared in every issue for several years. Her comics followed the life and times of “Whizzer D. Buschbumper and her pals,” with figures like Susie Straightedge and Greta Grosbeak making regular appearances in the strip.  

Epstein had previously contributed graphics for Op-Eds and news stories, and her illustration of the 1972 Catering Management controversy even made it on the Choragos front page that December. The comic’s title character first appeared as “Wizzy” on Feb. 8, 1973, but the name was changed in the following issue and remained “Whizzer” until Melissa West ’80 took over with her “This is True” series in the late ’70s. West’s lead character delivered cringe-worthy puns and made relatable fumbles, like mistaking the clock tower for a full moon.

Throughout the mid ’80s, the newspaper received more reports from national news wires and the comics followed suit, with most cartoons coming from the College Press Service. Instead of commentary on the Mount Holyoke experience, they provided a much more critical take on politics and American society in general. 

The exception to this rule was Kelly Bahmer-Brouse ’86, whose bold and self-deprecating “Bomber by Bahmer” series still rings true today. One strip from February 1986, for example, showed a student writing to her mom, casually confessing that she tried a new hair salon in Northampton: “so when I come home,” she writes, “expect to see me with a haircut that’s somewhat… radical.” Bahmer later went on to receive her master’s in creative writing from Miami University, and now works as a professional cartoonist in Cleveland, OH. You can find her work at KellyKomics.com. Bahmer’s work often features famous Mount Holyoke themes and figures, including Virginia Apgar and Frances Perkins (classes of 1929 and 1902, respectively) — both subjects of her Women’s history month series — and the class animals (Bahmer was a blue lion).

Mount Holyoke News fell back on nationally syndicated content during the late ’80s, reprinting the “Outland” sunday strip by Berkeley Breathed, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1987 for his famous “Bloom Country” series. However, by the early ’90s the original comic strips made a comeback, with April Kim ’92 poking fun at first-years and seniors alike. Kim — now April Kim Tonin — is still crafting clever cartoons today as a New York-based illustrator. After graduating from Mount Holyoke with a degree in fine arts and French, she went on to earn her master’s in art history from Columbia. You can also find her work online at aprilktonin.com.

Some comics, like a depiction of a 1996 presidential debate viewing party, provide a window into historic moments at Mount Holyoke College. Others seem timeless, like a 1997 call for Math majors to help “end the anxiety” by cracking the formula for Mountain Day. 

Grace Grieve-Carlson ’19 provided the latest comics for Mount Holyoke News. You can find all her work, from the adventures of Cici the ghost roommate to Grieve-Carlson’s surreal take on apple cider donuts, under the “Comics” tab on our website. 

MHN 100 is a bi-weekly column celebrating the newspaper’s 100 years of student journalism. Archival copies of the Mount Holyoke News can be found at compass.fivecolleges.edu.

If you’re interested in joining the newspaper as a cartoonist, please contact mhnews@mtholyoke.edu.

A May 6, 1976 comic summarizes the relationship between long-time roommates.

A May 6, 1976 comic summarizes the relationship between long-time roommates.

A March 15, 1979 comic highlights the uncelebrated benefit of drinking coffee.

A March 15, 1979 comic highlights the uncelebrated benefit of drinking coffee.

A March 6, 1986 comic depicts the classic post-grad uncertainty.

A March 6, 1986 comic depicts the classic post-grad uncertainty.

A comic published in the Feb. 13, 1992 edition pokes fun at first-years.

A comic published in the Feb. 13, 1992 edition pokes fun at first-years.

A Feb. 6, 1992 comic illustrates the physical education requirement crisis that seniors still experience today.

A Feb. 6, 1992 comic illustrates the physical education requirement crisis that seniors still experience today.

An Oct. 10, 1996 comic shows a stereotypical presidential debate-watching gathering at a women’s college.

An Oct. 10, 1996 comic shows a stereotypical presidential debate-watching gathering at a women’s college.

An Oct. 2, 1997 begs for an accurate prediction of the date for that year’s Mountain Day.

An Oct. 2, 1997 begs for an accurate prediction of the date for that year’s Mountain Day.

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