Move over, Clinton. This month Duluth’s favorite irreverent cartoonist joins the legions of celebrities who have penned volumes about themselves. Ultra Violet: Ten years of "Violet Days" provides a glimpse into the life of cartoonist Chris Monroe and traces the evolution of her craft by featuring over 300 of her "Violet Days" comics. (The book is published by X-communication, operated by Ripsaw editor Tony Dierckins.) Several events celebrating the cartoonist will coincide with the book’s release.
For those who haven’t seen "Violet Days," its characters look a little like Rugrats, only all grown up and constantly spouting commentary on strange, everyday observations. While their stringy stature and anxious energy suggest they might be working through some serious substance abuse issues, their revelatory reflections and honest humor make Violet and the gang complex, thinking beings. The strip rejects formulaic approach—occasionally schizophrenic, often packed with text, generally lacking any identifiable narrative. But it is perfectly funny. Screw Raymond; everybody loves Violet.
Including Bob Dylan. Apparently, the folk legend and native son sauntered into Bullseye Screen Printing last January, where he and an unidentified woman took a liking to Monroe’s Duluth-themed T-shirts featuring drawings of Dylan. The singer and his friend bought two big bags of shirts. It invokes a lovely image—frazzle-haired Bob, curled up with a mug of cocoa and whiskey before bed, all snuggly and warm in his 100 percent cotton oversized tee with a Monroe rendition of his chicken-legged self on the front.
Her T-shirts—along with CD covers for SpinOut Records, Pizza Lucé menus and ads for Robin Goodfellow and Positively Third Street Bakery—have made Chris Monroe’s scrawl familiar to locals. Born and raised in Duluth, she headed downstate for school at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where her dormant cartoonist would eventually emerge.
"In art school I never turned in any art of a comic nature," Monroe writes in the foreword of Ultra Violet. "I sent humorous illustrated letters to friends and family. My senior year I discovered the comics of Joe McDonnell…. The realization that I had always been doing it hit me like skunk spray."
The evolution began, and with it a decade-long parade of wonderfully weird characters (Duck-On-Bike, Santa Squirrel). Monroe drew "Odd Co-op Facts" for the Whole Wheat News, making funny the very serious business of vegetables. Shortly thereafter, the Twin Cities’ Funny Pages began running Monroe’s "The Invisible Fence," which focused on Violet, Spike and their wild friends.
"Fence" led to a request for Monroe to write a weekly strip, hence the birth of "Violet Days." It ran in several Minneapolis papers and still appears weekly in the Star Tribune. When the cartoonist moved back to Duluth, "Violet Days" first appeared in the Reader before finding its way to the Ripsaw.
These days Monroe plays mom to son Mickey and continues to create both comics and non-cartoon art. As last summer’s Duluth Art Institute solo exhibit revealed, Monroe’s large, vibrant pastel paintings betray the stark linearity of her cartoons. Her comics poke you in the ribs, make you laugh, think, then laugh again. Her fine art doesn’t jab you like that; it seduces you, purring, "I am big, loud color. I am funny. You know you want me." As artist, cartoonist and now author, Chris Monroe manages to keep us all amused.
Book launch for Ultra Violet: Ten years of "Violet Days"
By Chris Monroe, X-communication, 2004, $14.95
Big Brain Comics, downtown Minneapolis
Thursday, August 26
5pm Artist signing
6pm Slide Show: "My Life as a Cartoonist"
6:30pm Artist signing
Limited edition, signed-and-numbered full-color "Ultra Violet" art prints available.
This review was initially published in the Ripsaw News and reprinted here by permission.