Cartoon Girl: The Best of Heather McAdams
Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1994

The first time I encountered Ms. McAdams was in the flesh. My pals Matt & Candi drug me along to a showing by the Cinematheque, a local cinema group, to showcases McAdams' 16mm work. The first short subject, if memory serves, was entitled "Coffee Jitters." It was hooked from the moment the title card flashed on the screen. The feature was a biography of a cross-dressing cabaret star. McAdams was set to speak about her work after the films were shown. She instead, with what I can only describe as girlish delight, dragged out from behind the screen the star of her feature and let him perform in person.

This shows, I think, the strength and charm of her work, including her cartoons. That is, she's got something she wants to show and tell. Her choice is to do it in the most particularly direct, engaging means to hand. She's always got some kind of story. A sample of the tales she chooses to translate in her characteristically funky comic strip format include: her wedding (including a trip to a polka fest in the Wisconsin Dells), her favorite bumper stickers, Record Huntin' (in a thrift shop, natch), and The Night I Met Tom Waits (a giant phoney rubber thumb appears in practically every panel). Since this is up-close stuff, there are also strips about drinking, sexual harassment and assorted childhood and grown-up) horror stories. Interspersed are single panel cartoon showing Elvis and George Bush in pony tails, the difference between the (singing) Carter Family and Jimmy (pre-Elder Statesman) Carter, Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner and the world's two smallest cows. Most of the cartoons collected here first appeared in The Chicago Reader (McAdams is the cowgirl queen of Chi-Town's underground performance scene -- hey, you can't make up stuff like this.)

My guess is you'd either be instantly put off by the completely unaffected and fearless drawing style (she's unafraid to lapse into stick figures to better cram everything she wants to show into the panel) or catch its candid charisma. Either way, it's hard not to like this cowgirl's rambunctious 'toons.

--Bruce Townley

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