New York cartoonist Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell and the “farm town” of Sonoma

Little Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell was 8 when she took drawing lessons behind beloved video rental store Movie Merchant to learn from the tutelage of Scott Bromley, a 1998 graduate of Sonoma Valley High School.

Now 31, Campbell draws cartoons for big-city publication The New Yorker, but she’s still enamored and inspired by her upbringing in small-town Sonoma, which continues to fuel her ideas.

That was clear Thursday night at La Prenda Wines, where a number of his former neighbors attended Campbell’s cartoon class to impart his wisdom and knowledge (mostly on “Law & Order” and “Forensic Files”, as she jokes).

“The real reason I’m here is because Ned (Hill) is my neighbor,” Campbell joked in his opening remarks about the owner of La Prenda. “I started drawing labels for Ned maybe five, six years ago, so there’s ‘Happy Wife’ and a bunch of others. We’ve done some really raunchy ones over the years.

An example is a wine collection called “Happy Wife”, each featuring a woman with a different hair color. Campbell pointed to ‘behind the scenes’ talk of the cartoon’s breast size – which needed improvements for a ‘real perky ensemble’.

Exaggeration is one of the keys to making a good comic, Campbell said, combined with observation and pushing the boundaries of reliable tropes.

“When I think about what a cartoon is, in my opinion…it takes something that’s pretty ordinary, or mundane or something that’s really part of our daily existence, and then tries to turn it upside down,” said said Campbell. . “It’s taking something that everyone knows…and then saying, ‘How can I make the ordinary unordinary?'”

Vine grown

But look back for a moment on an 8-year-old Campbell growing up in a house near Sebastiani Winery on Fourth Street East, a regular at the video rental store.

Although Movie Merchants no longer exists, it was behind this store that Campbell remembers learning to draw comics from Bromley, who is now a senior producer at Lucasfilm, the entertainment company founded by the creator of ‘Star Wars’. George Lucas.

“He was coming back to teach cartoons. And he taught me how to draw, which is just a real wild set of events,” Campbell said. “I didn’t think I was going to become a designer, but there you go.”

She first went to the University of California, Santa Barbara to study film theory and pursued a career in the film industry, running the Slamdance Film Festival, an event for emerging artists in Park City, Utah; the city that also hosts the famous Sundance Film Festival.

In 2015, she moved to New York where she submitted cartoons to The New Yorker “every week” and waited for the stamp of approval for her comics.

At the same time, Campbell was serving tables at “al di la Trattoria” in Brooklyn. Finally, after a year, one of his cartoons, titled “Ship and Manage Your Emotions”, was accepted. It described a series of postal parcels with a play on their common phrases: “Fragile since about 2012,” one parcel says.

Campbell’s handful of careers became fodder for her cartoonish ideas, she said. Now she’s waiting for the hilarious moments in anyone’s life.

“I draw my friends’ experiences,” Campbell said. “When you start becoming a cartoonist, you kind of start stealing other people’s lives.”

Her “big break” came in 2016, she said, with the release of the book “Feminist Fight Club” by New York Times opinion editor Jessica Bennet.

The comics depict workplace images of women finding solidarity through Beyonce or creating a humorous flowchart to answer the question: Is this mansplaining? The success of this exhibition propelled her into the new class of New York designers.

Explaining Sonoma to The New Yorker

“Feminist Fight Club” was released during a transition period in the New Yorker’s cartoon department, which spurred on a class of “old guard” cartoonists with roles inherited from the iconic publication, and cartoonists from the ” new guard” who were relatively unknown, like Campbell.

At just 29 years old, Emma Allen was hired as the first female editor of the New Yorker’s cartoon section. She kicked off her tenure by hiring a series of other young cartoonists.

“I might not have a job without the New Yorker’s ‘new guard’ editor,” Campbell said. “She brought in a ton of new talent. I am very grateful to her because she made me come.

Many New Yorker cartoonists and writers live in New York City, and many have lived there for decades. Although she now lives in Brooklyn, Campbell often finds herself drawn back to her hometown when seeking inspiration for her comedic ideas.

Campbell’s cartoons of life in Sonoma are like a local version of The New Yorker’s perennial “Goings On About Town” section. Jokes about binge drinking and vines permeate his comic stacks.

Growing up in Sonoma was boring for Campbell, she said, and so familiar that you could “probably see someone you went to high school pass by, whether you liked it or not.” But like many children who grew up in the Valley wander away and return for a visit, her perspective changed as she matured. The “small town” moments of meeting a friend’s mother at the grocery store now offer solace and humor.

“I think one funny thing that I always try to explain (to fellow New Yorkers) is that it’s actually more of a farming town than people realize – it’s not a candle place” , Campbell said.

As Sonoma has an influx of new residents seeking a life in wine country, she said Sonoma is full of nostalgia, whether it’s sipping wine on porches or walking past vineyards. from the neighbors backyard. An example was a conversation she had with her boyfriend.

“(I) had a funny moment recently where my boyfriend, who works in wine, was visiting customers in Italy. He was sending me pictures of the countryside there,” Campbell said. “And I was like, ‘Honestly, this sounds like Sonoma. We’re very lucky.

Contact Chase Hunter at [email protected] and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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