by Taylor Maurand for The Montclarion/East Bay Times
Not every artist can say her career has had a truly revolting beginning and have that be a good thing.
Dimond district resident Kristen Caven’s (rhymes with “cabin”) recently-released memoir, “Perfectly Revolting: My ‘Glamorous’ Cartooning Career” is a story that has its roots on the Mills College campus and the student uprising that took place there in 1990. It traces her life and growth as a person since that time, using prose interwoven with her whimsical and often poignant cartoons.
The book’s publication was set to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Mills student strike, and she appeared on campus May 4 to speak at the school’s commemoration of the event. “There was such an overwhelming feeling of completion,” she says. “The students are amazing.”
Caven graduated from Mills in 1988 with a self-designed degree in Myth and the Western Mind. She was traveling with her mother, Dr. Louise Hart, Ed.D, when she first heard the news of the revolt. “All I could think was, I have to go back to Mills!”
When she arrived on campus, she says she found the protest so well-organized that, “All I could do was draw.” She produced a series of cartoons called “Inside the Mills Revolution: A Cartoon History.” The drawings won first place in the 1990 Bay Guardian’s cartoon contest. But her self-published booklet was banned at the Mills campus bookstore.
By the time the ban was lifted, she had placed a “banned” sticker on the front cover, her comics were selling in bookstores around the Bay Area and she was being requested for speaking engagements and commissions. “I’m no Salman Rushdie,” She admits. But it was the banning of her cartoons that seemed to spring her career into action.
In addition to the liberal arts education, Caven credits her mother with instilling her with strength, self-esteem and independence that have carried her through the many stages of her life. Her father was a family doctor, and they traveled a lot when she was a child due to his work with the Peace Corps. She remembers celebrating one of her birthdays in Guatemala. Drawing cartoons, she says, was always about communication, “it’s about accurate expression.” She drew and published cartoons into the mid-1990s, including a pair of tongue-in-cheek paper doll coloring books of characters called “Sammy Sperm” and “Emily Egg,” and an “Emily Egg” calendar. “Renaissance Woman” was her last illustration. After that, her son, Donald, now 13, was born, and the “real work” of life took over, she says.
In writing her memoir, “I had to literally dig through my drawers to find all the drawings,” says Caven. The digging was metaphorical as well as literal, and the process for her was difficult and healing. “I had to really open up and look into the hard parts of myself. But it was just such a marvelous journey.” And even though her cartoons are extremely funny, humor, she says, “is a discipline for me. I’m really a very serious person.” Caven has helped write, edit and illustrate books along with her mother. She currently works as an independent graphic designer and publisher, but wants to focus on her career as a writer and author, with children’s books, a novel, and a musical already in progress.
Looking back, “I wanted to change the world with my cartoons,” she says. But in the end, “they changed me.”
Kristen Caven gave a reading and book-signing at 7 p.m., June 11, 2010, at Montclair’s Great Good Place for Books, 6120 LaSalle Avenue, Oakland.