Work From the Inside

Women and work have been a center of discussion for decades. Recently Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Office at Facebook writes a book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013) on this very subject. She is ranked as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the world. Recounting her previous experiences working in some of the world’s corporate powerhouses, including Google and the United States Department of the Treasury, in her book Sandberg encourages other women to seek paths to achieve their fullest potential in their workplace.

In forging our career path and making meaning of it, I can’t agree with Sheryl Sandberg more on how she describes the process as a jungle gym, not a ladder, which allows us for more creative, non-linear exploration of work.

I am lucky to have encountered many women who do just like that – striving for a higher level of achievement in work, and what’s more, a greater opportunity to express ourselves through artistic means. My last “Her Blog” series has highlighted the use of blogs and their influence on women in realm of art criticism, teaching, and museum directorship. I want to discover more stories on how women create opportunities for themselves, embrace uncertainty, and develop their own artistic career path.

Catherine Hannah, a comic artist living in Chicago, tells an incredible story of how she turns to making comics and the way it shapes her work.

Artistically inclined from a young age, the Michigan native says she always liked to draw and was greatly encouraged by her parents, teachers, and friends to continue pursue in the art. Cathy would make up little characters like "cool cat" and drew comic strips about her family's dogs.

As she got a little older she drew teenage soap operas influenced by Japanese manga artist Rumiko Takahashi and shojo comics (which geared toward young girls). In high school, she was already determined to be a comic artist even though she was not aware of the practicality of it. Making comics, as she puts it, was the only thing she did and enjoyed the challenge of getting better at.

Making comics also serves as an outlet for her emotions:
 “Making comics is my therapy. My work is all autobiographical so it is a huge relief to be able to express my emotions through storytelling. My graphic novel Winter Beard is all about me having a crush on my friend. I couldn't express those feelings to him directly because of various insecurities and hang-ups but when I make my comics I can be brutally honest with myself. The comics I have been making recently are very introspective and it is very helpful to be able to lay my emotions bare and see them exist outside myself on a page. Sometimes my memories seem unreal to me... 
“Moments that I can clearly remember seem so far away I wonder if they really happened. So when I draw that memory and tell that story it makes it more real to me and it’s easier to revisit painful experiences or makes joyful, happy times more permanent. When I draw comics I feel like I'm confiding in someone,” Cathy explains. 
Cathy’s comics intertwine intriguingly with her study in art history, past teaching experience and
gallery work.
“I think that the things that drew me to comics are the same things that drew me to art history. I'm such a sucker for a good story and art history is full of them...For my major we had to take fifteen credits in art history to graduate. I was drawn into how the composition would tell a story, how iconography and metaphor were used in art. I liked hearing stories about the artist's lives. I liked hearing the stories about powerful political families who patroned the arts. I'm all about context.”
While working as a tour guide in the historic Andrew Lowe House Museum (famous for his daughter-in-law Juliette Lowe founder of the Girl Scouts) in Savannah, Georgia, Cathy liked relating anecdotes about the family, like how they got this mirror or what they used this room for. “History, to me is just a lot of good, true stories!” At Glessner House and interned at the Roger Brown Study Collection after moving to Chicago, her passion in storytelling did not cease. “I focused mostly on decorative art, quilts in particular, because they are intimate objects of personal history full of stories.”

Comic making and storytelling go beyond just a therapeutic tool for Cathy. Cathy is now planning on completing a fourth issue of her current comic book series, Alas, which may debut this June at CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo). And she does not stop here. After CAKE, Cathy has a bigger plan for getting a self-publishing grant or through kickstarter to print a graphic novel version of Alas to press publishers for distributions.

On her future with comics, Cathy concludes, “I don't dream of getting movie deals or anything like that. I make comics because I have a story to tell.”

Working from the inside, Cathy makes comics capturing memories, and moments of life and imagination. As Sheryl Sandberg challenges us to reach our potentials through work, What would you if you weren't afraid?

To find out more about Cathy’s comic or buy it, visit