I grew up reading newspaper comics. Among the various ones I remember seeing as a kid and still running today is “Mary Worth.” Now, Mary was not on my reading list as a kid. It was a soap opera strip continuing from day to day.
As a middle-aged adult however, I learned the artist for Mary Worth was the same artist who drew Batman comic books when I was young, Joe Giella. So, little by little, I began reading Mary Worth when some of my favorite comic strips were being cancelled. While Joe’s work brought me to the strip, it was the writer, Karen Moy, who kept me coming back with interesting storylines.
Some recent stories about a character named Tommy caught my attention because they actually mentioned faith and even showed the Bible. At that point, I decided to interview Karen and learn more about her as a writer and her long-running comic.
KJK: Where did you grow up? Did you like writing and drawing back then? Did you read newspaper comics?
Karen Moy: I grew up in Jackson Heights, New York…the same neighborhood that actress Lucy Liu hails from! In fact I was friends with her sister when we were kids.
I loved to write and draw from a young age. I especially loved art and have a lifelong appreciation for it. As for writing I kept journals and was a voracious reader in my growing-up years.
One of the joys of my childhood was reading newspaper comics. My favorites were Dondi by Irwin Hasen and Brenda Starr by Dale Messick. I loved all the classics too … Blondie, Hagar, Beetle Bailey, Mark Trail, Peanuts, and Prince Valiant among them.
KJK: Where did you go to college? What were your initial plans for after graduating?
KM: I went to the State University of New York at Binghamton. I majored in Art and I minored in English. After graduation I worked in Advertising for a year before finding my way to the working world of comics. I initially hoped that I could use my love of art and my love of storytelling in a job, and my hopes came true!
KJK: How did writing for “Mary Worth” come about?
KM: I was a fan of my predecessor John Saunders and admired his work a great deal. When he became ill, I volunteered to write “Mary Worth” until he recovered. I was already ghostwriting other strips [for King Features]. I submitted sample stories and my editor approved them before I was hired to write “Mary Worth.” When John Saunders sadly did not recover, I kept writing the strip and eventually got my own byline.
KJK: Can you tell us exactly what the writer of a comic strip does?
KM: When I write Mary Worth I think of her as the friend and/or neighbor you want to have. She’s compassionate, wise, caring, moral, and not afraid to alleviate a situation whether it’s popular opinion to do so or not. She’s proactive while also wise enough to step back if required. I write three to four stories per year. Each story has an introduction or setup, an eventful crisis, and a resolution. It’s a play in three acts that lasts about three or so months.
Sometimes the stories involve Mary’s friends and neighbors, and sometimes the stories involve new acquaintances. As long as people have problems, there will be material for stories. I write a story summary in advance and submit it to my editors for approval. After approval I write the dialogue and setting as if writing a play, and submit a script to the artist and editor every week.
There’s a certain amount of research that I do for each story. I also use my own experiences as well as the experiences I see around me for my work. I watch television and read newspapers, magazines, and books to glean ideas. Popular culture provides an endless supply of material.
A comic strip writer must write true to the character. Luckily I like Mary … she’s not perfect but she’s heroic in the sense that her character stands for positivity, optimism, proactiveness, wise experience, and integrity.
KJK: What do you enjoy most about creating comics?
KM: I enjoy creating worlds that are relatable and yet also different and entertaining. I love creating something beautiful whether it’s a scenario, character, story, piece of dialogue, or relationship.
Mary Worth has readers of all ages, it’s a pleasure to connect with them in a positive way. When they write to me and tell me my stories have touched them, it’s gratifying. I love my fans. They can write to me at email@example.com
I also work my love of music into the strip whenever I can. Occasionally a reader recognizes something that I slip in.
KJK: You have worked with two different artists now. How would you describe them?
KM: Joe Giella is a legend. He has been involved in some capacity with practically every character in the DC Silver Age universe including The Flash, Batman, and The Green Lantern. His background is in superhero comic books and yet for the 25 years that he drew “Mary Worth” for newspapers, he never complained about the pacing that newspaper strips require. He’s a real gentleman and a legendary artist. I loved working with him.
June Brigman is the current artist whom I work with on “Mary Worth.” I actually sought her out when I knew Joe was ready to retire. I knew of her work on “Brenda Starr” and I knew she’s familiar with the demands of a continuity newspaper strip. Most people know her from her preteen superhero comic book “Power Pack”. She’s an incredible artist and I love her work on “Mary Worth”.
I’ve been very lucky to have worked with these two amazing artists.
KJK: “Mary Worth” is probably one of the most positive comics out there. How do you keep up the positivity?
KM: It’s the nature of the character. Mary’s not a curmudgeon. She sees the glass as half full. Even when she’s dealing with dark or depressing situations, she looks for the light at the end of the tunnel. And she helps others to see it too. This is a timeless character and strip that everyone could use, especially nowadays. She’s not perfect but she does her best to live a positive life. She says, “I always try to do the kindest thing possible.” I hope others do too.
KJK: In a recent story, you have characters talk about faith and how it has changed them. What inspired this?
KM: Tommy has made some unfortunate choices in life, ones that led him to addiction, prison time, job loss, relationship turmoil, you name it. But as he was told in the most recent story, we learn from our mistakes. He doesn’t want to be that guy anymore. He’s lucky to have a mother in Iris, and a friend in Mary, who guide him as they do. Part of that guidance involves reminding him of a Higher Power, and during his darkest days, he surrenders to it. We all have problems, we’re only human. Sometimes it helps to remember that we’re all in this together, and we are connected by Love and Spirit.
KJK: You have collected some of your Mary Worth stories into paperbacks. How can people purchase copies of these?
KM: There are currently two “Mary Worth” book collections published by Lulu.
They can also be found on Amazon. The titles are “Love and Other Stories of Mary Worth” and “Searching and Other Stories of Mary Worth”.
KJK: What plans do you have for the future?
KM: I would like to make new Mary Worth book collections in the future.
I would also like to explore some interesting story ideas that I have on the back burner.
Thanks very much to all my fans who enjoy Mary Worth!
The first story about Tommy begins here … http://maryworthcomics.com/comics/july-3-2016/
The most recent Tommy story starts here … http://maryworthcomics.com/comics/june-10-2018/