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Cartoon Artist Julie Atwood Joins The Bridge

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While growing up in her home state of New York, award-winning cartoonist Julie Atwood never had much interest in reading “the funny pages.”

“I think I was a teenager before I saw my first cartoon in a newspaper,” Atwood said. “It might have been Dennis the Menace or something. I’m a very late bloomer.”

Today, she is a 32-year veteran of newspaper comics, primarily for The Hardwick Gazette. This year, she began creating original cartoons for The Bridge.

“I’m excited to reach more people,” Atwood said of her new Montpelier gig. “It was a pleasant surprise to be asked.”

Atwood moved to Vermont in 1985, and was “transformed from a city girl into a country gal,” she said. While describing herself “always good at drawing and painting,” her first love was literature, and she dreamed of becoming a writer. But for a single mother of five, the day-to-day practicalities of life left her little time to pursue a career.

“I was interested in everything that had to do with writing and journalism, but I didn’t get to finish college, because I had to be a stay-at-home mom,” Atwood said. “It wasn’t just financial; it was stress overload. Five kids, one still in diapers.”

While running errands in Woodbury one day, Atwood picked up a copy of The Hardwick Gazette and noticed the paper was missing its regular cartoon.

“Their previous cartoonist had passed away, and the position was open,” Atwood said. “So, a few weeks later I stopped into the Gazette and met Ross Connelly [then-owner of The Hardwick Gazette], showed him my portfolio and he hired me.”

Despite having no prior experience, Atwood soon discovered she had a natural talent for creating cartoons with clever, thought-inspiring captions.

“You have to have a good imagination, and I found it really came easy to me” Atwood explained. “I’m pushing 67 years old and I still have that imagination. Use it or lose it.”

Inspiration for her cartoons comes during moments of solitude, Atwood said.

“You have to have quiet time alone to concentrate, and then the ideas just flow to you,” Atwood explained. “So, I take those ideas and they’re automatically transferred to pictures.”

While Atwood initially “swore I would never get involved in religious or political cartoons,” she soon realized the art form allowed her to promote social change while providing readers a moment of respite from hard, often depressing, news stories.

“If I can do something that’s funny, a silly cartoon that makes them [the reader] laugh a little bit, then I’m happy,” Atwood said. “If you don’t have humor, you’re not going to make it.”

When tackling darker, more serious issues, Atwood applies humor in a different way.

“When it’s an issue that’s very serious, I’ll use sarcastic or dark humor to bring attention to it,” Atwood explained. “You can still bring humor to it while making the point that if the problem didn’t exist the world would be much better.”

Atwood is especially sensitive to the plight of Vermont farmers, and said she raised her children to respect the farming industry.

“Years ago I was standing with my kids at the checkout line at Grand Union, and a farmer came in wearing coveralls because he had been working,” Atwood recalled. “And my kids were making fun of him, ‘Oh mom he smells,’ while we’re standing there buying milk and cereal.”

Atwood was disturbed by her children’s failure to connect the farmer’s labor to food items they regularly purchased at the grocery store.

“When we got to the car, I said to them, ‘You know the milk you love to put into your cereal every morning? It came from a dairy farm. And the man you said smelled? He smells like that because he’s working, getting the milk from the cows so you can take it home and enjoy your cereal,’” Atwood recalled. “I told them, ‘if you ever run into a farmer again you just remember, that’s a nice smell. You be grateful for that smell.’”

The incident inspired Atwood to create a cartoon that went on to win first place at the 1988 New England Press Association (NEPA) Awards.

“I drew a farmer sitting at his table, and he’s got it open to the jobs, the classified section, and his little boy is saying ‘But dad, I don’t want to be an astronaut, I want to be a farmer.’ Because people think kids want to grow up to be astronauts or doctors, but nobody wants to grow up to be a farmer. And I wanted to draw attention to that,” Atwood said. “I think it’s a very important issue.”

In 2001, Atwood’s work earned another first place NEPA award.

“There was a very bad flu epidemic going around, and I drew a cartoon of kids trick or treating,” Atwood recalled of the winning cartoon. “And one of them looks in their bag and says to the other ‘All I got are antibiotics.”

As long as there is injustice in the world, Atwood will continue to speak out through her cartoons, she said.

“We need to put more thought into how we can turn things around,” she said. “I see good things happening, and people are trying, but not enough.”

Julie Atwood’s cartoons can be found in The Bridge and The Hardwick Gazette newspapers. She is the author of several e-books, including Cabin Fever – My Life in the Green Mountains, and Mother Load – Memories of Motherhood, available on Amazon.com.

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