Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Maxine Is My Hero!!

What can I say about Maxine, except that I LOVE her! She is my hero! Whenever I buy or send a greeting card - for birthday's, Christmas, get well or just because - my first choice is always Maxine! I've been laughing right along with millions of other fans for over 20 years now. I've collected about 450 cartoons of this old girl and her wit since I got my computer almost three years ago. I've also found numerous ecard (animated shorts) on the Hallmark site as well as collections of her brand of wisdom on YouTube.

If you don't know who Maxine is, then I suspect you have been living under a rock. She's a cranky old broad with attitude to spare. She isn't afraid to tell it like it is or at least as she thinks it is. And the truth is, she is usually right on target with the way she sees things. Her witty, sarcastic and sometimes brutally honest remarks have been making us laugh for over 20 years through cards, cartoons, collections and a wide variety of other products.

She started out as a character for the Shoebox collection of Hallmark Cards back in 1986 and became an overnight sensation. The Maxine line of cards was expanded into a syndicated comic in the 1990's and the comics have also been issued in at least five books that are still available through Hallmark or online. The comics can still be seen daily on the Crabby Road web site. There are links there to her blog, downloads, history, cards and more.

What many people don't know, is who the creative genius is behind Maxine. I hadn't really thought about it, but assumed it was probably a group of writers at Hallmark who were batting around ideas or telling stories about the older women in their lives who just said whatever popped into their minds. Seriously, we all know people who just say what they are thinking rather than editing themselves and they tend to be older women, right? Think Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) on The Golden Girls (1985-1992) and you get the picture.

Well, as it turns out, the real creative genius behind Maxine is - A MAN! (Gasp!) Yup, that's right a guy is writing all those great remarks! Here is the story (as I received it in several emails over the last year or so):

John Wagner, Hallmark artist since 1970, says Maxine was inspired by his mother, his maiden aunts and his grandmother, the woman who bought him art lessons when 'fill in the pumpkins' was about the extent of his art classes at St. John's Catholic School in Leonia N.J.

John remembers doodling as a preschooler and says both his grandmother and his mother encouraged his artistic interests. He eventually attended the Vesper George School of Art in Boston and landed at Hallmark as part of a new artists group. But it was the birth of the humorous Shoebox Greetings (a tiny little division of Hallmark) in 1986 that added a new dimension to John's professional life. The Shoebox way of seeing the world unleashed his talents and he created Maxine."

Cartoonists are sensitive to the insanities of the world; we just try to humanize them," John says. "If Maxine can get a laugh out of someone who feels lonely or someone who is getting older and hates the thought of another birthday, or if she can make someone chuckle about stressful interpersonal relationships, then I'm happy. Putting a smile on someone's face is what it's all about."

Those smiles have led to Maxine's becoming a bit of a celebrity. She (and John) have been the subject of media stories, including People, USA Today, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, and Las Vegas Journal-Review, and they have been included in a major Associated Press story. Collector and trade publications have reported fans nationwide are collecting Maxine items. Letters from consumers and fans to John and Maxine reveal a very personal connection to Maxine. Many people say they are just like her.

Why the name 'Maxine'? "People at Shoebox started referring to the character as 'John Wagner's old lady', and I knew that would get me into trouble with my wife," John says. The Shoebox team had a contest among themselves to name the character and three of the approx. 30 entries suggested 'Maxine'.

John says the name is perfect.John, who says he's humbled by such acceptance of Maxine, admits he's proud of her.

Now you know the story of how Maxine came to be.

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