Sonoma-born New Yorker cartoonist debuts illustrated memoir Murder Book

When Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell of Sonoma was 7 years old, she was sitting with her cousins ​​at bakery sales and trying—unsuccessfully—to promote her cartoons of dogs and horses.

“I couldn’t believe anyone would buy my drawings,” Campbell said, laughing as she recalled her first experience as a struggling artist.

The New Yorker cartoonist, who focused on Snoopy’s drawing of Charles Schulze as a young girl, will celebrate the release of her first graphic memoir, “The Book of Murder,” Sunday with a book signing in the Roush Winery tasting room in downtown Sonoma.

The unconventional memoir evokes the dark humor aspects of murder, from our fascination with true crime television, while also sympathizing with the murder victims.

“He walks a fine line, laughing at murder, but in no way laughing at victims,” ​​Campbell said. “He laughs at the kind. …Real crime is like horrific gossip. It’s the feeling you get when you can’t get away from a car accident. You want to see and know more.”

When the artist was asked why she was personally a prisoner of crime, she was weaned off on ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Forensic Files’, she said, ‘That’s what I tried to figure out in the book. My mom and I sat talking about murder 24/7, so there’s this thing. “.

Slaughtering, Campbell points out, is in her genes. Her mother, Laurie Campbell, is obsessed with crime stories, as well as her grandmother, Courtney Vaughan, and her great-grandmother, Annabelle Sprague.

After reading studies by psychologists, Campbell concluded that there was something “inherently feminine” about this obsession with crime.

“Women are probably more empathetic than men,” she said. “Women who watch the news think the victim could easily be them. A, they want to know the piece of the puzzle. The human mind loves a puzzle. And b, they ask themselves, ‘What can I do so that this doesn’t happen to me?'”

Some are protesting because we consume so much crime, Campbell said, because we are overwhelmed by shocking details from the Internet, news stories, podcasts, documentaries and crime shows. But, she said, “people have heard about crime stories since the dawn of history.”

But why the humorous approach?

“I wanted to write this book as a conversation,” Campbell said. “That’s what comedy is. We make jokes about something uncomfortable for comedic relief.”

The writer knows her graphic memoir won’t talk to everyone, but she expects it to appeal to true, unapologetic crime junkies who find books like “The Strangerside Me” noteworthy, both horrifying and fascinating. The book, written by the late Ann Roll, details Al Qaeda’s personal relationship with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

“My mom has every Ann Rule book in the house,” Campbell said. “And ‘Law & Order’ was a mainstay in our house. When I watch Law & Order, I feel at home. It’s really sad, but there’s a strange comfort in crawling in bed and watching some horrific real crime.”

Charles Schulz’s connection

When Campbell was a child, a sketch of Charles Schulz’s Snoopy was hung in the entryway of her Sonoma home, a gift from Schulz to her mother. Campbell’s grandfather, the late Daniel Vaughan, was Schulz’s golf companion.

“I wanted to draw Snoopy just like him (Charles Schulze),” Campbell said. “My mom hosted me in every art class she could grow up in. My mom put me in animation lessons. I didn’t know I wanted to be a cartoonist, but if you look at him when I was five, he was in the stars.”

The early cartoonist laughs that her sense of humor was honed by the tribe at its impasse.

“Everyone was very witty and not afraid to tell jokes,” Campbell said of her neighbors, a fun cross-section of people. They included a doctor, a firefighter, a NASA scientist, a restaurateur, a pilot, and a ruthless nun who changed careers and found teaching more convenient.

“Everyone was walking at each other’s doors,” Campbell said. “It was like I had five sets of fathers.”

The impasse and its cast of characters became Campbell’s lens. I started seeing humor everywhere.

“When you’re a kid, you think (joke) is normal. But realizing that other people didn’t have it, you realize how special it was,” she said. “I realize now that I’d like to be there half the time. I hope it will be kept there in my mind forever.”

Cartoonist at The New Yorker

“Like a kitten, I was looking at the New Yorker’s desk,” Campbell recalled her first visit to the storied magazine featuring in-depth journalism alongside caricatures of social commentary.

“I was nervous. I went in and handed the cartoon to Bob Mankoff, the animation editor. I was shivering in my shoes. He said, ‘Don’t come back until you’ve done a thousand of these.'”

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