Editor’s Dispatch: Talking with Karen Moy and June Brigman of Mary Worth

By Tea Fougner

As many of you know, Joe Giella, longtime Mary Worth artist, retired from the strip this week. We’re going to miss Joe a lot, but we are so delighted to welcome June Brigman to the daily Mary Worth strip.

June has been drawing Mary Worth on Sundays for the past couple of months, and we’ve been enjoying her visual interpretation of characters we love so much. For me, it’s been especially exciting to see an artist who’s been responsible for drawing some of my favorite comics over the years take on Mary and her friends!

When Mary Worth was first conceived back in 1938, artist Dale Connor, one of the rare women working in comics at the time, drew the strip, then written by Allen Saunders. With Connor’s departure in 1942, artistic duties were handed over to Ken Ernst. June’s addition to the Mary Worth team marks the first time since 1942 that a woman has drawn the much-beloved matriarch of the comics page, and the first time in Mary’s history that the comic strip is in the hands of an all-female creative team.

I talked to Karen Moy and June Brigman about Mary Worth, their current collaboration, and what they see in store for Mary in the future.

Tea: Karen, I’d love to start by giving Joe Giella a little bit of a send-off. Can you talk a little bit about working with Joe? What are you going to miss, and what are you looking forward to in working with June?

Karen: I’m going to miss talking to Joe on a weekly basis, and learning from his great life experiences. Whenever I’d discuss a Mary story with him, we’d also chat about our thoughts and feelings and lives. He has quite a history, having been a major part of The Silver Age of Comics, as well as having worked with my predecessor John Saunders. I admire and respect Joe, and I like him a great deal.

Joe Giella’s last Mary Worth strip: Saturday, July 23, 2016 

I look forward to working more with June too. I’m impressed with her work on Mary, and I think she’s doing a fantastic job. I admire her skills and accomplishments, and I have great hopes on our collaboration with present and future stories. Being a teacher, I think she can relate to Mary who was a teacher and still teaches in her own informal way. I appreciate that June understands the pressures of working on a syndicated strip, the deadlines, and all that a syndicated strip entails. I welcome the new influence that June brings to the strip and I look forward to seeing more of her unique spin on Mary’s world.

Tea: How did you and June come together to work on Mary Worth?

Karen: I had been working with Joe for a number of years. We had a wonderful working relationship and there was no reason to look elsewhere. But I realized Joe would retire some day, and I thought of June. I was aware of her talented work on “Brenda Starr” and knew she could draw a syndicated continuity strip which has its own specific demands. I saw June at the San Diego Comic Con a few years ago. I introduced myself and gave her one of my “Mary Worth” books. Later, I suggested her name to my editor as a possibility for when Joe decided to retire. We’re lucky to have her and her husband Roy Richardson (he letters, inks, colors, and digitally formats the strip) on board!

Tea: This is the first time that Mary Worth has had an all-female creative team. Do you think that that will influence the strip in any important ways?

June: While I don’t want to play the woman card, I can’t help but think that Karen and I have some insights into Mary’s character that a male team would miss. I’m not sure how our gender will influence the strip . But I hope we can create stories that will be involving for everyone regardless of their sex or age. My husband also works on the strip, he helps keep me grounded, so I don’t think it’s going to become a complete estrogen fiesta!

Karen: Mary has always been supportive of female characters. Maybe in the distant past there were more ditzy females in the strip in need of Mary’s help, and just like in life, they exist in the real world too. But Mary herself is a strong, admirable woman and will continue to be. I look forward to working more with June who brings her own unique spin to Mary.

Tea: June, What are some of the challenges of working on Mary Worth, and how do they compare to the challenges you’ve had in your previous work?

June: After fifteen years on Brenda Starr, I’m used to the constant deadlines of a daily comic strip. The challenge is to stay fresh and look at each new story arc as an opportunity to improve the artwork. Joe Giella set a very high bar during his twenty-five years on the strip. I want to take care of Mary as well as he did.

 A recent Sunday strip drawn by June Brigman

Tea: What are some of the things about Mary Worth that are most important to you/make you excited to work on this strip?

June: Mary Worth has a lot of emotional content. I love drawing facial expressions and body language, and I’ll have many opportunities to do just that. Mary is a character that I can relate to. She’s a little older than me. But we both love gardening and baking cookies.

Tea: Where do you see the strip headed, and what are some of the things you most hope to get out of your collaboration on Mary Worth?

Karen: For many readers Mary is a benevolent reliable character in an ever-changing world. She serves as a moral common-sense compass for friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike. Issues such as repairing family relations, opening up to romance, dealing with bereavement, overcoming addictions, feeling misunderstood in an unfeeling world, are timeless themes that many can relate to. And yet, as the world changes, she must change with it. She may deal more often with young friends, like Olive, to influence a new generation who can use her advice…and who also can teach her a thing or two!

I’d like to invite readers to send story ideas or things they’d like to see in the strip to me on the Mary Worth site: www.maryworthcomics.com. I may or may not use the idea, but I welcome any suggestions that fans may have for the strip. If readers want to send letters via post mail, they can send it to Karen Moy, c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 West 57th Street, 15th floor, New York, NY 10019 and the correspondence will be forwarded to me.

I’m excited about working with June on Mary stories. I know we can create some great stories on the comic pages together!