Love is... A Fresh Look at Kim Casali

11 February 2004

    “Love is…” is much more than a quick smile, more than a moment of humour. It has become a symbol of affection and adoration worldwide. “Love is…” is making a come-back to the comics pages much to the delight of dedicated fans and new readers.

    Born a New Zealander, Kim Grove Casali left at age 19 to travel the world. In 1967, she was 25 and living in the state of California, USA. By chance, she met her future Italian-born husband, Roberto Casali, a computer manufacturer, at a Los Angeles ski club where they were both beginner skiiers. At that time, Kim drew sketches of her funny episodes on the slopes. Roberto encouraged her to continue and she did, expressing her love for him in little cartoons. After four years of dating, Kim and Roberto were married in 1971.

    Kim found that her husband had saved her love notes to him and had been showing them to his friends. Roberto had also shown the cartoons to The Los Angeles Times, who picked up the panel for publication. “Love is…” became a syndicated cartoon on January 5, 1970. It caught on like wildfire, spreading to papers in 50 countries in 25 languages. The comic was a windfall to the merchandise industry in sales of mugs, t-shirts, calendars and much more.

    Kim did not feel she was an artist or a cartoonist. She used doodling as a way to convey her deepest feelings. In the September 1981 Cartoonist Profiles magazine, Kim said about her beginnings, “If I’d had a choice, I would have become a writer of romantic songs. Songs about love affected me deeply, I’d get a chill down my spine or feel ecstatic or cry (if it was a sad one) but I’d feel deeply. I didn’t become a songwriter so I had to express myself in another once the real thing happened to me.” She added, “… I drew a round blob of a girl who was supposed to be me, the one who was feeling all these fantastic things. Then I added a blob of a boy who was the reason I was feeling these things.” On the topic of finding ideas, she said, “When I really got started I would sit at the dining room table listening to romantic music… but I’d get carried away listening to songs by Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey…” Kim also found Neil Diamond’s music to inspire romantic thoughts. *(1)

Love is

    Six months after their wedding, the Casalis moved to England for a different job for Roberto: they lived a happy life for several years. Kim gave birth to sons Stefano, then Dario. Her cartoon continued to grow in popularity and Roberto became her business manager. But, popularity sometimes brings irritation, such as when Kim was put on the spot to defend “Love is…” in a vigourous public discussion. A debater felt the comic depicted “women as childish, simple-minded dependents whose function is to serve man.” Kim disagreed and rebuked the claim, stating “Obviously, I must not have offended too many people because we’ve been successful.” *(2)

    In 1975, the Casali family was devastated to learn that Roberto had developed an incurable cancer. He opted for surgery and treatment in hopes of extending his life. That same year, Kim and Roberto engaged the help of British cartoonist, Bill Asprey to take on the daily production of “Love is…,” leaving Kim free to do the writing.

    During the troubling time of poor health, Roberto and Kim decided to try for another child but without success due to the illness. They turned to an artificial insemination specialist, storing samples of Roberto’s semen for later use. Only months later, Kim’s beloved Roberto passed away. She was devastated by the loss of her cherished husband. “The first weeks were agony for her and the nights even worse. She began having dreadful nightmares and would often wake up screaming and wet with sweat.” *(3)

    After months of unsuccessful attempts, Kim finally became pregnant with Roberto’s child. Milo was born on July 10, 1977; when Kim was 31 years old. The 1970s were difficult times to have a child in such manner, and so to stem the gossip and “ugly talk,” a week before the baby’s birth Kim gave her story to the London Daily Mail. She no longer had to hide in her home or suffer “the storm over Milo [that] had left her ‘deeply hurt inside.” *(3)

    While “Love is …” flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, popularity of the comic dropped off in the late ‘80s and 90s. Sadly in 1997 at age 55, after a short illness, Kim Casali passed away at her home in Surrey, England. Her oldest son, Stefano, stepped in to guide the “Love is…” business. His birthplace being in Wimbledon, England, Stefano graduated from university with a degree and embarked on a career in advertising. His work took him to prestigious companies such as Saatchi and Saatchi, and Leo Burnett, creating ads for industry giants including Samsung, Gillette and McDonald’s. While still employed as an ad executive, he dove into “Minikim,” his mother’s company, after her death. Finding his skills were required full-time, he left his job in 1999 to take full control of “Minikim,” focusing on the syndication and licensing of “Love is…” Stefano continued the collaboration with cartoonist Bill Asprey to develop fresh ideas for the comic panel.

     Working as ghost-cartoonist, Bill Asprey has drawn “Love is…” for almost 30 years. Renowned in Britain, Bill is a skilled, prolific cartoonist. His background comprises cartooning under the names Williamson and Leon, his own syndicated comic strip entitled “Aphrodite” and a second strip taken from Roald Dahl’s “Big Friendly Giant” book, called “BFG”. It ran for 12 years in The Mail on Sunday in England. He has completed countless commissions for merchandise, magazines, newspapers and greeting card companies. He is also the founder of Cartoon World, a site for cartoonists and comics lovers alike. The colourful site shares information on Bill’s abundant work plus cartooning news, cartoonist bios, competitions and conventions.

Love is 2

    Under the tender direction of its creators and its syndicate, “Love is…” is undergoing modernization to develop and cultivate its classic, familiar charm. The Tribune Media Service continues to publish the panel, building to over 100 newspapers around the globe. Only 1/3 of the newspapers are in the United States. It is read in 34 countries and in 15 different languages and steadily on the increase. Look for traditional and the latest “Love is…” panels on new merchandise such as toiletries, clothing, gift items, wedding invitations, mobile telephone covers and in books world-wide.

    “Love is…” making a welcomed revival. Who could really resist those two adorable naked kids and their sweet optimism?

*(1) Cartoonist Profiles Magazine, September 1981

Many thanks to Sandra and her wonderful new fan web page with fascinating print magazine sources listed, including photos of Kim and the Casali family members:
*(2) http://www.segurafamily.com/li/

*(3) Good Housekeeping Magazine, November 1977

Catch Love is... daily:
http://www.comicspage.com/loveis/index.html

Have a look at Bill Asprey’s Aphrodite strip:
http://www.ecomallbiz.com/iwm14/ohaphrodite/

© Susanna McLeod 2004
TheCartoonists.ca  
   
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)