Martha Arguello used her maiden name in signing her cartoons “Marty Links,” and for 35 years in a daily panel cartoon and in a comic strip on Sundays, she retailed the trials and tribulations, mostly of the romantic yearning sort, of Emmy Lou, a typical American teenager, who debuted under the title Bobby Sox in November 1944, in only one newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, where Links worked in the Women’s World department.
The name of the feature invoked “teenager” like no other: adolescent girls at the time made a fashion of wearing calf-length stockings, rolled down to a bulging bundle at the ankle, and when they showed up in legions to scream their adoration of singer Frank Sinatra, their uniform footwear attracted the attention of reporters, who called them “bobby soxers” (perhaps because the regulation length of their socks had been “bobbed” like the hair-dos of their mothers’ generation in the 1920s; but I can’t say for sure).
Emmy Lou is an exquisite caricature of giddy teenage femininity: tall, gangly and rail-thin with what webcartoonist Shaenon Garrity calls “an ironing-board physique,” Emmy Lou spends her spare hours either pining for her beau, Alvin, or dismissing him, or chasing after other juvenile males or experimenting with make-up and wardrobe or astonishing her baffled parents. “I wish Alvin weren’t so changeable,” she confides in a girlfriend, “—one week I hate him, and the next, I adore him.” Once, in the company of the abused Alvin, she says: “It’s so nice of you to offer to help me with my homework tonight, but, really, I’ve got to study.” Sprawled on her bed, all elbows and knobby knees, Emmy Lou shares sandwiches with a female intimate, pondering alternatives: “I don’t know about going to a girls’ school. A friend of mine tells me you never get enough food—all they serve is breakfast, lunch, and dinner!”
“Bobby Sox and Emmy Lou were just perfect for the time,” Malcolm Whyte, founder of San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum told Carl Nolte at the Chronicle just after Links died January 9, 2008. More than just a comic, Whyte continued, it was social commentary, representing the life of teenage girls two generations ago. “It caught the angst and confusion of teenage girls. It was an innocent time, a gentler era, and the gags were a little less gross than they might be now.”
At the pinnacle of its popularity, Links’ feature ran in 100-150 papers, and in 1960, Emmy Lou Harper got her own live-action tv show with a theme song, “Emmy Lou,” sung by that generation’s Sinatra-like heartthrob, a Frankie named Avalon.
Born in 1917 in Oakland, California, Martha Links soon moved with her parents across the bay to San Francisco, where she lived for most of her life. Graduating from Lowell High School, she attended the Fashion Art Institute for six months—her only formal training in art—and then got a job painting murals in the teen departments of San Francisco’s big department stores. After a career that lasted only through the Emporium, the City of Paris, and O’Conner Moffat, Links found herself at an agency, assigned to do fashion drawings for a major ad campaign. When she turned in her art, her supervisor was disappointed. “This isn’t what we want,” said that worthy, “—these kids look more like—like—bobby soxers!”
Crushed, Links thought her career as a fashion artist was over. But then as she thought about the hours she’d lately spent at soda fountains, listening to how the teenagers talked and observing at their clothing and actions, she had an idea for a cartoon character. But nothing came of it until shortly after she took a job in 1940 in the Women’s World department of the Chronicle, where she started drawing cartoons about a pug-nosed, short-skirted teenage girl named Mimi, who was a little older than Emmy Lou would be.
Links did a cartoon once a week and was paid $5 for it. Interviewed by cartoonist Ed Mitchell for Cartoonist PROfiles in late 1976, Links said, “Mimi didn’t always look the same. I sort of kept changing her, adding things here and there.”
One of the things that emerged among the changes was a title for the feature: the first Bobby Sox appeared on November 20, 1944. Soon thereafter, it was picked up and distributed nationally by the Chronicle’s syndication arm, Consolidated News Features.
By then, Links had married in 1941 her high school beau, Alexander Arguello, scion of a distinguished San Francisco family. He was a descendant of Jose Dario Arguello, a Spanish army officer who was commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco and a governor of Alta California. His son, who also became commandant of the Presidio, was a governor of California in the Mexican era. Links would have three children, two of them girls, who, at various times, would serve as models for Emmy Lou. “I had some real-life situations to draw from,” Links told Mitchell. “I’ll have to say that some of the things that were true could never be put in the newspaper.”
“Marty Links was a pioneer,” Whyte said, “—a woman cartoonist at a time when the cartoon business was really a boys’ club.”
Teenagers were just coming into their own as a demographic prized by American retailers, but their adventures, beginning as long ago as 1919 with Carl Ed’s Harold Teen, had been chronicled by male cartooners. Paul Robinson’s Etta Kett (“etiquette”), which began in 1925 to counsel America’s youth in manners, had soon emerged as a flapper strip. Strips capitalizing upon the new 1940s market included Penny, Harry Haenigsen’s 1943 distaff spin-off from his 1939 Our Bill, and the obscure Susie Q. Smith by Linda and Jerry Walter, started in 1944-45.
The only female cartoonist drawing about teenage girls at the time Links was trying on the same subject was Hilda Terry, who had been doing Carrots O’Hara about a red-headed teenager for American Magazine since the early 1940s. Hearst pressed her into service at King Features, where she launched It’s A Girl’s Life on December 7, 1941, “on the back pages of Pearl Harbor,” as Terry once said. The feature was re-named Teena on July 1, 1944, and ran until 1964. So the sorority Links joined was a pretty exclusive outfit of one until Links made it two. But most people who knew Marty Links only by the signature in the cartoon assumed she was male.
Readers sending her letters usually began “Dear Martin.” Links, responding to such letters, usually added “a little note at the end,” she explained, “saying that I’m not Mister Links but the mother of several children. For many years,” she added, “the National Cartoonists Society [which, until assaulted by Hilda Terry, had been an men-only club] sent all my letters addressed ‘Mister Links.’ I finally sent them an announcement that I’d just had a baby.” (Links was one of the first women admitted to NCS, and other accounts of her encounters with the Society’s sex-myopic bureaucracy report that her response was to offer to send them her bust size.)
Links drew with a frail almost wispy line—“One of those loose, cheerful styles where every line seems to tumble naturally into place,” as Garrity put it, “charming to look at, impossible to reproduce”—the panels copiously filled with the details of the setting. Links employed a unique way of composing her cartoons: she began by penciling in an extensive setting, then placed a cut-out cardboard frame over the picture and moved it around to focus on the portion of the scene she wanted to use, cutting out the excess. Then she added teenagers and went on to ink the result.
In 1951, anticipating that bobby socks were fading from the fashion scene, she re-named her cartoon Emmy Lou. The Chronicle, doubtless for sentimental reasons, kept the feature’s original name, which pleased Links. “I feel it’s sort of a nostalgic thing,” she said to Mitchell, “—it has a certain charm.” William German, editor emeritus of the Chronicle, agreed: “For two generations of readers, Marty Links spelled the magic of never growing older. Each day, readers were brought back to when they were wearing or dating bobby sox.”
Although Links worked at home, she was never far from the paper that had given her a start. “For nearly forty years,” German remembered, “Marty would whisk through the Chronicle city room, delivering a weekly batch of cartoons with the same bounce as when she put on her first pair of saddle shoes. Marty really was Bobby Sox.”
Links was assisted for much of the run of the feature by Ted Martine, whom she hired when the Sunday strip began; he lettered speech balloons and inked backgrounds. She also used gags regularly supplied by Jerry Bundsen, a Chronicle staffer.
Even with assistance, producing a daily feature while being a wife and mother was no easy task. But Links managed it, as she explained to Mitchell: “It’s the one job where you can work at home, raise your family, and be a wife. But you’re torn between cleaning the house or meeting your deadline. The deadline should come first but so should your husband’s breakfast. He could care less about your deadline! I’m a widow now [her husband died in 1966]. My husband was an original chauvinist, and I accepted it. I’d get up early and draw, and when I heard him coming downstairs, I was out of that studio room in a minute with the eggs frying. I could have afforded help because I’d done well, but half the time they didn’t show up. And you can’t say to your children, ‘I’m sorry, kids, but mother’s having a career.’ They come first. So you spend your life being torn between the terrible desire to draw and the terrible desire to be a wife and mother. Whichever job you’re doing at the moment, you think you should be doing the other one. You spend your life being really tired.”
In the 1960s, Links began to get letters from feminists. “They’re against Emmy Lou,” she said, “because Emmy is shown sitting by the phone, waiting for a boy to call. They say I’m perpetuating a custom that’s been going on for generations and that it’s wrong. But I feel that I’m just reflecting what’s still happening. I see my own kids doing it, and I’ve done it myself, I’m sorry to say, even at my age. It seems to me that we women are still not [in 1976] in a position where we can just call whomever we want to. However, I try to get in touch with these feminists who write because I’m very much in sympathy with what they’re trying to do.”
As the Vietnam War heated up and then boiled over in protests across the U.S., Links wanted to comment. “I’ve very interested in politics, but I can’t include anything like that,” she said. “I was so against the Vietnam War, and I remember asking Stan Arnold, the comics editor at the Chronicle, if I could do some gags pertaining to Emmy Lou being aware of the War and of how wrong it was. I was very much aware of it since my kids were of draft age. But he said that wasn’t my role or Emmy Lou’s. I feel badly about this, but I can’t cover everything.
“I wanted to bring a black girl into the cartoon,” she continued. “And the syndicate was very upset at first because they thought I’d lose a lot of papers in the South. Some of the kids who came to my house were black—my son’s roommate was black—and it seemed so strange for me not to include something of that world in the feature. I have my standards, but I have to earn a living, so I set the idea aside for a while and thought more about it. Finally, I sneaked her in, little by little, and fortunately, all the comments were good. Sometimes I think the artist’s good taste should override certain rules.”
Mitchell asked her what she would say to women who wanted to get into cartooning. “I think cartooning is one place where it makes absolutely no difference whether you’re male or female,” she said. “I will say, though, that my advice to a woman who wants to combine marriage, children and a career is to try to get a nap in the afternoon! Your life, your vacation—all revolve around that deadline. It isn’t a casual commitment and it requires a lot of self-discipline. How many times, when I’ve been sitting in my studio on a hot, sunny day, and someone will phone and say, ‘Marty, let’s go to the beach’—and I’ve had to reply, ‘I can’t do it: I’ve got to have this in the mail by this afternoon.’ On the other hand, if you work ahead, you can take a few days off now and then. But I must say that in order to take a 6-week trip, I’ve almost literally had to get a year ahead with my cartoons.”
But Links still thought she had the best job. “Cartooning is a wonderful field for women, and commercial art is, too. I’d always worked at home in my studio while my husband was living, but when I became a widow, and my children were grown, I found it very lonely, being shut up in the studio. I wasn’t getting a chance to mingle with people so I finally took a desk at a friend’s commercial art studio, went there once a week, and later we had a Christmas card business for many years.”
While doing Emmy Lou, Links branched out into greeting cards. At first, she did them for her own company, but eventually, she worked for Hallmark Cards, producing her own series of cards called Lollipops, populated with her unique brand of cartoon juveniles. “I’d certainly like to give Sparky Schulz full credit and thanks for recommending me to them,” she told Mitchell.
Time passed, and Emmy Lou, as Garrity observes, “bowed to the winds of change by acquiring a bobbed haircut, a mod wardrobe, and a running crush on Steve McQueen, but she belonged in a world of hot rods and ponytails and billowy prom dresses. You can take the girl out of the bobby socks, but you can’t take the bobby socks out of the girl.”
In 1979, with her own children grown and out from under foot, Links realized that she’d lost her connection with the younger generation. Talking to Herb Caen, the Chronicle’s famed columnist, she said: “Everything I know about teenagers today is unprintable.” She retired Emmy Lou the last week in December that year. She would produce greeting cards, however, for another twenty years, quitting, at last, at the age of 82. But she continued thereafter to paint watercolors and made ceramic sculptures. “She never stopped working,” her daughter-in-law Ginny Arguello said. She made a drawing for a fan the week before she died.
Emmy Lou appeared on tv in a 1960 live-action episode of the anthology series “Shirley Temple’s Storybook” and again in the animated 1971 “Archie’s TV Funnies” and in 1978′s “Fabulous Funnies” series. A character called Emmy Lou showed up in a 1962 episode of “Mr. Ed.”
In later years, Links imagined a post-teenage life for Emmy Lou, saying she had gone into law and was working for women’s liberation. Alvin, the boyfriend with the voracious appetite, became a brain surgeon. Aren’t we all?
Now here’s a gallery of 1954-57 Emmy Lous, culled from either Bobby Sox or from More Bobby Sox. I have both these paperbacks, and the two titles are identical inside in every way—both are Popular Library Eagle Books, both were published in November 1957. Marty Links holds the copyright, it sez; but Bobby Sox is trademarked by Consolidated News Features. There is not an iota of difference between the two titles except that the covers, front and back, are different. Eventually—at least by March 1977, the publication date of the Cartoonist PROfiles interview—Emmy Lou was distributed by United Feature.
Before we get to the cartoons, you might want to visit Shaenon K. Garrity’s column about Marty Links: Garrity has a gift for the apt phrase, and her appreciation of Links’ work in Emmy Lou is warmly intimate and lovingly eccentric—in short, highly recommended.