Anne Deborah Bernstein was a writer, an editor, a cartoonist - numerous vocations along a winding path. Fascinated with drawing since childhood, she attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City and was soon immersed in the formidable cartooning scene surrounding that school in the early 1980s. Bernstein became a graphic designer and freelance illustrator upon graduation, but also wrote scripts for live sketch comedy on the side - this led to an assortment of small comedy writing jobs, and eventually a contributing editor gig at National Lampoon in its twilight years. All the while, Bernstein continued to draw comics; a fortitudinous encounter with a call for submissions in an NYC weekly led to her contributing cover art and interior strips for the 1990 debut issue of Drawn & Quarterly, the house anthology of a nascent Canadian publisher.
Bernstein also did scriptwriting for shows on the children's television network Nickelodeon, which led to an unexpected confluence of her interests. Hired as a senior editor for the quarterly tie-in periodical Nickelodeon Magazine, launched in 1993 following an abortive earlier run as a Pizza Hut restaurant giveaway, Bernstein became instrumental in hiring alternative and underground cartoonists for the multimillion-circulation magazine's prodigious comics section: an unusually stable source of fascination to indie comics readers (and income for indie comics artists) in that tumultuous decade. After a few years, Bernstein moved on to perhaps her most prominent creative work, as a frequent scriptwriter for the animated television series Daria, newly-launched on Nickelodeon's sibling network MTV and co-created by a fellow ex-Lampoon editor, Glenn Eichler. Bernstein would contribute significantly to the series for its entire 1997-2001 run, also writing the 1998 spin-off book The Daria Diaries and contributing in-character posts to the show's official website. Bernstein also engaged in scriptwriting and story editing work on other MTV projects, aired and un-aired; of note, she was instrumental in the development of the 1999 animated series Downtown, on which she also served as head writer, as well as a never-produced animated adaptation of Peter Bagge's alt-comics institution Hate, on which she was story editor.
After the shuttering of MTV Animation in 2001, Bernstein moved on to other television writing endeavors. However, her health took a bad turn when she developed Multiple System Atrophy, a neuromuscular disease which robs the body of involuntary functions such as breathing and motor control. Still, she remained connected to the greater New York comics community, online and otherwise, as best she could. Bernstein died this past February.
What follows is a series of tributes from a wide group of people–artists, writers, editors, observers–whose paths crossed with Bernstein on her eclectic travels. Austin English assembled these texts, along with a wide selection of comics, photographs and art pieces - all with the intent of offering something that approaches a rounded picture of Anne D. Bernstein and her restless talent. Special thanks must go to her partner, Alan Kaplan, whose generosity throughout the assembly of this article was extraordinary.
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Obituary by Chris Duffy
(comics writer and editor, formerly of Nickelodeon Magazine)
Anne D. Bernstein, an influential and talented cartoonist, illustrator, comics editor and magazine and animation writer, passed away at age 60 in Brooklyn, New York, on February 8, 2022, from complications of Multiple System Atrophy.
Anne is most known to much of the world as a writer for the MTV animated show Daria, but among many other creative and professional highlights, she was an important figure in comics, including contributing to the earliest issues of Drawn & Quarterly magazine. She drew the cover to the first issue of that seminal anthology. Later she created and edited Nickelodeon Magazine’s comics section (called “The Comic Book”), a vibrant and creator-driven portion of that periodical that harnessed the power and inspired silliness of alternative cartoonists, many of whom had never drawn a story for kids before.
Born on May 21, 1961, Anne grew up in Rockville Centre on Long Island’s South Shore and attended New York’s School of Visual Arts from 1979 to 1983, where she majored in design. After an early job doing layouts at Redbook magazine, she quit to pursue freelance illustration, cartooning, and to write for a comedy group called Chucklehead. Through the '80s and early '90s she illustrated for the New York Times, was a contributing editor for National Lampoon, and wrote for several MTV shows. Throughout this period, and beyond, she was very much a part of the New York City comics scene, a pre-internet time when only a few scattered events per year brought cartoonists together. Anne is remembered particularly by this writer for organizing a party for New York’s comics scene in the Village in the 1990s - a characteristic act for someone who loved putting people together.
Nickelodeon Magazine editor-in-chief Laura Galen hired Anne as one of the first staff members in 1992, and in addition to writing and editing for the magazine, Anne developed the comics section. After four years, she left the magazine to work at MTV Animation, a New York City-based studio, where Anne scripted many shows. These included Daria, a show she became associated with after the fact, though she would take pains to explain that she hadn’t created the character. After MTV closed the animation studio in 2001, Anne continued writing for animation, including many preschool shows, a new audience for her.
Anne was eclectic, intensely creative, extremely talented, and had a sure and confident ear for comedy and an eye for visual style. Longtime friend Robert Leighton remembers her love of the art of Disney artist Mary Blair from a very early age. It might be tempting to tell her story as a progression from 1980s SVA to her comics accomplishments, and then to animation, but she was always creatively active in many directions at once. Anne’s life wasn’t really separable from her creative interests; she was a lifelong collector of vintage art, clothes, and home décor, and her own artistic pursuits continued throughout her life. Even when drawing became impossible due to MSA, she continued to make collages, which were expressive and, in true Anne style, immediately entertaining.
Though “cool” by almost any standard, Anne was known for a generous spirit (she didn’t have a mean bone in her body), while also being extremely professional, practical, and tolerant of others in her field who were sometimes lacking tact or restraint - she always looked beyond such behavior to the talent and the project at hand.
Drawn & Quarterly founder Chris Oliveros has written his own remembrance of Anne’s comics and how she came to be a regular contributor to Drawn & Quarterly magazine in the early 1990s. Her comics for the magazine were deft and in a style all her own. They seem to reflect her love of minute details (“The Neck”), Americana (“The Luckville Nearly New Shop”, “Househunting”), and flights of inspired fancy. “'Tis the Grimaces” reads with the inspired whimsy of the earliest 20th century Sunday comics pages. Her friends and coworkers knew Anne never stopped drawing, but to comics readers she perhaps remained a bit of a mystery, seeming to disappear from the scene, when in fact she became even more influential.
Anne’s writing and voice helped create the tone for the magazine, exemplified by her popular continuing feature “Annoying Car Songs” - pitch-perfect lyrics for kids to sing from the back seat of the car. She also contributed many non-fiction pieces, expertly researched and written. But for many adult comics fans and kid readers, it is “The Comic Book”, the magazine’s 8- to 12-page comics section, that is her most memorable accomplishment.
Readers of Nick Mag in its first three years of publication experienced comics and comics-section covers from such underground and alternative cartoonists as Kim and Simon Deitch, Sam Henderson, Kaz, Jason Lutes, Heather McAdams, David Mazzucchelli, Mark Martin, Pat Moriarity, Mark Newgarden, Richard Sala, P. Shaw, Jay Stephens, Wayno, Jim Woodring and many more. "The Comic Book" and the whole magazine were conceived and shaped to create a great experience for kids, to “translate the personality of the network into print” (as Laura Galen described its mission) rather than to be a promotional publication.
The presence of such idiosyncratic talent in a corporate magazine setting was revolutionary. Some notable regular features included Sam Henderson’s pantomime comic “Scene But Not Heard” (which ran for all 16 years of the magazine’s life), “Mervin the Magnificent” by Sala, “Southern Fried Fugitives” by the Deitch brothers (a long-running serial), “Bug Patrol!” by Stephens, “Sam Hill and Ray-9” by Martin, Mark Newgarden’s gag-filled calendars, “Smudgy and Scribbly” by P. Shaw, “The Secret Three” by Jake Austen & Jason Lutes, and “Classic Comics” featuring covers and strips from comics history, sometimes from Anne’s own collection. The comics section continued in this spirit after Anne moved on from Nickelodeon Magazine, and she continued to contribute magazine articles.
Importantly, Anne made sure from the start that cartoonists’ contracts were first rights only, meaning that creators owned the copyright and could control the fate of the characters they created, another rarity in a corporate setting. (First rights contracts were also the standard for all freelance writers and illustrators outside of the magazine’s comics section.)
Animation, MTV, and Hate
Though rightly known for memorable scripts for Daria, more important to Anne was MTV’s Downtown, which she helped develop and where she was head writer. Though it lasted only one season, with Downtown Anne felt she’d done something special. She also brought her love of comics to MTV, working with Peter Bagge, whom she knew personally from when they both lived in Hoboken, to adapt his comic book Hate into an animated series. With director Yvette Kaplan, they worked on an animatic and several scripts. The show wasn’t picked up, though Peter clearly admired Anne and enjoyed working with her. He described the experience in an interview with The Comics Journal.
Though her last years were terribly difficult—she suffered mentally and physically in alarming conditions in a Brooklyn nursing home—Anne was not forgotten by her many friends. During visits often coordinated by her boyfriend, Alan Kaplan, a truly devoted and loving companion and generous spirit, Anne's friends would watch TV with her, listen and play music for her, bring her non-institutional food, and, when possible, take her for trips.
A memorial was held for Anne on February 19th, which took place on Zoom and was hosted by Anne’s sister Ellen, her friend Frank Gresham, and Alan Kaplan. Over two hours, many of Anne’s friends and family spoke of her kindness, her love of life, and her ability to see things and find places others couldn’t or didn’t bother with—usually putting her on the cutting edge of trends, neighborhoods, music, art, and clothes—as well as her ability to bring others along on these journeys.
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For most of my adult life, Anne D. Bernstein was there. We met as students at the School of Visual Arts in the early 1980s, and while I don’t think we actually ever shared a class, she was one of the immortal cast of zany characters in that pungent petri dish of cut-throat cartooning and casual mayhem.
Unlike most of that ensemble, Anne beat the odds and maintained a solid footing in NYC cartoonist circles over the years. Make that decades. She published ‘zines. She wrote. She drew. She edited. Signings, screenings, seminars, shows, concerts, cons, comedy clubs, dinners, diners, Bar-b-ques, bars, bargain stores, birthday parties, flea markets, functions, openings, closings, afterparties and outings: as often as not, Anne D. Bernstein was there, or had just left the building.
Fun Facts to Learn and Know:
• Anne knew the best SVA-adjacent bagels were the bagels from Ess-A-Bagel. NOT the bagels from Pick-A-Bagel. (Please.) The bagels from Ess-A-Bagel!
• Anne once generously passed along a hot tip on a 3rd Avenue Goodwill sighting, and lucky me lugged a huge, heavy, cracked golden picture frame back to Brooklyn - improbably encasing a vintage original George Price New Yorker cartoon (for about the a price of a 2022 bagel).
• Out in the world, we peddled our wares to some of the usual suspects: Spy, Paper, National Lampoon. The kind of work that angled for a cheap laff, but usually covered the gas bill for a couple of months. (Made it Ma! Top of the world!)
• In the '90s Anne was recruited as an editor at Nickelodeon Magazine. She hired cartoonist friends and went toe-to-toe with Viacom suits for the creator’s ownership of their work. I contributed a labor-intensive double-calendar page for a spell, until an editorial dust-up with an exec over a line of dialogue belonging to a cow. The next thing I knew Anne was off writing a cartoon show for MTV. I don’t think she ever looked back.
• Times changed, but Anne continued to maintain the inside scoop on matters of pressing import, including the finer points of ergonomic foam pillow design. What little sleep I got last night is thanks to the very model that she personally considered a game-changer.
Fast-forward and the facts become less fun. The last years were difficult ones and Anne was fortunate to have someone close to help navigate those deep black waters. Yet she remained a presence; on social media or the occasional pre-COVID cartoonist get-together. And then, somehow, Anne D. Bernstein was no longer there.
Speaking for everyone here, we’ve all lost our best friend.
Anne was our best friend.
We all had something in common with her. It could have been animation or comedy.
A love of vintage kitchen kitsch or antique furniture. An appreciation for underground or alternative comics.
She was one of those rare people who made my love of something others considered geeky seem much cooler - because she loved it too. She made me proud to fly my freak flag higher.
She made me a better person for knowing her.
She had style and class - one of the best people we’ve ever met in our lives. Rest in Peace, Anne - and, speaking for everyone here, thanks for being our friend.
(comics writer, editor and journalist)
Unfortunately, I never worked with Anne. I was introduced to her by animation legend Jerry Beck during a transitional period in my career when I was doing a ton of networking. Jerry enjoys putting people together he thinks might benefit from knowing each other, so the three of us had an enjoyable lunch together in New York.
Anne turned out to also be friends with a friend of mine from high school, and I shared a beach house with the two of them and some other people one summer. That led to Anne introducing me, at the beach, to my future wife, Varda, who knew Anne from the downtown NYC theater and art scenes.
I missed my chance to get Varda’s phone number at the beach, but it happened that she and Anne were both going to be guests at screenwriter Todd Alcott’s upcoming wedding. So I asked Anne to see if Varda would be okay with Anne getting her number for me. Anne agreed to do it, and Varda was interested enough to provide her number. Anne got the info to me, I called Varda, and we have been together ever since.
Later on, I would do the longest interview ever done with Anne for my Write Now! magazine, which I was doing with TwoMorrows Publishing. (Issue #2, if you want to dig it up.) We conducted the interview in my old apartment as, all around us, frenzied renovations were going on to modify the place for my and Varda’s recently-born twin sons.
But although I never worked with her, it was clear from the interview and just from knowing her—and from seeing and reading her work—that Anne was brilliant, funny, and insightful. She was a lot of fun to be around, a natural spiritual heir to Dorothy Parker. Anne’s annual birthday parties at legendary New York bars were justly famous for their eclectic mixes of a wide range of interesting people. I’m going to miss her a lot.
(writer and filmmaker)
I'm greatly saddened by the loss of Anne D. Bernstein. In the 1990s, Anne was the comics editor of Nickelodeon Magazine, and although her office was in the MTV building, her heart was downtown, and she gave assignments to a whole raft of experimental weirdo cartoonists that no other commercial publication would touch. She was extremely smart and well-spoken, a delight to spend an evening with and always a sharp dresser to boot. A quintessential young creative Manhattanite, she also had a Victrola and a collection of 78 rpm shellac records, and hosted regular birthday parties at the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel. She was born too late, she really belonged at the Algonquin Round Table.
I met Anne in the late '90s when I was a choreographer married to a cartoonist. She was one of those rare artists who literally embodied her talents through her writing and drawing, her fashion sense, and her ability to fill her home with clothing, artwork, comics, and other media that gratified and inspired her. When we were first getting to know each other, we connected through clothing. I was into costumes. She was into the history of fashion. At an early stage in our friendship, Anne came to one of our parties wearing a little black fascinator. We immediately bonded because we were the only people in the room who knew what a fascinator was. Whenever I think of Anne I think of her in that itty bitty lacey hat, which makes her loss more poignant.
My memories of Anne Bernstein and comics are of her as a constant presence. I don’t remember first meeting her. But it was probably at an independent study course in comics taught by Art Spiegelman at SVA on Friday afternoons from 3:00 to 6:00. 1982. Myself, Jayr Pulga, Paul Karasik, Mark Newgarden, Bob Guglielmo and others would regularly be there. The whole thing was a learning process of putting together an anthology comic, taking critiques and learning how to package and sell a comic book. Anne was there too. This, I believe was in a design capacity. She did some work on the contents page of the book that we all worked on: Bad News.
As I say, it seemed as if she was always around, always a part of it. And yet, I never really thought of her particularly as a cartoonist (later on her comics appeared in Drawn & Quarterly), but as someone who was floating through that world... she floated through a lot of ‘em! She of course got involved in animation (Daria on MTV), magazine writing (National Lampoon)... Anne knew all the cartoonists, we had long arguments about who could draw and who couldn’t! These arguments were never contentious - we were both just very opinionated about art and cartooning. Anne was not a cartoonist in the sense of somebody who sweats it out at the drawing table, slaving away at it, honing their craft relentlessly. Not her. That kind of specializing would have bored her I think. She moved freely from one creative field to the next. Ultimately I would say I considered her a writer. Anne felt very comfortable approaching people regardless of what their medium was. I liked that about her. And I will say this, too... she showed up! If there was a comics exhibition, art party, anything with cartooning in it, she was nearly always there. I was happy about that. I felt relaxed talking to Anne. She made those parties much more bearable for me. I’m not all that social myself, but Anne’s manner; engaging, thoughtful, funny, a little nervous, smiling, easy-going... you knew you could trust her to be a good friend and I’ll always remember that about her. I knew her going back to that independent study class in 1982 and could easily call her a friend. Always.
Anne was, of course, an important part of the comics and animation worlds. But I first got to know her in the early 1990s, through yet another subculture: the alternative comedy/downtown performance scene in Manhattan. Back then, besides writing for MTV shows, Anne was collaborating with the comedy troupe Chucklehead, writing sketches and creating props. (I was just starting to do my cartoon slide shows/performances at small clubs.) Anyway, Anne and I were both cast in a funky live comedy show called She-Man, created by another MTV writer, Dale Goodson. It was an offbeat political superhero pastiche, and we played cartoonists who sat in the audience, commenting and complaining about the action on stage. So '90s, so postmodern. It was a very fun bit. Anne didn't think of herself as an actor, but she was always energetic and game, and she threw herself into it.
Anne was consistently able to find commercial venues for her writing, editing and other talents, but she also maintained her interest and involvement in unusual, fringe scenes, whether alt-comics, alt-comedy, or alt-what-have-you. (I mean, she did the cover for the first issue of Drawn & Quarterly!) And she was able to bring her unique sensibility and enthusiasm to a wider audience. Her smarts were matched by her great taste.
(founder, Drawn & Quarterly)
Anne D. Bernstein was one of the cartoonists who answered a “call for submissions” I placed on the back page of a New York weekly paper in 1989, just as D+Q was starting out. I’m pretty sure one of the samples she sent was the hilarious “Out of Control Fantasy Comics”, which I absolutely loved.
In fact, I was so impressed with her work that I asked her if she could also draw the cover for the first issue of Drawn & Quarterly. A few more short comics followed, including “Househunting” and “The Luckville Nearly New Shop”, both outstanding examples of her distinctive graphic style and her perceptive, nuanced writing. Not surprisingly, she soon went on to enjoy a successful and lengthy career first as an editor for Nickelodeon Magazine and later as writer on a multitude of high-profile animation projects. I’m really grateful that I had the chance, however briefly, to work with Anne. She’ll be sorely missed.
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GALLERY: Anne D. Bernstein comics from Drawn & Quarterly
(click and drag to see the images)
(founding editor-in-chief, Nickelodeon Magazine)
Anne worked at Nickelodeon Magazine as one of the four founding editors. She was the only one among us who was a comic artist and who knew the comics world. She educated me on alternative comics while she built the eight-page comic book bound into the magazine, and asked both up-and-coming and established artists to contribute.
Our goal was to create funny, non-superhero comics that would appeal to all kids. We also produced original comic stories and features for the big Nickelodeon animated shows.
The comic book became a favorite amongst readers. With freshness, a wide variety of styles, voice, and humor, it hit big. Anne knew many people in the comics world and continually expanded her sphere. The success was also due to Anne's exquisite understanding of kids. She wrote some of the best pieces in the non-comic parts of the magazine, too - from annoying car songs to poems to greeting cards as well as researched articles about anything from pilgrims to odd collections. Plus, she was an artist!
She was also a pleasure as an employee from a manager's point of view! Easy-going, independent, responsible, enthusiastic and productive. We all cracked up a lot together.
Anne was hugely talented, funny, and curious. The sensibility she brought to Nickelodeon Magazine stayed with it long after she left, throughout its existence. She was a gift to our readers and to her co-workers. We will always miss her.
(comics historian and journalist)
Among many memories, the first was Anne's outreach to me when she was with Nickelodeon Magazine. I think I never knew how she knew of me, but in the large but close circle of comics enthusiasts many of us are aware of each other, often through multiple associations. Anyway, she asked me about contributing, and soon fine-tuned our brainstorming to some way the magazine could feature vintage comics. Did she mean straight reprints? Not necessarily - and that was my first real impression of Anne. She was like one of those kids' toys, a sparkling pinwheel of ideas, alternatives, possibilities, surprises, enthusiasm. I was at the time typically busy (not that typically) with other projects, so nothing came of it... but whatever might have come of it would have been fun and clever and memorable.
Those lists go toward describing Anne, a polymath of life's interesting possibilities. An editor, a writer, a cartoonist, a swing dancer - she did everything well, and clearly found fun in it all. And her creativity and joy were infectious. Through the years I would hear her name, always with great projects bearing her imprint.
I never told her, but after some years she upped the value of my stock - that is, maintaining the mysterious regard in which my grandkids held me. They were fans of the animated series Daria, and on visits when they were more interested in the episodes than they were in me–except to patiently describe characters or share the premises–I announced that I knew one of the writers, ahem, Anne Bernstein. She inadvertently acquired a few months' of reverence; the alchemist's Midas touch.
In Jewish tradition is the phrase "May her memory be a blessing." Does "May" indicate a wish, or a permission, or a conditional situation - that is, not automatically the case with those who are taken from us? (And Anne was, by her cruel, rare, debilitating disease, palpably taken away.) It is hard to think of someone whose actual works were literal blessings, more than Anne Bernstein's were. And it is even more difficult to think of someone whose brilliant personality and shining joyfulness were even greater blessings than her professional accomplishments to those she touched.
At the beginning of my career in the early '90s I was told I should send my comics to Anne Bernstein at a magazine Nickelodeon was starting that was going to have a comics section. I knew her byline from magazines like National Lampoon and might have met her once or twice at various comics functions. I thought I wouldn't be able to compete with veterans such as Kaz, Peter Bagge, or Mark Newgarden, but also figured I'd have nothing to lose and sent samples of my work, which I'd never done with any slick magazine before that. I wasn't expecting to have anything printed, just showing a sample of what I did. She liked one strip in particular just as it was and didn't ask for any changes, not even to change the proportions. For the next 16 years I did strips with those characters for the magazine. After a few issues, she came up with the name "Scene But Not Heard" for it. I was also doing covers for Screw at the time and thought her or anyone there knowing about it might blacklist me, but one day they knew because one of the 'Scene' roughs was drawn on the back of a piece of scrap paper with an idea I pitched to them, and she left a message on my answering machine saying she wasn't the least bit offended, but I should watch what else was on the piece of paper because it could get her in trouble from higher-ups. Good thing she took it with good humor, another editor anywhere else could have sued me for harassment.
After about three or four years, she left to be a writer for Daria, a spinoff of Beavis and Butt-Head with a YA angle, but I still stayed in touch with her. She and Helena Harvilicz had a couple parties for the cartooning scene of New York rivalled only by Danny Hellman's annual cartoonist nights. She had annual birthday parties at places like the Algonquin Hotel, disappearing monuments to old New York she managed to find. She somehow knew about places like that we all had forgotten about. I'd heard her home was just like her office, which was full of various old and new tchotchkes and comics, both trendy and nostalgic at the same time. After not hearing from her for a while, I got a Facebook request from "Carol Gardens" and as with most friend requests from people I don't know, I ignored it. After another attempt she had to send me a message saying who she was, it didn't occur to me the alias was named after the Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, where she now lived. I'd heard she was sick recently, but I didn't know how much. Hope she's teaching people to swing dance in heaven.
(musician, comics writer)
Anne Bernstein, co-creator of Daria for MTV, died today and I’m very sad about it. She was a very charming, funny, kind, down-to-earth person, and will be missed by many in the NYC animation and cartoonist world.
We knew Anne from the underground cartoonist set in the mid/late '90s. Kathleen Peistrup Hambrecht and I moved to NYC because we were pals with Dame Darcy, and in love with East Village bohemianism, and Anne was at all the parties, art galleries, shows... we hadn’t learned to be loud yet, and it was very easy to get lost in the crowd amongst all the larger than life personalities. Anne remembered our names, and made a point of saying hi and talking to us whenever she saw us, introduced us to folks... that sort of thing is a big deal when you’re in a new town.
It’s hard to not-to-talk about when I bring up Anne, but it was a time that—with no social media or cell phone cameras—NYC cartoonists were somewhat Street and very funny, and very crazy and a tiny bit dangerous. The stuff they said was very blue and genius level hilarious, and very literate, but I don’t even know what to compare it to - every foul offensive word you can imagine, even then, I was constantly blushing. The Aristocrats movie? Reservoir Dogs, but no guns? Smart people in a Richard Kern video?
Everyone was dressed in really loud suits, outfits and cocktail dresses - it seemed like the women were all extroverts, while the men were 50/50. Now all the artists seem shy, I dunno why. And they were all part time pornographers working for Screw, which was basically a guide to prostitution and vice, so that made things a little “rough”.
So, having someone who loved these crazy people but was actually thoughtful and not likely to say something really insane, unintelligible or thoughtlessly cruel made Anne actually stand out. I think she was a conduit between the crazies and the straights, and she loved patiently listening to the crazies' stories. She was not going to dump a drink on your head, insult your mom personally on the street, take some taxidermied rats out of her pocket and wave them in your face, cause a scene that got you kicked out of a restaurant, or attack you for no reason. But she was a friend to many who would, and she was an oasis of sanity for the crazies.
So many women I know say that Daria was a big deal for them. I think if you just asked on Twitter, you’d get 3,000 testimonials from active lady artists.
I know she worked for years with Bagge on the Hate cartoon that didn’t happen, and the first time I met him we all went up for a party in his fancy hotel suite paid for by MTV that I think she hooked up, and everyone was amazed that a cartoonist got the luxury treatment. It was a big deal.
Right before print stopped paying cartoonists at all in the early 2000s, from 1997 to 2000 they all got paid double, briefly, from websites and print. So the cash faucet was briefly on, and weirdos were in demand - very lavish private parties where East Village crazies mixed with rich folks, famous and A-list political types. Darcy described it like “Paris in the '20s.”
I’m sorry that this doesn’t seem very much about Anne, but I feel like the world has changed so much, that saying what she was “like” without providing context doesn’t make any sense...
I first met Anne Bernstein way back in the early 1980s, when we were both living in Hoboken, NJ. My earliest memories of her was as someone who was often organizing events and/or projects, and she would flash me this intensely wounded/enraged look when I would decline to take part in one of these projects. I'd laugh and say "do I need to be afraid of you?" She'd reply "not if you change your mind!"
After I moved out west we'd occasionally stay in touch mainly by her sending me samples of her illustrations. I really liked the way she drew, and was surprised she didn't make it the focus of her creativity, but writing and editing obviously interested her more. Then in 1997 I landed a development deal with MTV which brought me back to NYC for a few months. Anne was an employee at MTV at the time, and she was assigned as the story editor for my project. Oh how we fought! Well, I guess we were both stubborn. Only she had this way of arguing where she'd act like she'd "won" before the argument even started, and that I might as well have just been whistling Dixie, which only made me crazier.
Anne had a great self-deprecating sense of humor, I must say. Once while sharing a cab to a party she suddenly had the cab stop at a grocery store so she could run in, buy some cat food and then stop off at her apartment to feed her cat (or cats, I forget), all while the meter was running. By the time she got back in the cab she rattled off a half dozen "cat lady" jokes at her own expense, thus robbing me (and most likely the cabbie) of the opportunity to do the same.
Anne also was a strong advocate for young cartoonists she liked, and I can still hear her touting their names to me. Occasionally there'd be a few whom she'd assure me showed great promise, only I didn't always see it at the time. Yet as the years rolled by I'd think "oh yeah, she was right about that one. And THAT one."
I last saw her a couple of years ago in one of the nursing homes she'd been staying in after she took ill. It's shocking to see anyone you know suddenly deprived of the full use of their body, but it was even more the case with someone as formerly vivacious as Anne. She could barely speak or move, but craved company just the same. She also downplayed the countless indignities that were now a regular part of her existence, and which served as a cue to her guests to do the same. Still, it was hard not be enraged on her behalf, like you wanted to punch someone without knowing who. I'm sure that hapless, underpaid orderlies at such facilities get punched all the time. Life sure can be unfair sometimes.
RIP: Anne B.
(cartoonist, childhood friend)
When Nickelodeon Magazine was getting (re)started, Anne was brought on staff in some editorial position but specifically asked to edit the magazine’s comics section, a bound-in newsprint section in the center of the slick magazine. And she explained to Laura Galen, the editor, that she really liked comics and knew what she wanted to do. So Laura was probably only too happy to let her do it.
I’m sure that Nickelodeon was actively trying to be the non-Disney brand for kids, but they could not have invented a better person for this job than Anne. I met Anne when we were a couple of hyper-creative teenagers, writing comedy, drawing comics, examining what kinds of brushes cartoonists used, etc. But my tastes were fairly mainstream, and Anne—even at 15 years old—was into the odder stuff. I loved Warner Bros., she loved UPA. I loved Pogo, she loved Lynda Barry. I loved MAD and Lampoon - she did too, absolutely, but just a few years later she was reading RAW.
So when she started pulling together cartoonists for Nickelodeon, she went for the people she admired from the underground/alternative world of comics. I remember how much she loved the Deitchs’ Boulevard of Broken Dreams when it was first published. She got the Deitch brothers to pitch a comic strip to the magazine, which turned out to be “Southern Fried Fugitives”, a serialized story about four deep-fried pieces of chicken (wing, leg, thigh, and breast) on the run for their lives. I think it ran four years. Can you imagine how many kids grew up exposed to that kind of inspired weirdness? And can you imagine the reaction of a parent who expected that the comics section would be like Disney comics? She also brought in Mark Newgarden, Richard Sala, and many other great alternative cartoonists.
The thing about Anne, always, was that she was not afraid to be herself, and in fact she looked for others whose individuality came through like her own did. I recognized this in her even when she was 15 and I was 16. She wasn’t trying to be cool, the way many kids do. On the contrary, I know she had plenty of moments when she’d have fit in better if she were more like everyone else. She just was cool - by which I mean she was true to her own tastes and knew instinctively when something was valid enough to share with others.
Danny Fingeroth did a great interview with her in Write Now! magazine, probably twenty years ago. In that interview, Anne said that when she was looking for cartoonists to do work for Nick Mag’s comics section, she loved it when she saw something that made her think: “There’s something a little off about this. This comic is a little weird, and I like that. It comes from the right personal place.” Every time I think about this quote, the wholeness of Anne rushes back to me.
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GALLERY: Scissor cut-outs by Anne D. Bernstein
(courtesy of Alan Kaplan, who notes that while these pieces were created before Bernstein lost the ability to draw, she continued to create art in this style as her illness worsened)
When her boyfriend Alan had to move Anne to a nursing home, my wife Linda and I helped pack all of Anne's belongings (she was a collector of mid century furniture & knickknacks, vintage clothes, and of course comics, plus there were stacks of Daria-related materials, so there was quite a lot of packing in a short span of weeks).
We also visited her in a different nursing home (she was in two or three of them) right before COVID. Seeing her health decline in those last few years is one of the saddest things I've been through. I wouldn't wish that brutal illness on my worst enemy, and sweet, good-natured Anne certainly didn't deserve the lousy hand she was dealt.
I always liked Anne, found her witty and pleasant, but we were little more than background characters in each other’s lives for most of the time I knew her. We saw her a bit more regularly in the last few years when she got sick, but the illness was really smothering her personality at that point.
My wife’s very good at handling crises, so when Anne reached the point where living alone became untenable, we did our best to help Alan out.
(comics editor and journalist)
I wrote something about Anne at The Beat, but there is always more to say about someone who touched your life so much, and who I want so badly to continue to live on. I know she will with everyone who knew her, but her work mustn't be forgotten either. She was a trailblazer in comics and even more so in animation. If you read Danny Fingeroth's interview, sadly the only truly longform interview she ever did, you can see her self-effacement - she wasn't a story editor, she wasn't a development exec, she's at pains to say. It's a modesty born of necessity for surviving in a world that didn't want people like her. She persevered on sheer talent threaded with tenacity.
Being friends with Anne was remarkable because she was always so alive, so aware of her surroundings, their history, and their uses. In a way, being alive was Anne's greatest talent, and her greatest creation, surrounding herself with artifacts and talismans of the specific world she wanted to inhabit. She made her own one of a kind environment, and filled it with things that were kooky, eccentric, beautiful, ludicrous and sweet.
I remember one time she told me about a book called The Happy Mutant Handbook (written in 1995 by Mark Frauenfelder, these days known for the Boing Boing website, which was originally a magazine, believe it or not). "All of our crowd is in there," she told me, by which she meant all the kindred souls who took road trips to see giant statues of lumberjacks, bought Esquivel albums, Margaret Keane paintings or similar clown-based artwork, Fiestaware, Bakelite, Mary Blair, Basil Wolverton and so on, and were just now figuring out what an email address was. It was a simple, happy life full of giant lumberjacks and Anne was the queen of it all. She lived in the moment and all the moments.
One of the best parts of knowing Anne was her annual birthday party which would be at some elegant hotel cocktail bar with a gathering of various happy mutants. Several times it was in my own neighborhood, at a place I'd passed dozens of times without any idea there was a fancy bar inside. Anne had a radar for finding hidden gems everywhere, in making the comics for Nickelodeon, in writing animation, in picking her friends, where she vacationed... all of it.
Her intense engagement with life made seeing her gradual decline so traumatic and painful. I'm so grateful for the people who stuck with her to the end, which was cruel and something no one deserved. But as a mutual cartoonist friend told me in an email, "She had a beautiful life, with a sad ending." A sad ending in a book is somehow comforting because it reminds us that our own sad endings are just the way it is. I'll never remember Anne for her sad ending, but her vibrant, beautiful, quirky one of a kind life. I'm lucky to have been a part of it.
The hope of creators, in any field of art and expression, is to create a work that can touch the life of someone who experiences it; something unique and unforgettable. That criterion, more than other factors, defines a masterpiece. Anne, in her many pursuits, can be seen in this light. She wanted to create things that would be long-lasting; works of integrity, consistent standards, and of the highest quality. She would not have done so, but the rest of us know that those words apply to Anne herself. For all she had done as a writer, editor, and cartoonist, her true masterpiece was the special person she presented to the world. She was warm, kind, and brilliant, yet modest about it all… a strong woman who rarely uttered a harsh word. All those who knew her were the better for it - we did not just feel better; but somehow were better.