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Meet Penny Van Horn

by Jennifer Marine

A
va knows her mom usually can be found in the refurbished studio out in the backyard. You’ll also find Penny swimming, most summer days, at Barton Springs -- one of the reasons she moved to Austin from New York.

Originally from Rye, New York, Penny moved to New York City to work in the publishing field. Even there her life gradually became populated with Texans: two Texan coworker/roommates led her to a whole slew of expats as friends, and the next thing she knew she was living in Austin.  "I was tired of all the noise and cement," she says, "and I saw the lake and all this beautiful water. It was like all these natural swimming pools here with the limestone -- so warm and spa-like."  
A new Texan was born.

There was an early stint working in the photo collection at the Harry Ransom center, but Penny’s real start was in underground comics -- Weirdo, a follow-up to Zap (Robert Crumb’s baby) was her first home. She moved into freelancing after her daughter was born; illustrating, painting, printing, writing, and now, learning animation.

As she puts it, she’d be happy to do more of the same, especially mixed media, printing, anything in color, and less scratchboard and B/W. Someday she’d like to write a novel or memoir, or make short, animated e-cards.  She’s looking forward to turning fifty in three years, and ending her "hormonal mood swings."

Productivity and future projects aside, Penny is also content avidly slacking. "One can waste a lot of time reading, watching TV, you know," she’ll warn you with a gleam in her eye.  And she makes fun of herself for consistently traveling along the "five spokes" (five locations radiating from her house within a two mile radius.) Spoken like a true South Austinite.

Here’s what Penny had to say:

What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?

Part of my job as a cartoonist is to make people laugh. If I am successful, then I am providing a service as a stress-reliever, and hopefully I might give people some perspective.
On any given day in my life, if I someone is looking or sounding down or disheartenened, I feel pressure to alter my behavior to make things better for them, even just for a few minutes. And so I might play the fool, stand on my head and stick my tongue out—you know the drill. Comedy seems to be my way of helping, whereas someone else might give a warm hug and some serious words of consolation.

Who inspired you when you were growing up and why?

Popular culture contained many characters that inspired me; sitcom personalities such as Dick Van Dyke or Lucille Ball, entertainers and television hosts such as Red Skelton and Carol Burnett. For example, I liked to watch these people make the best of bad situations with humor and grace in their shows..
Does it seem odd that these are fictional characters from whom I drew inspiration?
Don’t sell the entertainment industry and media short!
Of course, reading books also provided me with role models and inspiration.

(continued at top right)


The Countess Galleria / Sarah Higdon

What two notable people would you like to see handcuffed together for a day?

The Pope and the Director of Planned Parenthood.

You are face to face with your ten-year-old self. You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say?

Do not fall prey to predatory men and the objectification of women!

What is the biggest contradiction you see mothers being faced with today?

The concept of mothering is being undermined by the idea that women cannot be fulfilled unless they also have a professional life. It is almost as if they are not considered whole women unless they have another separate life as a career person of some sort. In conversation, one might hear, "Oh, you’re a stay-at-home mother…" as if that is not a good thing. This fragments women and puts unnecessary pressure on them. I would urge mothers to be true to themselves, whichever path they choose.

What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?

I would like to be a more positive and warm person, yet I am trapped in the body of a person who is often crabby and sometimes antisocial.
Blaming these traits on hormone fluctuation has been very helpful to me!
So I suppose riding the hormone wave has been the biggest challenge so far.
I would like to continue to be as idealistic as I was when I was younger, and yet reality poses a huge challenge to this mindset.
If I can just remember to base what I do on what is best for everyone -- put the larger sense of self over ego -- I think I will feel that I have risen to the challenge. And I would like to teach my daughter to do the same.

What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?

A calm moment to pause and gather their wits.

Thanks, Penny!
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For more information, visit Penny Van Horn's website at:
http://www.pennyvanhorn.com

Or visit Penny's Page on the AustinMama.com site.

For information on Richard Linklater's new movie, "Waking Life", visit:
http://www.wakinglifemovie.com

And buy Penny's book by clicking the link below!

 Recipe for Disaster
   Buy it now!


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Dottie / Sarah Higdon