One Funny Lady
story: Phil Fountain
Acclaimed Redding Cartoonist Benita Epstein
If you were to play a word association game with your average cartoonist, the word “bugs” would probably elicit the response, “bunny.” Should you try the same word on acclaimed Redding cartoonist, Benita Epstein, you would likely get, “Do you mean from the phylum class, such as a Dictyoptera Blattaria?”
Epstein is one funny entomologist. She may indeed be the only person in the history of bugdom to have cartoons published in an important journal like American Scientist. It’s also a safe bet that her contributions have provided more reader guffaws per square column inch than the average treatise on anything with an exoskeleton (although I have no raw data to back up such a claim; I am, admittedly, a poor scientist).
Epstein’s work has not been limited to stuffy tomes that sit for years under jars of larvae on some PhD’s desk. Her wonderfully witty cartoons have also graced the pages of hundreds of periodicals, even such rags as The New Yorker and Reader’s Digest. She has recently been asked to become one of the “Six Chix”, whose strip of the same name is syndicated in newspapers throughout the country by King Features. Epstein will rotate with five other female cartoonists on the strip, usually holding down the Friday slot. She has been nominated for the prestigious Reuben Award for gag cartoon writing six times.
Her cartoons are little vignettes of day-to-day life, washed with subtle wit and irony. She presents these little gems with a gentle charm that is nothing less than delightful. So, what is she doing living in Redding?
Epstein, her husband Ted and their family moved to Redding for many of the same reasons most people move here: Beautiful scenery, friendly people, great recreation and a little slower pace than you find in the big city. After all, you can be a cartoonist anywhere you please, even as unlikely a spot as Redding.
As a cartoonist who has worked primarily in the North State, I was unaware of any other ink jockeys plying their trade in the region. I didn’t figure this town was big enough for two gag peddlers. But, this being the 21st Century and all, I was fortunate to meet Ms. Epstein through an online cartoonists’ forum. She noticed that I listed in my profile Redding, California as my residence. She shot an email exclaiming, “I didn’t know there was another cartoonist in Redding!” Like a forlorn pair of mastodons unaware of the other’s existence, we were thrilled to find that another of our ilk shared the same ice cap (though calling Redding an ice cap may be cause enough to revoke any poetic license I may have had up until now).
I wasn’t surprised that Epstein hadn’t been aware of my existence; at that time a year or so ago, she had only lived in the Redding area about two years. (Shoot, my wife didn’t know I was a cartoonist until last month. She thought the family lived on Froot Loops because I was deficient in the whole “wage earning” arena.) But, once Epstein saw that I was fairly harmless, she revealed herself to be a generous and gracious soul, willing to talk cartooning with the local hack who fancied himself a colleague.
In recent months, Epstein has been embracing - and is being embraced by - the local art scene. She has appeared publicly at “Cartoon-A-Thons” and at the occasional Second Saturday Art Hop to help raise money for local charities. Last month, a collection of her cartoons brightened the walls of GreenGo’s organic foods restaurant on Dana Drive. In casual conversations with me, Epstein has expressed cheerful amazement at the vibrant cultural stirrings she’s witnessed in her adopted hometown.
With friends and neighbors as talented and as generous of spirit as Benita Epstein, it is little wonder our community is feeling a rich, new artistic energy. Besides, now we know where to go to have that icky critter we found under that garden rock identified. Ask the cartoon lady; she’ll know.