Cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto on Jackie Kennedy, Being Inspired by Cancer, and her New Book

Marisa Acocella Marchetto is a cartoonist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Glamour, and many other places. Her first book, Cancer Vixen, is a visual memoir that chronicled what happened when, on the cusp of getting married, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's witty, funny, inspiring, and very stylish. Her newest book, Ann Tenna, came out last month. We spoke to Marisa about it and her life in drawing, moments after she found out she had debuted on The New York Times Bestseller list.


My mom drew these really fabulous women wearing her beautiful shoes. I started imitating her, and would draw the same women. My mom was a shoe designer for Delman’s, the Bergdorf Goodman line. One day at work, she got a phone call from this woman who spoke really softly. The woman said, “Hello, can I talk to the designer?” My mother replied, “I’m the designer.” And the woman said, “This is Jackie Kennedy, I’m about to become First Lady.”

My mother nearly hung up on her. But then Jackie told her she wore a size 11, and she needed somebody to make shoes for her. My mom said, “Oh, I’m a size 11 too! We can commiserate.” They were also both pregnant at the time—Jackie with John, and my mom with me.

Then, when I was about eight, the women really began to bore me because they were pretty but they were not saying anything.

A few years later we went to a resort in Bermuda called the Lantana. My mother thought the room was too small, so the owner of the resort put us in this pink elephant of a house on the property. We walked in and there were framed drawings that had captions on them. I was like, “Whoa.” I had an epiphany—my drawings could actually talk. Apparently it was James Thurber’s house. I stayed up reading old New Yorkers and Thurber books like The White Deer and Thurber Carnival. I finally fell asleep at 4 o’clock in the morning. I woke up two hours later with the sensation that there were bugs crawling all over me. It turns out there were red ants in my bed. I like to say I was bitten by the cartoonist bug.

Then I totally forgot about cartooning and went into advertising. That’s a whole other story…

But cartooning was still with me in the back of my head. I had the idea for Ann Tenna for twenty years, though she went through various iterations. In the final version, Ann Tenna is an influential, but kind of mean-spirited, New York gossip blogger. Through her own bad behavior she dies, and goes into another dimension. There she meets her higher self Super Ann, who challenges her to go back to Earth and change her life for the better. This version of Ann was really inspired by what I went through when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I really did have an existential crisis. I thought: “What kind of person am I? What kind of imprint will I leave on our planet when I’m not here anymore? Where will I go after I pass away? Would I evolve or would I have to come back and repeat this experience?” I don’t know that I’d want to come back. I love it here, but sometimes this planet gets to be a little much.

For more on Marisa, including information on the Marisa Acocella Marchetto Foundation, which is devoted to helping any woman that needs it get the best access to care for cancer, plus all sorts of other wonderful programs, check out her website.

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