A Cartoonist’s Daughter, Janet Murphy, Reinvents Herself

Now widowed, Janet Murphy lets ‘Justa Sketch’ loose on Facebook and turns her strip into a calendar.


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Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Alameda artist Janet Murphy has always had a community to share her art with — even if she wasn’t exactly encouraged to pursue her vision.

The 1958 Alameda High grad says her parents wanted her to learn to type and become a secretary because art wasn’t going to pay the bills. While she never learned how to type or use a computer, Murphy’s had plenty of real jobs in her 79 years. They include operating Alameda Hobby Craft on Park Street in the 1970s, raising two kids, and even flipping some houses.

But, she always found time for her art, something instilled by her father Fred Benson, who moonlighted as a freelance cartoonist in the ’50s and ’60s for the Oakland Tribune and other outlets. Before he died in the 1960s, Benson was attempting to syndicate a strip called Homer Sapien about a fellow who only communicated through thought bubbles — a strip his daughter helped him develop.

When Murphy’s husband, Frank, died in 2015, Murphy decided it was high time to resurrect her father’s cartoon idea by posting her own female version of Homer Sapien on Facebook. This led to Murphy producing a 2020 calendar featuring her character Justa Sketch and her canine sidekick Inky Doodle that is taking the island by storm. But, then again what would you expect from the daughter of the original Homer Sapien?

 

How did you come up with Justa Sketch?

As a widow I was like, ‘Wait a minute, this is my life. I’m going to do what I want. I’m going to take Homer Sapien, and I’m going to make something of that.’ And, so, I had to change him to a woman, because I couldn’t do Homer. He wasn’t me. I practiced my cartooning. I practiced Japanese anime and all this. I wanted to get a new cartoon. I wanted her to be modern, but old fashioned at the same time. I got the name because my husband had named one of our cats Puffington Jay Puddycat Murphy, or Justa. I always loved that name, Justa.

Why start your cartoon on Facebook?

I decided to use Justa as a response to people on Facebook. I found that Facebook was interesting in that you had to be careful what you say because of the backlash and how people will accept what you say in different ways. I thought Justa was the perfect answer because she doesn’t speak. She does things or has thought balloons. I started putting her on the local Peet’s group on Facebook and got a good response from it. I’ve always liked calendars, so I started using her every month as my profile page on Facebook. And that got a lot of attention. I did that for about three years and that has grown into what it is now. And people started saying, ‘You need to print this. We need to have it.’ And I thought, ‘Well, I could probably do that.’

You’ve had to overcome a hand condition to do your cartoons — what happened?

I got diagnosed with a crippling disease last year, and, supposedly, I’m not going to be able to use my hands forever. So, I suddenly decided it was time to get Justa published. The tips of my fingers are sore. It’s Raynaud’s disease. A lot of people have Raynaud’s. I’ve had it for years and I knew I had it. My fingers would turn purple sometimes and then it would go away. I’m hoping it’ll go away again and I can will it away. We’ll see what happens.

Who influenced your drawing style? It’s very distinctive. What is it reminiscent of?

Betty Boop. What I was going for was the old-fashionedness of the ’20s and ’30s cartoons, but with a little bit more modern flair. I was trying to mix the two because that’s who I am. I am of both eras. I’m modern. I’m on the phone. But I also have the thought process and that rationale or whatever of the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s, so I tried to mix that in my cartoon. Some of those cartoons from that age would have really big hands and feet, and I didn’t do that. It’s a mixture. It’s my own creation.

What if a publisher offered you big bucks to market Justa Sketch?

When I became a widow, I reinvented myself because my whole life I’ve been a mother, a landlady, a storekeeper, a manicurist. I worked for other people. I’ve done all this stuff. And now I’m on my own. I get to do what I want to do, and I’m not pushing making money and getting into business. That was something I did when I was younger.

 

Janet Murphy’s calendar featuring Justa Sketch and Inky Doodle is available at Books Inc. on Park Street and by contacting her on Facebook.

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