My boyfriend and I first started dating in the winter, and we’d walk around our Vermont college campus while holding hands inside the pocket of his winter coat. It was all very adorable. Four years later, I came across a web comic on Facebook in which a girl takes off one of her mittens to put her hand into her boyfriend’s mitten. Equally adorable. A month after that, I was sitting in the cozy (or “snug,” but more on that later) Clinton Street apartment in Saratoga Springs of Catana Chetwynd, the creative force behind Catana Comics, the publisher behind the strip I’d seen, “Glove Love, Smitten Mitten.”
I’d seen Catana Comics’ feel-good strips about relationships before but hadn’t realized the digital sensation was local. A Ballston Spa native, Chetwynd was studying psychology at the State University of New York Plattsburgh’s Queensbury campus in 2016, when her career as a cartoonist took off.
Nowadays, the 25-year-old comic artist is doing Catana Comics full time; is the author of a bestselling book, Little Moments Of Love; and has 2.8 million Instagram followers. Her and her fiancé, John Freed, whose comic likeness co-stars in Chetwynd’s strips, are also no longer living in Saratoga, but have moved to North Carolina, where they’re readying for a book tour for Chetwynd’s second book, Snug: A Collection Of Comics About Dating Your Best Friend, that was released on February 4.
I sat down with Chetwynd way back in February 2019, before her move, before the release of her second book and before her engagement (which came with an adorable animation of comic John proposing to comic Catana), to talk about her rise to fame, what’s next for Catana Comics and if her relationship really is as perfect as she makes it out to be.
How did Catana Comics take off? What was the series’ first comic strip?
The first one was “The Mere Exposure Effect”—the one where I start appearing places. I was making them just for John, so I didn’t have any plans of posting them online. And then John was like, “When are you going to post these?” And I was like, “Hmm, never.” So John said, “Can I post them?” and I said, “I guess.” So John posted them, and then they immediately—there were probably five I had made at that time, maybe six—went viral. We were really unprepared; we didn’t have a website or anything. I just thought I was making them for myself and for John. So then we did a second batch a week later and released them again, and they went viral again, but this time we had a website and an Instagram that we could send people to. It just kind of snowballed from there.
Can you walk me the process of creating a comic strip?So the idea usually comes from something that John and I do, or something that’s a constant in our lives, like the fact that he’s organized and I’m not. I’ll just think of it and write it in an Apple Note, so I have a super-long list of super-big ideas. Then I sketch it out on my iPad really roughly and then I go over it.
Do you ever feel like you’re going to run out of ideas? Or do they just always keep coming?
I worry about that, but my list still keeps growing. I’ve never looked at my Notes and only had one on there before. Sometimes I go through lulls where I’m just sitting around, and I don’t have anything, but it always passes.
Have you always liked drawing and making comics?
I did comics when I was a kid. It was, like, a really weird hobby.
How do you make money on your comics, besides through book sales?
I have merchandise and prints that people can buy. Because the comics remind people of their significant other, we get a lot of people buying them as gifts for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, anniversaries—stuff like that.
So it’s mostly from sales, not from sponsorships.
Yeah, Instagram doesn’t pay me anything.
Would you consider doing sponsored posts on Instagram?
Yeah, we’ve talked about this, and only with brands that actually resonate with us. We did one sponsorship with thredUP, which is all about sustainable clothing, and that we were really into, so we definitely were down for promoting them. But if Walmart asked, I would be like, “I don’t think so, no.”
How was your first book received?
We made the bestseller list at No.3 for nonfiction and No.10 total, but we were very happy with that, for our first book. We got to go on a tour, and then Target picked it up. We constantly see it when we’re out and about, and it doesn’t get any more normal—I still get excited every time.
Based on your comics, your relationship with your fiancé looks perfect. Is there anything less than perfect about John?
We talk about this all the time. It almost feels stupid, because I feel like people think we’re putting on a show or faking it. But no, he’s actually like that. And I get that it’s unrealistic to think that someone should be happy all the time, but we really are happy all the time. It’s hard to tell people, “Oh, we actually are,” because obviously they think that you’re lying. And I don’t want them to think that’s how you have to be, because you certainly don’t have to be happy all the time, but we really don’t argue or anything. And we spend a lot of time together. I think we’re just both very mellow people.
I saw on your website that you love getting fan mail. What types of things have people sent you? What was your favorite piece of fan mail?
We get a lot of things in our P.O. Box but we also go to events and people will bring us gifts. People bring us their wedding invitations that are Catana Comics-themed. They’ll bring us cake toppers that they used for their wedding. A lot of people draw their own versions of the comics, and they’ll give them to us. We also get a lot of handwritten letters from people. It always blows my mind that the comics mean so much to people. And they’ll bring us letters telling us their story and saying that the comics mean so much to them, and we read all of them. It doesn’t get old by any means.
So what’s next for Catana Comics?
We pretty much like to take what the fans say they want and then try to do it. We get a lot of requests for animation, and I certainly can’t do that myself. Sometimes I do animated .gifs, and it takes me a day and a half, an absurd amount of time, so I can’t imagine a fully animated thing. But I think it’d be really cool if a studio, with an animation kind of situation, offered to help us do a couple shorts. And then I also think it’d be cool to have merch in stores. Things like greeting cards would be really cool to have in stores, or t-shirts with funny quotes on them.
Why do you think people love your comics so much?
First of all, I feel like the big thing right now is self-deprecating humor, and I think something nice about the comics is they’re not sad. So much humor right now is based off of sadness and defeat, which I get, because it’s important to acknowledge those things and make them lighthearted, but at the same time, it’s also good to…I don’t know how to explain it. I feel like there was a void of wholesome content.