New Yorker cartoonist Olivia de Recat captures relationships in her book ‘Drawn Together.’
When Olivia de Recat was in her sophomore year at the UW, she found her calling. That night, while in her off-campus apartment, she went online and listened to short stories from The New Yorker’s archives and then scrolled through its archive of cartoons. “I realized it was exactly the kind of magazine I wanted to contribute to some day,” she says. “I fell in love with The New Yorker, and I told myself that I would one day contribute to this magazine.”
She lived up to her promise. Fifteen years later, she has contributed dozens of cartoons to the Daily Shouts section, each of them brimming with sharp humor and eye-catching illustrations. Most recently, though, Los Angeles-based de Recat, ’13, gave fans (Instagram follower count: 149,000) her first longform project: “Drawn Together: Illustrated Love Stories,” a book that weaves in the author’s insights on relationships and love along with how-we-met-and-stayed-together anecdotes from couples de Recat interviewed.
“Long before I thought of writing this book, I’ve always been interested in talking to people about their relationships,” she says and then laughs. “People mostly like talking about how they met each other.”
The 336-page book includes the story of de Recat’s parents’ first blind date and then the beginning of a lifelong relationship, despite their first fashion impressions of each other: “They immediately liked each other, but hated what the other was wearing,” de Recat writes.
Another interview de Recat found compelling was Sam and Mo, who met at a bowling event. “It wasn’t so much what they said but the joy in that room when I was talking to them,” she says. “It was truly infectious.”
As de Recat spoke to an array of couples on how they met and overcame their challenges, she found a more deliberate way to look at her own relationships. “Dating someone while working on the book,” she explains, “I realized that a lot of my needs weren’t getting met. And the book propelled me into a deeper, more honest reflection of my own issues and my own relationship journey.”
Writing about herself came naturally to de Recat when she was a youngster growing up in Redmond. “I was always yearning to write down my feelings and thoughts, and maybe that’s because I went to Catholic school my whole life, where I had to face a lot of inside-the-box thinking,” she says.
Consistently drawing as a hobby throughout high school, de Recat didn’t consider illustration as a serious career option when she began filling out college applications. Writing and studying English literature was top of mind when she first enrolled at Gonzaga University in Spokane. But she was going through a few personal matters, dropped out of school and returned home to Redmond to stay with her parents, needing time to sort out her future. During that respite, she first read some New Yorker issues, reveled in the stories and illustrations, and felt renewed motivation to return to school.
Coming to the UW for English literature was “a literal godsend for me,” de Recat says, “because I needed to be somewhere close to home, to my parents who were supporting me through my mental-health issues.” Also, she had always wanted to graduate from a school such as the UW since she was a kid—“a big university with a lively and beautiful campus,” she says.
“One of the most memorable moments for me there was the study-abroad program in Rome,” she remembers, adding “it was so incredible and beautiful, and to do my poetry work in Italy really changed my life.”
After graduating from the UW in 2013, she wasn’t keen on her first few jobs, such as a quick year at a talent agency. But she enjoyed her three years as the executive producer’s assistant on “The Late Late Show With James Corden.”
The work was varied and intriguing, and it gave her a fortuitous networking opportunity that would fulfill a promise she made a decade ago. “The head writer at the show once went to lunch with the cartoon editor at The New Yorker and showed some of my drawings to them. They liked what I did. That’s how I began to pitch to the magazine,” de Recat says.
With most of the book’s marketing events behind her, she’s now focused on building the subscriber base for her online newsletter, “Olive It,” which features new cartoons she posts on her site and Instagram feed. She has also looked back at how her artistic skills have matured over the past decade. “It’s gone from being very rudimentary to being attuned to something like facial expressions,” she says. “What it boils down to is that all my work is about expressing emotions and bringing those out in my physical drawings.”