Marisa Acocella Marchetto is a cartoonist and writer whose work takes a satirical look at the lives of the stylish and privileged. Her cartoons have been published in The New Yorker, Glamour, Modern Bride and O, The Oprah Magazine. Her graphic memoir, “Cancer Vixen: A True Story,” turned the dramatic contrasts of her own life (think breast cancer diagnosis just before her wedding) into comic gold in 2006.
Now Marchetto has created a new book, “Ann Tenna: A Novel,” which will be published by Alfred A. Knopf on Sept. 1. It’s a graphic novel about Ann Tenna, the gossip columnist of the title, who runs a Web site called Eyemauler. The book is a satire of the excesses of social media and “connectedness” in our day. “We are all over-mediacated [sic],” she writes. It’s a story that Marchetto says she has had in mind for 20 years, and at one point thought about making into a Web series.
Her West Village apartment is decorated with Italian modern furniture and has startling wraparound views. The remarkable vista from the home studio where Marchetto works includes sights of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. “It’s the iconic skyline throughout the entire book,” she says of “Ann Tenna.” For this interview, she wears a look in keeping with the colorful, Space Age style of her new book. Her shiny turtleneck is from Issey Miyake, while her pants are J Brand and her shoes are Rick Owens, and her rubber bag is from Robert Verdi. The dominant colors are vivid shades of blue.
“Ann Tenna has an accident that threatens her entire life,” Marchetto says. “She redirects her path and goes up to meet Super Ann, who is who she should be. ‘Ann Tenna’ is really a metaphor for the world of gossip and fashion, that universe.
“I definitely think it hinders our communication that, when you’re talking to somebody and all you want to do is look at your stupid phone,” she notes. “My mission statement is, instead of turning on, tune up. Everybody has their own antenna and what you connect to is totally up to you.”
Marchetto has had a link with style and fashion since before she was born. “My mom was a shoe designer,” she recalls. “She worked for Delman and I. Miller. She was pregnant with me, and she answered the phone at work one day, and someone asked, ‘Can I speak with the designer? I’m Jackie Kennedy, and I’m about to become First Lady.’ My mother said, ‘Go on,’ but it turned out to be her. She said, ‘I want to order some shoes to go with my Oleg Cassini suits.’ The two of them bonded over the fact that both of them wore size 11 shoes.” Kennedy was pregnant with John F. Kennedy Jr. at the time.
“She also hired Andy Warhol to draw shoes for her,” Marchetto adds, speaking of her mother. “He was very quiet and didn’t talk. He went to Carnegie Mellon.”
The cartoonist/writer’s father owned a pharmacy, and the family usually spent summers at the Jersey shore. One summer, however, they went to Bermuda and stayed in a large pink house which was said to have belonged to James Thurber, and which was filled with his cartoons. He became Marchetto’s hero. She found that she loved his work in The New Yorker and his memoir “My World and Welcome to It.” She had already begun drawing the stylish, stylized young women which would characterize her cartoons; now she realized, she says, that they “actually could talk.”
Marchetto studied fashion design at Pratt Institute, which her mother and three of her cousins also attended, and went into advertising. She became a senior vice president at Young and Rubicam, but she found that she liked her métier less and less each year. She had begun making cartoons such as a drawing of a woman with a gun in her mouth captioned, “She was a little upset during the meeting.”
“Every New Year’s Eve I made a list of things I wanted to do,” she says. “In 1991, instead of writing it, I lit candles and called on a higher power. I lit my hair on fire.”
She also made a change. In 1993, she launched her cartoon “SHE” in Mirabella Magazine. This series became a runaway favorite among readers, and led to her first graphic novel, “Just Who the Hell Is SHE, Anyway?”, published in 1994.
Making a living as a cartoonist, however, proved to be quite difficult. “You have to be a street rat,” she says, noting that some of her fellow cartoonists have trust funds.
She also became a writer, and at one point, she decided to do a story on the noted restaurateur Silvano Marchetto, who owns Da Silvano in the West Village, for Tina Brown’s short-lived Talk Magazine. When the story was unexpectedly killed, she informed him of this and offered to make him some business cards to make up for it. She did, and he kept calling her to request changes; she didn’t immediately realize that the calls had nothing to do with her designs.
They began dating and got engaged. Their romance, though, was interrupted by bad news. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she had recently allowed her insurance to lapse. Her beau stepped up to the plate and paid her medical bills. They married. She became the founder and chair of the Marisa Acocella Marchetto Foundation at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Dubin Breast Center at Mt. Sinai. She has now raised over $1 million for uninsured women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
HBO Films optioned “Cancer Vixen” for a film to be written by Julie Delpy and starring Cate Blanchett. Blanchett is also serving as an executive producer on the film, as are Trudie Styler and Celine Rattray, partners in Maven Pictures.
The cartoonist continues to be cancer-free, and, on Sept. 8, will appear in PEN’s DIY fall event at the Ace Hotel. Its title: “How to Use Death As Your Life Coach.”