Chris Monroe hates endings. She doesn't like to be at a store when it's closing, a bar after last call, the Minnesota State Fair on its final night. When the artist decided to leave her day job at Marshall Hardware a few years ago, she softened her goodbye with a cake.
"There's something I want to tell you guys," she recalled telling the owners, then brought out the dessert. The "I quit" was written in frosting.
Fans of "Violet Days," consider this your cake: Monroe is going on hiatus from her long-running, quirky, slice-o'-life weekly comic strip that has run for years in both the News Tribune and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It's a break she has been thinking about for awhile, she said, but when the Star Tribune dropped her comic, she decided the universe had spoken.
Since then, emotions have ranged from "bummed," to feeling "freed from a prison of (her) own making."
"I've done it for so long - it's defined my life for so many years," Monroe said during a recent visit to her studio, where this week's six panels were still blank. She hadn't yet mapped out "Violet's" final day, but was considering a Bob Dylan quote and the return of some favorite characters.
Ultimately, that stood. Today's strip - her 1,144th and the 22nd anniversary of its premiere - features a Dylan cameo circa "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and a handful of her signature woodland creatures providing commentary.
It might just seem like another trip into the wacky world Monroe has made - but a subtle scrawl in her signature cursive+print in the bottom right corner says: "22 and out with love & gratitude."
Some things about Monroe's art
Among Monroe's first published comics were "Odd Co-Op Facts" that appeared in the Whole Wheat News, a Minneapolis-based co-op's newsletter. She had a monthly comic, "The Invisible Fence," that ran in the Funny Pages, which then begat "Violet Days," which first appeared in the Twin Cities Reader, then the Pulse of the Twin Cities, then the Star Tribune.
When she moved back to Duluth, her hometown, "Violet Days" was picked up by the Ripsaw - an alt-weekly newspaper that included in-depth stories, a crew of columnists and original comics by local artists. This, according to Monroe, was "Violet" heydays.
The comic, according to former publisher Brad Nelson, was one of the Ripsaw's biggest draws.
"Really, 'Violet Days' absolutely raised the bar and the standard for the cartoons that came in there," Nelson said. "(It) was kind of the mainstay that helped define the Ripsaw, and one of the main reasons people picked it up every week."
After the Ripsaw stopped publishing, it was picked up by the News Tribune - where it has run in the arts and entertainment section for the past 13 years.
Strange things that have appeared in 'Violet Days'
The first "Violet Days" - titled "Some hairstyles for Valentine's Day that are a big turn-on" - was published in February 1996. Monroe used five panels to draw his and her pre-Raphaelite perms, heart-shaped bangs, TV-celeb-inspired hair and, the kicker, a flaming beehive with a hidden sterno compartment.
Monroe reread it recently and laughed.
"It's so dumb," she said.
Over the past two decades, Monroe has told stories from her childhood and illustrated strange pieces of news. She's introduced absurd animals and more absurd circumstances. She's drawn squirrels, worms, an escape-artist octopus, skeletons, Prince and more squirrels. She's chronicled garage sale finds, things she sees, the state fair, January and Bob Dylan.
Nelson described it as "her wry sense of humor."
"The way that she sets up jokes when you're in a conversation with her is similar to that," he said. "She's relating stories from the mundane to the spectacular. She's drawn inspiration from her own life, past and present."
She laughs at her own comics, Monroe admitted. She strives for honesty and realness, and she's tried to avoid politics and over-sentimentality.
"Some people just say, 'I just don't get it,'" according to Monroe's mother, Nancy Spellerberg, who lives in Duluth. "Then I try to explain, 'You don't have to get it. It just is. Either you enjoy it or you don't.'"
Spellerberg is among Monroe's family members and friends whose likenesses have appeared in print. Or not-so likeness. In one of her early strips, the artist depicted her mother slathered in cold cream, hair wrapped in rollers, calling to correct Monroe's version of her in a previous comic.
One of Spellerberg's favorites was a story about parents in Colorado who snatched up all the eggs at an Easter egg hunt. Spellerberg has saved the final panel of strip that ends with a poem that ends with the line: "It's better to have no eggs than a nut job for a mom."
"Violet Days," Spellerberg said, is an accurate representation of Monroe's personality.
"We have an odd sense of humor in our family," she said. "I've always thought (Chris) was hilarious, even when she was in grade school."
What artists do when their long-running comic is on hiatus
Monroe didn't tell a lot of people that she was taking a break, and she hasn't planned any sort of party. She is gaining back two days a week that she hasn't seen since she started this 22 years ago.
"It's been a good thing," she said. "A labor of love. I never made a ton of money on it."
Monroe gets a decent amount of fan mail, she said, and at a recent signing in Minneapolis, among the visitors were two fans with books teeming with old comics.
"I've really appreciated the people who have read it, given it a chance," Monroe said.
She's bummed, she said, that people who have enjoyed her comic will now have to read, instead, "Trump news."
In the meantime, Monroe's illustrating two books - including one on the science of disgusting things, like worms and nose-picking. The author-artist of the books starring Chico Bon Bon said she might just focus on children's books for a while. Or annuals with "Violet Days." Or the graphic novel she's never been able to finish.
Monroe has found, she said, that things lead to other things.
"Almost every time a door opens, you have to step through it," she said.