Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Comics and Conversation
Quite awhile ago, I learned that a former co-worker, Sarah Russell, grew up, went to school, and played soccer with Hilary Price, creator of the comic strip Rhymes with Orange. While they haven't really kept in touch, they didn't fall too far from the tree -- they both have Yahoo! email addresses. And they both live in New England. I recently interviewed them about each other.

Where did you grow up?
Sarah Russell: Lincoln, Massachusetts.
Hilary Price: Weston, Massachusetts.

What was the town like?
SR: A perfect, pastoral Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.
HP: Lots of trees, but not a lot of sidewalks. I think it was that way not for lack of funds but to prevent visitors.

What was your high school like?
SR: An ideal place for those developing teen years that are always so difficult. The school was open to every kind of self-expression. Boys wore dresses in althletic competitions, girls shaved their heads, boys wore makeup, and the smokers were given their own building with the best view on campus. Not bad.
HP: Concord Academy is a very progressive high school with committed teachers and a willingness to embrace the creative oddball. Not everyone was one, but we had girls shaving their heads long before Sinead O'Connor took out her Norelco.

What years did you play soccer?
SR: All four.
HP: I played varsity soccer from my freshman to senior year in high school. (Though I played youth soccer for many years prior.) Sarah was the other freshman on the team.

Was the team any good?
SR: I think it was. I actually think we made it to some kind of league finals in our junior or senior years. Am I right, Hilary?
HP: There were years where we had it together and years we didn't. My senior year we won our division.

What else did you do while in school?
SR: Photography, tour guides (blech!), tennis, lacrosse, and ice hockey.
HP: I was all over the map, involved in lots of activities. Yearbook, student council my last year, played the saxophone in a chamber group (as you can imagine, not a perfect orchestral fit). I loved doing after-school sports, especially, which included skiing, tennis and a year of ice hockey.

How did you meet each other?
SR: First year, on the soccer field.
HP: Sarah was the other freshman who played varsity soccer.

What was your first impression of each other?
SR: Now that's an athlete. Rock solid. And wow -- a lot of fabulous flaming red hair as she rocketed across the field.
HP: My first impression of Sarah remains true to this day I'm sure -- here was someone who was truly a natural athlete. Grace, speed, stamina, smarts. Sarah had that gift, as did her older sister. Sarah was the kind of player college scouts noticed. She was always consistent and could run forever. Sarah Russell is a natural, and there was no hiding that.

Did you get to know each other very well?
SR: Yes, we were good friends.
HP: Yes and no. We spent a lot of time together in organized ways like sports, but didn't hang out outside of school. She hung out with two sisters I liked very much, so she had a good group of people around her.

Sarah, were there any signs Hilary would become a cartoonist while she was in school?
SR: I remember Hilary saying she wanted to be a cartoonist some day. And then 10 years later when I saw Rhymes with Orange I was so impressed that she had nurtured her dream to reality.

Did you ever see anything she drew during high school? How has her style changed?
SR: Unfortunately, I didn't ever see anything she drew back then.

How good a soccer player was she?
SR: Excellent. Hilary was a menace on the field. Super fast. She played on the wing and had a unique running style that brought her shoulders low and her head forward which propelled her so fast down the field most people missed her entirely. Great fun to play with. Relentless and tireless as well. Always in fantastic shape.

Do you have any funny or strange soccer team memories?
HP: My soccer days at Concord kind of have this halcyon quality. I think our teams talent ran the gamut from "Do we need cleats?" to Sarah's caliber, so we spent time coaxing people to come back on defense as they mosied their way.
SR: It really was the running style I just described that was the funniest. And top that with a head of electric wavy orange hair and you've got a great cartoon figure right there. I would love to see Hilary draw her menacing soccer self.

When you left high school, did you move away from the town you grew up in?
SR: Yes. I moved to Maine for college. After graduation I moved to latin America for three years, returned to Boston for a business degree and three years of working at Fast Company. I just recently returned to Maine to live.
HP: For reasons that are still a bit of a mystery to me, I moved 3,000 miles and went to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. I wasn't dissatisfied with the East. I figured I'd check out another part of the country while I had a chance, knowing eventually I wanted to come back here. In retrospect, it was really good for me to pull myself out of the familiar, even though at times it was quite strange.

After college, I lived in San Francisco for five years, then came back east to New England. I live about an hour and 40 minutes west of my home town. Northampton, Massachusetts, is a cool artsy town with lots of woods around it.

How did you prepare and get your current job?
SR: I did nothing to prepare for my current job, except fall in love and embrace the fact that I am happier putting lifestyle and happiness before anything else. My partner and I are opening a seaside lobster/clam restaurant and bar -- we know nothing about the business and are learning as we go, which has been quite a challenge, but no regrets. The Black Pearl Restaurant opened June 1 in Rockland, Maine. Come and visit!
HP: Cartooning was something I always did, but I don't remember expecting I was going to do. It's a little hazy. But I used to draw toons for my friends in college during class. A woman wrote a good article for my college alumni magazine.

Did you keep in touch with each other at all?
SR: No. We lost touch completely. I think I heard about her cartoon in a Concord Academy alumni magazine.
HP: No, but I heard about what was up with Sarah because I ran into her sister at co-ed soccer games in San Francisco.

How did you reconnect with Sarah? How did you know she worked at Fast Company?
HP: I had met a friend for lunch in New Haven, Connecticut. She was attending a socially responsible business conference at Yale and mentioned she met this very cool woman at the Fast Company booth. She said her name was Sarah Russell, so I described her and said, "Yeah, I know her." My friend was impressed, and I felt very cool at that moment. Then another friend of mine from high school confirmed that she had heard Sarah was at Fast Company too.

I'd heard she was working at an orphanage in South or Central America for a while, so I was surprised. But I was impressed, too, because Fast Company was the magazine at the time. I had run into her father years ago at the post office, and he had told me about her work at the orphanage. That seemed very brave and adventurous to me.

Do you read Rhymes with Orange, Sarah? What do you think of it?
SR: I love it -- reminds me of Hilary's quick wit.

Were you surprised that she ended up doing what she does?
SR: Not at all. She's doing just what she's always wanted to do. I just hope she's still playing some soccer on the side.

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