Mother, grandmother inspire Hallmark artist
John Wagner to create Maxine.


Whatever pops into her mind, Maxine says. Ordinarily, folks might be offended.

But instead, millions of Americans have identified with the crabby, irreverent Maxine,

The popular Hallmark character that lambastes everything from holidays to aging, and does not hesitate to tell it like it is - or as she sees it.

Maxine keeps up with the times. 'I'd like to try day trading,' she says. 'I'd start by trading Mondays for Saturdays.'

Or she might snap, 'You're a year older?...Want me to moon the birthday fairy for you?'

Nobody and nothing is sacred to Maxine. She's not your typical warm and fuzzy greeting-card character.

The only thing warm and fuzzy about Maxine is her bunny slippers - and her dog Floyd!

She points and shakes her finger at you. She dishes out philosophy to any one who will listen:

'When life hands you lemons...tuck 'em in your bra. Couldn't hurt, might help.'

John Wagner, Hallmark artist since 1970, says Maxine was inspired by his mother, his maiden aunts and his grandmother, the woman who bought him art lessons when 'fill in the pumpkins' was about the extent of his art classes at St. John's Catholic School he attended in Leonia, N.J.

John remembers doodling as a preschooler, and says both his grandmother and his mother encouraged his artistic interests. He eventually attended the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, and landed at Hallmark as part of a new artists group.

But it was the birth of the humorous Shoebox Greetings (a tiny little division of Hallmark) in 1986 that added a new dimension to John's professional life. The Shoebox way of seeing the world unleashed his talents and he created Maxine.

'Cartoonists are sensitive to the insanities of the world; we just try to humanize them,' John says.

'If Maxine can get a laugh out of someone who feels lonely or someone who is getting older and hates the thought of another birthday, or if she can make someone chuckle about stressful interpersonal relationships, then I'm happy. Putting a smile on someone's face is what it's all about.'

Those smiles have led to Maxine's becoming a bit of a celebrity. She (and John) have been the subject of media stories, including People, USA Today, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, and Las Vegas Journal-Review, and they have been included in a major Associated Press story.

Collector and trade publications have reported that fans nationwide are collecting Maxine items. Letters from consumers and fans to John and Maxine reveal a very personal connection to Maxine. Many people say they are just like Maxine.

Why the name 'Maxine'? 'People at Shoebox started referring to the character as 'John Wagner's old lady,'

And I knew that would get me into trouble with my wife,' John says. The Shoebox team had a contest among themselves to name the character, and three of the approximately 30 entries suggested 'Maxine.

John says the name is perfect.  John, who says he's humbled by such acceptance of Maxine, admits he's proud of her.




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