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Love is... back

February 14, 2011 | 10:29 am

Loveis The story goes something like this: it's 1967, and Kim Grove, a New Zealand-born waitress living in California, begins a relationship with a dashing Italian, Roberto Casali. According to one account, she was too shy to express her feelings directly and left him little love cartoons; in another, she sent him the cartoons in letters. Either way, those cartoons began to stack up -- an image of a cartoony version of Kim or Roberto or the two together with the words "Love is..." followed by another thought or idea or moment.

In 1971, Roberto got the message and married Kim; in 1974, he thought her cartoons might resonate with others. He brought them to the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, which snapped them up. Kim Casali continued to create her "Love is..." cartoons, which were  printed here at the paper, syndicated nationally and appeared in more than 60 countries.

The cartoons, of two usually naked figures (sometimes they wear overalls) were omnipresent in the '70s. "Love is... when he only wants to dance with you," "Love is... wearing something that turns his head," and "Love is... when you call a truce" are some of those that have made it into the new anthology "Love is... all around" from Abrams, all of which feature the cute cartoon couple. Depending on your point of view, they're adorable or sickly sweet, too much or entirely true. "Love is... weatherproof," "Love is... finding a rainbow in every shower," "Love is... more precious when you're far away."

Having differences of opinion on the "Love is..." cartoons has an actual legacy. In 1974, The Times ran a story titled, "Love is... Stirring up a Hornet's Nest." Reader Edith Zaslow had written in, finding one of the cartoons sexist and offensive to women -- including one which read, "Love is... cleaning the coffee table after him several times a day." We asked other readers to tell us what they thought, and most of the responses were along the lines of, "It really does put down women," and "I've always thought the cartoon one of the most insipid I've ever read." A few, however, stood up for Casali, writing, "The cartoons have always seemed to me to be a wonderful representation of what true love and marriage is all about."

Roberto Casali died of cancer in 1976; Kim Casali died in 1997. They had three sons; the eldest, Stefano, brought this book to publication. The youngest son, Milo, was born 17 months after his father's death -- Roberto, knowing he was ill, had banked his sperm for artificial insemination. That might be hard to explain in a cartoon, but it seems like it surely is love.

-- Carolyn Kellogg