W&M student named 'America's Next Great Cartoonist'

  • America's Next Great CartoonistThat's the title Olivia Walch '11 earned after winning a contest sponsored by washingtonpost.com this summer. Starting Aug. 30, Walch's work will appear in the paper for 30 consecutive days.

    From the Washington Post

    America's Next Great Cartoonist
The Washington Post will host a live video chat with Olivia Walch at 1 p.m. on July 16. More information, click here - Ed.

You may already know America’s Next Great Cartoonist. Maybe you’ve seen her in the Marketplace, or among the stacks at Swem, maybe even doodling while sipping something steamy and smooth at the Daily Grind.

Her name is Olivia Walch ’11, and she was officially crowned America’s Next Great Cartoonist on July 15.

Walch was one of the five finalists in a comic competition being staged by the Washington Post. The newspaper received more than 500 entries, which were whittled down to 100, then 10, then five, among them Walch’s.  Walch will receive $1,000, a month-long strip in the Post, and the chance to be syndicated.

“I’ve never seriously sat down and considered being a syndicated cartoonist as my career,” Walch told the Post.  “In my mind, I’ll go on to a doctorate in science and perhaps mathemetics.  But this contest has opened up a whole new world.”

The Fairfax Station, Va., resident, 20, was not only honored to be in the running, but she was also proud to be the youngest contestant still standing, and the only woman.

“I think it’s really indicative of the need for more female syndicated cartoonists in print media who can act as role models -- in addition to the fantastic ones who are already out there -- as well as the importance of targeting advertising for contests like these to under-represented groups,” Walch said.

A double major in mathematics and biophysics, Walch is a Murray Scholar who spent the first half of her summer doing research in Oxford, England. She is currently in New York at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory learning about computational cell biology through W&M’s CSUMS program.

Walch first heard about the contest while she was still doing research in Oxford.

“It was all my dad,” said Walch. “He sent me an email about the contest while I was abroad and I immediately decided to enter.  It seemed like it would be a fun thing to try; however, I definitely didn’t predict all of this.”

When mathematics, biophysics, drawing cartoons, and her research are not occupying all of her spare time, she is a part of an array of other activities on campus.

“I’m involved in a couple of clubs and organizations at W&M that I have definitely enjoyed being a part of,” she said. “I am in the W&M Murray Scholars Program, Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, the W&M Rowing Club, Pi Mu Epsilon math fraternity, and WMTV.”
Walch also adds being a cartoonist for the The Flat Hat to her school activities.

“I’ve been doodling for a really long time now but only started drawing formalized cartoons for The Flat Hat my freshman year,” she explained. “It makes for a nice bi-weekly diversion from my typical schoolwork, which mostly consists of physics problem sets.”
Walch said that she can pull ideas for a cartoon from almost anywhere.  She never knows when one may come along, but she immediately takes note of the idea so she can return to it later.

“Most of the time I come up with ideas while talking to friends about something completely unrelated, and then interrupt our conversation so I can awkwardly type the thought into my phone before I forget it. I sometimes come up with ideas during class lectures, but they are almost exclusively lame math puns that no one besides me should ever see,” she laughed.

Walch plans to continue drawing cartoons and doodling while pursuing her future endeavors. Walch explained that besides her core group of friends who always keep her laughing, her drawings offer a great sense of comic relief from her daily stressors.

“I seriously doubt that I will ever stop drawing cartoon-like things, with or without an audience,” said Walch.