Va. student Olivia Walch named 'America's Next Great Cartoonist' in Post contest

After three months of competition, Olivia Walch of Fairfax Station has been declared "America's Next Great Cartoonist" with her winning strip, "Imogen Quest."
By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2010; 1:51 PM

After three months of comic plot twists, the final panel has arrived.

The Washington Post put out the call in May in search of "America's Next Great Cartoonist," and 500 aspiring comic artists responded. Now that readers, judges and celebrity critics have waded through talking gators and flaming manatees and dead pets -- "Oh my!" -- the final five cartoonists have been culled to one. America's Next Great Cartoonist is . . .

Olivia Walch, a college student whose single-panel comic, "Imogen Quest," received the most votes in both the first and second rounds of reader voting.

She is the youngest of the 10 finalists, and the only woman.

A rising senior at the College of William and Mary, Walch turns 21 this weekend. Her first birthday present just came early.

"This contest has opened up a whole new world for me," enthused Walch, a math and biophysics double-major who said she's eager to come up with the requisite month's worth of new strips for publication in Style in August. She also admits that, yeah, she's pretty stoked about winning the $1,000 prize, too.

As a serious scholar, Walch -- a Princeton, N.J., native who grew up in Fairfax Station -- seems to be going places already. She entered the contest from Oxford University, where she was studying abroad. She received word of her win Tuesday evening while in New York, where she's taking a summer biology course at a molecular lab.

Walch's winning entry is a gag-cartoon comic that relies heavily on metahumor. In "Imogen Quest," her whimsically rendered people seem to be deconstructing the accepted notions of a comic strip even as they are populating one.

Walch says she tries to figure out what the natural punch line of her cartoon might be -- then she veers in another comic direction entirely. Many readers responded positively to her playful metacomedy: She received more than 1,000 votes in each of the two rounds of voting.

In contest polling in June and July, readers submitted nearly 8,000 total votes. The work of the 10 finalists was critiqued by a dozen top comics-industry professionals, including Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau, Stephan Pastis ("Pearls Before Swine"), Darrin Bell ("Candorville"), Hilary Price ("Rhymes With Orange"), Signe Wilkinson ("Family Tree"), Richard Thompson ("Cul de Sac"), Lalo Alcaraz ("La Cucaracha") and The Post's Tom Toles.

The final five emerged from 500 submissions. Four of them are from the Washington area; the other is from New York. They are:

-- Daniel Boris, a 45-year-old online-education artist in Leesburg. His strip, "Hoxwinder Hall," centers on a boy and his wise-cracking pet gator.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company