One of the most popular gum in its day was “Love is…,” which became one of the symbols of the 1990s era. Even those who don’t remember what gum looked like or what it tasted like probably know the excitement of collecting inserts with a couple of lovers on them.
But the general public is unlikely to know that these characters had real prototypes, and that it was actually a story about love conquering death: a woman lost the man she loved, but a year and a half after his death… bore him a child!
The author of “Love is…” comics was New Zealand cartoonist Kim Grove (married to Kasali). At 19, she began traveling around the world, and six years later decided to settle in California. There she met Italian Roberto Casali, who became her husband. It was he who inspired her to create two funny characters – a couple of lovers, whose prototypes were themselves.
Kim began to draw different episodes of a married couple’s life on napkins, signing the top: “Love is…” and ending the phrase with text corresponding to the drawing at the bottom. The artist recounted:
“I made little sketches to express how I felt… It was like keeping a diary of my emotions, describing how my feelings developed. First I drew a blob that became a girl, it had to be me. She was experiencing all these fantastic feelings. Then I drew another blob, a boy, who was the cause of those feelings.”
Kim and Roberto got married in New Zealand, her homeland. They were married in the same church where her parents had once been married – it was very important to her, because her father had died when she was very young. So the girl had only one request for her chosen one:
“Do what you will, but you must not die before me.”
He laughed in response and said he would try. The bride wore a wreath of daisies and a veil – just the same she then drew her heroine. Later, she used many episodes from their real married life as subjects for her comics.
Kim’s husband liked these lovable characters so much that he decided to produce the publication of the comics. They were first published in a newspaper in early 1970, and have been published weekly in the Los Angeles Times since then. At first, in the first comics of the 1970s, the characters even had their names – a boy called a girl “Kim” and she drew the first letter of his name, “R,” in the sand. Soon these characters became so popular that they began not only to be printed in magazines, but also replicated on T-shirts, mugs, calendars and posters. And the comics were published in 50 countries!
When asked why she chose this type of creativity, Kim said:
“If I had a choice, I would have become a writer of romantic songs. Love songs touch me deeply. But I can’t write beautifully, so I had to choose another way to express my feelings.”
But Kim and Roberto’s family happiness did not last long: 4 years after the birth of their sons, the man was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unfortunately, there was nothing the doctors could do to help him. Kim left her comics in order to spend more time with her husband. But she didn’t want to give it up, so she asked English designer and animator Bill Asprey to replace her, continuing to draw comics under her name. He became the author of the first color comics with clothed characters.
In 1975, Roberto had an operation. Doctors gave no comforting prognosis, and the family prepared for the worst. One day before Christmas, Kim told her husband that the best present for her would be another child. Then the couple decided to freeze Roberto’s sperm in case his wife failed to become pregnant before his death. In 1976, at the age of 31, the artist’s husband passed away, and an image of a girl and a tombstone appeared in the comics.
And 16 months after that, Kim decided to carry out her plan, and she gave birth to her husband’s child after his death! Although most of the artist’s fans expressed their enthusiastic support and approval of her, Kim faced harsh criticism from the religious press – she was accused of going against “religious morality. To all the criticism, Kim responded:
“Roberto and I really wanted to give our two sons a brother or sister. Now, thanks to the care and patience of the doctors, it is possible: I got another reminder of my wonderful husband. If someone condemns something like this, it means the world has lost its sense of proportion. We tried to have a child through artificial insemination before Roberto died. Had my husband been alive, Milo would have been conceived in marriage. What difference does Roberto’s death make?”
After the baby was born, Kim released a new postcard that featured her heroine with a stroller and the caption read:
“Happy to introduce Milo Roberto. Parents: Kim and Roberto (posthumously, through artificial insemination)”.
Intergum used Bill Asprey’s color drawings for the gum liners, which consisted of two halves with different colors and flavors to symbolize the love of the two halves. The comic book characters were replicated without the permission of the author and Kim Kasali. They had no idea that their comics were being used for chewing gum! Bill Asprey didn’t find out about this until 2008, when he was asked about it in an interview.
Sadly, the same disease took Kim’s life. At the age of 55, she died of bone and liver cancer. And her business was continued by her eldest son Stefano, together with Bill Asprey. They produce “Love is…” comic books under Kim’s signature, which is in the terms of the contract. The funny characters have outlived their creator, and her business has continued after her passing. Couples in love made wishes and unwrapped gum wrappers, reading messages as if addressed to them, and did not even suspect that behind the story of these drawn characters there was a real story of love that defeated death!