After the catastrophic Christchurch earthquake, cartoonist Celia Allison picked herself up and kept working. Her picturesque seaside suburb of Lyttelton was reduced to ruins, and Celia’s home was so badly damaged, every piece of china and glass was broken. She picked up a makeup compact and even the little round mirror was smashed.
Celia’s range of bitingly humorous cards, diaries, linen, calendars and accessories using her alter ego Cecily are popular souvenirs for tourists to Christchurch. They’re also sold throughout New Zealand and in Australia. Tourism to Christchurch – the gateway for almost all foreign visitors to the South Island – has also been decimated although some attractions are back up and running.
But despite bravely carrying on with her business – I received my order of cards three weeks after the quake which killed 185 people – Celia wasn’t feeling as funny as her famous alter ego, Cecily, and has found it a challenge to keep creating humorous products.
“I had survivor’s guilt. So many people had suffered. My business seemed trite when all I saw around me was utter destruction,” she told me.
“But you make a choice, not to be a victim of the earthquake.”
Celia and her husband George’s house was a quaint, wooden colonial home, typical of the architecture of the area. Built in the 1880s, it had withstood a lot of earthquakes, but not the one of February 22, 2011, which almost levelled the centre of Christchurch, some kilometres away.
The whole house shifted down hill, she said. “I’d just made a big jar of chilli jam and it smashed on the floor and I couldn’t clean it up because we had no water.
“You have to emotionally hold yourself together even if everything around you is in ruins. You make a choice not to be a victim of the earthquake.”
“We’ll build a safer house. We won’t move away. It’s not that easy to extract yourself from a community where you have such strong ties.”
Celia built her business on the premise that there wasn’t enough for women to laugh at, and not enough women were being funny. Her target is middle-aged women. Cecily is a cartoon character. Not just a stick thin pencil line drawing though, she is a well-rounded character, sometimes more well-rounded than she would like! Cecily is someone that women will recognise, for Cecily’s foibles are their own. Cecily diets, skips gym classes, sometimes drinks too much and worries about how she looks. She has bad hair days, occasionally consults her horoscope and struggles with technology. She is a modern woman who lives life to the full as she pursues career, friendship and love.
Celia keeps all her production local. She says it’s more essential than ever to contribute to her community as it gets back on its feet. If you want to buy Cecily products, go to www.cecily.co.nz
* Pictures courtesy of Celia Allison.
For more on the Lyttelton community’s effort to rebuild, read our story on the foodie markets here.