A Pair of CD-Rom Designing Women

By Ty Burr
Updated December 08, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Theresa Duncan and Monica Gesue are not your typical multimedia creators: They don’t breathe software code, they appear to have been exposed to the sun on recent occasions, and oh, yeah, they’re women. Their debut CD-ROM, Chop Suey, is hardly typical either. Designed in a ragged-but-right graphic style that recalls Lynda Barry’s comic strips or the folk art of Howard Finster, Chop Suey lets you click through the magical streets of Cortland, Ohio, duck into daft cartoon stores, and meet fanciful denizens like thrice-married Aunt Vera and a gang of beatnik fireflies. It’s a children’s book, a campfire tale (with homey narration by National Public Radio’s David Sedaris), and an explorable universe.

There really is a Cortland, Ohio, and Gesue, 32, who designed and co-illustrated Chop Suey, grew up there. Duncan, 27, who wrote the pellucid text, comes from Detroit. And both share a bent Midwestern aesthetic. ”We like dime-store, homemade-looking things,” says Duncan, the more outspoken of the two. ”Things that look like they might be made by kids for the school play.”

How did Duncan, a former student of critical theory, and Gesue, a photographer-illustrator, wind up collaborating on a CD-ROM? Duncan worked at Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust museum and an auction house before meeting Gesue at a hell job—editing economic fact sheets for the World Bank. When she was hired as a production assistant at Magnet Interactive Studios, a Georgetown multimedia facility, Duncan helped her friend get work. They cooked up Chop Suey and sold the concept to their bosses, who, to their surprise, went for it. ”It was kind of a kooky idea,” says Gesue, Chop Suey‘s bespectacled graphic genius.

Aimed at young girls, Chop Suey pulls off the Bullwinkle-esque trick of appealing to adults as well. ”There are references that adults will appreciate that kids may not get yet,” acknowledges Gesue. ”Like the Edgar Allan Posies.” Duncan notes that Chop Suey‘s all-inclusive approach is paying off. ”What we’ve seen that’s kind of cool is that parents will play it with their children,” she says, ”unlike letting them sit in front of the computer playing Doom for four hours.”