Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Wimmen's Comix

Since I was a teenager I've been a big dorky comic book fan. It started the way it usually does I suppose, with superhero comics. I loved to see the women in them taking names and kicking ass. My favorite was Rogue, the southern firecracker from X-Men (whose character the movies completely destroyed, for those of you not familiar with the comic).

She had the ability to steal anyone else's superpower from them just by touching them, with the unfortunate side effect that she could also never touch anyone with love or affection. But really what better feminist role model for a young girl than a woman that all the men could go crazy lusting after, but if they touched her they would FUCKING DIE? Sure, there's Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Gloria Steinem, but wouldn't you rather be Rogue on those nights when you're walking somewhere spooked out of your mind trying not to think about the girl that got raped a couple blocks away? Don't you too want to chill out in a skintight jumpsuit on a day-to-day basis without fear? Wouldn't it be fun to zap a guy all to hell when he tries to grope you on the bus?

As I've gotten older my love for comics has only grown, but I've slowly, steadily moved away from the tits and ass of superhero comics and into graphic novels, trying to get my hands on as much alternative, underground stuff as I can. The beautiful thing about comic books is that since they're for weirdos, nerds, and acne-riddled teenagers practically by their very definition, there's no need to puff your stories up into grand pretentiousness, be overly politically correct, or get worried about some insane backlash for saying something controversial. Because who cares? It's just a comic book. And in the meantime, that freedom opens the door for a lot of meaningful ideas and honesty to come through that we usually don't see on magazine stands and book shelves.

Naturally, it was a little difficult for me to find comics produced by women, especially in a store where a girl entering was akin to a giant red flashing alarm being set off. "Girl alert! Girl alert! Everybody be COOL Goddamnit!" Still, over the years I've managed to track down a whole slew of excellent women artists, many of whom are unabashedly feminist. For today's blog entry I thought I'd take a few moments and give you some recommendations because some of the best feminist literature I've ever read has been in comic book format. And since they're comic books, they don't get nearly the same level of press and buzz as regular feminist books.

First off, I want to suggest you pick up Trina Robbins' book, From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Women Comics from Teens to Zines if you're interested in reading the whole history of women in the comics industry.

Trina Robbins is the foremost expert on women within the comics and cartooning fields and this book is the most comprehensive history and guide to all the major women artists and writers out there. She was also highly involved in the original collaboration between feminism and comics during the Second Wave movement, editing the anthology called Wimmen's Comix that a huge number of women comic artists got their start with and in recently editing another all women anthology called Action Girl comics. Here's an adorable picture of the original Wimmen's Comix crew:

I would also like to recommend that you all go out right now and pick up a copy of Persepolis 1, Persepolis 2, or Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, an artist who grew up in Iran, but who was eventually sent to France to attend school and escape the mounting unrest there.

Embroideries is an especially good feminist read because it's about a group of women in her family having a conversation about gender roles, sexuality, and their lives. The beauty of Satrapi's work is that she uses a very simple drawing and writing style to expose sexism, racism, and imperialism in a way that shows why those things are harmful, while also demonstrating how they function as normal in daily life. It's a powerful mixture that's taught me a lot not just about her country and feminism, but also about the best way to get an important, delicate subject like the one she deals with across.

A collection of Roberta Gregory's edgy feminist comic books was recently released in a trade paperback titled Life's a Bitch.

Gregory is an artist who has also been around since the Wimmen's Comix days and she was most active with her art and feminism in the 70's, although she's still kicking around producing new stuff. Her main character is named Bitchy Bitch and she's meant to be a super concentrated manifestation of all the negative emotions that being a woman in a patriarchal society can produce. She can be hilarious, she can be annoying, and best of all, she can be very challenging. Bitchy Bitch is certainly a mean feminist if there ever was one. As a disclaimer, Bitchy Bitch is also a racist character. Gregory wrote her this way on purpose to expose some of the built in racist ideas that we all have, even feminists and to address how women can be turned against each other through that force. It's good to be aware that it's in there before you read it though.

And of course, it wouldn't be right not to mention the mean feminist queen and Edith's favorite, Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist by Diane DiMassa.

As the title suggests, DiMassa's work is certainly controversial and if castrating violence offends you in some way, you'd better steer clear of this one. We, however, just so happen to love it to death. If you've had a bad day, there's nothing like reading some Hothead Paisan to make you feel like you're not alone and somewhere out there, there is a lesbian avenger with a baseball bat just waiting to fuck shit up on your behalf.

Jessica Abel is a fantastic, younger artist who's major works are Art Babe, a soap opera for the arty hip set or La Perdida, her brand new book that was just released about the period of time she spent living in Mexico and the interesting characters she encountered there.

Abel's work isn't as explicitly feminist as the other women I've mentioned so far, but she is one in real life and I think that sensibility comes through.

A Child's Life by Phoebe Gloeckner is also definitely worth checking out, although it is also the most disturbing comic book I've ever read without a doubt.

I'm a little hesitant to recommend her to be honest, but I feel like it's important that I do. I'm not sure if Gloeckner thinks of herself as a feminist or not, but her subject matter is something I think all women are effected by and wrestle with. Her work is a mostly autobiographical account of the sexual abuse she dealt with growing up and how that effected her in devastating ways. She isn't shy about exploring the full psychological complexity of that experience even when it blurs our ideas of what a victim is and how they should feel about what they've been through.

It's so difficult for me to choose a favorite, but if I'm honest, Lynda Barry is mine.

She's written a whole heaping slew of books, some are semi-autobiographical and some center on a a particular group of characters, but almost all of them are about being a kid. She draws in a style that is very similar to how kids draw, but when Barry is talking about kids she certainly doesn't mean the Disney kind. The kids in Barry's books are just as mean, deranged, misguided, imaginative, weird, and hopeful as real kids are.

There's Alison Bechdel who wrote the marvelous series Dykes to Watch Out For about life among a group of lesbians.

She approaches her characters with a great sense of humor and a lot of honesty and warmth. Bechdel is one of those authors who clearly loves every one of her characters and would miss them if they ever went away.

Phew! Well, that's all for right now. There are lots more women to check out, but these are just some highlights. For anyone who wants to know how they can get involved in promoting comics by and for women and female comic readership, I recommend you check out the Friends of Lulu, devoted just to that very purpose. Happy reading, drawing, and ranting!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for these. i love rogue too.

im embarassed to say that ive worked in a comics book shop and have a reasonably good knowledge of the marvel universe, yet have read none of those you recommend.

i will now though, thanks again, v

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Bunny said...

A few points:

1) Bitchy Bitch is *not* a feminist. She's used to illustrate a lot of feminist points, though. However, if you asked Bitchy herself, she'd go on about feminazis and hairy-legged dykes and etc. One of the central points of her characters is that she never really "gets" why she has so many problems and never really connects the dots, y'know?

The "Bitchy Butch" anthology, starring Bitchy's lesbian separatist counterpart, is also a fucking riot and totally worth buying.

2) Phoebe Gloeckner has another book, something like "Diary of a Teenage Girl", which is sort of half-novel/half-comic, and elaborates on the stories in her other book. Also disturbing. I love, love, love, love her drawings though!

3) Why haven't they ever released an anthology of Wimmen's Comix or Tits N' Clits or any of the other women's books of the era??? I really want to read those. (Action Girl, a similar anthology book by Sarah Dyer, who you may recognize as the wife of Evan Dorkin, was pretty awesome for a while as well.)

4) No mention of Dori????? FOR SHAME

5) Allison Bechdel's new book, "Fun Home," is about her coming-out process parallelling that of her dad, who, well... killed himself instead of coming out. On the one hand, it's beautifully drawn and it's a great story. On the other hand, she tried WAY too hard to be literary, and it's kind of painful. I definitely recommend getting it, though. It took her 7 years to draw!

6) And ooo, don't forget Julie Doucet! Oh god, I love her art so very much.

Yes, I am a nerd. Why do you ask?


3:07 PM  
Blogger alyx said...

Ooh! [*squeals like a preteen on helium*] I love Naughty Bits, Hothead & Gloeckner's work. And DTWOF.

Unfortunately, the comic business in Australia is virtually non-existent (at least when compared with the States and Eurpoe) and what does exist (in terms of publishing) seems to be only open to a select group of established elites (male, natch.)

I find I have to order in books from overseas, which can take weeks or even months. But the acerbic feminist characters make them worth the wait (and the price. Yeouch!)

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Katie said...

Just curious what you think of these beauties.

(They're beautiful in my mind.)

3 pics satiring comic book art and making men "lustworthy" and objectified in the same way women usually are.


6:20 PM  
Blogger Vicky Vengeance said...

Oooooh Bunny. Your comment made my spider sense tingle with nerd. Which is always, always recommended. We should totally be friends.

1) You're right about Bitchy Bitch of course. It's hard for me to not call her a feminist though because she is a tool of the feminism, you see. You see?!! I knew nothing about Bitchy Butch however and oh my God that sounds fucking awesome.

2) Yes! I know about that novel! I almost included it in this entry, but it feels like more of a straight novel than a comic book, thus the omission.

3) There's actually a couple anthologies of women I've seen around recently, Juicy Mother, Sexy Chix, and Broad Appeal, that are awesome. Action Girl is great also. I'm hoping that Friends of Lulu will put out some anthologies on a semi-regular basis if they can get the funding together. There really do need to be some good anthologies of the old school feminist stuff.

4) Given Edith's recent post about bestiality I was thinking Dori . . . well, you know. Ha ha ha. But yes. I'll say it here: Dori Seda is awesome, check her out, she's like Crumb except she's a lady and thus way cooler.

5) Yeah, Edith just got that new Bechdel book, but I haven't been able to find it quite yet. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

6)Yes! Julie Doucet's New York Diary is so good. And of course I also missed Dame Darcy, the super goth, super funny author of Meatcake. And Sophie Crumb. And Ariel Schrag. And Debbie Dreschler. And Becky Cloonan. And like . . . a thousand million billion more people. *Brain 'splodes with awesome*

And Oh my God Katie, those covers are awesome. That is so hilarious. Thanks so much for the link.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you heard of jacky fleming? she's a brit, so you may not have done, but she does some cool stuff. try this one for example -


9:14 AM  
Blogger lost clown said...

Woah, I read all those..(DTWOF is one of my all time favourites that I follow with some strange cult-like addiction), and I agree Rouge was always my favourtie, I rarely ventured into comics as a kid, but X-Men was one that I actually enjoyed reading.

I can't wait for Perspolis 3 and 4 to be translated into English!!

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Watasin's Charm School is chock-full of GIRLS IN LOVE (with each other). SO GOOD. Watasin also had a bunch of pieces in Action Girl over the years.

Jennifer Camper is fabulous too. I think one of her books was Subgurlz, but her collections are fun (and frequently edgy).

6:52 AM  

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