The Bitch Planet Triple Feature from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro is one of the smartest moves in modern comics publishing and here’s why: not only does it bolster and put into action Kelly Sue DeConnick’s #VisibleWomen project/hashtag/annual battle cry by showcasing and making visible a range of contemporary comics creators who are “new or from marginalized communities”; not only does this companion series slake the thirst for more tales from Bitch Planet between issues; not only does it provide the same quality, zine-like back matter we’ve all come to cherish. But slipping into the tales of non-compliance offered up by each Triple Feature rends open the world of Bitch Planet, and makes it big, broad and sweeping in the application of the series’ sci-fi intersectional satire. Reading each issue of Triple Feature is as delicious as that feeling when you get to like the third or fourth season of Game of Thrones and you realize the world you’re in is a hell of a lot bigger than you could ever imagine (and then you tell your partner you’re moving to Westeros and he thinks it’s kind of a joke but you’re secretly shopping for cloaks on eBay and privately constructing collages that rival the ones you made at the height of your Lord of the Rings obsession. Am I talking about myself here? No. No I am not. [Yes I am].)
Triple Feature demonstrates just how malleable and generative Bitch Planet’s satire is. Issue #2 opens on a speculative beauty pageant in Che Grayson and Sharon Lee De La Cruz’s “Bits and Pieces,” in which winning the ninth annual “Miss Tween Neck Competition” (sponsored by Agreenex) might mean something far more sinister than getting a crown, while Issue #3 presents Alissa Sallah and Alec Valerius’s claustrophobic “Those People,” focalized through a heavily armed militia-man whose been indoctrinated right out of humanity and, unsurprisingly, horrifyingly opens fire during the raid of a “Love Without Fear Dance.” In “This Is Good For You,” Danielle Henderson, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt build upon the media as national pedagogy teased by Bitch Planet with an educational film directed at “radicals” (i.e. ordinary women) that attempts to “make the world safer for men” by pushing compliance as self-care. In all cases, the world resembles our own even with the amplifications: the woman out running non-compliance on “This Is Good For You”‘s treadmill for two hours isn’t that far off from an Instagram fitness model; the assurance of “preemptive self-denfense” that is a balm to the sweaty trigger finger of Sallah and Valerius’s protagonist closely resembling the juridical doublespeak that too often protects those with the guns and badges against dead children in hoodies wielding only toys and candy.
Most importantly, Triple Feature resuscitates a form of comics consumption that has historically been activated by feminist comics creators: the anthology. Though Mouly and Spiegleman’s RAW Magazine is, perhaps, pointed to and upheld as the most well-conceived modern comics anthology (though it was infamously and distinctly marketed as a hybrid literary and arts magazine – “required reading for the post-literate”), from Wimmen’s Comix well into the 1990s (not to mention present day), the anthology has long been a comics format the draws close as it draws together a diversity of marginalized voices. From Megan Kelso’s GirlHero to Sarah Dyer’s Action Girl Comics and the Fanta-backed Real Girl, a sex comic for all, I’m particularly interested in the glut of 1990s-era anthologies that had relatively similar goals to the Wimmen’s collective, but are often blurred out by our Raw-reserved drool. (I seriously have nothing against Raw, for the record, but why oh why are we so enthralled that we’ve rewritten the history of the undergrounds so it stops when Raw drops?). As a fan letter to Action Girl included in the anthology’s third issue put it, “There was a time back in the late 1980s when you could buy a cool anthology comic like Raw or Weirdo, and there would be something new, different, and exciting in each time you bought an issue. That was what got me hooked on comics in the first place. When I read Action Girl, it was the first time I felt like that in a long time.”
But even as the anthology is able to expertly navigate a sea of willing and deserving voices, presenting them for public consumption on the regular, it is also a form that is plagued by bad luck and shit marketing. As DeConnick and Valentine De Landro write in their first editorial letter for the Triple Feature series: “Anthologies are notoriously risky ventures. They’re creatively uneven (for obvious reasons) and in a market built to support never-ending superhero soap operas, close-ended shorts offer no demands that you come back next month to discover ‘WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!'” Of course, here she speaks from a model of mainstream comics publishing, but turning back to the anthology format activated by Trina Robbins for Wimmen’s Comix or the numerous anthologies pressed out by the “indies” in the 1990s — from Megan Kelso’s GirlHero and Sarah Dyer’s Action Girl Comics to the Fantagraphics-backed Real Girl, a sex comic for all — DeConnick’s analysis of the anthology highlights the struggles shared by those feminist and queer publications that did not consider themselves as catering to a superhero cycle of production and demand. As Robbins highlights in the introduction to the door-stopping compendium of Wimmen’s Comix that Fantagraphics put out last year, when Wimmen’s Comix was revived in the 1980s and early 1990s, though the anthologies often sold out at comic book shops around the country, comic shops rarely restocked even when pestered directly by the editors themselves: no supply for the demand in other words. Dyer, too, highlights the troubled waters of marrying independent publishing and uneasy distribution mechanisms to the anthology in April 1995’s Action Girl, citing a dust up in the comics industry where distribution restructuring put small press productions in jeopardy of being passed over for their mainstream counterparts. This crisis changes the anti-consumerist tune Dyer touted in AG’s earliest issues as she begged: “You need to become an active consumer, not a passive one…Put your money into a shop that will cater to you as a customer. That’s what retailers are supposed to do!”
All this is to say, DeConnick and De Landro’s deployment of the anthology as a companion to a series that more closely resembles the genre offerings of many mainstream publishers is particularly well poised to recuperate the legacy of feminist and queer anthologies that have been continually passed over. Integrating their mission to make marginalized voices visible with an a serial project that continually builds and bolsters the expansive world of Bitch Planet takes the feminist anthologies of decades past and makes them functional once again, stringing us all along for more tales of non-compliance from a world whose satirical edges I cannot get enough of.
that’s all byeeeeeeeee,
(Laurenn, if you’re reading this thank you for your butt saving copy edits 🖤)