dust to sidechicks: mini comics pickup (ii)

Things that have happened since I last wrote to you about my trash queens:

  • Beyoncé and Drake dropped albums. I’ve listened to Beyoncé’s many times and Drake’s once.
  • I moved my collection of zines and mini comics from our family room up to my desk.
  • I thought about penning a response to this wonderful criticism of the current state of feminism and comics by Monica Johnson: “Today’s Feminist Comics: Why I Don’t Relate”. (Basically, while I think Johnson is making some killer points about how comics from relatively large comics publishing houses – Image and Fantagraphics in this case – are not always giving us radical feminist panels, her call for the current mainstream to resemble the more radical feminist work from the 90s underground/small press/mini comics seems off? Idk, like I said, I thought about but did not write because…)
  • I experienced end-of-semester burn out and cried a lot. (Shouts to my dog, shouts to my partner, shouts to all my lady friends – all of whom offered shoulders and tacos to me.)

But now it’s summer semester and I’m still teaching and my candidacy exams are three months (!!!!! [whatever tho]) away and I have the new Kanye album on (why am I doing this?) and I wanted to give y’all a proper rundown of all the mini comics I’ve consumed in the past month.

“Frontier #11,” Eleanor Davis

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Where better to start than Eleanor Davis’s lush, super sexy tale of the on-set and off-set hookups of two adult film actresses in her short story “BDSM”? It gives me secret pleasure that, as Davis specifies on her backpages, this bright star of a comic was drawn during her residency as graphic novelist at The Columbus Museum of Art & Thurber House right here in my hometown. (I saw her at a party once and couldn’t talk to her because 1. I am stupid shy and 2. I had yet to crack the spine of How To Be Happy. Still haven’t, if I’m being honest.)

“BDSM” follows our protagonists, Vic and Lexa, through a dom/sub scene on set before taking us to the backlot where it’s not only revealed that our buttoned-up dom, Vic, has tattoos and an undercut, but also that she suffered a sore hand from smacking her on-screen partner Lexa around set. IMG_4258.JPGDavis makes quick work of interpolating her panels between the lines of labor, desire, pleasure, and voyeurism, highlighting how a clash between on and off screen personas, between public and private selves, may blur how we see ourselves as sexual partners and actors. But Davis isn’t following the classic Buzzfeed morality tale (what one does in public as part of their job does not mean they want to do that thing in private). Rather, she leaves Vic suspended above her now-at-home lover, Lexa’s, bed, as Lexa admits, “It’s okay if you wanna hurt me / It’s okay if I wanna get hurt.”

Dream Tube, Rebekka Dunlap

IMG_4260.JPGAnother Youth in Decline title (both of which I picked up at the best place in Columbus to buy mini comics: Kafe Kerouac), Dream Tube is Dunlap’s first collection of comics. (Might I add, I would highly, highly recommend Davis’s new webcomic Dear Diary 1999 – it is the stuff of my fucking dreams.) Three short stories – “Brooklyn Witch Tweets,” “Cities and Spaces and,” and “Colony” – show Dunlap working at an incredibly weird, broad range, from speculative sci-fi to Brooklyn hipster selfie phantasmagoria (a new genre I have just coined, write about me in the history books), all while breaking and bending panels in a mind-warping way. Dunlap’s got a Chris Ware sense of page layout, a Simon Hanselmann attraction to the weird and grotesque, and the ladies doing Bitch Planet need to hire her for her sci-fi plot driven mind. If Dream Tube is but a dream, I didn’t wanna wake up and I can’t wait for Dunlap to knock me out again real soon.

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My bf swears this is us.

“Worry Wart,” Nola Lee

IMG_4261.JPGThe next two comics I was very #blessed to pick up at SPACE (where I ferreted around the expo trying not to make eye contact with anyone for fear they would talk to me. One guy did sucker me into getting my fortune read. I think he whispered, “I love you,” as I made my escape. Not today, magician.) Nola Lee read at the SPACE Afterparty (held at the aforementioned Kafe Kerouac) and I was blown away by how someone with self-professed anxiety can get up in front of a room packed with Columbus’s hip comic folk and tell us about how coffee makes her poop. I fell for Nola and I fell hard. Plus, she was selling buttons with very cute skulls on them at the expo and so I had to buy all of her stuff.

“Worry Wart” begins with Nola’s admission that “I’ve always been a nervous kid…It was funny, a quirk, an endearing annoyance. Until it wasn’t. Until it felt like a fat babboon parked it on my chest. Until my twenties started to feel like swimming in thick syrup devoid of direction. Until all of that nervous energy and bad mojo turned into this [comic].” For the next several one and two page stories, we follow Nola as she tries (and fails) to meditate, cooks her partner breakfast before imagining him on the autopsy table (“Something might happen to you. But at least if they open you up – they’ll know that you were loved.”), and breathes deeply, thinking of good things. Spare pages don’t deny the frenetic energy of Nola’s anxities, but instead panel them into often hilarious beats and pauses. Seriously, I feel like I’m making her work sound a lot darker than it is, but this is a girl who can draw a comic about doin’ it and badass, hungry lookin’ wolves so there’s that.

“Teen Girl Killed Issue 1,” Lauren McCallister

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Last but definitely not least.

Um, yeah, so Lauren has worked/works at two of my favorite comic book stores in Ohio, and I’ve been buying comics from her for like the past year or two without knowing that she makes some of the best comics coming out of our hometown comics scene. (Shouts to my friend, Ben, who told me to track down her “Teen Girl Killed” at SPACE where our stars finally aligned for real.) I could (and I will) go on about “Bad Sex,” her previous mini comic whose stories I cannot get out of my head, or “True Life Comix,” her ongoing series of diary comics which you will find in the strangest of places, but let’s just focus on “Teen Girl Killed,” her latest which combines two of my fave things ever: true crime and stories of being a teenage girl.

As she is in life, the Lauren of “Teen Girl Killed,” is terminally chill, staring beautifully and blankly out of the opening page where she silently drives around her nondescript Ohio suburb, passes out beneath a “Dream Big” poster at school, and comes home to curl up in front of the TV. IMG_4265.JPGFYI, this is exactly what it is like to live and die in high school in Ohio (except our TV was in the living room so I usually just curled up on my bedroom floor in front of the radio were a beamed in transmissions from the big city that now seem like static. What am I talking about?) And for me, it was a totally inexplicable process, how I made friends or fell in with people, a process which Lauren captures brilliantly as her past-self falls in with cool girls Alexis and Emily. “Teen Girl Killed” explicates the rules of a truth or dare game that pushes our girl to do such things as lick a dude from neck to belly button and push back at the dicks who use the game to compel the girls into dares not of their making. “My misadventures had been curbed thus far by a lack of that 17-year-old spark that forces things to happen,” she writes. This comic is a fucking gem, a spark of recklessness, a quite hum that captures the weird minutia of falling into a girl group, checking out of high school, and is a handy guide should you ever want to play your own “Dare or Dare.” My personal favorite panel is a close up of Lauren pulling at a hangnail and this is honestly the best way I have of describing her work.

So there you have it, Monica Johnson. Next time you wanna bitch about the current state of feminist comics, why don’t you do your homework? (JK – I’m sorry, I really did like your essay and I agree with you on many of the points you made and would love to chat with you about them.) But seriously girl, mini comics are the only form of literature that matters.

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From “Teen Girl Killed.”

xo Rachel “dust to sidechicks” Miller

 

 

 

Mind the Gutter: Sea Urchin by Laura Knetzger

Yesterday, I taught a class on Phoebe Gloeckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, which is not an actual diary but also not a memoir and not totally a novel either (if you read my post early last month about Gloeckner’s talk at CCAD, you might understand why Diary might be more than a little defiant of our will to categorize). And we got to talking about what it means to destroy a diary, to be willfully self destructive while writing a diary, to want to blot out certain names or threaten the pages you write with their own extinction. The students I was in conversation with all brought up wonderful insights about why these threats to the diary exist in Gloeckner’s Diary, a text which was the opposite of destroyed: a text disseminated. But no one brought up the fact that sometimes you destroy your diary because you legit just do not want anyone to read it, because your privacy has been breached and you can’t leave your words so naked, so up for interpretation.

I bring this up because, even though I’ve been wanting to write about it since I read it last month, I’ve had a hard time sitting down and trying to give you my thoughts about how stunning the stream-of-consciousness panels in Laura Knetzger’s Sea Urchin are. Maybe it’s because I, like Laura, also have “a big sea urchin in the middle of my brain” that’s maybe a little more than “a bother because I have to do all my thinking around it.” Maybe it’s because back when I thought no one was reading these words, I would’ve been down to go into all the ways my brain works and doesn’t work, and how Knetzger’s broken panels and pixelated pages give solace to a brain on fire with both depression and too many ideas. Were these digital pages my diary (according to Knetzger, “Social media is a diary you keep for other people”), I might have already destroyed them, though hitting delete is somewhat less satisfying than balling up paper and watching it dissolve in the toilet. (For tips on how to destroy your own diary, please see Gloeckner’s Diary and also my dissertation, if I ever write it).

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Back to Sea Urchin: what so impressed me about Knetzger’s (her what? her visual poem? her one off? her gutters?) comic was its total embrace of the heart, its resistance to naming itself a comic “about mental illness,” a comic “about depression,” a comic “about social anxiety”. It is about all these things, surely, but it is also about about drawing her brain life a little further out of the shell of diagnosis, the narrative arc of treatment and getting better. And Knetzger undertakes this project of visualizing whatever unsaid thing happens in her brainspace in panels that challenge what we think about when we think about comics. “If I leave a gap,” she writes in a blank box, a panel without the visual components we’ve come to expect and demand of comics, “someone will fill it in. People love filling in blanks. Ambiguity is an invitation.” While it sucks to feel bad, resisting any gestures towards mental illness is a useful elaboration for Knetzger, an invitation into pages that peel back the brain matter and send us into the gutters where we must come to terms with and learn to work around our own sea urchins.

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I guess it’s appropriate that Knetzger uses a big black blotch to fill the page where she reveals her own sea urchin to us. And I guess I’m back to thinking about destroying diaries or making big ink splotches of my own. But if depression or feeling bad or exhaustion or whatever is black ink, Sea Urchin demonstrates beautifully just what a gift it is to work through your brain by inking comics panels.

You can visit Laura Knetzger’s website to find out more about her comics and play a video game called “Freshman Year” that’s really fascinating. 

Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics, publishers of Knetzger’s “Sea Urchin” are currently in the last 12 hours of their kickstarter to publish works by some amazing comics artists. You can back their project here.

Babe, Is It You?: Searching for Anonymous Carole in “It Ain’t Me Babe”

Writing my way thru The Complete Wimmen’s Comix vol. 1: “It Ain’t Me Babe”

There’s a woman no one can totally remember on that infamous parting shot photo on the last page of “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the underground comic born of the 1970s San Francisco comix movement without women that nevertheless conceived Wimmen’s Comix. Biggest smile of them all, squinting at the camera, her hand held up as if she’s shaking a finger at us readers or casting a spell, she seems somehow less serious than Hurricane Nancy or Trina Robbins. In her introduction to The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, recently collected and bound in nice, big, coffee-table sized folios from Fantagraphics, Robbins remembers her thus: “The art [for title story “Breaking Out”] was done by Carole, last name lost because we dumped our ‘slave names’ and used only our first names.”

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Here’s our girl Carole, top left hand corner.

I guess I’ve got anonymous girls on the brain this week (and always, if I’m being honest) because I plowed through Go Ask Alice over the weekend for my candidacy exams and found myself telling a very boring party story about how the anonymous diarist of that shock and awe tale of drugs, satanism, and being a teenage girl was actually Mormon missionary and PhD-faker Beatrice Sparks. Both released in 1971, I found a strange kinship forming between the not-so-anonymous author of Go Ask Alice and the girl the wimmen forgot, despite the fact that from her pen and ink Betty, Veronica, Petunia Pig, Witch Hazel, Supergirl and others socked the patriarchy a good one in the “It Ain’t Me Babe” title track “Breaking Out.” And what better way to begin blogging my way through The Complete Wimmen’s Comix for you, readers who’ve stuck it out despite my infrequent posting, than to think out loud about second wave feminism, dumping your last name, and the price of anonymity?

IMG_3885.JPGFrom the mouths of babes in San Francisco living rooms, “It Ain’t Me Babe” is the first comic collected in The Complete Wimmen’s Comix and covers everything from fine-lined revenge fantasies (“OMA”) to classic underground LSD-trip strips like “Vegetables Arise!” and two of Robbins’s lush, big breasted fantasy goddesses in “Lavender” and “I Remember Telluria.” It’s “Telluria” that packs the most punch: our heroine, Carol, finds herself caught up in a raging matriarchy before awakening on the lab slab to discover she’s just traveled through time at the hands of Doctor Fell. “I belong to two worlds and yet neither, for I reject this time of steel death and violence,” she says, once she’s back in her crummy apartment. And in our final panel, Carol’s figure literally fades into two worlds: “My blood remembers…Remembers Telluria…”

IMG_3887.JPGBut back to Carole with an “e.” Unlike our time traveling, past yearnin’, present day rejectin’ Carol of Robbins’s vision, Carole gave us a past, present, and future that Wimmens Comix could believe in as the publication gestated in the bad trips and bad vibes of the 70s underground comix scene with centerfold “Breaking Out” (not really a centerfold, forgive me all you nerds of the cloth [bound book]). Carole has no identifiable style or line, but is able to mimic perfectly the bubblegum forms of Betty and Veronica, vibrant superbodies of Supergirl and Superman, and a host of other female comics icons from comics heydays past. The thesis panel of “Breaking Out” is, of course, one depicting all those ex-golden girls of the strip hanging out in someone’s living room voicing their complaints about the patriarchy and stirring the second waves’ witches brew into a froth.

And it’s these panels of community building side by side in the living rooms of sisters that resonates eerily with Robbins’ introduction, which also depicts such gatherings of the “real” Wimmen in photographic and anecdotal evidence. But, again, we find girls obscured by a hand, effaced by the dropping their “slave names,” forgotten by their sisters despite the fact that they all sat side by side. Maybe I’m getting too Harvey Pekar and the phone book identity crisis here, but, who are these girls? Why can’t their sisters remember and recover their names? What’s in a name? In a world of vociferous feminists, literal icons like the Petunia Pigs and Veronicas of “Breaking Out,” where my shy girls at? The ones that time forgot?

Anyways y’all. I have to get back to diligently typing up candidacy exam notes so I’ll leave you to your own reflections. But I urge you, dear readers, to not forget the Anonymous Girls in your own lives. Remember…Remember Carole with an “e”. IMG_3892.JPGxoxo Rachel

 

Pardon the Interruption: #VisibleWomen and a CFP

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I’d like to direct you, faithful reader, to two rad conversations that you can (and should) all plug in to:

  1. There are hundreds of rad women and girls who make comics using the hashtag #VisibleWomen over on twitter to generate conversation and visibility (duh) for women making comics! It’s basically the best thing ever and one of the most productive uses of twitter I’ve seen.
  2. If you, like me, study comics, consider submitting a proposal for the first annual Cartoon Crossroads Columbus Academic Symposium. CXC is one of the best comics festivals around. It happens in conjunction with Sol-Con, the Brown + Black Comics Expo, in one of the comics capitals of the world, Columbus, OH (i.e. my hometown, heartland, homebase). Fresh off the presses, check out our CFP and send us your papers. Who knows, maybe our stars could align:
Call for Papers
1st Annual CXC Academic Symposium
“Canon Fodder”
Starting in October 2016, the annual Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival will include an academic symposium, hosted this year at the Ohio State University campus in partnership with the Sol-Con: the Brown + Black Comics Expo, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, the Columbus College of Arts & Design, and the Comics Studies Society.
Our theme for this inaugural year is “Canon Fodder,” seeking to test and remix the still-damp concrete of comics histories and canons before they set. The goal for the symposium is to launch an extended conversation among participants that will continue into the CXC weekend and beyond. Some of the questions we hope to begin answering at the symposium are:
  • What is missing from the dominant narratives of comics history?
  • What unites and what challenges the emerging canon of comics scholarship? What unites and what challenges the emerging canon of comics taught in the classroom?
  • What isn’t being written about that should be, and why? What isn’t being taught that should be, and why?
  • What happens to our sense of the field when we focus on X or decenter Y?
  • What are the institutions (industry, fandom, scholarly) that define and defend canons in comics?
  • Are there problems inherent with applying the concept of canonicity to comics (or comics studies)?
  • How can academic comics scholars and historians contribute to a field whose foundations were laid by cartoonists and independent scholars without f&*%ing it all up?
Selected papers from the symposium will be invited to contribute to a roundtable to be published in Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society.
CXC 2016 will be October 13-16. More information about the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival can be found at http://www.cartooncrossroadscolumbus.com
Please send 250-500 word abstracts + a 2-page CV (or 250 word biographical statement) to Jared Gardner @gardner.236@osu.edu by June 30, 2016.
More information about sponsoring institutions can be found at:
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum: http://cartoons.osu.edu
Columbus College of Art & Design: https://www.ccad.edu
The Comics Studies Society: http://www.comicssociety.org
Lastly, big ups to you all who have read/shared/responded to/said nice things about my responses to Carol Tyler and Phoebe Gloeckner last week! You have my heart and I hope you’ll stick around and keep reading & sharing so we can all get these girls, women, gender-non-conforming comics artists the recognition, attention, and readership they deserve!
xoxo Rachel

“Where’s my fucking work?”: Phoebe Gloeckner at CCAD

Phoebe Gloeckner shows us a picture of a hand with a hole in it, a deep hole, the kind of hole you imagined you were digging to China as a kid, and tells us, “So this is my work now.” And she just leaves the hand up while she tells us about how she’s been going to Juarez, Mexico for the past 10 years to work on her new book, about a dead girl named Maria Elena who she’s trying to draw from a xeroxed photograph and some pictures of her skull, and about how she shouldn’t have built 15 inch dolls for the book (they’re becoming unwieldy). She doesn’t tell us how this image, this hole in her (?) hand was made. She doesn’t even tell us that it’s her hand, really. I’ve seen this hand before (at the aforementioned talk she gave at ICAF), but the whole thing starts to seriously weird me out. Then again, most of what Phoebe does weirds me out.

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The hole in Phoebe Gloeckner’s hand.

Stay with me for a minute while I wax academic on hands, because, looking at Phoebe’s hand, reminds me of what Jared Gardner has to say on the subject when he writes, “Graphic narrative…cannot erase the sign of the human hand…The physical labor of storytelling is always visible in graphic narrative, whether the visible marks themselves remain” (for more  bully your local undergrad into giving you access to their university’s library website where you can obtain a PDF of Gardner’s essay “Storylines). I take hands and touch and the felt absence of physical labor as givens when I’m doing “research” on comics for my “studies,” and part of me feels like Phoebe’s doing some sort of secret handshake with Gardner by showing us this image. These are my hands and they’re breaking down trying to put this book together, right? But also, these stories we’re gonna get in Phoebe’s new book about the disappearances and murders of young girls and women in Juarez are gonna rot our hands, make them crumble and implode.

And this is what Phoebe does: she puts her hands on objects, personal objects, love-worn objects, and then she takes her hands off em. She passes them on so that they might be whatever we need them to be. Speaking about Diary of a Teenage Girl, she reminds us, “Indeed, everything that happened to Minnie, happened to me, but you have to destroy reality [to make something like Diary]. If I just published my diary like who gives a fuck?”And later, talking about Maria Elena, the “dead girl” muse that seems to be driving her work on Juarez now, she shows us a picture of the grave stone she bought for her because the on the gravestone Maria Elena had originally, her name was misspelled and they didn’t even get her birthday right. Another destruction of reality, but one to answer a question that seems to have been keeping Phoebe up nights: “What’s anyone remembering of this girl?”

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Phoebe and her “Self Portrait With Pemphigus Vulgaris”. I didn’t take a picture of Maria Elena, sorry.

I wish I could give you back all that Phoebe laid out for us last night, but I am personally obsessing over hands and trying to get my hands to tie all this together. I will say that my personal favorite moment of the night happened during the Q & A when Phoebe told us about how, at 16 years old, she marched up to Last Gasp and Robert Turner “gave me every comic in the place!” But not before he brought out originals by S.Clay Wilson, Crumb, Kominsky and others, promising to show young Gloeckner his “favorite thing about comics.” “He rubbed my hands all over the drawings,” she says. They were feeling for the line, the spark, the energy in the hands that made those panels, like we see Minnie in the movie adaptation of Diary search for Iggy Pop’s dick with her tongue pressed to a poster on her wall.

Visit Phoebe’s website for more on her work in teenage girl’s bedrooms from Juarez to San Fran, as well as musings like: “I just wanna meet Dej Loaf” (same, girl, same.)

P.S. My personal least favorite moment of the night was when I was totally struck dumb while Phoebe was signing my book and stood there like a weirdo. Sorry, Phoebe.

 

Plant More Flowers: A Night With Carol Tyler at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum

I remember feeling pissed when some dude asked Phoebe Gloeckner if she was “desensitized to violence” (because she does medical illustrations) after hearing her talk (and almost cry) at the International Comic Arts Forum about the book she’s been working on since 2002’s Diary of A Teenage Girl about the murders of young girls and women in Juarez, Mexico. There was a lot that I didn’t expect from Phoebe’s talk: the crying, sure, but also the card game she’d created out of crime scene photos from Juarez, a fake tabloid she had created about being cheated on between teaching at U of M and border crossing to live with the families of missing girls in Mexico, how exhausted I felt after listening to her. And I guess I was pissed because some dude took her vulnerability for sloppiness, like Phoebe didn’t actually intend to show us how fucked up one can feel trying to do good work in a world that is not made for you, a world that is wearing you out.

Phoebe’s speaking again later this week at Columbus College of Art and Design, but last night the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum hosted another Twisted Sister, Carol Tyler (I love this town, btw). Seeing C. Tyler got me thinking back to Phoebe because her talk about the 10-year project Soldier’s Heart made me feel similarly exhausted and vulnerable but also like I was gonna punch through a wall when I got home.

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C. Tyler at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

In academia, we are taught that there is no crying in conference. Even if you feel your voice shaking while you read some words that mean too goddamn much to you, cry in the bathroom after your panel. And so it was incredibly disarming to watch Carol shuffle through slides depicting covers and entries for Wimmin’s Comix from the 70s (“You can write about postpartum psychosis. That’s what’s good about comics!”) to pictures of the actual stacks of books she got researching Soldier’s Heart (so big they left “gap tooth” holes in library shelves) to pictures of her dying mother, her sister, her daughter in the hospital (“I never saw so many goddamn lobbies. I figured out what every elevator button [in the hospital] meant.”) and back to images of her studio where she created 53 custom colors of ink and “cornered the market on eBay” to buy out her preferred pen tips for drafting Soldier’s Heart.

“I’ve buried eight people in the past three years,” she told us before showing us the saw blades from her father’s workshop onto which she engraved a comic after she inherited his house. (Saw blades currently on display at her “Pages and Progress” show at University of Cincy’s DAAP Gallaries.) She told us about running herself ragged between hospital suites before her loved ones passed. She told us about not being able to move from the floor after a separation from her husband Justin Green. She told us that hospital lobbies sometimes are the best places to make comics. I felt emotional looking at a picture of the pipe-shaped mug she keeps her yellow #2 pencils in somewhere in Cincy.

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Something I beat myself up for daily is my inability to accept that I’m good at what I do. I beat myself up because being in my particular (read: depressed, anxiety-ridden, PMDD suffering) body is not always conducive to doing the kind of academic, intellectual (or whatever) work I’m supposed to be doing as a grad student and as a woman who wants a lot of things, and maybe if I stopped fighting myself so hard I could actually just do the thing. I have no idea how to balance bad feelings and work in a productive way, but Carol Tyler has somehow figured it out. And to hear her during a Q & A, after she pulled out all her guts and studio drawers for us, admit that she still doesn’t feel like she’s worth anything filled me with great hope. Because we may feel like the insides of a crummy desk drawer, we may be running ourselves down, but somehow there’s still a way to write and make beautiful, terrifying things. And, in Carol’s case, plant flowers.

“What do you do?” she asked. “Plant more flowers. Do more pictures about your life.”

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Shouts to the g, Caitlin McGurk for sharing her pictures.

 

 

Fan Mail to Sophie McMahan

Dear Sophie McMahan,

I hope you feel better soon because I desperately need your dreamy images of the American nightmare for my bedroom. I think you could really make it, kid.

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I picked up two issues of McMahan’s You Were Swell at Quimby’s a couple of years ago and have been longing to build my collection since. And I would, were it not for this little note she left us at her etsy (“Due to personal/health reasons my etsy will be on break indefinitely. Thanks for all the support ❤ <3”) that has me all, “Are you there, Sophie? It’s me, Rachel.” This week, maybe because I was reading Valley of the Dolls and steeping myself in  Hollywood lore about Charles Manson (c/o the wonderful podcast You Must Remember This) to prepare for my upcoming role as PhD Candidate (I guess), I made a shrine to McMahan’s comics, the pages of which are positively busting with busty, twisted pin ups and dead-eyed beauty queens, on our coffee table. Revisiting these little suckers reminded me what a talent Ms. McMahan has for the uncanny, the weird, and the one-off. And so I pray, don’t let Ms. McMahan go the way of her favorite fifties starlets, burning bright for a coupla years only to fade away. We need ya, Sophie, we really, really do.

The stories in You Were Swell are brief meditations on outer beauty and twisted innards. In “Winner,” a raven haired beauty queen is crowned. And when she finally gives us that million-dollar-smile, honey, all her teeth fall out. Girls giving their best head shots despite their four eyes (really, they have four eyes not glasses, dummy) ask us, “Do you think I’m pretty?” in “??????” And in “Good To See You,” our heroine literally effaces herself, twisting her mug into something that might be fit for Burns’s Black Hole end papers, after she’s been forced to make small talk for six panels. And McMahan’s drawings are as gorgeous as they are campy as they are gross. If your mother ever told a teary-eyed you that, it’s what’s inside that counts, sweetie. McMahan reminds us that our insides are totally bombed out by anxieties, and it’s there you’ll find just the kind of two-faced liar your diary makes you out to be.

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And Sophie, gee, if you get this, could you please send me Issue #3?

Love,

Rachel

P.S. Check out Sophie’s work at: sophiemcmahan.com and like her on Facebook. Fingers crossed she opens her etsy store again soon.