anthologize my heart: bitch planet’s triple features & the history of feminist anthology comix

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].)

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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.”

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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!”

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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,

rach

 

(Laurenn, if you’re reading this thank you for your butt saving copy edits đź–¤) 

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sleeping amongst zines: dispatches from The Queer Zine Archive Project

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I don’t wanna talk about where I’ve been. I want to talk to you about where I am right now: which is to say, a room of my own at the headquarters of The Queer Zine Archive Project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve barely left this beautiful archive that is also a private studio apartment right below the home of zinesters, zine librarians, zine historians, and just all around amazing people Milo Miller and Chris Wilde. Rather, I’ve sunk down, holed up for this somewhat humid August week in which nuclear war (PSA: this post was written before the events in Charlottesville unfolded but now I supposed we can throw civil war in the mix as well) seems inevitable to read zines and comics and let my brain do weird things (and design my fall writing course and think about a book review I need to cut 800 words from and the dissertation chapter I need to finish by next week and and and). So but a (zine archive) room of my own. For a whole delicious week.

I will likely write a little reflection and ode to QZAP elsewhere on the Internet once the week is out, but on this second day of my residency (that’s right, Milo and Chris run an amazing residency program for weirdos like myself), I wanna write about a couple teeny tiny beautiful mini-comics I’ve found in the archive thus far…

Red Hanky Panky by R. House, Issues #4 & 5, 8 & 9 

Rachael House is also a QZAP Residency alum of ’14 and the four issues of her mini-comic Red Hanky Panky in the QZAP archives are chock full of incredible strips and meditations on queerness and bisexuality. Issues #4 & #5 are from 1996 and 97 respectively while Issues #8 & 9 are innovative one sheets from 2009 and 2015 (Fun Fact:   Issue #9 was created for that years Queers & Comics conference in NYC which I’m pretty sure had an academic component that was on my to do list to apply for but I never did *sobs*).

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Not only does RHP boast super high production values but I want a tattoo sleeve made entirely from her dense, frenetic doodles that fill the covers, endpapers and serve as backdrops to Rachael’s strips as well as little borders in the comic’s whitespace. The guts hold just as much promise. In a style reminiscent of Ariel Bordeux’s Deep Girl minis with some Megan Kelso lettering thrown in for good measure, House meticulously editorializes and satirizes her communities: queer, comics, as well as the house she shares with a partner and cat (peep the adorable portrait of cat Minnie with their Ren doll on page 21 of Issue 4). All the while, her strips seek to define, redefine and break with definitions of what bisexuality can or should be (Rachael, you’ll be happy to know WordPress did not try to insert a hyphen into ‘bisexual!’ Everyone else, see Issue #5 page 21). Down to the lettering, which often adopts the block letter style without the expected black inking, messing with our expectations as to what comics pages should look like, her explorations and excavations of multiplicity and duality that have become touchstones for discourse about bisexuality are pitch perfect and well rendered.

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Perhaps my favorite strip (although it’s hard to choose just one) from these early issues I have access to is “Fanboys,” an extended meditation on fanboy comics culture that ran rampant in the early 1990s (See: Pussey!, Dan Clowes). Whereas my hometown comic book shop is now staffed and managed by women and is waaaay less hostile towards its women and gender non-binary customer base, I can still remember the tummy turning nerves I used to experience when I begged my mom to drive me downtown to look at comics in a shop dominated by self-righteous dudes, and House captures the desperation of being a woman or girl and trying to just exist in the comics shop where “Girls [are] allowed, but not welcome.” With some oh-so-sublte Tank Girl digs, House delves deep into the collector of print culture’s psyche, sharing the joy of a new find and exposing how that joy might just intersect (but be reclaimed from) the fan boy ethos.

I knew I was never going to be friends with a dude in my initial undergrad circle who proclaimed the production values of zines (writing and art-wise) to be “shitty and amateur — not real literature.” If I could go back in time, I would’ve thrown my first punch, but now I just leave you with Rachael’s words: “Some artists thoughtlessly fuck with things that matter. They do not understand that queer/lo-fi/low culture is not lesser. Zines are amateur, shining with love. Their creators are driven, they have a long-armed stapler and they’re going to use it. Great fanzines are sincere, modern day folk art. Fanzines are not dependent on funding from the Arts Council.” 

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Good words for dark times always.

Moist & Sticky Crawler, Amy Ahlstrom
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When I ripped open the drawer of the Lane McKiernan Collection and Amy Ahlstrom’s 4.5 x 11 (“Soopertall”) minis came tumbling out, my heart skipped a beat. Ahlstrom originally began publishing her comics under the banner “Moist,” which I believe ran for three issues plus a special issue between 1994 – 1995, before discovering that another comix production already held this name. Thus, the freshly sticky Sticky Crawler hit the stands in 1996 with more sucker punch shorts from the Chicago-based Ahlstrom.

With an unhinged style that’s a little Megan Kelso and a lot of Lynda Barry as well as a black inking style that mixes a stolen sharpie with the expressiveness of German expressionist woodcuts, Ahlstrom’s tales run the gamut from queer and qpoc love stories and adventures to getting rid of tapeworms and sending breakup snail mail. Characters literally open their chest cavities for us, as in “Goodbye,” in which readers are treated to a silent break up tale told through “figures” of the body reminiscent of those found in a medical text book. Sticky Crawler houses the elegiac “And Then The World Turned Dayglo” in which Ollie, one of Ahlstrom’s avatars, narrates a love found when “I was a teenage skater stuck in suburbia.” Ollie and her crush Mina school the local boys in skating while enjoying the pleasures of a sticky suburban summer: giving Barbies punk makeovers, making prank phone calls, vegging out during a tv party, making t-shirts, and sharing a true love’s (or lust’s) first kiss. The cover of the first issue of Moist depicts a gaping mouth, freshly ripped and bloody teeth held out to readers: “For you. A present…” And Ahlstrom’s work is truly a gift ripped straight out of my dreams.

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Assorted Mini Comics by Cindy Crabb

Cindy Crabb is revered amongst zinesters for her per-zine Doris: a sometimes-duct-taped diary that continually spins its guts out for those who are willing to read. My dear friend Caitlin lent me her Doris anthology on my birthday this year and I’m so lucky she did, not only because it’s kept me warm before bed through six shit months of my first dissertation chapter, but also because when I stumbled upon a file folder of Doris materials, my body was prepared to receive two teeny mini comics by Crabb. There may be some debate about whether or not Crabb’s minis 67 boyfriends and 28 houses are more rightly zines or comics. Adopting the stick figure stylings and doodles of her work in Doris, Crabb presents two fraught but compact lists of places she’s lived and people she’s dated. As with Doris, Crabb creates whole damn worlds out of very little, bringing us into her heartbreak, apathy, big love and tiny living spaces with a few spare sentences and lines.

And I can think of no better way to wrap up this post than to show you my favorite pages from 28 houses:  

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And 67 boyfriends: 

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Sending you all love from a queer basement archive in Milwaukee,

rach

 

dust to sidechicks: mini comics pickup (ii)

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

  • BeyoncĂ© and Drake dropped albums. I’ve listened to BeyoncĂ©’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.