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.

 

 

Books I Wish I Had Read When I Was a Teenage Girl #1: Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes

Today my partner was like, hey when are you going to write another post about comics for your blog? And now I am sitting here waiting for the mailman to drop a copy of Valley of the Dolls on my stoop (Amazon.com has promised me it will arrive by 8 p.m. today), and I just felt like, you know what? Today I will post my long-percolating review of a comic about abortion.

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This is the kind of book I hope my present and future girl relatives find when they go through my bookshelves because in some parallel universe, I imagine myself finding this lil text during a sleepover at a cool aunt’s house. And in this parallel universe, I am saved from years of anxiety and not-knowing-about-my-body-ness that I’ve dealt with for much of my young adult life (Dear Ohio, Abstinence only education is a public. health. crisis.) thanks to Leah Hayes’s sharp, insightful “handbook for something hard.”

Opening on end papers that are dotted with tampon boxes and maxi pads in a line I can only describe as part diary-level cruddy, part girlish, all beautiful, Hayes transmits medical knowledge about women’s bodies in brief pages where that body is the central guiding force of the visual narrative. This is what Aline Kominsky-Crumb might have made after “Goldie” if her hand hadn’t taken her in stranger directions. Hayes has that same sense of how emotion narrates itself on the body, so the women (or girls, she switches) we follow (one accessing a medical abortion, one surgical) are not just bodies that offer themselves up for medical inquiry, but allow the reader to catch that feeling of the night before, the sitting in the waiting room the day of, and the lying on the couch at home after. While Hayes stresses community (“if you can, the best thing to do first is tell someone in your life who you trust. you don’t need to go through this alone.”), she also speaks to the moments where a girl or woman is inevitably alone during this process, and let’s readers know that this will be o.k., too.

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I am learning every day in a million little ways that it is fucking hard to take control of your body, to make choices about it and for it, and so, to all my past, present and future girls: may this be a little fold in the map pointing you towards recovering your body, the one you want for yourself.

xoxo 16-year-old me