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.