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
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. Davis 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
Another 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.
“Worry Wart,” Nola Lee
The 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
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. FYI, 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.
xo Rachel “dust to sidechicks” Miller