Saturday, April 15, 2006

Kick-Ass Queer Women in Comics

Everytime I tell someone of the male persuasion that I read comics, he asks, "Marvel or DC?"

My brother got into the superhero stuff. I read his Spiderman comics, and I bought the first 100 issues or so of the new Wonder Woman in the late '80s. But growing up, sadly, I mostly read Archie comics - until my brother, who is, it must be said, very cool, introduced me to Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Frank Miller's Dark Knight, and Alan Moore's Watchmen and Swamp Thing. And by this time, of course, I had "graduated" from comics to graphic novels. In other words, I was shelling out the full book price.

And then...

I'm not sure how I found it. I think I picked up a graphic novel that looked interesting. It was Love and Rockets. And I was hooked.

I was in college, and it seemed that my family did a lot of driving around New England during those years, which meant that I got to check out a lot of old comic book shops and that I eventually pieced together a full collection of Love and Rockets. (I'm not a "collector" in the traditional sense - I don't have the original first run. What I care about, and what I have, are all of the stories from 1982-1996, when the series ended (temporarily) with the 50th issue.) And just as a testament to my determination, I found all of these shortly before they were all reissued in book form, which gives you an idea of how hard they were to find (they were hard to find - if it hadn't been for a shop in Pittsburgh, where I must have bought about 10 issues, I never would have completed my collection).

(NOTE: In 2001, Los Bros Hernandez started L&R up again. I've just ordered the two newest book collections because I haven't been able to keep up. Check 'em out.)

Shortly before I started reading L&R, I started reading Dykes to Watch out for. And these two woman- and gay-positive comics sucked me in. From there, I found a fairly short-lived but wonderful Canadian quarterly called Oh..., which featured comics by queer women. I was introduced to Joan Hilty, Roberta Gregory, and Leanne Franson on those pages. I think it may also have been there that I first read Ellen Forney's work. Gregory, Franson, and Forney thrilled me by including bisexual women in their comics. Gregory's Artistic Licentiousness, Franson's Liliane, especially, featured bisexual female central characters. Woo-hoo! Ellen Forney also writes unabashedly about bisexuality - and she's my age, so I loved her reminiscences of the '70s and '80s.

Joan Hilty's comics in Oh... won me over to superheroes, after all - but I prefer her "real life" lesbian heroes, like Bitter Girl.

And let's not forget Jennifer Camper. As her book titles suggest, her work is...well...rude, dangerous, and juicy. And thoroughly enjoyable. So, too - but in a completely different way - is Diane DiMassa's Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist.

What all of these comics have in common is a pride in female sexuality, a sense of humor in looking at women's lives, and a fierce sense of social justice, particularly in relation to women's rights. Not to mention strong female characters who are alternately fantastical projections of independence and strength, and real enough to step off the pages and into our lives. Since this is often not the case in comics - check out, for example, Women in Refrigerators, which details what often happens to female comic characters - this is work worth celebrating. And supporting - grrls, get out your credit cards and order some of these books!


Anonymous said...

Check out Mary Fleener and Carol Tyler, Ellen Forney, and Jessica Abel, R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar, Joe Matt, Adrian Tomine.

I also love "Love and Rockets" and any work by Allison Bechdel.


EBuz said...

Great post! Thanks for the recommendations. I'm a fan of feminist graphic novels (Bedchel, Dimassa, Ariel Schrag, Marjane Sartrapi) and I was delighted to receive the Juicy Mother anthology (edited by Camper) in my Christmas stocking this year. That book expanded my horizon to include a number of artists I hadn't heard of ... as did your post!

plain(s)feminist said...

How could I have forgotten to include Ariel Schrag?! I have some of her first books in individual issue form - I haven't been able to get caught up (I think she stopped writing?).

And I taught Satrapi's Persepolis in class this year, as did my partner. Powerful stuff!

plain(s)feminist said...

I've seen Mary Fleener's work. I'm not a big fan of Crumb or Pekar. I'll have to check out the others. Love Ellen Forney.

Anonymous said...

I love autobiographical comics. In an interview I read, Allison Bechdel really loves Pekar and Crumb because of their unflinching honesty.

Yes, it may be distasteful and ugly but it's powerful and real and as brutal to the author as anyone else.

But hey, I started out reading underground anthologies -- Zap, Arcade, Weirdo, Wimmins Comix, Gay Comix so that's where I came from.


plain(s)feminist said...

Mo -
I LOVE Wimmins and Gay Comix - I have a bunch of them somewhere. And I confess that I used to read HATE.

Lara said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lara said...

Dang. I'm spending all afternoon reading the great comics instead of cleaning my house!