Swans Commentary » swans.com September 9, 2013  



The Big Feminist But


by Paul Buhle


Book Review



Comics about Women, Men and the Ifs, Ands & Buts of Feminism, edited by Shannon O'Leary and Joan Reilly, Los Angeles: Shannon O'Reilly, ISBN: 978-0615789385, 196pp, $20 paperback.


(Swans - September 9, 2013)   This is a fine new collection of women's comic art -- the best anthology of its type for quite some time. Not quite all the artists are women, and a handful are pretty well known for their work elsewhere -- count among these two males, Barry Deutsch and Josh Neufield, and among the women Lauren Weinstein and Vanessa Davis, along with the two editors themselves.

No summary is going to be fair to the variety of narratives and artistic styles here, but among my own favorites would definitely be Andrice Arp and Jesse Reklaw's "The Labyrinth" and Joan Reilly's "Eminent Victorians," in the history (or mythic history) vein, "Untethered" by Lisa Ulman and Kat Roberts, with a boost from Reilly, in the self-confessional. The editors offer a nice summary, at the onset, of why they think this collection and the reinvention of feminism, more generally, is now very timely.

It's not quite a criticism of this able and interesting volume to note that the entire history of women in Underground Comix seems to have been erased, and along with it, a sense of continuity from the rise of later 1960s feminism. To retell a story familiar in comic art history, Trina Robbins led a sort of revolt within the Bay Area's U.G. comix, launching It Ain't Me Babe Comics in 1970, followed by a long-running series under various names (but most often Wimmen's Comix) that outlived the genre itself, which largely folded by 1980. Deep in Southern California, a smaller group published several lively numbers of Tits 'n Clits. To recall just some of the names of the artists, along with Robbins herself, is to list some of the great comic art talent of the day: Sharon Rudahl, M.K.Brown, Carol Tyler, Phoebe Gluckner, Mary Fleener, and Roberta Gregory (who launched her own lesbian anthologies). Robbins also made herself the scholar of the field -- women artists in the comics mainstream in particular. Not to go on to too great lengths here, a sort of split-off group including Aline Kominsky and Diane Noomin did several Twisted Sister anthologies as the century waned, and during the 1990s, Sabrina Jones, Isabella Bannerman, and Ann Decker of the World War 3 Illustrated group launched Girltalk, an anthology that lasted four issues.

The But world goes from (ideologues, popularizers) Betty Friedan and Susan Faludi to artist Alison Bechdel and Fun Home -- with omissions that Alison herself, denizen of the counterculture for decades before her breakthrough, would be unlikely to make. I do not want to seem too crabby on this point, because to do so would lay a heavy burden on today's feminist artists, saying like an old fogy: you can't start from scratch. My point is simpler: Let's use the past of comic art to educate the present, as the hard and often thankless work, but the fun, too, are reinvented.

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About the Author

Paul Buhle retired from college teaching to produce radical comics fulltime. His latest include Studs Terkel's Working, A Graphic Adaptation [reviewed in these pages], The Beats, A People's History of the American Empire (aka an adaptation of Howard Zinn's classic) and a pictorial biography of his childhood hero, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman. His last production (2011) is Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land, edited with Harvey Pekar, and reviewed in these pages.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published September 9, 2013