I’ve officially been spoiled by The Vagina Monologues. Sorry, but there’s no going back. After you’ve stood in front of an audience and talked extensively about the clitoris, your perception of polite conversation changes.
For all its flaws (equating womanhood with vaginas for instance, or believing there are only two genders, etc.), The Vagina Monologues normalizes seeing women at center stage. It’s a whole show dedicated to hearing women’s voices as well as to discussing the female body and female sexuality. This should be the realm of comics. The visual nature of comic books lends itself to artistic depictions of women of varying identities as well as women who are not depicted solely to be viewed by a male audience. The collaboration of artists and writers promotes an egalitarian work environment – a direct rejection of the dominating forces of Patriarchy.
In short: comic books are the perfect place for feminism. The 1970s thought so too. Wimmin’s Comix appeared in 1972 and ran until 1992. Wimmen’s Comix was the first all-female comic anthology in America and was the first comic to openly feature a lesbian character. But what made Wimmen’s Comix really a queer, feminist, underground, shocking display of impropriety was that it was anti-Patriarchy.
If Patriarchy is about dominating others, then feminism is about sharing power. And what better way to share power than in the collaborative environment of comic books? Wimmen’s Comix was a cooperative where everyone rotated positions and no one was the editor-for-all-time-do-as-I-say-or-else. Welcoming in new female talent was a must.
The team wasn’t perfect. They weren’t racially diverse and (as far as I know) everyone was cisgender. But the comics were radical, displaying female sexuality and frontal nudity. The “tits and clits” (as one anthology was titled) were for women. This was a series created by women, from a female perspective, and for women, featuring female sexuality, abortions, vaginas (I know it’s cisnormative) and any shameful secret about being a woman which should never be shameful or secretive. In an interview in 2009, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, a cartoonist who wrote autobiographical comics for Wimmen’s Comix, explained it like this: “I would draw myself on a toilet. I would completely deconstruct the myth or romanticism around being a woman—all that stuff. I was just vulgar and gross and everything. I enjoyed pushing that in people’s faces. For me that was somehow satisfying.” If you haven’t guessed, these comics are funny.
But how was this different from other radical comics at the time? Like Wimmen’s Comix, publications like Underground Comix featured nudity and words you couldn’t say on TV. But Underground Comixs were made by men. For instance, in one panel, a woman is in the bath with a man’s head up her vagina. The joke is that they are both confused with what’s going on. But nothing is confusing, really, or even radical about this image because the image of a topless woman aside, art like this reinforces the idea that women are passive and let things happen to them. Wimmen’s Comix didn’t have that problem. These women were active.
I’m excited to delve into the world of web comics and independent female publishers taking back their power of words, art and in turn their bodies. I’m ready to find the radical feminist comic books of the 21st century and explore are all the queer, feminist, underground, shocking displays of impropriety comics of today.