Thursday, December 31, 2015

Completed: From Girls to Grrrlz : A History of Women's Comics from Teens to Zines

Dear Jenny,

For the most part, this was a fun read. It's not really about women in comics, as much as "women's comics" (which it does say right in the subtitle) -- that is, comics written specifically for women (or girls). So it was more positive that I was concerned it would be (a book about women in comics would be... sort of depressing, right?)

It was divided into four general sections, so I'll just walk on through 'em here.

Girls' Comics 1941-1957

So we start in the 1940s with "Girls'" comics (aka "Teen" comics) which began with Archie comics being a sort of  "everyman" answer to Superman. And while Betty and Veronica's worlds mostly revolved around Archie's (although they also had their own books later), there were several other titles during those years that featured girls as the primary characters, mostly along the same "teen" lines.

The depressing part is that women in comics in 1945 were dealing with the Same. Damned. Issues. that we are dealing with today, 70 (!) years later:

(The girls that Patsy has gotten to join her turn on her and eventually Patsy admits defeat and puts her skirt back on. Sigh.)

Women's Comics 1947-1977

I think this section could have been subdivided -- 30 years is a lot of time to lump together under the title "Women's Comics," especially when a large portion of these comics were along the line of Josie and the Pussy Cats and Sabrina the Teen-age Witch, which were the natural evolution of the Archie-style teens and, while they had a bit of a more independent edge, the primary audience was still teenagers.

Some of the other comics in this section were directed at an older audience, but, like Harlequin Romances, I'm sure there were a fair number of teens who got their hands on these. There was this whole "True Romance" genre -- basically soap operas in comic form (imagine the backs of many hands applied to many foreheads and you've got it).

In the later part of this long-spanning era, we also get some "career" gals -- nurses, flight attendants (at that time... stewardesses), reporters (remember Brenda Starr?), etc. Check out Linda Carter, Student Nurse, over there (pre-dating the Lynda Carter we now associate with another comic book character!)

And the 70s brought... flower children. (Check MODniks: "A drop-out digs where it's smart to be in -- school!")

Honestly, I think calling these "women's" comics might be a stretch... depending on how you refer to teenagers. I guess the idea here is that the topics and the characters are more "grown up" than the girls in Archie's time, but I would also argue that each generation's teenagers are more grown up that the last.

Womyn's Comix: 1970-1989

Even though ol' Patsy up there was trying to "liberate all womankind" back in 1945, the 70s were a time when this concept became more mainstream and women's (or "Womyn's") comics reflected that. Robbins herself became active in writing comics during the 70s, so she's got a lot of opinions about this time period.

I wrote some more here but could not wrap it up succinctly, so I deleted it and I will share my personal experience with one of the "comix" mentioned in this section...

One of the first comics I got completely hooked on was Dykes to Watch Out For. I checked out every single anthology -- and bought the ones that were not available at the library -- and burned through those books over the course of several weeks in the fall of 2001. Alison Bechtel is hilarious and made me cry laughing -- look at this still! (Everything is hilarious about this -- even the CAT is funny!)

It's worth noting here that  Betty and Veronica were also still going strong in the 1980s, but there were also quite a few other actual real "women's" comics being written during that time (that is, comics for adult women) and many more comics being written by women than at any previous time.

Grrrrlz Comix: The 1990s

I  also remember reading a lot of these comics in the early 2000s. One of my all-time favorites, Strangers is Paradise, gets a shout-out in this section, as well as Art Babe by genius Jessica Abel.

I'm not sure I have a lot to add here -- you can kind of guess the trajectory of the comics, as they followed the rest of the culture at that time -- grunge, "riot grrrls," etc. (I'm sorry -- I'm flaming out here with this "review"-- laugh at this comic and pretend that this post is not a trainwreck...)
(Click to see it bigger.)

In conclusion (dare I even say that?)

Overall, the writing in this book was decent and well-researched -- Robbins has a lot of opinions and they certainly show through, but since I generally agreed with her, that was fine with me (and sometimes made me laugh out loud).

There was a strange typographical choice where all comic titles were larger font that the rest of the writing and, as Robbins got more opinionated, she started using a different larger font for CAPITAL LETTER emphasis and that was kind of jarring. I guess my issue with the opinions and the typographic choices is that they help relegate this book to a "fun" read when it could have taken an opportunity to shine a more serious light on the topic. But... it's okay. They're comics, right?

Aaaand... done!
(Yes, yes... skidding into the very end of the year... per usual!)


1 comment:

  1. I laughed a lot at the tights are not one size fits all! And also when you said to imagine backs of hands on foreheads. Hah!

    I bet it was actually more interesting to you since you had read so many of them. Was there anything you discovered for the first time through this book? And, also, I can't remember if you said how long you'd had this one. Would be super interesting to see how comics have evolved since the 90s. Just in general I feel like there are so many more mainstream comics/graphic novels.

    Hey! It was a great review. My last review was no great shakes either. The important thing is TO BE DONE! And move on to the pleasant task of looking for next year's books! Whee!

    Let's toast to 2015. I seriously never thought we would make it.