A little over a year ago, I dragged my exhausted body, fresh off of my first (and last) college all-nighter and fueled by adrenaline and caffeine, to the Sociology department in William James Hall to turn in my senior thesis five minutes before the deadline. The 156-page document I turned in its regulation black binder had been roughly seven months in the making, after I first emailed comics “herstorian” Trina Robbins to ask if she would be willing to talk to me about Wimmen’s Comix, and if she was still in touch with any of the other contributors to the anthology. Tomorrow, I will go to Gainesville, Florida, to A Comic Of Her Own, to discuss what came of the 23 interviews with women in the underground comix movement and other background research I’ve done since then.
Even before I considered it as a thesis topic, I’d been curious about Wimmen’s Comix since the summer of 2011, if not well before. One of the few sociological tomes on comics, Paul Lopes’ Demanding Respect: The Evolution of the American Comic Book, described Wimmen’s Comix (and Tits & Clits, an underground comic out of Laguna Beach) as follows: “Strongly influenced by the beginnings of the feminist movement at the time, female underground artists fought back at the misogyny in the comix movement … Women underground artists as self-identified feminists in the seventies, while like all underground artists pushing the envelope, presented a more coherent politics in their intervention into the underground comix movement. They focused on feminist political positions related to sexism, homophobia, physical abuse, and abortion. Like other underground artists, their politics were up front and, so to speak, in your face.”
“This first generation of female comic book rebels unquestionably laid the groundwork for future generations of women artists to intervene and attempt to transform the field of comic books,” concluded Lopes.
Since reading that description — and all of the issues of Wimmen’s Comix and Tits & Clits themselves — I had turned it over and over in my mind, and pondered it each time I did an interview. If these comix were feminist, what made them feminist? Was it that they were created by women, especially in a time when that was uncommon? Was it that they were created by feminists? Was the way in which they were created feminist? Was their topic matter feminist? And if they weren’t feminist, what were they?
What I discovered was that the characterization of women’s underground comix as a “feminist intervention” told only part of the story. Even my thesis, which drew upon original interviews with many of the artists, as well as a great deal of background research, tells only part of the story, and I’m working how and when I can to tell the rest of it.
But if you happen to be in Florida tomorrow, be sure to drop by the panel I’m presenting on, ‘Women Underground.” Expect updates after the conference!