Post #788 • May 15, 2006, 8:54 AM • 65 Comments
Regarding to KH's Mother's Day post, I agree that the dewey-eyed, gooey-headed pablum about moms in the newspapers is going to be about as insightful as any other kind of cultural criticism on offer there. I'd like to recommend instead an anthology of women comics artists, Scheherazade: Comics about Love, Treachery, Mothers, and Monsters. It came out in late 2004 on Soft Skull Press, but I only found out about it last week, as I now have access to good comic book stores since the move.
Megan Kelso edited the volume, and its best stories describe mother-daughter interactions in a realistic and touching way. It features a story by J. Manix about a trip that she (presumably) and her mother made to the store to buy underwear, drawn with exceptionally charming sparingness. (It is difficult to find information on Manix, a French artist who seems to have died terribly young.) In Robyn Chapman's "Turtle Pancakes," a gentle mother and her surly teenage daughter go on a trip to a Thai festival at a senior center. The event is, as the daughter puts it, "painfully lame," but after bonding with her mom over a memory of her making turtle-shaped pancakes for her as a little girl, she finds ironic delight in the festival and they leave smiling. Chapman has a bold graphic style reminiscent of Jaime Hernandez at his most spiky, and it suits the main character well. In "Fanya Needs to Know" by Leela Corman, a preadolescent girl in a shtetl witnesses a neighbor collapse and die from a self-administered abortion, and suddently everyone around her, most of all her mother, has a lot of explaining to do.
The book has other fare as well, notably "Bitchfest" by Ariel Bordeaux, which has girlfriends getting dressed up, going to a party, and getting drunk. No plot, but the sheer sexiness of the drawings, rendering the women as Betty-Boop-cute anthropomorphic dogs, precludes the need for one. "Wednesday Morning Yoga" by Ellen Forney wordlessly tells the story of the emotional struggle and the indignity of looking at the butt of the person in front of you during a yoga class. Other stories are more serious, notably Ellen Lindner's "Undertow," in which the sudden loss of a woman into the sea, right in front of her friend on the beach, echoes the sad trajectory of her life as she was describing it to her beforehand. Lindner's stylish illustrations show a practiced understanding of storytelling and the printing process.
All comics anthologies have entries that feel like they shouldn't be there, that push naive drawing too far, or combine words and images with no finesse at all. This one has them too, but not enough to matter. Make sure you get the second edition of the book, which solved some printing mishaps in the first that caused a few passages to come out roughly or disappear outright.
The introduction by Kelso makes a case for yet another women's comics anthology:
I would add that just as women speak differently than men, move differently, play basketball, sing, write, and relate to others differently, it stands to reason that we make marks differently - and make different marks. I also posit that women construct narratives in fundamentally different ways than men and that the stories in this book contain some specific examples of those ways.
Inarguable, but make a list of how, and I think you'll be asking for it - barring the limits of biology, of which there are none in art, no technique exists that couldn't be performed expertly by either gender. It reminds me of KH's demonizing of "objectification" at the link above - there's a problem, but try to pin down a specific iteration of it, and it becomes difficult to characterize its nature. Basing your perceptions on a hackneyed set of stereotypes is going to prevent you from seeing reality, but conventions make images of things possible. Rather than KH's exhortation, "Objectification is dehumanizing, reject it," I think it would be more enjoyable and world-changing to turn objectification over to everyone and see what can be done with it. All kinds of stylizations and object-making become possible, the stereotypes transform beyond all recognition, and people are able to tell their stories in a manner that brings you out of your world and into theirs. That's what I see happening in Scheherazade, not to mention some good, straight-ahead comics work.