My essay, “Archiving Wimmen: Collectives, Networks, & Comix,” has been published in Australian Feminist Studies 32.91-92 (2017). This special double issue focuses on “Archives and New Modes of Feminist Research.” This article received the Florence Howe Award for feminist scholarship in the field of English by the Women’s Caucus for the Modern Languages (http://www.wcml.org/).
The Initial Proposal for “Archiving Wimmen: Collectives, Networks, & Comix”
In 2016, nearly forty-five years since its first issue was published, all seventeen issues of Wimmen’s Comix were republished by independent comics publisher, Fantagraphics Books. This underground comics series featured the contributions of over one hundred women in its two decades of existence: 1972-1992. In the years prior to its rerelease, Wimmen’s Comix was remembered through its haphazard existence in numerous archives. Despite the collective nature of this feminist comic, its preservation in physical and digital archives prioritized the most prolific creators, effectively erasing the contributions of a majority of the women, nearly half of whom contributed just once to the series. Lora Fountain, who created “I Had a Teenage Abortion” for Wimmen’s Comix #1 (1972), is a prime example. Her name and contribution are not indexed in Michigan State University’s Comic Art Collection or in Alexander Street Press’s Underground and Independent Comics Collection. These physical and digital archives are prominent, well-respected collections with thousands of comics, and yet both obscure this significant comic from an era before abortion was legal in the United States. Through an analysis of Wimmen’s Comix, this essay examines how archival practices bury visual media in particular.
This essay analyzes how such comix are organized across archives. I propose ways to better archive feminism that echo its collective politics and honor the many media forms that feminists create work in. Because these comix have never been organized in their own dedicated collection but instead have been collected across an array of archives, their organization permits us to theorize how archives generally remember in ways contrary to feminist politics.
In drawing physical and digital archives together in critique, I argue that a feminist politic must govern the structuring of such spaces for their operation to be transformative. I build from the work of scholars like Kate Eichhorn, Alana Kumbier, Kelly Wooten, and Lisa Darms, who analyze how girl zines from the 1990s have been preserved in grassroots, university, and digital archives. They celebrate how the principles of feminism have been put into practice in cataloging these collections and in deciding how and whether to digitally represent this media. Such attention has not been directed to earlier feminist media like comix, whether in explicitly feminist or other archives. To better represent this grassroots media, I propose that we embrace the idea of the network as a method for structuring the organization of such materials in archives. I argue that we need networked finding aids that are organized by the relationships between women and organizations rather than by the individual names themselves, and I analyze network visualizations that I have created for these comix publications.