My essay, “Feminism Underground: The Comics Rhetoric of Lee Marrs and Roberta Gregory,” has been published in “The 1970s” issue of WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly (2015).
Read the proposal I submitted for this issue’s call for papers below.
The Initial Proposal for “Feminism Underground: The Comics Rhetoric of Lee Marrs and Roberta Gregory”
On the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine (January 1972), a larger-than-life Wonder Woman works to simultaneously tackle domestic and international issues while uncertainly striding forward under the affirmative text: “Wonder Woman for President.” While Ms. embraced Wonder Woman as role model, the feminist movement did not so easily support the comics medium that Wonder Woman called home. In fact, a cover of Ms. in the following year (November 1973) pinpoints the problem behind this tense relationship. A visual homage to Roy Lichtenstein, the cover shows a bespectacled man in profile asking: “Q. Do you know the women’s movement has no sense of humor?,” while a blue-haired woman blankly gazes forward, replying, “A. No… But hum a few bars and I’ll fake it!” The woman’s obliviousness that this isn’t a popular song to be sung becomes the joke, but the charge and challenge remains, spoken directly under the magazine’s masthead. This cover, created by Marie Severin, one of the few prominent female artists in mainstream comics, identifies the struggle that kept women’s independent comics off the shelves of women’s bookstores and out of the pages of feminist magazines like Ms. This essay will consider how these politically irreverent comics, largely rejected by the feminist movement, illustrate and reflect back the movement’s politics, both celebrating its possibilities and critiquing its limitations around issues of sex, race, and class a decade before these matters erupted full force as central concerns of feminism in the 1980s.
Snubbed in their own time and political milieu, these comics have fared no better today. In her recent, formative monograph, Graphic Women (2010), which analyzes the impact of five female comics artists from the 1970s to the present, Hillary Chute dedicates her introduction to a broad discussion of the literary scene in which women produced comics in the 1970s, an important gesture, since, by her own admission, “the underground has received little, if any, academic attention from literary critics” (26). While Chute’s text is part of the growing field of comics studies, this field still disproportionately celebrates a narrow array of more contemporary graphic narratives and largely overlooks these early political comics. This article seeks to recuperate this undersung area of 1970s feminist production by analyzing two comics bildungsroman—Roberta Gregory’s Dynamite Damsels (1976) and Lee Marrs’ The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp (1973-1978)—where a female protagonist explores her sexuality right alongside her involvement in the feminist movement. By paralleling the protagonists’ growing awareness of their own capacious and queer sexualities with their participation in the structures of feminism (e.g. consciousness-raising groups, self-help clinics, activist marches, etc.), these comics illustrate how much feminism in the 1970s sparked sexual discovery, but suggest, as well, how much is left wanting especially for women of color and lesbians. The juxtaposition of text and image in these comics allows them to more viscerally realize and challenge the tenets of feminism, especially those that concern women’s own bodies. While these comics and other feminist visual culture live in the archive, currently forgotten from collective memory, how do these early comics anticipate later feminist explorations of sexuality and provide new models by which to explore, understand, and theorize textually and visually diverse works?