Another ladies of the 90s find, I went looking for Fleener’s
work after seeing a link to her photo blog on Journalista. Life of the Party was put out by Fantagraphics in 1996 and features 26 “autobigraphix” that focus on life in California. She says on her website that her first solo comic was a tribute to Nora Zeale Hurston and she decided to illustrate her wild stories after being inspired by Hurston’s stories.
My first exposure to Fleener was in, what else, Twisted Sister II. That anthology reprinted “Boogie Chillun,” Fleener’s story of falling for a surfer. Her black and white, cubist-on-a-bender style perfectly emphasizes the rabid surfer mentality. So many of her comics deal with some sort of rabid mentality, usually cocaine or sex related, that I can’t imagine these stories shown in any other way than Fleener’s exploding faces and jerking bodies. This is not to say that much of her drawing isn’t realistic, from nicely-rendered stretch marks in “The Jelly” to coastline and shoe stores in “Hush Yuppies,” the details make these stories affecting.
I am not quite sure why I am drawn to the sex, drugs and crazies stories these days. I have certainly experienced enough of all three to not need a by-proxy experience. Perhaps it is the fact that in the 80s and 90s cities weren’t popular. Artists could stick around, be bad and really contribute to a place without having to be a piece of history first. They actually had time to fuck around, make mistakes and make art! There is an energy in Fleener‘s stories that is lacking in my life right now and just opening this book is like licking a battery for my soul.
After enjoying Life of the Party, I went looking for more Fleener comics on the internets and found Dignifying Science. Fleener and a few other lady artists I had heard of were listed as illustrators so I snatched it up.
Turns out, Fleener’s piece was a single illustration of Emmy Noether, a German mathematician, for the back cover:
My copy was a library discard and seemed to have been bound wrong in the last section, resulting in some cut-off words, but even so, I enjoyed reading about the science folks and all the hardships they overcame (or didn’t quite). The art is black and white and the styles change by piece. Lea Hernandez’s piece on Barbara McClintock (genetist) looks nothing like Jen Sorensen’s piece on Lise Miller (physicist). There are some good notes at the end that shed light not only on the subject’s lives, but on the artists’ methods.
One question though, what the fuck in is Hedy Lamarr's hand on the cover?