Thursday, December 11, 2008

What Is This Thing Called Sex edited by Roz Warren

“Do you think cake is better than sex?”
“What kind of cake?”
This painful joke screams from the internal organ-pink cover of What Is this Thing Called Sex: Cartoons by Women, an anthology from 1993, and yes, I bought it anyway. Because despite the unfortunate cover, this book is filled with great work from the ladies of the eighties/nineties, an obsession of mine. I was hoping that the visual horror of the book would cause a steep drop in the cover price, but those Strand folks are too clever. Collections like this one are a great way to find work by artists who didn’t quite make it through to today’s comics boom. In WITTCS’s case, though Nicole Hollander’s work graces many a limp Shoebox card these days, seeing Kris Kovick’s wickedly smart work (RIP. I only found out about her after her death, thanks to WITTCS contributor Alison Bechdel.) and Shari Flennigan’s bizarre take on old-timey comics was totally worth the cringe-inducing wait in the check out line.

Much of the work isn’t all that pretty—no sleek lines here. But, as In Andrea Natalie’s hilarious one-pagers, there is a raw sensibility at work that keeps these old cartoons feeling fresh and vibrant, even if some of them feature Ronald Reagan.

Beyond offering a few chuckles, WITTCS offers a window into the complicated lives of 80s/90s women, especially lesbians, and when examining lesbian life, the book leaves behind much of the kinda boring stereotypes about sexually unfulfilling men that bog down a few of the cartoons. (“Sex: A Dyke’s Dilemma” by Wendy Eastwood pretty much sums it up). S&M is a large concern, as is PCness and AIDS. Post-feminisism is warily acknowledged. It seems like many of these women found themselves in an On Our Backs world after fighting for an Off Our Backs life. A theme not entirely absent from the less-fraught aughts.

I liked this book. It made me think about sex and power. Potent!


looka said...

Oh, this sounds good (I wanna go to the Strand again!).

I was growing up in what would be called a "Hillbilly suburb" in America, I think. Alltough these terms don't stick together normally, they came together naturally and in a negative in my small town.

"Stereotypes and Steroids" would also describe well what the aging youth around me would grow up with. I wasn't the kid that knew everybody in all the classes up and down the school I went to when I was around 14, so it might have slipped my ears back then.

But among a some hundred kids strong crowd, that would know everything as soon as the news crossed the schoolhall, it was never that you would know that any of them where going steady or making out (or the scariest), having sex in a respectful way with someone of their gender.

Don't get me wrong, the brayers bragged about who to shag first, or who they met at the latest sexparty and so on, so on.... so they weren't deprived. Of course there was porno with "lesbians."

There was this terrible atmosphere around where words like "gay" and "lesbian" would be tagged to someone. Either shouted or whispered, it was just something you HAD TO ACCEPT AS WRONG. Well I never did so (neither was I someone to defend the ones that where picked at, very strongly).

I never changed my mind about this. It never occured to me that being gay was wrong or a reason to be shouted at and descriminated or talked about, or put into drawers.

Now I don't think this is better somewhere, kids and teenagers have a way of being confused and mean everywhere. We just had a particularly bad spot there.

It bugged me that this wasn't around, that we didn't have a school system that would just tell us: "Hey there is many kinds of love! You can choose to love and have sex with what gender you want!" Hooray!
That bugged me and it still does.

Carrie said...

Well, how goes it in grown-up Austria now that you are in the big city?

I was lucky that high school, for me, was free of those sort of problems, but I often wonder if its because I paid so little attention to others during that time. I was also very loud and angry, so I wonder if people didn't just act better around me for fear, for fear.

looka said...

Ach, it's all right! As long as we can travel.

There is nothing more intimidating to teenage boys than a girl who is angry and smart.
HaHa, I sure turned into a butt whupping bad ass from fifteen upwards.