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Monday, February 13, 2017

CHOICES: A Pro-Choice Benefit Comic

A recent visit to Philly to wade through dead people's stuff unearthed a book that I've written about before as a memory: CHOICES: A Pro-Choice Benefit Comic. From the sticker on the front, this book was processed in 1996 and I picked it up soon after. I was in high school, doing my recently-mandated 50 hours of community service at Philly Thrift for AIDS, working on my favorite job. At the time, the store was in a huge space on South Street with a large dark basement where they kept the donated books and magazines on unruly shelves. I was down there doing my thing and something about this book grabbed my attention.

The first things that struck me were the number of male artists in the book and seeing names I had read in the Sunday funnies (Garry Trudeau and Cathy Guiswite). I remember especially Michael Jay Goldberg's tender and matter-of-fact "One Cold Night in December," an autobio piece about his friend's abortion. Howard Cruse also has a piece in the book, "Some Words From the Guys in Charge," that places the reader prone, looking up into white, male faces that represent those of absurd and punitive lawmaker. From Alison Bechdel and Leslie Ewing come lesbian perspectives on supporting abortion rights despite some perceived conflicts which feel politically outdated in some ways, but extremely relevant in others--especially balancing personal needs (i.e. "self care") with the larger fight for rights. In retrospect the book is glaringly white on both the creator and character sides; how racism plays into the abortion "debate"is only addressed as a sideline in a couple of pieces.

Diane Noomin's story of her abortion and subsequent infertility also stuck with me. "Looking back, I'm grateful to that 22 year-old for her strength. I owe my life to her choice." I couldn't imagine that future life at the time, but reading this book again in my mid-30s, with several reproductive choices in my history, I understand that reckoning with the past in a way I couldn't at 15. Noomin's comic points out how just because a choice is painful or difficult, doesn't mean a person needs to be saved from it, especially not by the government or any other big Daddy.

White supremacism, economic injustice, incest, suicide, and religious persecution all make appearances in CHOICES. Re-reading this book has been an unpleasantly surreal experience. 27 years have gone by since its publication and women are still fighting to be seen as human beings. It's frightening to see how fragile the gains made are.  As a personal touchstone, the book reminds me of the special power of comics to convey complicated stories in an accessible way. As an artifact, CHOICES is a stark reminder to take nothing for granted.

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