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Ewing come lesbian perspectives on supporting abortion rights despite some perceived conflicts which feel politically outdated in some ways, but extremely relevant in others--especially balancing personal needs (i.e. "self care") with the larger fight for rights.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.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

LA reading or not reading

Los Angeles has the best bookstores. They are big and rolling and usually have cafes. On my December trip, I only went to Stories and, feeling very used up, picked up a copy of I Am Not Ashamed, the ghostwritten Barbara Payton autobiography. I haven't cracked it yet, as the abuses heaped on Payton for being a woman are too close to the bone right now and pulp verve is not the energy I'm looking for these days.

I read Slade House on the airplane, using its quiet British horror to push away the sights and smells of the trip, but also to stall the inevitable end of After Atlas.

Los Angeles was warm-ish but cloudy and darker than expected--good for sleeping and reading, not great for pretending that you are in another life. I finished After Atlas in the vacated house of B's colleague, other peoples' things all around and citrus blossoms on the breeze. The ending felt rushed, and the book felt like it needs a sequel, unlike Newman's previous book in this world, Planetfall. But the heart of the novel, a locked room mystery, definitely held a whiff of the Britishness of Slade House, which was an unexpected connection I enjoyed.

We hit the road and went to Joshua Tree. The National Park (where these pictures were taken) was much more conducive to enjoyment than recording, though I did some drawing of the rocks in the evening, in a quiet cabin recommended by friends. Now the current government is attempting to take away these public spaces, to pretend that selling them, drilling them, sucking them dry is both sane and patriotic and December is very, very far away.

The ride home had me reading Mickey by Chelsea Martin. Though the book had many incisive lines, it didn't build to anything memorable, like the titular boyfriend so hated and desired by Mickey's protagonist. The protagonist--a young, artistic, white lady with (boring) bad behavior--interests me not at all. I get enough of that in my life and definitely don't need it in my increasingly rare reading time. In some ways it was perhaps a perfect book to read on the way back, a reminder that there are other things to do.