Saturday, April 20, 2013

More Dykes to Watch Out For

1988, possible first edition, although bought "new" about a decade later, published by Firebrand Books
Alison Bechdel
More Dykes to Watch Out For
Original/purchase price $9.95
Slightly worn paperback

When Lewis's downbeat Sunday's Women: Lesbian Life Today came out about a decade earlier, I think a comic like this was not yet imaginable.  Not only Bechdel's main characters, but seemingly all the supporting and one-time characters are lesbians.  Her universe would become more diverse, and perverse, as time went on, but it would remain dyke-centric.  Even the use of the word "dyke" is telling, the term not only reclaimed but normalized.  As the title suggests, this is the second collection, although if I remember correctly from reading (but never owning) the 1986 collection, the Dykes were then more generic, rather than the regular cast that Bechdel introduces thirty pages in and would stay with for two decades.  (The strip went on hiatus in '08.)

Reading this collection this time (and as the condition suggests, I don't read DTWOF all that often), I was pleasantly surprised by how good the artwork is.  In fact, the writing has probably evolved more than the art, although some characters have changed their looks over the years (notably Lois).  There's a certain self-consciousness about Bechdel's writing, not the lesbian aspects so much as the narrative aspects, like she wasn't sure how readers would take to what she later described as "half op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel."  It's hard to imagine the older, more confident Bechdel as apologizing for Mo's whining, or the cliffhangers.  But she was only 26 when she did the earliest comics here, maybe 27 when she introduced "Mo & Lo."  And it's interesting to see how her same-age protagonists deal with the mid- to late-'80s, including Iran-Contra.  Although this isn't the first of my books to mention AIDS (that would be Call Me Anna, since that was one of the social/political issues that Patty Duke was an activist about), it's definitely the first of my books to show the disease's impact on dating, ironic since (as some of the characters point out), lesbians were (and are) relatively low-risk.  Even celibate Mo worries about it, although carefree Lois doesn't much.

The other two main characters are Latina Toni and black Clarice (Mo's ex).  They've been a couple for awhile (and will remain together, through ups and downs), and this adds relationship diversity as well as ethnic diversity.  Mo loses her celibacy to sensible, overweight Harriet, and there's no doubt that Bechdel offers body-image diversity as well.  Mo and Lois work in a bookstore owned by Jezanna, who's overweight and black.  There's also a minor character, Naomi, who's Jewish and overweight.  My favorite character, Sparrow (Asian bisexual) doesn't show up till later. 

I found myself more inclined to keep reading when I finished this collection than I ever did with Pogo or Doonesbury, although they're each in different ways "half op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel."  (Maybe it's that I relate somewhat more to dykes than to swamp animals or perpetual college students.)  But I am trying to stay chronological here.  So we'll wait till 1990 for New, Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For....

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