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From Girls to GrrlzReview - From Girls to Grrlz
A History of Women's Comics from Teens to Zines
by Trina Robbins
Chronicle Books, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Dec 4th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 49)

Trina Robbins documents the checkered history of comics aimed at, or liked by, women. Comics have nearly always been predominantly for a male readership, and have often depicted women in stereotyped roles.  Robbins explains that at the start of women's comics, in the 1940s, the female characters' main preoccupation was dating and men -- they wanted to find a husband.  Some of the most popular characters first appeared in Archie and its many spin-offs.  Miss America was one of the only super-heroines.  Robbins has found some wonderful examples of these comics to illustrate her text with.  One of the most successful characters was Patsy Walker, who lasted twenty-two years.  There were also many romance titles, such as Young Romance and Hi-School Romance. Again, the themes of these comics were predictable, with standard plots of jealously, love triangles, and unrequited affection.

It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that girls were depicted in more powerful ordinary roles.  One of the most dramatic shifts in artistic style comes with the psychedelic fashions: a couple of pages of Mod Love are reproduced from 1967: it lasted only one issue, but the art is stunning.  As Robbins notes, this seems to be strongly influenced by the artwork of the Beatles' film Yellow Submarine.  The culture of popular music seems to have had an effect of the world of comics, bringing issues of women's independence, politics and radical new clothing fashions to the fore.

But women's comics really became interesting when women started publishing their own comic art independently of the mainstream comics companies.  It's here that innovative art and serious stories became the norm.  Titles like It Ain't Me, Babe and Wimmen's Comix changed the landscape for women, and they made clear ties to the women's movement of the 1970s.  It was during this time that figures like Roberta Gregory and Alison Bechdel started to become household names -- at least, in a minority of households.  Robbins also credits the Love and Rockets series, created by the Hernandez brothers, for featuring powerful female characters.  Other titles were notable in the 1990s -- Real Girl, Twisted Sisters, Girl Talk, Naughty Bits, Saucy Li'l Tart, and Artbabe are all mentioned.  Robbins highlights the fact that it is always difficult for women's comics to continue for more than a few issues, and the comic world is as male-dominated as ever.  Women may be more politically and personally powerful than they were fifty years ago, but our society is still a long way from achieving gender equality.

Robbins does not say anything about the importance of the Internet for comic book art, and she leaves the issue of the future of women's comics unclear.  I've always found women's independent comics to be contain some of the most interesting artwork and appealing politics of any comics. From Girls to Grrlz is a good introduction to this world, and I found it both well written and informative.  The quality of reproduction of images is excellent, and the lay out is great.  The perfect companion to this history would be a sampling of the last fifty years of women's comics in one large book, because as Robbins points out, much of this work is very hard to find.  I recommend Robbins' book to anyone who enjoys politically savvy and comically subversive comic book art.
 

© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health.


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