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Sexy Chix Anthology of Women Cartoonists
edited by Diana Schutz
Dark Horse Books, 204 pages

Sexy Chix Anthology of Women Cartoonists
Diana Schutz
Diana Schutz is a senior editor at Dark Horse Comics and an adjunct instructor of comics history and criticism at Portland Community College. As an editor, she has worked with Frank Miller, Matt Wagner, Will Eisner, Sergio Aragonés, Stan Sakai, Paul Chadwick, Paul Hornschemeier, Linda Medley and Eddie Campbell.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

I flat out love anthologies. I think there should be more collections of short comic book stories. The business wisdom on this issue is that anthologies don't sell well. This is unfortunate. First of all, the content of a comic book story anthology is going to be short stories told in comic book form, as opposed to the longer form, the "graphic novel." There is an appealing esthetic to a short story. In a good short story, there should be a laser-like focus on a single theme or idea: every word (and in the case of a comic), every line should work to bring the narrative to a particular point. The short story is a wonderful showcase for a creator's talent and interests. When I was in grade school, and just discovering the joys and rewards of recreational reading, I was a huge science fiction fan. Along with the novels of writers like Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and others, I became devoted to short story collections edited by people like Groff Conklin and the wonderful annual "best" collections of Judith Merril. Not only did I like to read short stories, I also liked the way this allowed me to discover new writers. I was then able to look for their books.

There have been many anthology style comics over the years that I've enjoyed for similar reasons. Just a few that leap to mind include Robert Crumb's Weirdo, Sarah Dyer's Action Girl, the DC horror fantasy anthologies such as House of Mystery, the 50s EC science fiction and fantasy titles (I think I should mention that I read those as reprints).

I thought Sexy Chix, this new anthology of women comic book creators, might be really stupendous, and since it is only great, that counts as something of a disappointment. Having expressed that part of my reaction, I'll add that this book is also diverse, exciting, rewarding and entertaining. I guess I should be satisfied, but I do have some questions and reservations.

There are stories in Sexy Chix by many of my favorite creators. Such as Jill Thompson, who contributes a narrative without text that concerns what might be one of the most famous and popular comic strip characters of all time, who can't be identified because of trademark reasons, or who might also be just a generic sailor. This piece is gorgeously reproduced in gray tones, but I wonder if it might have been originally painted in color? Thompson has done that sort of work, and as nice as this looks here, it would be great to see it in color.

Colleen Doran is clearly one of the most talented and successful cartoonists working today. She has been successful both with her own independently published project, Distant Soil, an eclectic fantasy epic of great ambition, but has worked on a large number of important projects from major comic book publishers. Her contribution to this book is exuberant and innovative artistically, but it strikes me as a bit mean spirited. Apparently autobiographic, it tells about Doran's relationship with an old friend, "Moe," someone who Doran portrays as obsessed with Japanese culture, and especially cute Japanese boys. In the end, Doran wonders how her ex-friend is doing now. It is difficult to tell when the events in the story take place, but obviously there has been an increasing interest in Japanese culture, so while Moe's obsession may have cause her professional problems for a while, she might be doing just fine by now.

For a guy my age and with my interests, Lee Marrs is a pioneer of the underground comic. Which isn't to say that she hasn't had a long and diverse comic book career, but nonetheless it is wonderful to find her here with the original character she created in the well remembered, exceedingly independent comics, Pudge. And with a brand new, up to date Pokemon joke, no less.

Several other pioneering underground comic book artists are represented here, Trina Robbins and Roberta Gregory. Gregory's best known and most important work is her long running Naughty Bits, about 40 serial issues, a great run for a small press comic, and much of it collected into graphic albums. Naughty Bits was a detailed, humorous, often dark and scathing examination of a office wage slave, a single woman trying to create a satisfying life for herself. Gregory's story here seems more like notes for a longer piece, as it lists distressing ways in which "Camellia" is oppressed and exploited. Fantagraphics recently pulled the plug on Naughty Bits, so I worry that Gregory may have a harder time finding a way to have her wonderful work published.

It is always a treat to read a new Go Girl story from Trina Robbins and Anne Timmons, and this is a strong one, but I have reservations about it being in this anthology. If you have followed Robbins career as long as I have, which is to say from the earliest days of the underground comic, you know that, since the 80s, one of Trina's passion has been for creating comics for young girl readers. The Go Girl stories are a recent, successful and popular part of this initiative. But Sexy Chix isn't really intended for young readers. Young adults, sure, but not so much the youngest readers that Go Girl manly serves. I know for a fact that Go Girl entertains male and female adult readers as well, because I number myself among those readers, and I have adult customers who like Go Girl, so this will be fine for them. If including this story here introduces more parents to the series, and prompts them to get the Go Girl books for their kids, then that is great. Dark Horse shouldn't neglect to include this story in one of the many more Go Girl books they will publish, right? Otherwise, I think the story is a bit out of place.

When I first met Robbins in the 80s, she was writing for Marvel's then under-appreciated (I think) Barbie series. Now there was a great comic for girls! While Trina was in Madison as a guest of honor at WisCon, a women-centric science fiction convention, Trina gave some great interviews to the local press. More than once she had to defend her work on Barbie. Madison can be a bit politically correct at times, you know, and the ideas that the Barbie dolls are too commercial, or somehow exploit or perhaps oppress women are not uncommon. Madison is the home to the "American Girl" dolls, at that time not yet purchased by Mattel! As the spouse of a Barbie collector and feminist, and a supporter of anything that might interest kids in reading, I thought the Marvel Barbie comic was great. But I remember one regret that Trina expressed was the fact that she wasn't being allowed to contribute art to the Barbie comic. I might not be remembering this correctly, but I think it had something to do with her characters not looking slender enough. It wasn't too long after Trina's work on Barbie, and several important books on the history of women cartoonists, that Trina announced that she was retiring from being an artist to concentrate on writing. I feel that perhaps the experience on Barbie was part of this decision; Trina did write that she was tired of frequent criticism of her art work.

I certainly support Trina's decision to concentrate on writing, it has given us all some wonderful stories and books. But I for one was always a fan of Trina's art, and I know I'm not the only one. Sometimes us Wisconsin Trina Robbins fans have meetings where we sit around, read old comics, and hope that some day Trina will pick up a brush.

Another of my all time favorite comic book creators is represented here, Carla Speed McNeil. McNeil's long running self-published comic book Finder recently came to an end, victim of a changing and consolidating comic book marketplace. Her story here reminds me how much I miss it. McNeil has written that she will continue to create Finder stories for publication on the internet, with the hope that it will be practical to collect the work into books. In the meantime, check out the many Finder trade paperbacks already available. I particularly recommend Mystery Date, one of the best and most ambitious science fiction alien-human contact stories ever done in comic book form.

So, thanks, Dark Horse, for publishing this book; good work, Diana Schutz, for this wonderful book. But of course I'm not satisfied. This needs to be a serial! When is the next volume scheduled? I read some time ago that Sarah Dyer, who edited the great Action Girl series for Slave Labor, was going to be editing a series of comics or books for Dark Horse. What happened to that? And then, one of my favorite cartoonists who isn't in this book, Linda Medley; I read that her wonderful Castle Waiting series was going to go to Dark Horse. Now, instead, it has shown up from Fantagraphics. Well, I shouldn't start with all the names of people who should be in this book (Donna Barr!), should I? This is why there should be more books in this series.

Copyright © 2006 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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