I recently did the above piece for The Nib- five cartoonists talking about their problematic favorite pieces of media:
I love these properties even though they are problematic. I would never want to hang out with the creators, because they are no doubt misogynistic and racist. I take what I like out of their work and leave the rest.
But then there’s a subset of art that always give me pause: Autobio comics I enjoy by people I find obnoxious women. Unlike the properties mentioned earlier, these aren’t inherently offensive. But the authors portray themselves in ways where I know they would be irritating to be around, even though their stories are so good. I have a few examples of this on my bookshelf, but the one that I think is the best example is Cancer Vixen by Marissa Marchetto.
In this book, the Marchetto is works as a cartoonist living in NYC and writes pieces for Glamour and the New Yorker. She’s thus the kind of woman that is thus invested in the bullshit Glamour sells, like getting the perfect haircut and bikini waxes. She also really cares about status in a way that is off putting; for example, finding it important that she and her friend are at a party that Sarah Jessica Parker is also attending. The book, however, is fantastic. It talks about her cancer and treatment in a really accessible way. The visual metaphors for cancer, it’s treatment, and a lot of the toxic culture and infighting among women (especially in the kind of circles that Marchetto runs in) are amazing. She tells the story beautifully, and she makes personal growth (kind of). The book ends with her realizing that her priorities are fucked up, but even after her battle with cancer she still values things that show off her status as a cool New Yorker. All that being said, this is one of my fave books that I own. It’s a compelling story with great cartooning, but man, I think Marchetto would irritate me, and I think I wouldn’t be chic enough to even be on her radar.
This leads me to the ultimate example of an autobio cartoonist whose work I love but who I would NEVER want to hang out with is Aline Kominsky-Crumb:
Aline Kominsky-Crumb is the wife of Robert Crumb, which should give you some idea of what kind of woman she is. Robert Crumb was a huge influence on underground comics in the 1960s, but his work is sexist and racist as all hell (and actually, so is Aline’s but that’s a discussion for another time). It’s been fascinating seeing the tides turn on opinion of him (in SOME circles). Old straight white dude cartoonists see him as a god while younger queer, poc, and femme cartoonists (or any mix there of) who now dominate the indie comics scene REVILE him. Him and his underground comic pals’ sexism is one of the reasons Wimmin’s Comix was created. Aline actually started doing comics in Wimmin’s Comix but was cast out of the book for being a bad feminist when she started dating Crumb.
In Need More Love (My copy is missing, along with a bunch of my other books, AND I’M STILL REALLY PISSED ABOUT IT!!!) she gossips about her drama with the Wimmin’s Comix Collective 30+ years later (the book is from the late 90s/ early 00s) in a way that makes it sound like it’s happening as she’s writing the book. While I bet there was validity to her side of it, when she recounts it in her comics she draws the artists at Wimmin’s Comix as gross, fat, completely undesirable femininazis. Her work is in some ways, insufferable. In her collected comic anthology by Drawn and Quarterly, she rehashes the same incidents that were traumatizing to her over and over in basically the same exact way. You can tell comics are cathartic for her, but it’s interesting how she doesn’t seem to grow as a person over the 40+ years collected in that book.
That being said, I adore her work! She is starved for male attention like I still am, she is obsessed with looking good (which I try to hide but I desperately want to be conventionally attractive again re:thinner), she loathes herself in ways I really relate to, and she is neurotic in a way only New York area Jews can be (she is from Long Island, my mother is from NJ).
That is something I should mention. While I did not grow up in a fully Jewish household, my mother is Jewish and I consider myself a cultural Jew (meaning I’m not into the religion but and tied to Judaism ethnically and culturally). So a TON of the stuff mentioned in this book resonates with me hard core, in a way I don’t usually see. A great example is how Aline recounts being pressured into things like getting a nose job and straightening her hair to look less ethnic (plastic surgery, nose jobs specifically, are a big thing in rich Jewish high schools).And then there’s just basic stuff like the food and Yiddish terms used where I go, “Ah yes, this makes me feel really at home.”
The Jewish culture (and neurosis) combined with the self loathing depicted with raw honesty and vulnerability (along with being kind of casual and flippant about it) is a rare mix that makes her one of my favorite cartoonists. THAT and she was doing autobio comics way before almost anybody (the only comics I like by her husband are the comics they did together that were based in reality or his retelling of Genisis- which he obviously didn’t write). She really doesn’t get enough credit for that. I’m not sure if the reason is because she is overshadowed by her husband, or that the only reason she is on anyone’s radar is because of her husband (it’s probably a mix of both),
There is something I have only realized as I do a third run through of this blog post. Another core way I identify with Aline is that she is desperately wants to identify as an artist, which is why (though very sporadically) she ends up making comics. While my main incentive to create comics is the community it’s given to me, a big reason I keep doing art even while I feel disillusioned with it at various times (I’m getting through one of these periods right now, that’s why I’m taking a break from making stuff. I can see the light as the end of the self doubt tunnel though) is because I now see being an artist as a part of my identity. It took years for me to start accepting that I’m an artist, I had always associated all artists with the pretentiousness that comes when dealing with the fine art world. But when I found comics I started to get more comfortable self identifying that way.
There is one final person I want to mention that is in no way related to comics, and that is comedian Nicole Byer.
Byer has a couple podcasts that I listen to. There is one called Why Won’t You Date Me? in which Byer explores relationships and talks about how she has never had a relationship even though she is 33. While I’m in a relationship now, I still often identify with the whole, “I’m alone and single forever,” message that this plays her podcast plays into. I find Byer to be charming and interesting as the host of her podcasts. She also is one of my fave guests when I hear her on other podcasts (I subscribe to her on Laughable). That being said, her personality is A LOT to handle. It took a long time for me to even be able to get behind her on these shows, but the conversations were always so interesting that I eventually got used to her, and then endeared to her. But, I can’t imagine having a real conversation with her; it would be difficult to be around someone so loud and gregarious.
So, that’s pretty much all for this post. Obviously, I’m only judging these people by their art, so maybe they are actually lovely in person. But yeah, it’s weird when women talk about their lives and I am VERY interested in what they have to say, but am put off by who they seem to be.
Lastly, in case anyone is wondering why these examples are all women, it’s because:
1) Unlikable men don’t entertain me the vast majority of the time
2) Men’s art in general doesn’t resonate with me, so it’s not even worth writing about.