May 22, 2019
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.
DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR
I first encountered Dykes to Watch Out For in the mid-Nineties in the Oberlin College library. Alison Bechdel’s comic strip was still ongoing then, periodically collected and published in horizontal paperback books with bright covers. I flipped through them in the stacks, but as with real live dykes, I was too intimidated to check one out and bring it home. I had a massive case of imposter syndrome regarding my sexuality. Just because I wanted to be queer didn’t mean I was, right? I mean, I also wanted to be a writer. I had once wanted to be a jockey. I had wanted to be a singer. I had wanted to be all kinds of things there was no guarantee I had the mettle or capacity for. So I paged through these books fascinated by the stories they told about a group of queer women (and a man or two) who are friends and lovers and exes, and also a bit despondent about how far that was from my life. Bechdel herself had attended this school, but most of my friends there were straight or at best heteroflexible; it wasn’t until I graduated and left that I truly joined the gays.
For the next several years I didn’t think much about Dykes To Watch Out For, maybe because I became one and had access to enough lesbian drama in my everyday life to fill volumes. Then in my early thirties I returned to Oberlin to teach writing. This time I actually was a writer, or at least a lot closer to it, and a full-time queer. But now, that deeply felt identity had me feeling untethered all over again. Here I was in a tiny Ohio town, with a couple of gay men in my new faculty cohort but nothing resembling the universe of shared aesthetics, pleasures and understandings I’d left behind in lesbian-saturated Portland. Although I loved my work and earning a livable salary, I was queerly lonesome all over again.
One day I wandered into the comics shop — a store that in my undergrad days had been an army/navy surplus store where I’d bought combat boots that smelled like tar, with splitting soles I faithfully duct-taped together weekly — and there on the new-release shelf was an encylopedia-sized compendium, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. This time I took the book immediately home, and I devoured it in less than a week. I wanted to return to it every day the way you binge-watch a show, the dreamy, crush-like desire to just be in that world. This, though, was more satisfying than any show I could have watched or any novel I could have sunk into, because unlike, say, The L Word, the characters were savvy and self-aware and seemed real, free from the pressure to live a television-friendly aspirational lifestyle, and because the story was serial, unlike a novel, where I always have a sense of the author’s hand in moving everything toward an arc or conclusion. No, Dykes to Watch Out For just went on and on and on, like life. When Bechdel started it, I’d assume she’d had no sense of what its ending would be or what storyline the strip would follow. She simply kept writing and drawing it for so many years that it accrued into an ongoing chronicle of growing into queer adulthood, a time that I had just come through myself, half a generation behind her. Reading Dykes to Watch Out For alone on my thrifted couch, in that moment of strange return, this big sturdy book became more than a temporary shelter. It felt, blissfully, like home.
SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.
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