As co-editor (with Aline Kominsky-Crumb) of the all-female Twisted Sisters Comics in the 1970s and 1980s, Diane Noomin is one of the pioneering women cartoonists of her generation. Though she continues to publish her comic art, Noomin has been a mentor to a who’s who of younger women cartoonists. Most recently, she turned heads with Drawing Power, her timely anthology of work by women cartoonists inspired by the #MeToo movement. As two separate Harvey Weinstein trials commence, this book should serve as an antidote.
Diane Noomin’s “visual universe” was once described by her longtime friend and collaborator Aline Kominsky-Crumb as “something like a mixture of Liberace, Joan Rivers, and Jackie Mason—Graceland on the Borscht Belt”. The “star” of Noomin’s universe is Didi Glitz, the dynamically ditzy blonde bombshell—equal parts Barbie doll, Candide and Phyllis Diller—who wanders through the various countercultural scenes of the past few decades, from beatniks to hippies to New Age to punk to disco, always with her chin up and her eye on the prizes of the perfect interior decoration and cocktail.
As hilarious and raunchy as her own comics are—predating Riot Grrrl consciousness by two decades—Noomin should be better known than she is. Not just for her comic art but for her behind-the-scenes role as the editor and compiler of two groundbreaking anthologies in the 1990s Twisted Sisters: A Collection of Bad Girl Art and Twisted Sisters 2: Drawing The Line. These two volumes introduced the world to a new generation of women cartoonist who are now at the top of their games (including Mary Fleener, Carol Lay, Carol Tyler, Julie Doucet, Krystynne Kryttyre, Dame Darcy, Penny Moran Van Horn, Carol Swain, M.K. Brown and Phoebe Gloeckner, as well as work by Kominsky-Crumb and Noomin).
Growing up in Long Island and Brooklyn, Noomin went to The High School of Music and Art, intending to focus on sculpture. Hearing the call of the wild, though, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1972, where she fell in with a flourishing underground comix crowd, that included Kominsky, Robert Crumb and Bill Griffith (now her husband, with whom she lives in Connecticut).
Inspired (and repulsed) by the 2016 “election” of the Orange Menace in the White House, Noomin has now shepherded another flock of women cartoonists into print with a volume as timely as an impeachment hearing: Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival. The experiences these 60 women artists depict span from the everyday hassles by men and chronic sexism at the workplace to brutal assaults and rapes.
Brought together in this way, Drawing Power–which is dedicated to Anita Hill–captures the feeling of a history-changing moment. Surprisingly, for a book of this nature, the contributors don’t wallow in “victimhood.” On the contrary, they are, as Noomin says, “truth tellers, shining light on the dirty secrets of abusers.” “people who feel entitle to others’ bodies without consent or consideration.”
In her preface, Noomin says she was jolted upright by the #MeToo movement, recalling instances of sexual assault she had long repressed or suppressed (but never forgotten). “I began asking women cartoonists to join me in making a book that would depict their own experiences of sexual assault, harassment, or rape. Out of all the women I approached, only one said she had never had such an experience…In the time it took to get this book published, one contributor was raped, and another dropped out of the project because her accused rapist is suing her for millions.”
I began asking women cartoonists to join me in making a book that would depict their own experiences of sexual assault, harassment, or rape. Out of all the women I approached, only one said she had never had such an experience…
The book opens with a piece by Noomin herself that juxtaposes an up-to-the-moment litany of celebrity names—from Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. to Bill O’Reilly and the perfectly named Andy Dick—and then jumps into the stories of the women cartoonists who were not assaulted by celebrities but just mundane run-of-the-mill sociopaths. Bridget Meyne, for example, offers a graphic depiction of a grope, grab, choke and sloppy kiss in the back of a dance club, egads, that is so appalling it makes anyone, male or female, never want to leave the house. Ebony Flowers depicts an incident when she was nearly raped by a colleague on the teaching staff of a high school. Marian Henley’s “The Verdict” uses the metaphor of tanks to detail her rape, and the added trampling of the legal process, that ensued when she pressed charges.
Bill Cosby from one of his aptly named comedy album It’s True! It’s True!, joking about dosing women with “Spanish fly”:
Mary Fleener’s “Consensual Rape” tells the story of a rape in junior college by a rock guitarist. Mary drops out, gets a job in a music store, teaches herself how to play bass. She jammed with a band that played with the Stooges. “I was a lil libertine, but I didn’t have an open door policy,” she said. “I had rules.” But the guitarist did not play by the rules. He dosed her wine, then raped her when she passed out. He later admitted, proudly, that he raped her. Only years later, in the wake of the Cosby trial, did she suddenly recall that horrible incident.
Most women, sadly, will nod in unshocked recognition at these 60 scenarios by 60 different women comic artists. Most men (I sincerely hope) would not do or say the things depicted here but we all know assholes like these guys. You can only read a few of these true-life stories at a time. After each one you are filled with anger and sadness. For example, Sarah Firth’s tale of “jocular” male behavior on the workplace will make anyone’s skin crawl and especially men who’ve witnessed such shitty behavior and done nothing.
Not all are brutal assaults, but it’s the accretion of things, like Cathrin Peterslund’s story about a guy who forces himself on her on the subway, then starts playing with her hair and asking her intimate questions, then he gets off the train and follows her, at a distance, and she has never forgotten how she did not confront him…still bugs her years later. Sabba Khan takes us into an area we have largely ignored. Those women with the hijabs. She was violated by a family member but the tight strictures of family forced her into silence. And then there is Lena Merhej’s fascinating glimpse of life in Egypt, where she and a male companion were attacked by a gang of randy boys.