Greetings. I just came back from the opening reception of “It’s about Comics” at Scott Eder Gallery in DUMBO.
I found out about the show after being invited by a friend via Facebook. Despite my enthusiasm to go to any comics & art related event, I was a bit hesitant to go to this one, noticing immediately that the art show “about comics” had zero, yes, zero women in it. Also, the tears of Zeus may have been beating down on the earth at the exact time of the opening, and you know, it’s fucking Friday evening and I might have had better shit to do, like, pump out some comics. HOWEVER, the mere idea of seeing original comic pages by Gary Panter, Savage Pencil, Jim Woodring, Peter Bagge, Spain Rodriguez, Dan Clowes, Rick Griffin, Chris Ware, Milo Manara, Moebius, Kim Deitch, Basil Wolverton, Will Eisner, R. Crumb, the brothers Hernandez, and more, was enough to entice me, as seeing an original comic page by one of the greats is always inspiring, and moreso, the idea that one of these (living) artists might be present at the opening, and the idea that I could perhaps even talk to them, was an exciting prospect. So I went.
I arrived at 7pm, about an hour after the opening commenced. The only other people present aside from the gallery owners and staff themselves were two excited young women, one even wearing a Love and Rockets T-shirt. Power to ya, girls, but bummer! Where the fuck is everyone? AND WHERE ARE THE CARTOONISTS?! As I gawked at some of the original artwork of some of my favorite male cartoonists of yester-year, a few more people eventually trickled in, mostly younger women. I was anxiously awaiting a few friends who I was supposed to meet at the gallery who were running late due to subway troubles caused by the rain, so I made the rounds of the small gallery a few times, eventually focusing on the artworks I had initially ignored. To be blunt, there was some really awful art in this show. The Jim Mahfood painting that I guess was some sort of ode to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo looked like one of the scraps of art I would have thrown out from my sophomore year at art school, or hid under my bed in embarrassment forever. Really, most of the “fine art” in the show (except the wonderful oil paintings by Jim Woodring), were eye sores in my opinion, completely out of place with the original black and white comic art that I came to see. Oh well, so these guys have shit taste in paintings, so it goes. Of course, with the prices of each piece averaging at around $10,000, maybe more, shit taste could go a long way. Man, I thought. Is Gary Panter really selling his original comic pages for $15,000 these days? Time to re-consider how I price my own original comic work!
Now here’s the fun part. After about thirty minutes of wandering around the gallery by myself, waiting for my friends who had yet to arrive, not sure of what the fuck to do with myself, I decided to talk to one of the two gallery managers, Micah Spivak (Scott Eder himself was engaged in conversation the entire time, unfortunately). Now, in speaking to Micah, my main concern was still, WHY ARE THERE NO WOMEN IN THIS SHOW, but knowing that that is not the first question aging white men like to hear, I started off easy. What’s the history of this gallery? How did this show come about?
His answer was simple. Apparently, they had nothing “good” lined up for the summer, so they “quickly” threw together this show of artwork that had been gathered by Scott Eder himself over the years, all from his personal collection. I see. So that’s why none of the cartoonists were present, andddddd that’s why the prices were so high. (*He then made a comment how the gallery didn’t actually *need* to sell any of the artwork, implying they were set for life or something, therefore, making the artwork more *affordable* was not of interest.) Ok. I made a joke about Gary Panter living in NYC and not even bothering to show up, in which Micah replied, oh, I don’t think we even invited him. Ah haha … hah ha ha… ok.
Now it gets worse. I decided to go for the gold and asked if they represented any women cartoonists. The answer was pretty much, no, and Micah then reveled me with the information that there weren’t really any women cartoonists that were of “any note” and were therefore not really worth representing.
Well, what about Trina Robbins? I asked.
Oh, well, she’s not actually a GOOD cartoonist … she’s more of a writer, he said.
Well…. what about Phoebe Gloeckner?
Not a fan. She is, apparently, “unpleasant” in person.
Um, wait …. why does it matter what she is like in person? I mean, why should that affect your opinion of her comic work?
It just does.
OKAY. I gathered myself. Well, you see, the reason this is on my mind, is, well, I recently spoke with a journalist from a reputable institution who’s interested in doing a documentary on underground women cartoonists from the 1960s to the present and….
He laughed, and said, OH, ALL TWO OF THEM. HAHAHAHA.
Hahaha. Fuck you.
Still no sign of my friends, so I continued the awful dialogue with this schmuck. I asked about what he thought of contemporary underground comics, and in particular, female cartoonists. While his dismissal of female cartoonists prior to the 2000s was led by the reasoning that “men just ruled comics back then” (fart, whatever you say), I figured we could discuss fresh talent instead. But after taking a minute or two or three to recall any contemporary female cartoonists, eventually pulling up the name “Bechdel” (um, yes, she is kind of a thing), I made it easier and asked about contemporary underground cartoonists in general. A bit more struggling, and he eventually spoke well of Brandon Graham and James Stokoe.
Well, they’re great and all, I said, but they mostly do work for Image and IDW, which isn’t really, like, that underground.
Well, you know, the internet has changed everything, nothing is really underground anymore, he said.
More like the opposite, I thought, and said something about DIY ethic and making comics more accessible, while listing some micro-publishers from the internet that I enjoyed. He hadn’t heard of any of them, so I gave up and shifted the focus back to the power houses of alternative publishing. Well, what about Fantagraphics?
He said, well, Fantagraphics doesn’t actually publish anything by *NEW* cartoonists.
While my mind was too busy exploding at this remark, I winced and shout-asked, but what about Dash Shaw?
Apparently Dash Shaw can’t draw and is a jerk.
What about Picturebox??
Oh, well, Picturebox didn’t publish *REAL* comics.
I asked what he meant, and he said, well you know, like, Mat Brinkman doesn’t ACTUALLY make comics.
Um, yes he does.
Oh, well then I haven’t seen them.
Have you read Anya Davidson’s “School Spirits”? Or Matthew Thurber’s “Infomaniacs”?
The torture went on, the rest of which I’ll mostly spare you. He went on to make comments about how the best cartoonists quit early because there’s no real money in comics, but if a cartoonist is going to sell their original artwork, it’s better to sit on it forever than lower the price so that ‘regular folk’ can afford to buy it, because, well, that’s just foolish! And so on and so forth.
I left the gallery distressed. During the thirty minutes of our conversation, this man, this man who helps run a gallery that sells individual comic works for thousands and thousands of dollars, had insulted everything from the female cartoonists I had worshipped growing up, to my belief that artwork should be affordable and accessible and that making the highest profit isn’t necessarily everything. Despite my pressing questions and my outwardly irritated and dumb-struck looks at (all of) his answers, he seemed perfectly comfortable in going on and on about his thoughts and opinions on the state of comics, not seeming to have any clue or care that I could, maybe, possibly, have some sort of alternative or intelligent opinion on the matter, that perhaps, maybe, I was somewhat involved in the industry myself, and could take such flippant comments to heart, and then some.
Of course, I am no R. Crumb. I am no Dan Clowes. I cannot sell my original comic pages for 12 grand, that’s for fucking sure. But motherfucker, you were talking to someone who is deeply invested in the medium you are trying to make a living off of, the medium you are trying to exploit for a profit. Consider the other people who bothered to attend this “last-minute” exhibition in the pouring rain. They were mostly younger women, whether avid comics fans or aspiring cartoonists themselves, they were the ones who fucking came. Therefore, maybe consider that some of us can be a little put off by your conviction that there were or are no valuable female cartoonists of the past or the present, and that maybe, some of us are sick, sick, sick, sick, SICK, SICK of having to listen to dudes like you, who have their head so far up their ass that they don’t even realize what’s relevant or meaningful anymore. Have fun perpetuating the same old tired, boring attitudes that put comics a notch below a dog’s shit-covered asshole to begin with, because as we continue to make progress and push comics forward, we sure as hell won’t miss you.
*Please note: This piece was written from my memory a few hours after the events occurred, and I tried to recount all to the best of my ability, but not everything recalled here may be 100% accurate, I.e., I couldn’t quite remember the exact gallery prices that were listed nor the exact words used in conversation.