Published on February 13th, 2013 | by Julie Davis0
Feature: Laydeez do Comics
Laydeez do Comics is like a combination between a book club and a series of TED talks. During meetings held after hours at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, the group gathers in a gallery to enjoy tea and cookies while being introduced to female comic artists and their works.
Originally a UK-based group, Laydeez do Comics was started in 2009 by illustrator and author Nicola Streeten and artist and curator Sarah Lightman. Streeten is the creator of the award-winning graphic novel, Billy, Me & You, about the devastating experience of suddenly losing her two-year-old son in a medical crisis. Lightman, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Glasgow for her research on autobiographical comics, co-curated an exhibit of women comic artists called Graphic Details: Confessional Comics of Jewish Women, which was exhibited at the Cartoon Art Museum in 2011. Laydeez do Comics grew out of their interest in discussing, sharing and spreading awareness about comics with real-world dramas instead of superhero stories, all written by female comic artists like themselves.
“There is a new wave of comic work that is more domestic/active/political/diverse than superheroes,” the Laydeez do Comics website says, “and Laydeez do Comics provides a place for conversation around this new genre.”
From that initial start, the Laydeez do Comics group has become something of a franchise, with chapters now operating in three UK locations (London, Brighton and Leeds) and two in the U.S. (Chicago and San Francisco). The San Francisco branch of the group was launched by the efforts of comic artist, installation artist and children’s book illustrator Maureen Burdock, who was introduced to Laydeez do Comics through Lightman. In the fall of 2009, Lightman wrote a review for the International Journal of Comic Book Art of an exhibition at the Center for Book Arts in New York that included work by female comic artists Blanka Amezkua, Dara Birnbaum, Julie Doucet, Ali Fitzgerald, Chitra Ganesh, Aimee Lee, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Trina Robbins, Colleen Rudolf, Anne Timmons, and Burdock.
“The exhibition was curated by Erin Riley Lopez,” Burdock said. “Its title was There Goes My Hero, and it featured works by women cartoonists who use comics as a medium for social commentary…Sarah Lightman interviewed me and we thus struck up a dialogue.”
From this meeting, Burdock was invited to speak at the 2010 Thought Bubble Conference/Laydeez do Comics in Leeds, UK, where she met Streeten. In the following year, when Burdock moved to San Francisco to work on her MFA and MA degrees at the California College of the Arts, she also set to work creating the first Laydeez Do Comics international chapter.
New to the city, and needing a reliable venue for the group, she got in touch with San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum through its bookstore manager, Heather Plunkett.
“I’d met Heather Plunkett at APE [Alternative Press Expo] a couple of years before,” Burdock said. “It seemed like a natural thing to start the first US chapter of the UK comics forum here; one could arguably call SF the birthplace of underground comics and of much art dealing with social issues, feminism, and the like.”
Plunkett, whose willingness to host the event after work hours made the group’s meeting place possible, grew up in Northwest Arkansas and become interested in comics as a child. “Disney and Harvey comics,” she remembered, and then Marvel and DC when she got older. She lost interest for a time, only to rediscover comics later with Alan Moore’s and David Gibbons’ landmark mini-series, Watchmen. Since then, “comics have been a part of my life,” she said. The manager’s position at the Cartoon Art Museum’s bookstore fed her addiction even more.
“I had just ended a partnership in an independent bookstore,” Plunkett said, “and so had just learned a lot about opening a store. It was kind of a gift from the universe. I asked for several different kinds of work opportunities and got them all!”
Trina Robbins, one of the founding members of Wimmen’s Comix and author of several books on comics history, helped with the launch by giving a presentation about the history of women cartoonists.
“Trina has been enormously supportive,” Burdock said.
These days, meetings are casual; attendees come together on an assortment of folding chairs and are introduced to the presenting artists, followed by a slideshow of their work and commentary.
“We are all about getting the word out about female cartoonists / comic artists,” Plunkett said.
The work shown ranges from comics veterans, like Burdock and Robbins, to art students trying to find their artistic voices. As expected, much of the work has a feminist edge, and discussions about female heroes and gender identities are popular subjects at the presentations, although the group is open to whoever wants to show up.”The forum seeks to specifically even out the gender bias favoring men/male perspective in mainstream comics,” Burdock said. “So we weigh our events towards non-males (including trans- and inter-sexuals). Men, of course, are also welcome to attend and present their work. It’s a forum for cartoonists whose work is outside of the ‘mainstream.’ This includes works that are autobiographical, political or subversive in some way.”
Learn more about Laydeez do Comics San Francisco on their Facebook page or website at laydeezdocomics.com. To get involved, email Maureen Burdock (email@example.com) or Heather Plunkett (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Photos courtesy of Julie Davis, Heather Plunkett and Kim Alix.