MY BODY, OUR RIGHTS, World War 3 illustrated #53. Edited by Paula Hewitt Amram, Sabrina Jones and Rebecca Migdal, assistant editor Seth Tobocman. AK Press, 212pp. $15.
This is, for starters, an incredible bargain of a comic or any illustrated book these days. The two-hundred-plus pages are packed with work from what seems like hundreds of artists but in reality comes down to 35. Its appearance, almost but not quite needless to say, is prompted by the draconian attack upon abortion and women’s control of their bodies by the Supreme Court and the legislatures plus courts of dozens of states. To say that even the limited advances made in the last fifty years are now threatened is a vast understatement. This book offers a struggle against a species of sexual fascism, and like the antifascist struggles of old, holds our attention with its urgency.
Two fresh themes especially attract the reviewer’s attention. In the true tradition of WW3, the rising crop of talent is harvested. This time around as well, more gender fluidity is apparent: another development in radical comic art showing itself in narrative and drawing styles adapted and created anew.
The reviewer will inevitably pick favorites and “Post Procedure” by Sabrina Jones, the opening story after a two-page table of contents that also serves up an anatomical lesson, shocks with its candor. This could be the artist’s own story—and, indeed, does happen to be her story— or the normal saga of trauma (with some occasional exuberance) in a young woman’s life. A sexually active single feminist gets pregnant by accident, and now what? Having a baby appeals greatly, being stuck as a parent and a single parent has much less appeal. There’s a bitter-sweetness here that says more than the reviewer’s words can express.
There are ample other looks backward, for the historically-minded, like this reviewer, to earlier times. Back then, especially before 1949, birth control information let alone legal abortion would be practically unknown among wide classes of Americans. Several gripping pieces here including Tom Keough’s “What My Catholic Religion Taught Me about Abortion,”“A Choice of Life,” by Sam Migliore and “You Could Be a Broom!” by Emily Waters, together lay out what we expect from the Religious Right but what young people are not prepared to deconstruct. Others, notably “Lifeblood Driving” by Lee Marrs, carefully recollect a history of abortion struggles including “bad new days” and…the courageous Resistance. Sue Simensky Bietala’s “Thank You Nurses,” means a lot to this reviewer, the son of a nurse and social worker who offered illegal advice to married and unmarried women in Manhattan of the 1930s.
The sagas of irresponsible males, dangerous abortions and long-time struggles for sanity remarkably bring forth some great humor. “Late,” by Joyce Farmer, recalls a time not so far away, back in the middle 1950s, with a young woman already engaged but not at all happy to be “late” month after month, then pregnant and married to an unsympathetic husband, and then onward in life. If this sounds grim, Farmer makes every panel weirdly humorous and weirdly very realistic, in the comic-art sense.
Other high points surely include a fantasy high point, “The Doll’s Picnic” by Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz, and sometimes grim as well as brave adventures in the world of gender-identity as in “I Survived the Horror of Puberty” by Liz Keough, and “Trans+binary Reproductive Health Care,” by Jessica Raynor Sturdivant. Not to mention the direct frontal attack on the current Supreme Court by the Guerilla Girls and by Sue Coe, herself the best known of the artists here.
For me, these strips and others in the book, so widely varied in styles but so keyed in on the issues, collectively bring us back to that old question, “What is comic art anyway?” Apparently, the answer could be “whatever a sequential drawn narrative can do.” To make such an observation is at once too vague and too little appreciative of what is going on in these pages.