Sharon Rudahl was at the forefront of underground comix as a founder of Wimmen’s Comix, the first on-going comic drawn exclusively by women, beginning in the 1970s. Since then, she has created a range of fascinating underground comix including Crystal Night, which was reprinted in full in Dan Nadel’s Art In Time collection. Rudahl has created two graphic novels, A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman and A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson: Ballad of an American. Read my review here. It is a pleasure to get a chance to share this conversation with you.
Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson
I began our talk by mentioning that Sharon marched with Martin Luther King Jr. as a teenager. I said that it appears that she has always been an activist. To that Sharon said that she’s found herself speaking out as often as possible. In fact, Sharon began her career as a cartoonist with anti-Vietnam War underground newspapers. She’s been active ever since and has participated in numerous publications and exhibitions in dozens of countries over the last 50 years. Always a fighter, she proved to be just the right person to take on a graphic biography of another social justice warrior, Emma Goldman.
A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman
A free-spirited comix artist tells it like it is.
While Rudahl has enjoyed the freedom of working at the craft she loves, she does point out that she would never have thought to get into graphic biographies if it hadn’t been for the opportunities that came her way. We discuss a bit the long-standing professional relationships that are made in the comics industry. Sharon Rudahl has done a lot of work with historian and scholar Paul Buhle. It was one project that led to another like Lincoln for Beginners from 2015, published by For Beginners. This is an eloquent and highly informative work that will appeal to any age.
Lincoln for Beginners
What strikes me about Rudahl’s work is how passionate it is, whether it is a biography or a more personal project. As Rudahl makes clear, left to her own devices, she’d be pursuing a graphic novel about the making of modern day China or maybe a new work of science fiction.
Adventures of Crystal Night
All the gang gather around at Wimmen’s Comix.
At first, Sharon was a little hesitant about whether or not Paul Robeson would have approved of a Jewish lady creating his graphic biography. But, on second thought, she shrugged it off and realized that Paul Robeson would most certainly have approved. We cover quite a bit in this video interview: creative process issues; underground comix; and the evolution of the protest movement. One thing that Sharon wanted to make clear is that the present day activists need to have leaders and organization. “What do you have once you leave the streets? You need leaders and organization to fall back on.”
A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman. by Sharon Rudahl. edited by Paul Buhle. The New Press. 2007. 115pp. $17.95
Emma Goldman (1869-1940) is not an obvious choice for the subject of a graphic novel. Unless you’re into political science, you probably have never heard of her. But since when is it an obstacle to read a book about someone you’ve never heard of? It’s absolutely not an obstacle. More of an invitation. You see, Emma Goldman was a trailblazing anarchist who became known as “Red Emma” and, when she was deported from the United States in 1919, J. Edgar Hoover called her “one of the most dangerous women in America.” Comic artist Sharon Rudahl brings Emma Goldman to life in her graphic novel. It was a pleasure to review Rudahl’s graphic novel on Paul Robeson. You can read that here. And it seemed only natural to take one more look back to her graphic novel on Emma Goldman.
Emma Goldman lived a truly storied life. Born in Russia, Goldman joined the mass, late-19th century emigration to the United States as a teen, only to be deported back to Russia just as the Bolshevik revolution was tranforming it into the Soviet Union. One of the founders of the feminist wing of underground comix, Rudahl is a wonderful match to depict Goldman’s life and times. You can see the subject shimmer with energy as Rudahl digs in with enthusiasm and dedication. She adds little artful flourishes as needed and she dutifully finds creative ways to digest all manner of information and reconfigure it upon the page in a concise manner.
Emma and the Wobblies
Creating a graphic novel is no easy task and it sure helps if your subject is not only compelling but also unusual, in some way transcendent. Emma Goldman proves to be a highly distinctive individual with a hunger for knowledge and a need for helping the disadvantaged rise up. Rudahl follows Emma Goldman’s arc: from tentative public speaker to self-assured leader and rabble-rouser. Goldman was a true original, out in the forefront for worker’s rights, women’s rights, free love, anarchism and ultimately an overthrow of capitalism. It was her opposition to World War I that got her deported but, by that time, she’d already well established herself as “a most dangerous woman.”
Emma Goldman meets Paul Robeson in Sharon Rudahl’s Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson.
Sharon Rudahl is one of the female comic artists who contributed to the first underground comix publications of the early 1970s. She was part of the collective that started Wimmen’s Comix in 1972. Rudahl also drew stories for Anarchy Comix #2 and #3 in 1979. In 1980, she published her own comic book, Adventures of Crystal Night.
An “old story” from the old country.
A close look at Rudahl’s career shows the steady progression of a determined auteur cartoonist moving up the ranks of the indie scene: creating short works of comics that lead to longer work; finally, everything in place, pursuing graphic novel work, A Dangerous Woman and Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson. If you take a look at Rudahl’s short works, you’ll see she likes to come back to “old stories,” those nearly forgotten stories from the old country. It is someone with that sort of sensitive touch who is perfect for depicting the life of such a colorful and complicated figure as Emma Goldman.