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.”
The sexual revolution. The war between the sexes. Just plain sex. It can get complicated, confusing, messy. In 1968, Robert Crumb and his merry men staked their claim to uninhibited expression in underground comix. Yeah, these guys had a few things to say. From their point of view, the establishment was totally out of whack and they had the antidote. Crumb would show us all, in his opinion, just how wild the id could run, no matter how offensive. A couple of years later, along comes Trina Robbins with another view, the view of the opposite sex, which proved a great counterbalance and reality check. For the first time, this groundbreaking work, from 1972 to 1992, is collected in “The Complete Wimmen’s Comix,” published by Fantagraphics Books.
The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, published by Fantagraphics Books
The topic of sex is endlessly fascinating, to be sure. What men like Robert Crumb seemed to envision was a “telling it like it is” approach. In similar fashion, Trina Robbins and her female compatriots were showing sex and related themes from a very different point of view, that of the opposite sex. Yes, there was more than one point of view! Who knew, right? Issues of abortion, male performance, and abandonment, had a voice within the pages of Wimmen’s Comix. While the groovy hippie guys may have thought they had it figured out, cartoonists like Lee Marrs demonstrated with great humor and insight that the groovy guys were just as likely to be ugly pigs as their buttoned-down mainstream male counterparts.
“All in a Day’s Work” by Lee Marrs, 1972
From the first issue of Wimmen’s Comix, in 1972, there is “All in a Day’s Work” by Lee Marrs. A young woman enters the work force to find herself fending off abusive male co-workers and bosses. When she quits and starts a job at a co-op, the men turn out to be just as abusive. A few more twists and turns and the main character, an alter ego for Marrs, stands naked pleading, “What Can I Do?” In a piece nearly twenty years later, entitled, “Men & Women,” by Roberta Gregory, she sees a systemic problem. Gregory sees leading policy makers, both male and female, pollute the air with their own misinformation about men and women.
“Men & Women” by Roberta Gregory, 1990
As Trina Robbins states in her introduction, the level of quality of comix from women steadily increased with the years. At first, there were only a few women cartoonists. Then, after the hiatus and subsequent return of the magazine in the ’80s, there were plenty of women cartoonists. And, now, it is a whole new world with more women cartoonists that ever before.
The Complete Wimmen’s Comix is a two volume hardcover set, totaling 728 pages, black & white with some full color pages. For details, and how to purchase, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.