"Rave On" is the Page Turner series that asks feminist writers, artists, musicians, activists, leaders, and scholars to talk about a book that completely rocked their world. Today we feature media activist and writer Anne Elizabeth Moore on the Dirty Plotte comic books by Julie Doucet.
I don't spend a lot of time reading feminist theory, which speaks to an inherently limited audience. I study anti-oppression strategies in general, so most of what I've read that's influenced my drive as a political person who identifies as female isn't overtly feminist. In fact, I find far more use in work that's not usually discussed in a feminist context, like Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed or Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Or, for that matter, books that sort of rail against feminist projects or events and address its weak points, so I can sort out where those sit with me. Like Norma McCorvey's I Am Roe.
But if I really think about something I read that made me gack with identification—that spoke to me in a pretty deep way about being a girl in the kind of world I was living in—it would have to be Julie Doucet's Dirty Plotte comic books.
I picked one up at the comics store in Madison, WI. It was the mid-'90s, and I hadn't really gotten wind of Riot Grrrl or anything, so all I really knew was that there was this sorta funny-talking person (Julie's French Canadian, but wrote in English) who liked to draw and wore messed-up clothes and clearly didn't clean much, but told a FUCK of a story and knew how to make it pretty.
I was self-publishing AnneZine, writing for the Onion, and working at the Progressive. I was usually the only girl in most environments that I traveled in. I had girlfriends and stuff, but not very many friends with the same kind of drive as I had. So I just hung out with dudes, who weren't very supportive and didn't probably take me too seriously. I'd just graduated from college and—perhaps more importantly—was about to become pregnant and have a very public abortion that I wrote and spoke about. This was unheard of at the time. A visible public abortion in Wisconsin? A call for others to proclaim that they, too, had had abortions? This was before those T-shirts. (I sound like a super-old cranky lady with 40 cats.)
These were the things that Dirty Plotte was about: the isolation of being a driven female creative; the jealousy in personal relationships that come out of that; the ever-present push from the outside to be maternal and nurturing, but the absolute interior knowledge that that is not your way; and the incredibly shifting sense of gender that a strong, smart woman must feel in order to move about in the world. These were all very important themes, and they still resonate with me when I get into frustrating situations.
Everything I'd read that was marked as feminist up until then pretty much conformed to the notion of '70s consciousness-raising about housework being oppressive or '80s big shoulder-pad demands for equal rights in the workplace. Dirty Plotte was absolutely about gender roles and sex and people who looked like me trying to get by on a day-to-day basis alongside men who didn't give a shit about your raised consciousness. In underground cartooning—as well as in the kind of writing and artwork that I do—there was never any hope of gainful employment. So the "equal rights" argument didn't apply—and still doesn't. Sexism just occurs on a much deeper level than that.
But the issues that were addressed in the Dirty Plotte books were secondary to the gorgeous drawings and innovative storytelling. If Julie needed another character in the room—and she was a cartoonist, so didn't, you know, talk to humans—she'd have, like, the spoon chime in. This not only makes for a great story, but it's pretty cool to look at: a floor full of silverware marching around the feet of a stressed-out cartoonist. I mean maybe it sounds dumb, but as a structural feature of my life during my most profound periods of isolation, just thinking, "Aah, but what might the spoon say" has been pretty helpful.
I did an interview with Julie for Punk Planet #73. It's one of my favorite interviews ever, and I've actually built a whole (although slow-going) project out of it, just interviewing women who've left comics or were driven out for various reasons. I'll be teaching a class on it in the spring and hopefully getting the book underway then, too. Of course, Julie's great: brilliant, soft-spoken, doing as interesting work now as she was then.
Kids today can't draw, so they should study up on their Doucet for purely formal reasons, ignore the fact that she doesn't categorize her work as feminist, and just revel in a world where you can chat with your iron, have babies only in dreams, and act as appalled by dudes who think they deserve better than you as you actually feel.
Now I have to go feed my 40 cats.
Critic of consumerism and media activist Anne Elizabeth Moore has been writing, publishing, and interceding in culture since the age of 15. She's the author of Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity, founding editor of the Best American Comics series, and former editor of the now-defunct Punk Planet. For more on Moore, check out her website. For more on Julie Doucet, go to Juliedoucet.net.