Arting Is Forever
I, Tyler Steven-Anthony Gross, am in love. It was love at first sight. Melinda Gebbie. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I was in another time. In each ear, she wore peace signs the size of silver dollars, beautifully metallic and reflective, the fluid colors blended together in a wonderfully psychedelic arrangement. The makeup she wore was equally colorful, pink over each eye to complement the starry blue pattern on her thin cardigan. It gave an impression of the night sky. When she smiled, her cheeks crept upwards, eclipsing the lower edges of each eye. Beautiful, she radiated happiness. She was vivacious and unafraid to speak her mind. And I was lovestruck.
Melinda Gebbie was in town to discuss Lost Girls, her masterpiece that she created with her husband, a dude by the name of… Alan Moore. I know what you’re thinking, “She is way older than you. And she’s married.” Yeah, well, shut up. I can be in love with whoever I want. You’re not my mom. If my mom is actually reading this, then, you know, that’s the exception. It’s unfortunate how small the crowd was that had gathered because it really was a great subject matter. Feminism and sexuality and boners and stuff. And sex with horses.
The panel was somewhat awkwardly moderated. Actually, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. The moderation was pretty poor. At times, it seemed like Melinda was being positioned as more worthwhile because of her relationship to Alan, when in reality, Melinda was a cornucopia of fantastic stories. After the panel, I had the incredible fortune of being able to sit and talk with Melinda, elaborating on the subjects explored during the panel.
Also present were Bryan Talbot and his wife, Mary. Melinda had talked some about the incredible people she’d worked with when she lived in San Francisco during the panel. My eyes glowed like those of a child on Christmas and I asked her as much as I could about life as an artist in the 1970s, surrounded by eclectic people such as Robert Crumb. The conversation was sprawling as Melinda talked about feminism, and even touched on Violet Gibson, a woman to tried to assassinate Mussolini. A lot of this information will most likely be included in far greater depth in Melinda’s memoir, something that is happening, but which I have no details about. I didn’t ask many questions because once Melinda started, there was no way I was gonna interrupt. Everything she said was poetry.
Melinda: I kept diaries for years. I copied down all the conversations we had, things I couldn’t possibly remember. Like the Chinese say, ‘The faintest ink is worth more than the best memory.’ By writing diaries, you are able to compile things from actual experiences. The conversations, the things we’d gotten up to… I’d forgotten the stuff we did.
But. I will tell you now, it was a rough and tumble ride, full of harrowing experiences, for these people were like rare orchids, all of them. A lot of them are gone now, several of them have died, their career arcs are all interesting in terms of everything.
When we were all working, none of us, some of the guys were friends with each other, but I didn’t really manage to make a close friend of any of the women in comics. I think part of it was to do with the way that these women misread what feminism was about, and how they didn’t apply any tenderness to our contacts. The general thing that was if you got work all the other people would be angry at you and jealous of you because we were all so hungry for work and recognition.
We were still so young. most of us were still in our thirties or something, and there was almost no work in San Francisco. No creative work, really. There was no industry, no book publishers. No real art moment, except the psychedelic posters which have remained as an art. But the underground comics, most of them are not published anymore and are very hard to get ahold of.
It does depend on the culture, as to whether or not you get support. We fought with each other a lot in San Francisco, but what I did realize is how much I loved them all. Even though we didn’t get along, I valued all of them.
I wrote in those diaries what I thought were the strengths of their work, what I was excited about, and I did portraits of them in my comics, pages of these sort of parties we went to. And I drew them talking, and I wrote down what they had been saying at the parties.
I was surprised to see that nobody else had been talking about the underground comics movement. I looked at Aline Kominsky Crumb’s book Need More Love, and I was looking for clues as to what she thought about the whole underground movement, but frankly, the women were so abusive to her that she was glad to get away from them all. She and Robert Crumb have lived a very happy life since moving; I think they’ve found their niche. But Aline suffered for a long time because certain women in the comics groups did not want to invite her, and they said something very cruel.
The women of Wimmen’s Comix, 1975. Left to right, standing: Becky Wilson, Trina Robbins, Shelby Sampson, Ron Turner (publisher), Barb Brown, Dot Bucher. Sitting: Melinda Gebbie, Lee Marrs.
They decided, because she was Robert’s partner, they were going to discount her as an artist because she was identified with a male cartoonist… Every woman who can make it in the comics field is a heroine. It’s a bit like being a lady cop. You put up with all the foul-mouthed stuff from the people who should be supporting you, men or women, and you just have to be strong. You have to be strong and flexible and you have to persevere.
Feminism made a huge mistake by coming on strong, coming on like gangbusters, fighting men in the workplace, and not allowing men to save face at all. It was all about confrontation, and it went nowhere because it ended up being a dirty word.
When I worked on When the Wind Blows, I sat with one of their major cartoonists, a guy they’d brought in from Australia, and one of the first things he said to me was, ‘You’re one of those fuckin’ feminists, aren’t you?’ And I had to backtrack and say, ‘I am not of that. I am pro human rights. I am not pro women’s rights or men’s rights.’ I want there to be communication between everyone so that talks like this don’t happen. And what he did with it was give me a shirt that said, ‘Too drunk to fuck,’ and sai
d, ‘I dare you to wear this in the workplace.’ This was in a twenty minute conversation at lunch, and I thought, ‘Well, this guy’s a crusty old drunk, first of all.’ Although he was very important to the film, and very good at what he does, you just feel like, cripes, isn’t there anybody who understands how important it is for the human community to pull together? Who cares what sex we were born into? Respect for everyone, a respectful ear for everyone, thinking when you’re talking to people about how you can negotiate them into a position where they feel more comfortable…
There’s two things women have, two things that are really a huge strength that they never used in feminism, which were the ability to be compassionate and the ability to see that everyone, with a bit of encouragement, could be helped to feel more of a member of the human community at large. That’s all any of us wants.
None of us wants to be yelled at for being a certain sex, none of us wants to be punished for it, none of us wants to be punished for being white, or in men’s cases, white male. Or white female. Everyone has to feel like they count, and I think feminism discounted the male species. So how could it possibly get anywhere?
Women came from an angry point of view, when in actuality, they had huge power. Just like if I talk to some of my women friends who have children, some of them discount their role as a mother. They say, ‘Oh my kids hate me,’ and I say, ‘Do you realize how dependent your children are on your good will? Do you realize how important your attitudes towards them and their ability to feel loved by you counts?’
The first politics are about love and inclusion. They have to be. The rest of it is about feeling unloved and unincluded, so then it requires anger and fighting back. And that’s not the way forward at all.”