Dori Stories, by Dori Seda

Dori Seda was an American alternative comics artist who blossomed in the 1980s. She wrote and drew several tragicomical autobiographical stories which depict the seedy side of life. A talented artist, she was able to write funny stories with sometimes shocking content. Her work polarized readers and the one comic book she published in her lifetime was even banned in the United Kingdom. Later in her career Seda drew more socially conscious comics as well, showing a glimpse of what her career might have evolved into if she hadn't died a tragic early death at age 37. Despite being active for only a rough decade, Dori Seda remains a beloved cult artist and an influence on later generations of comics artists.

Dorthea Antonette Seda was born in 1951. Her father was a painter in his spare time, but eventually became an electrical engineer, leaving his passion as a hobby during weekends. Her parents encouraged Seda to become an artist herself. She studied at Illinois State University, graduating with a B.A. in art and moving to California afterwards. While she enjoyed making paintings and ceramics she struggled to make a living. As she explained in her autobiographical comic 'How My Family Encouraged Me To Become An Artist' (1987), the turning point came when she was 28 years old. Seda realized being an artist didn't bring in any money, yet - as she put it - "it was the only thing she was good at." The young woman was influenced by the novels of Philip K. Dick, artworks of Ivan Albright and the underground comix movement. In 1979 she tried to become a professional comics artist. Her first steps in the comics industry occured when she joined the publishing company Last Gasp. Her initial job was janitor, but eventually she worked herself up as Last Gasp's bookkeeper.


Let's Eat Brains! (1987, Weirdo #22)

Naturally Seda didn't just want to write statistics: she dreamt of making comics herself. She already worked night shifts to avoid having to intermingle with the actual cartoonists at the company who merely regarded her as "the bookkeeper". Her first comic story, 'Bloods in Space' (1977) only saw publication in a widely read magazine four years later. In 1981 Seda had sent in her artwork to underground comix legend Robert Crumb who had just created his own alternative comics magazine: Weirdo. Her drawings were signed with a male pseudonym, "David Seda", and thus Crumb was unaware that she was a woman. Her work at Weirdo led to more publications in magazines like Wimmen's Comix, Rip-Off Comix, Cannibal Romance, San Francisco Comic Book, Viper, Weird Smut, Yellow Silk and Tits & Clits.

Crabs Eating Raoul by Dori Seda
The Artist Meets a Swinger or... Crabs Eating Raoul (Weirdo #9)

Dori Seda was a colourful and eccentric personality. Once she designed a two feet long vibrator in ceramics class. The thing had three attachments, including a silver lustrous disc, a pink penis with flocked lace trim and a grey curly poodle's head. It also had the heads of six cats, bringing new meaning to a vibrator's reputation of bringing "pussy pleasure". Seda was also a bon vivant. She enjoyed drinking, smoking and taking drugs. Her comics feature even more wildly degenerate behaviour, such as orgies, swinger clubs, one-night stands and S&M. Seda didn't hold herself back. She drew all these sexual and drug antics in explicit detail. Apart from showing men and women getting laid, her work also featured more gritty and less erotic plots. In 'Crabs Eating Raoul' (Weirdo #9, 1983) Seda kicks her partner out after a sexual encounter which gave her pubic lice. She then decides to make love with her dobermann. Many people took the story a bit too seriously and her entire life Seda had to clarify that she didn't not indulge in bestiality. Readers ought to know, because many of her surreal but funny stories feature situations that are far weirder. Vampires, cannibalism and celebrity cameos by Jim Morrison, Desmond Tutu and Sylvester Stallone are not uncommon. In one story set in Hell, various celebrities are tormented in unusual but hilarious ways. Comedian John Belushi - who died from an overdose in 1982 - is forced to make Adolf Hitler, the Marquis de Sade and serial killer Albert Fish laugh. John Wayne has undergone a forced marriage with Oscar Wilde, while Moe of the Three Stooges has to endure the film 'My Dinner with Andre' (1987).

Comic art by Dori Seda

While Dori Seda is commonly associated with shockingly vulgar tales, she was perfectly capable of creating less outrageous stories too. Her comic story 'Retirement Village' (Prime Cuts #2, 1985) is an adorable tale about love in a retirement home. By 1987 she also created comics with more socially conscious messages. 'How Cops Pick Up Girls' (1987) criticized sexual harassment and power abuse by police officers, which she experienced firsthand. Together with Carla Abbots she made 'Door of Deception, or the Right to Lie' (1987), which protested against the anti-abortion pregnancy clinics while 'The Do-Nothing Decade' (1987) said the last word about the 1980s and people's tendency to just accept social injustices and do nothing about it. In 1987 Seda was furthermore approached by film maker Les Blank to design the poster for a documentary short about women who have a gap between their teeth, aptly named 'Gap-Toothed Women' (1987). She was also interviewed for this picture. Apart from drawing, Seda made photo comics, photographed by Terry Zwigoff, which starred herself in situations that are a little less smutty. It should also be argued that some male underground comix artists of her generation often created similarly obscene and disgusting sex comics, though rarely as amusing as hers.


The Do-Nothing Decade (Rip-Off Press #14)

Nevertheless, Dori Seda's work often caused scandal. Peter Bagge notoriously rejected her work from appearing in Weirdo, while Crumb liked it so much that he even wrote the foreword to the only comic book she ever published during her lifetime: 'Lonely Nights Comics: Stories To Read When the Couple Next Door Is Fucking Too Loud' (1986). The book was promptly banned in the United Kingdom for obscenity.

While Seda showed a lot of promise, her unhealthy lifestyle quickly caught up with her. She suffered from emphysema and silicosis (black lung disease). Naturally her chain smoking and drug use made matters worse, though her ill condition was also the result of never using a protective oxygen mask while creating ceramic sculptures. Seda took her disease in good fun and even signed some of her work with the pseudonym "Sylvia Silicosis". Unfortunately once she got ill with the flu in 1988 her body couldn't take it anymore. She passed away from respiratory failure at age 37. As a special honour, Last Gasp established an award for promising female comics artists, named the Dori Seda Memorial Award.


"Slaves of the Comic book Factory" (photocomic starring Dori Seda)

After her death Seda seemed threatened with fading away in obscurity. Due to her sudden passing the rights to her work legally went to her mother. However, she was so ashamed of her daughter's work that she refused to allow them to be reprinted. Luckily one of Seda's boyfriends, Don Donahue, found a will written by Seda. She merely penned it as a joke, but it did proof in print that she wanted him to own the publishing rights to her work. In 1991 the case was legally settled in Donahue's favour, paving the way for future reprints. In 1992 her friend, Leslie Sternbergh, drew the story "...there's a way, or, My Dinner With Olga" (1992), which details the process of reprinting Seda's work. An excellent overview of Seda's work is collected in 'Dori Stories' (Last Gasp, 1999), which also includes memorial essays by her friends and lovers, including the acclaimed short story 'Dori Bangs' by Bruce Sterling. Her work has received praise from such celebrities as Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson and Neil Gaiman. In 2017 she was posthumously inducted in the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.

The Pig People by Dori Seda
The Pig People (from: Sexy Stories from the World Religions #1)

Series and books by Dori Seda in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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