Wimmen's Comix (1970 - 1991)
The crew of It Ain't Me, Babe, 1970.
From left to right, sitting: Trina Robbins, Lisa Lyons.
Standing: Carole, Peggy, Michele Brand Wrightson, Willy Mendes.
In ovals: Meredith Kurtzman and Hurricane Nancy Kalish.
At the end of the 1960s, the American underground comix scene included a lot of work by male comic artists, such as R. Crumb (Zap Comix). Underground newspapers, like the East Village Other, had their own comic supplements filled with artists who freely depicted themes of sex, drugs and rock & roll, usually in very psychedelic styles, in which plot was less important than the state of mind of the artist. A few women presented their work in these publications, such as Nancy Kalish (who signed her work "Panzika"), Trina Robbins, Willy Mendes, Lee Marrs and Kay Rudin.
Finding that the comix underground scene was often much like a boy's club, women comic artists got together in the early 1970s and produced the first all-woman comic book, 'It Ain't Me, Babe'.
Two years later, Sharon Rudahl, Terry Richards, Lee Marrs, Trina Robbins, Pat Moodian, Aline Kominsky, Michele Brand, Lora Fountain, Shelby Sampson, Karen Marie Haskell and Janet Wolfe Stanley produced the first on-going comic drawn exclusively by women: Wimmen's Comix.
Terry Richards recalls:
"We decided that we would produce an on-going title of comics by women and that we would function as a collective, a term used rather loosely in those days to mean there would be no leader or editor, but instead a rotating editorship, with everyone contributing their energy to the paperwork and general supportiveness of the group."
The way the Wimmen's Comix Collective worked was with a rotating editorship: each edition was edited by two different women, working together, with lots of feedback from the group, which met regularly in San Francisco, so nobody ever got to be dictator. In contrast to the male cartoonist's old boys' club, everybody (as long as they were women) was invited to submit work to Wimmen's Comix.
Just like their male counterparts, the women underground artists drew a lot of comix about sex - but in a completely different way, from the woman's perspective. The comics by women were characterized by a great diversity in style, political awareness, especially about issues such as abortion, birth control and homosexuality, and autobiographical content.
Lee Binswanger remembers:
"The Wimmen's Comix group in the 80s was speckled with newcomers (me,Dori Seda, Terry Boyce, Kathryn LeMieux, Caryn Leschen, Phoebe Gloeckner, for starters), and the dynamic of the entire group was probably less political than in the 70s. The group stopped for a long time after number 7; people just were not getting along. Suddenly there was new blood around, in San Francisco, and Trina Robbins and Dori had come up with the idea of starting up again (though any one of the group could have... they just didn't) so we had a meeting and started hashing things out for issue 8. It was a big group, and many of us didn't know each other. I was excited, as it was a first for me.
Later we changed the spelling of Wimmen's Comix to Wimmin's Comix, which made some people happy, because it now did not have "men" in it. I would have preferred to keep it the way it was. The group lost its impetus after issue 17, in 1991, I think because the publishers we talked to were hard pressed to pay more than 50 dollars a page. As many of the group was older, they were unwilling to work for such crappy pay. We should have gone back to Last Gasp, but didn't, and I'm not sure why."
Other artists who contributed to Wimmen's Comix over the years were Melinda Gebbie, Roberta Gregory, Penny Van Horn, M. K. Brown, Carol Tyler, Chris Powers, Carol Lay, Mary Fleener, Dot Bucher and many others. Wimmen's Comix inspired other titles as well - Tits & Clits, Dyke Shorts, Twisted Sisters, Dynamite Damsels and many more self-published women comics were published from the 1970s to the present.
(many thanks to Trina Robbins and Lee Binswanger)