Story & Art by Roberta Gregory
Roberta Gregory, 1976
by Roberta Gregory
I wrote and drew comics all through childhood and high school, but did not really think about getting them published until I was in college, at California State University Long Beach. I had a comic strip called Feminist Funnies to add a bit of comedy relief to the Women's Resource Center Newsletter, and the first strip, from April 1974 starred a proto-Frieda Phelps, the idealistic protagonist of what would become Dynamite Damsels 2 years later. I was never very happy with my artwork, but about the same time I discovered Wimmen's Comix, published by Last Gasp, a real comic book, which was full of comics by women, many of whom certainly did not draw like Jack Kirby, or Robert Crumb, for that matter—but who had stories to tell. The very first issue had a story by Trina Robbins, which was about a girl named Sandy who "Comes Out"—but something about the story did not really ring true for me. I decided to try drawing longer stories and giving them lesbian protagonists. The editor of #4, Shelby Sampson, accepted my first attempt at a four page story, which was supposed to be a satire of a Modern Romances type story (falling pretty flat), set in a college campus with a character who vaguely resembled myself, but who had different events in her story. As badly-written and poorly-drawn as it was, it did seem to have an air of authenticity about it—and it turned out, Wimmens Comix was looking for more LGBT content.
I submitted a different story to Issue #5, which had a proto-Doris character (an older, butchy blonde woman with short hair)—and a more light-hearted, humorous plot, but it was turned down as being "too much like my first story." About the only resemblance I could really see was that the two stories had lesbian protagonists. I would successfully sell stories to issue #6 and #7 later on, but I was a bit troubled by the concept of editorial control. I went to San Francisco to visit some of the contributors and also the counterculture publisher, Last Gasp. I did not feel terribly encouraged by the publisher, but one of the women I visited had mentioned that this would be a great time for an underground comic with a strong lesbian character in it. I returned home with lots of ideas, to say the least.
Fortunately, I had also picked up copies of Tits and Clits and Pandora's Box at the same neighborhood head shop where I found Wimmen's Comix, and noticed the publishers were just down the road in Laguna Beach. I paid Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli a visit, and received the most encouraging feedback from them, plus suggestions on how to publish my own comics. I also had encouragement from Phil (Cartoonists Across America) Yeh, who was a classmate at CSULB, who published some of my strips and art in his humor paper, Uncle Jam. He suggested a printer for the cover and interior of the 32-page comic book I had begun to envision. I went right to work over the summer, churning out humorous comics stories, looking at the hot topics of the second wave of feminism at that time (A female sportscaster on the evening news! Consciousness-raising groups!) and building up a small cast of characters with some "issues" such as single parenthood, weight oppression, and so on. I also started out the book with a super-hero story, Superdyke, and ended with a fantasy story about the future all-women's nation, Liberatia, a popular theme with separatists at the time. The inside back cover is a listing of all the women-produced underground comics available in 1976, distributed by Joyce and Lyn's Nanny Goat Productions.
After creating all the content, including cutting rubyliths of the cover art with help from Phil Yeh, I was ready to get real. I used the printers Phil utilized, having a color cover printed up in LA and the inner pages somewhere in Orange County. Apparently, the printer of the innards objected strongly to my content but completed the job anyhow. As I recall, the color cover and the inner pages of 10,000 copies came to something around $1500. I had been working my way through college and had that amount in my savings. I got a lot of it back when I sold a good number to Last Gasp for distribution, and the rest of the issues trickled out over the years into the hands of mostly-appreciative readers. In those days there were lots of women's bookstores, so I got addresses, sent off a sample copy with a note: (send me $6 and you will get 10 copies to sell) and unloaded many more this way!
Most of the feedback I got was favorable. I had a few bad reviews, mostly by men who simply did not like what I was writing about, and one reader who identified herself as a "dyke" who sent me back a torn-out page where the characters talk about having a "non-monogamous relationship" (another hot issue of the day) with "This is garbage!" scribbled all over it in crayon. So, I learned someone's sexual identity is not going to necessarily be a condition for enjoying my work. Or else, I learned that nobody is going to laugh at a topic that hits "too close to home."
Over the years, I did begin drawing a sequel to Dynamite Damsels, and I also drew several pages of Superdyke comics, on enormous, heavy sheets of paper with zip-a-tone added. I think I still have these around somewhere but they will probably never see print—over thirty years, the pages are probably ruined by the remains of the zip-a-tone. Even some of the original Dynamite Damsels pages, inked on wrinkly thin bond paper, got water damaged by being stored in a closet with a leaky window.
Over the years, people have told me that they fondly remember Dynamite Damsels, still have the copy they bought decades ago, and, sometimes, that it made a big difference in their lives. An archive of Dynamite Damsels is now available for download, free, so everyone can read my first attempt at a comic. Here is the link:
Editors' Note - Thanks for reading the awesome creative insights of Roberta Gregory. - PKA
Roberta Gregory has been writing and drawing comics for decades, from Dynamite Damsels in 1976 to the Bitchy Bitch/Butch universe, including her current projects-in-the-works, (Real Cat Toons, Mother Mountain, Life is Funny... and Breast Cancer is a Bitch). Catch up with her at robertagregory.com, where you can buy copies of most of what she has in print.
Dynamite Damsels © 1976 Roberta Gregory. Review © 2011 Roberta Gregory.
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