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it aint me babe 2nd
 
excellent writing
skilled art
historical bonus 5
total score 9
It Aint Me Babe
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AVERAGE SCORE 9
2nd-3rd Printing / 1971-72 / 36 pages / Last Gasp Eco-Funnies
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First Printing July, 1970
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It's the dawn of 1970 and you are one of the pioneers of underground comics, having contributed to underground newspapers like the East Village Other, Los Angeles Free Press or Gothic Blimp Works. In less than two years, the business of comic books for adults has exploded and you join the mass migration of creators to the mecca of underground comics, San Francisco. The scene there is palpable with excitement and energy for breaking barriers and creating new paradigms, and there's even some decent money to be made.

But upon your arrival you encounter a large sign on the front door of this frontier that brazenly declares: "Penis Required for Admittance." Damn. And all you brought along was your pussy.

It doesn't matter that you're a good artist or even if your boyfriend is one of the men who gets regular work in underground comics, women are simply not welcome in this boy's club. Not only that, but many of the comic books produced by the men are loaded with sexism and violence against women. You want a chance to be heard, for your work to be seen, to be given the opportunity to counterbalance all these chauvinist comics with a woman's perspective. You are Trina Robbins, Barbara Mendes or Nancy Kalish. And no one will give you that chance.

In 1970, Trina Robbins joined the staff of a monthly feminist newspaper called It Ain't Me Babe as an unpaid volunteer. She contributed a fair amount of design and artwork for the paper, and was soon emboldened to produce and edit the first all-women-created comic book, It Aint Me Babe. The comic was published by Ron Turner and Last Gasp that summer and sold 20,000 copies, enough to warrant a second and third printing. It Ain't Me Babe is a landmark in the history of comic books and was both inspired by and in answer to the underground comic book revolution spawned and sustained by male artists and writers. The comic served as a prototype for the launch of Wimmen's Comix in 1972, which published 17 issues over a 20-year period and inspired hundreds if not thousands of women to pursue a career in the male-dominated field of cartooning.

It Ain't Me Babe (the apostrophe is not present on the front cover title, but let's presume it was intended) is certainly not like any underground comic books that preceded it. It delivers tales of women as leaders, heroines and conquerors, but also as victims, dreamers and sex objects. "Oma," the opening story by Barbara "Willie" Mendes, presents a "woman as hero" plot in which a young woman's act of bravery leads to her rescuing and reuniting with her murdered husband and child. While brave young women were still uncommon in mainstream comic books, they were rarely if ever seen in early undergrounds.

Michele Brand provides two short stories in the book that demonstrate her sense of humor and clever writing. The first, "Monday," depicts a young typist in a secretarial pool daydreaming about life in the jungle as a female version of Tarzan. When she encounters "an evil slave trader" leading a march of chained women (in drab city clothing), she kills the trader and sets the women free. The women celebrate their newfound freedom, but two of them wonder "now what?", as if they don't have a clue what life they should lead now that "Women's Lib" has set them free. The conclusion of the story snaps the daydreamer back to a reality that's all too similar to the slavery she had just ended in her fantasy.

Robbins also provides two stories for It Ain't Me Babe that are somewhat similar in plotting, as both involve a woman with a fantasy male figure, but in the first the man has come to steal something from the woman and in the second the man is being stolen away from the woman. These mythical tales represent territory that Robbins will revisit time and again in her future comics, establishing her unique style and melodrama.

As a comic book fan, the surprising gem in this book is the four-page story "Breaking Out." The writing for the story is attributed to "the It Ain't Me Babe Basement Collective" and the artwork is credited to Carole. Carole does not have a last name here and though she is pictured in a photo on the inside back cover, along with all the other creators in the book, I can't find anything else she has ever done. But "Breaking Out" is a hilarious parody of mainstream female comic book characters waking up to the Women's Liberation movement. Little Lulu, Juliet Jones (from The Heart of Juliet Jones), Betty and Veronica (from Archie), Supergirl and Petunia Pig all achieve feminist nirvana simultaneously, rejecting their former subservient roles and changing their lives forever. Their acts of rebellion and subsequent consequences are depicted with great humor.

It Ain't Me Babe is not only a landmark comic book, but a pretty readable one at that. That is, if you don't mind learning how underground comics would be done if women were in control of the pencils and inks. Personally, I have always latched onto the groundbreaking work of women and minority comic creators within the underground comic book era to help atone for some of the more egregious chauvinism (and racism) that ran rampant in other corners of the genre. Not that I apologize for the existence and expression of misogyny in undergrounds; there are many justifications for that type of expression, not the least of which is holding a mirror up to "civilized" society. It also helped some creators work out their hang-ups and face the mirror of their own prejudice.

Whatever obstacles women overcame to build their own soapbox in underground comic books, they did finally build it and used the freedoms won by the movement to express their own ideas without censorship. So even as Trina Robbins points a finger at Robert Crumb and declares him a misogynist, she should also look back over her shoulder to see the doorway that Crumb built for her to walk through. Even if the bastard didn't build the doorway for the likes of her.
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keyline
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HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES:
There are three printings of this comic book, all by Last Gasp and all with 50-cent cover prices. The 1st printing (20,000 copies) has a blue and fuschia background on the front cover. The 2nd and 3rd printings (10,000 copies each) have a dark blue and green background on the front cover and are considered to be indistinguishable from one another.

Barbara "Willie" Mendes's nickname is spelled "Willie" in this book, including in the photo caption on the inside back cover, but is typically spelled "Willy" in other references to her. We use "Willie" here to reflect the spelling used in the book.
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COMIC CREATORS:
Trina Robbins - 1, 12-15, 26-33
Meredith Kurtzman (Harvey Kurtzman's daughter!) - 2, 34
Barbara "Willie" Mendes - 3-8, 36
Michele Brand - 9-11, 24-25
Lisa Lyons - 16-17
"Hurricane" Nancy Kalish - 18-19
Carole - 20-23
spacer10 it aint me babe
1st Printing
Blue and fuschia background.