Dykes to Watch Out For

Several characters in Dykes To Watch Out For. From left to right: Mo, Sydney, Ginger, and Samia.

Dykes to Watch Out For (sometimes DTWOF) was a comic strip by Alison Bechdel. The strip, which ran from 1983 to 2008, was one of the earliest ongoing representations of lesbians in popular culture and has been called "as important to new generations of lesbians as landmark novels like Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle (1973) and Lisa Alther’s Kinflicks (1976) were to an earlier one."[1]

DTWOF chronicled the lives, loves, and politics of a fairly diverse group of characters (most of them lesbians) living in a medium-sized city in the United States, featuring both humorous soap opera storylines and biting topical commentary. The strip was carried in Funny Times and a number of gay and lesbian newspapers, and also posted on the web.[2]

According to Bechdel, her strip was "half op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel". Characters reacted to contemporary events, including going to the Michigan Womyn's Festival, Gay Pride parades and protest marches and having heated discussions about day-to-day events, political issues and the way lesbian culture was changing. The strip was one of the most successful and longest-running queer comic strips.

On May 10, 2008, Bechdel announced that she was putting the strip on indefinite hiatus in order to complete her graphic novel memoir Love Life, due in late 2009.[3]

Contents

Main characters

The central characters included:

  • Mo Testa (given name Monica), the central character, a politically committed lesbian feminist with a tendency to kvetch. Previously a worker at Madwimmin Bookstore who then worked briefly at Bounders Books and Muzak (a parody of Borders Books and Music) while earning a library science degree before getting a job as a reference librarian.
  • Lois McGiver, a sex-positive activist, drag king, a clerk at Bounders Books and Muzak (formerly at Madwimmin) and housemate to Ginger and Sparrow, dating single mother Jasmine, mother of transgender teenager Janis (originally introduced as Jonas).
  • Ginger Jordan, a struggling academic and English professor at Buffalo Lake State University, whose star student Cynthia was interning at the CIA despite coming out to her parents. Longtime housemate of Lois and Sparrow, Ginger eventually bought a house with Samia, a Syrian Muslim chemist in a lavender marriage to a man.
  • Sparrow Pidgeon (birth name Prudence), former women's shelter director and New Ager-turned-atheist, who identified herself as a "bisexual lesbian" and was later involved with a straight Jewish male activist and stay-at-home dad, Stuart Goodman, with whom she had a child, Jiao Raizel (or J.R.). Lois and Stuart homeschooled Janis and J.R.. Sparrow and Ginger purchased the house they had earlier shared with Lois (and later Stuart) after rooming together for years; Ginger later moved out, and the group was able to buy Ginger out of the house by Sparrow taking the Executive Director position at the state NARAL office.[4]
  • Clarice Clifford, a workaholic environmental lawyer and college girlfriend of Mo's.
  • Toni Ortiz, a CPA and business manager, who had a child with Clarice; she was a stay-at-home-mom for several years while raising their son Rafael Clifford-Ortiz (or Raffi). Toni and Clarice had a commitment ceremony in the backyard, a civil union in Vermont, and a (not legally recognized by the state) marriage at City Hall. They later explored the phenomenon of divorcing without court involvement. Clarice then moved in with Sparrow, Stuart and Lois, taking the room recently vacated by Ginger.
  • Dr. Sydney Krukowski, an academically involved, materialistic, yuppie Women's Studies professor with a compulsive spending habit, Mo's lover and a breast cancer survivor.
  • Jezanna Ramsay (birth name Alberta), manager of the late lesbian bookstore Madwimmin Books, which also employed Mo, Lois, and Thea, a Jewish lesbian with multiple sclerosis who was Sydney's lover in college. After the closure of Madwimmin due to financial woes, Thea and Jezanna appeared less frequently. Jezanna later taught English as a second language, and Thea began teaching art to kids.

Only some of the characters' surnames were known, since such names appeared only when it was appropriate to the dialogue (when Ginger and Sydney, as college instructors, were addressed as "Professor Jordan" and "Dr. Krukowski," for instance) and were not established from the beginning.

Books

Strip collections

The strip had a number of strip collections, including:

  • Dykes to Watch Out For (1986)
  • More Dykes to Watch Out For (1988)
  • New, Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For (1990)
  • Dykes to Watch Out For: The Sequel (1992)
  • Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For (1993)
  • Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For (1995)
  • Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For (1997)
  • Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For (1998)
  • Post-Dykes to Watch Out For (2000)
  • Dykes and Other Carbon-Based Life-Forms to Watch Out For (2003)
  • Invasion of the Dykes To Watch Out For (2005)
  • The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (2008)

The first of these collections contained miscellaneous, individual strips; the serialized story centered around Mo began halfway through the second collection, More Dykes to Watch Out For.

Beginning with the third book Bechdel began including graphic "novellas" at the end of each book. Some were flashbacks, such as the tale of how everyone met in Unnatural Dykes To Watch Out For, or Serial Monogamy, Bechdel's humorous "documentary" on lesbian relationships, but most have advanced the plot in new and interesting ways, such as Raffi's birth at the end of Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For.

While not a compilation, The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For (1998) included many of the strips Bechdel published in calendars, a timeline of the strip to date, and a fanciful "tour" of the "factory" where "Dykes To Watch Out For" is produced.

Literary references

As with Bechdel's popular autobiographical novel, Fun Home, DTWOF included many literary allusions. For example, the name chosen for Sydney Krukowski references[citation needed] Stanley Kowalski, a character from A Streetcar Named Desire. Sydney also drinks Loch Lomond, a favorite drink of two characters from The Adventures of Tintin.

Bechdel test

This comic strip popularized an uncomplicated test for films to determine gender bias.[5] The Bechdel test (also known as the Bechdel/Wallace test, the Bechdel rule, or Bechdel's law) is credited to Bechdel's friend Liz Wallace,[5] and appears in a 1985 strip entitled "The Rule"[6]. One of the characters says that she only watches a movie if it satisfies the following requirements:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.[7][6]

A variant of the test, in which the two women must additionally be named characters, is also called the Mo Movie Measure. The name is a misnomer as neither Mo nor the other regular characters had been introduced yet at the time of this strip's publication.[8]

A blog was formed to review films on whether or not they pass this test.[9] The Bechdel Test Movie List allows users to add their own movies.[10]

References

  1. ^ Garner, Dwight (2008-12-03). "New York Times column". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/03/books/03garner.html. Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  2. ^ Bechdel discusses the changeover from self-syndication to the web on the official site.
  3. ^ "Blog Archive » winds of change". dykestowatchoutfor.com. 2008-05-10. http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/winds-of-change. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  4. ^ Revealed in strip #508.
  5. ^ a b Friend, Tad (11 April 2011). "Funny Like a Guy: Anna Faris and Hollywood's woman problem". The New Yorker (Condé Nast): 55. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/04/11/110411fa_fact_friend. Retrieved 2011-09-17. (subscription required)
  6. ^ a b "The Rule". http://alisonbechdel.blogspot.com/2005/08/rule.html. Retrieved 2011-11-09. 
  7. ^ Ulaby, Neda (2008-09-02). "The 'Bechdel Rule,' Defining Pop-Culture Character". All Things Considered (National Public Radio). http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94202522. Retrieved 2008-09-03. 
  8. ^ "The Bechdel Test, AKA, The Mo Movie Measure". http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-mo-movie-measure/. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  9. ^ "The Bechdel Test Blog". Thebechdeltest.blogspot.com. http://thebechdeltest.blogspot.com/. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  10. ^ "Bechdel Test Movie List". Bechdeltest.com. http://bechdeltest.com/. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 

External links


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