It Was Forty Years Ago Today…

June 1st, 2023 | Uncategorized

…or forty years ago this month, anyway, that I published my first Dykes To Watch Out For cartoon in the Pride issue of the NYC feminist monthly, WomaNews. This anniversary fortuitously coincides with the release of the Audible Original version of Dykes to Watch Out For–an amazing audio adaptation of the comic strip.

This project is the brainchild of the redoubtable Susie Bright, who was working at Audible, and was determined to make an audiobook happen with big stars and high production values–and so she did. The playwright Madeleine George wrote a gemlike script which covers much of the plot of the first three published collections of the strip, and is set in 1987. Jane Freaking Lynch plays The Narrator! Carrie Brownstein is an amazingly anxious Mo. Roberta Colindrez (who played my college girlfriend in Fun Home (the musical based on my memoir) on Broadway, does Lois like nobody’s business. Another Broadway star, Jenn Colella plays a pitch-perfect Harriet. Roxane Gay steps in as Jezanna, the badass bookstore owner! It’s incredible! You should listen to it!

So yesterday, I dug out that ancient issue of WomaNews from my archives and started flipping through its crumbling, yellowing pages. I found that first cartoon in situ

…but I also found a lot of other fascinating stuff which I’ll share with you here. The cover of the issue says July/August, but we worked on it in June and got it out in time for Pride at the end of the month.

Inside, there’s an article about Meg Christian giving up music to follow her guru, with a truly hilarious headline.

There’s an article by the illustrious Sarah Schulman, our unofficial ringleader, about toxic chemicals in the water supply. There’s a piece about the W.O.W. Café, the insane lesbian theater collective where Peggy Shaw, Lois Weaver, Holly Hughes, and The Five Lesbian Brothers all got their start. Lisa Kron, one of the Brothers, would later win Tony awards for Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical for her adaptation of Fun Home. (In a further coincidence, Lisa’s partner is Madeleine George, mentioned above, who wrote the Audible Dykes to Watch Out For script.)

There’s a review by Jewelle Gomez of Toi Derricotte’s book Natural Birth, which was edited by Nancy Bereano of Crossing Press. Nancy would soon go on to found her own press, Firebrand Books, which would publish ten volumes of my cartoons over the next fifteen years.

There’s an ad for the karate school where I sweated away many an evening of my youth, and gained the focus and discipline necessary to sit down and draw comics.

Here’s a small sampling from the Calendar of Events—which is what we had before dating apps. I wonder how many couples got together at the meetings of Feminist Intellectual Late-blooming Lesbians.

There’s a long, impassioned, and unfortunately still relevant letter to the editor from a self-described “lesbian transexual” who urges lesbian organizers not to exclude people but to work in coalition. I scanned ahead to the author’s name—it’s Riki Anne Wilchins, (though we misspelled her name “Wilson”) who over a decade later would go on to found the direct action group The Transexual Menace, as well as Camp Trans.

There’s an informational article about AIDS, which was only just starting to be understood, by Dr. Joan Waitkevicz. “Policies seemingly based on fear of infection, when discussed, are often rooted in contempt for the types of people at risk.” Joan volunteered at the St. Mark’s Health Collective, where I was lucky enough to have her as my doctor. 

In fact, the issue also includes an ad for a dance to benefit the St. Marks Women’s Health Collective—a dance where I would meet the woman who would be my girlfriend for the next five years. And which was the basis for the “benefit dance for the lesbian health collective” where my DTWOF character Mo met Harriet, who would become her girlfriend. A meeting which, to come full circle, you can hear with your very own ears if you listen to the Audible Original!

DTWOF episode 13

In real life, when my future girlfriend and I went our separate ways at the lesbian health collective dance, I went outside and smoked a joint with Sarah Schulman and some other WomaNews people. I remember Sarah telling us that night that Susan Sontag was a lesbian, which was news to me. Sarah also expressed her annoyance with Sontag for refusing to come out, which led to an observation that all these “movement lesbians,” meaning us, the ones who were going to protests and lesbian dances, were merely “the tip of the iceberg.” There were many, many times our number, Sarah said, who were still in the closet.

I’m feeling very grateful for my formative years at WomaNews. There would have been no DTWOF without all those amazing dykes to watch out for.

5 Responses to “It Was Forty Years Ago Today…”

  1. Alison Bechdel says:

    If you click the permalink in the title of this post, a field for comments opens up! Sorry for the clunkiness, can’t figure out how to make it just show up.

  2. s. says:

    Great to see these pictures from WomaNews – I worked with women’s periodicals for many years at a history library and I always loved the community newspapers like this. You really get a sense of what life was like for a particular group of people, in a particular place, at a particular time. Love the joy of the connections and get-togethers! Thank you for posting!

  3. NLC says:

    For those interested, I’ll just mention that Audible has a video interview with AB, and some of the cast and production crew for the audio adaptation: CLICK HERE

  4. Ducky says:

    Thank you.

    I discovered DTWOF in my early 20’s. It was 1994, and I was a recently discharged soldier who had left following the implementation of DADT. I had only finally come out a few months before the debate began, and it was devastating to hear that I wasn’t wanted, needed, or respected by my country.

    You gave me normality. At a time when the world was telling me no (much like the rotation we are on again), you showed me healthy and unhealthy relationships in open ways that few were talking about. You showed me that I could be strong and proud and out. I went on to start one of the first LGBTQ+ student group at a public university in the deep South in 1995, an org that continued up until the school was folded into another a few years ago.

    You have changed more lives than you know, simply by being there for all of us who needed it. Thank you.

  5. Jen says:

    I discovered DTWOF at my local used book store in 2003 when I was in high school and just starting to come out. It was my first window into lesbian culture (as opposed to the gay men’s culture on Queer As Folk, the only gay TV show I had ever watched) and for the first time in my life I felt absolutely seen. I still have my whole DTWOF collection and every couple of years I re-read them. Thank you for helping a queer kid in Indiana find her community in those pages.