Los Angeles

“Twisted Sisters”

La Luz de Jesus

Subtitled “a collection of bad-girl art,” this exhibition featured work by 14 contemporary female cartoonists. Though it included a few watercolors, pastels, and other forays into more “conventional” art media, the main thrust and most potent aspect of “Twisted Sisters” was its display of original black-and-white artwork for comic strips that first appeared in publications like Weirdo, Wimmen’s Comix, and Young Lust.

Since book-length comic works are frequently referred to these days as graphic novels (scoot over, Flaubert), it seems fair to describe this show as a sampling of notable developments in the “graphic short fiction” genre during the ’80s and ’90s. (For viewers who missed this show, or who get woozy trying to read while standing up, curator/participant Diane Noomin has put together an excellent companion anthology by the same title.)

Thematically and stylistically, “Twisted Sisters” runs the gamut. There isn’t nearly enough space here to give each devilette her due. Therefore, the following cursory list of fierce, moving, and nutty highlights will have to suffice.

M. K. Brown’s fluidly drawn contributions have a surreal tilt, providing glimpses into a universe where canny dogs advise bumbling humans (Guide Dogs, 1987), while floating aliens—spitting and fizzing as though carbonated—kidnap aging lady doctors (They Came From Space, 1976). In Julie Doucet’s drippier, punkier Heavy Flow, 1989, a young woman becomes a towering monster when she starts her period and discovers she’s out of tampons. Magic Necklace, 1988, is Doucet’s oddball history of a necklace made of teeth. With intermittent explosions of her own brand of jagged, high-contrast cubism, Mary Fleener’s The Jelly, 1990, presents the amusing misadventures of the narrator’s huge-breasted roommate. While some of Phoebe Gloeckner’s carefully shaded works show the influence of her employment as a medical illustrator, others toy with the collision of past and present tense (Magda Meets the Little Men in the Woods, 1989). Those familiar with the unsinkable Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s busy panels of characters sporting fluctuating, distorted faces will not be surprised to learn she cites George Grosz as an influence. Her Nose Job, 1989, narrates the funny/horrible tale of an adolescent’s narrow escape from parentally-mandated cosmetic surgery. Self-described romantic nihilist Kristine Kryttre’s energetic, bittersweet elegy for her comrade Dori Seda has the unlikely but apt title Bimbos from Hell, 1988. Carol Lay’s bizarre fusion/sendup of romance comics, fantasy, and cultural critique, Face the Facts of Love, 1980, stars a most unusual heroine: Irene Van De Kamp is an heiress, raised by an African tribe that practices “face-shaping.” Her own visage looks like a cross between a urinal and an alien sex toy. Caryn Leschen takes viewers/readers on an enlightening tour of exotic foreign facilities (The Toilets of Europe, 1985). Exemplified by More Guys Than Gals Are Forced Into Sex, 1989, Carel Moiseiwitsch ’s apocalyptic observations are curt and to the point. Diane Noomin’s alter ego, Didi Glitz, hosts not tupperware parties but get-togethers aimed at selling the latest models of vibrators (Rubberware, 1985). Tarty, naive Glitz is part Lucille Ball, part Barbie Doll, part Alice in Wonderland, and part Madonna. Dori Seda’s own hilarious, unsparing slices of her zany high and low life (Cleanliness Is Next To Dogliness, 1986) look even better on the walls than they do in comic books.

Additional works ranging from Leslie Sternbergh’s witty shoe fetish confessional, entitled Killer Shoes, 1986, to Carol Tyler’s poignant, understated family dramas (Return of Mrs. Kite, 1988), to Penny Moran Van Horn’s A Bird in the Beard, 1989, which pairs her crisp texts with images that recall German Expressionist woodcuts, underscored the impressive wealth of inventive, intelligent, and playful ideas that characterized “Twisted Sisters” throughout.

Amy Gerstler