I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat and stared at this page, struggling to come up with the words I need to talk about the amazing webcomic artist, Erika Moen. I’ve made a cup of tea, done a load of laundry, made another cup of tea, explained the narrative of Odysseus to my teenaged cousin (complete with doodles of the Cyclops, Circe, and Odysseus on his boat), and re-watched every season of the rebooted Doctor Who, all in the hope that taking my mind off this task might help it relax enough for words to flow. But no words came.
It sounds like a typical case of writer’s block. It’s not. Writer’s block is when your mind is as blank as the page before you. You pound your head against your keyboard, growl, and literally write whatever comes to mind, but try as you might, nothing changes. All of your brilliant ideas remain trapped behind an impenetrable wall of silence. But my mind isn’t blank, far from it! Filling my brain to the brim, gushing out my ears, pouring from my lips, drowning every thought, it’s there: the infernal shrieks of a fangirl.
When Sam and Sofia e-mailed and said, ‘You could help expand the graphic novel section of the blog,’ I did an imaginary backflip (because I can’t do a real one without hurting myself). My love for graphic novels is an outright addiction. Whenever some poor, unsuspecting family member grants me an extra fifty bucks, my eyes grow creepy-wide and, before they have time to regret their decision, I sprint to the nearest bookstore. Surreptitiously dashing into the graphic novel section, greedily yanking my author of choice from the shelf, tweaking as I pay the cashier, I manage to snort the whole book before I finish my Metro ride home. When I come to, I have no idea what I’ve done. There’s only a vague recollection that something wild and transcendent just happened.
So… I love comics. I love Erika Moen, and I really love DAR!, her online comic diary. I love her honesty and her vulnerability. I love her for her endless dick jokes and her heinous farts. I love that she refuses to censor herself and her readers see everything: vaginas, floppy dicks, and queefs. I love that she’s outright disgusting and crude and she’s not ashamed of it. I love that there are days when she’s so depressed she can’t get out of bed, days when she feels like a princess, and days when she feels like her head is full of bees. There are comics about popping a mutant zit, about the fact that it’s cold and she’s happy to wear a scarf, about getting her eyes dilated, and another about how she’s just happy she has peanuts for a long train ride. Nothing is so trivial or taboo that it can’t be transformed into a miniature work of art. By the power of Moen’s pen, the ordinary becomes extraordinary and the ‘other’ becomes the norm.
It’s no surprise Moen is able to tackle larger, more universal issues with the same candour and sympathy. She is a lesbian, which is unusual in and of itself since there seems to be scant LGBT representation in the mainstream comic community. What makes Moen really stand out is the fact that she is a lesbian who fell in love with and married a man. DAR! introduced me to the notion that a person’s sexuality is a marker on a highly fluid spectrum, rather than a rigidly defined category with which he or she identifies. Although Moen only addresses the issue in four scattered strips, her online portfolio is filled with mini-graphic essays on gender, sexuality, and the backlash she has had to deal with over the years. Outside of Bucko (the serial comic she co-created with Jeff Parker) and DAR!, her work is so suffused with forthright sexuality that it’s best to just point the reader to her website and let them run wild. I certainly did: to a cis-gendered, heteronormative 20-something raised in the Catholic Church such as myself, every strip is a mind-blowing education in the possibilities of the alternative.
Four comics really stand out for me: Queer, Girlfuck, Gender, and I Like Girls. After marrying her husband, Moen felt she needed some way to identify and explain her sexuality and decided on the all-inclusive term ‘queer’. Yet people insisted (and often still do) on calcified definitions of ‘straight’, ‘bi’, and ‘lesbian’, resulting in both the heterosexual and the LGBT communities calling her a fake and ostracising her based on the person she happens to love. More specifically, Moen is shunned for not perfectly fitting the few labels she applies to herself: if she is a lesbian she can’t possibly like men, if she is married to a man she can’t possibly be attracted to women. It’s ridiculous. As Moen explains, a person’s sex doesn’t determine their gender and who they love doesn’t determine their sexuality. Both are incredibly fluid and constantly evolving. New descriptors and definitions are appearing to include transvestite, transgender, cis-gender, asexual, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, monogamous… the list goes on. To pin a person to a handful of labels and assume that is the entirety of their gender and sexuality is as silly as looking up at Orion’s Belt and assuming those three stars comprise the whole night sky.
Whew. Ah, dear reader, this fangirl is all tweaked out. Have some art and enjoy.
Lauren Maier is a super-heroine who moonlights as an average mortal to make ends meet. When she’s not saving graphic novels in distress from eternal loneliness in bookstores, she works as a theatre electrician in Washington DC and bones up on her mastery of all things geek. She was probably a jack rabbit in her past life.
Image from Ocean Yamaha’s Flickr