Beek's Books - an ongoing collection of comic book reviews
Agent Street is paid a visit by... Supergirl?
Oh... (B Publications) issues 1,2,5-12
by Hope, Dianne Reum, Joan Hilty, Leanne Franson, Jay McLaughlin, Tristam Puppy, etc.
Rating: good, Content: [beyond genre] [les/bi/gay]

Why I wrote this review: a look into the mind of a feminist gay fanboy.

 The tag line on the early (1992) issues of Oh... was "a comic quarterly for her, because it's time". With mainstream comics ruled by teenaged boys (of all ages) who think girls are a freakish alien species, and alternative comics dominated mostly by men who like girls, but don't understand them, Hope & company hoped to carve a niche for other voices. With so few venues actively inviting the work of female cartoonists, Oh... was restricted to submissions by women only, "though gentlemen can certainly advertise, and even subscribe," they added, with a hint of tongue-in-cheek humour. Further, the contributors were apparently all lesbian or bi women. But based on my experience (and the letters from readers they printed), you don't have to be a lesbian (or even have a complete set of X chromosomes) to enjoy it.

Immola and Cuffs of the Luna Legion

 An interesting irony is that for an anthology with such an "alternative" mission, and creators who rather defied comics stereotypes, Oh... tended to be pretty mainstream in actual content. Action/adventure, comedy, superheroes (even an inter-universe superhero team-up, by the time it was all done) were staples of the series from its outset. The art, while far more varied and unique than in mainstream (and most "mainstream alternative") comics, was usually accessible to a mainstream audience.

 Like any anthology, the quality of Oh... was mixed. But the regulars (Hope, Reum, Hilty, Puppy, Franson for a while) all contributed pretty reliable material. Hilty is the creator of Immola and the Luna Legion, a band of super-powered women that included a guest appearance by Blue Booster and Beeper Gold of the Justice International League. (I recall seeing her name associated with DC somewhere recently.) Hope's primary contribution (other than making the darn thing happen) was Agent Street, a futuristic adventurer whose adventures often made little sense, due to the erratically serial nature of the way there were published (a couple pages here, a few pages there).

 Many issues contained some text material as well. Besides the expected letters and notes from the editor, they included reviews of other comics, ranging from mainstream Vertigo books to barely-distributed 'zines from overseas. They also dealt with the occasional controversy, such as the publication - with a disquieting full-page warning - of a Leanne Franson story that included a full frontal (cartoony) drawing a woman putting on a bra, without her panties on.

Liliane & her new girlfriend, after narrowly avoiding a surprise parental visit: tempest in a teapot?
 This debate was disappointing not only because it ended the contributions of of a very talented creator writing from a bisexual perspective (not often represented in any medium), but because it quickly degenerated to the level of a typical "sexism in comics" thread in rec.arts.comics.misc, with people talking past each other, not really understanding (or trying to understand) what the other is saying. (I found the editor's tacit defence of censorship - without recognising that this is what it was - distressing, as well.) Unless you're new to these questions, the discussion is quite skippable. {sigh}

 Sadly, Oh... has also had a difficult time staying afloat. Comics shops are not generally frequented by the literate lesbians who would appreciate the material it features, and the bookstores where literate lesbians are likely to shop don't typically carry a lot of comics. With upheavals in the distribution mechanisms of both outlets, getting the book from the creators into the hands of readers just wasn't working. Reducing the size of the pages from oversize to standard comics dimensions helped, but not enough.

Agent Street and Tomboy prepare to relax after their team-up adventure
 So in #11, Hope announced that Oh... was going on hiatus... probably switching to photocopied 'zine status. So if by chance you're wondering why you didn't see #12 at your local store, it's because it was distributed (free) directly to those who had expressed an interest in it. (Future issues will be sent only to those who send them a "membership" contribution, $20/year suggested.) It was kind of short on comics content (a 2-page Agent Street story), but it features a rare letter from one Todd VerBeek, along with missives from such diverse places as Massachusetts, Nigeria, Texas, Germany, California, England, and Florida.

 According to the notes in #12, they're all out of issues #1-5 (I have 1,2,5 {gloat}), but #6-11 are still available for about US$5 each (the price varies) from P.O.Box 41030, 5134 Cordova Bay Rd, Victoria BC V8Y 2K0, Canada. If you're interested in seeing usually-good, usually-accessible work from women cartoonists writing about women who love women, they're definitely worth checking out. If not... well, there's probably plenty of other stuff for you on the racks of your local funny-book shop.

Why I wrote this review

 OK, I admit it: This review was prompted in part by p.c. guilt. It started when I read and reviewed Hardthrob and Leatherboy, both stories about men who have sex with men. A bit heavily male. So for a change of pace, I followed it up with CyberZone, an adventure story featuring several women, including a few lesbians. Sticking with the focus on strong female characters, I went on to review George Perez' Wonder Woman and the text novel What They Did to Princess Paragon (about a gay man writing a lesbian character). I figured I was covering all the bases: gay/straight, male/female, etc.

 Then it dawned on me: While the character mix was pretty good, the creator mix was a bit... off. In fact, every single one of these recently-reviewed books had been written and drawn by men. Looking back, I realised that all of the books I'd reviewed (even the most woman-friendly ones) had been written by men, with hardly a pencil or brushstroke by a woman. That just wasn't a good state of affairs. Fortunately, there were several women-created comics on my mental "review this some time" list. I decided to start with Oh...

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