While I was growing up, I struggled with my expectations of female role models. While it was simple for me to shrug off or embrace the shortcomings of male artists, filmmakers, musicians, and actors, there was always a little place in my heart yearning for an ideal woman who was courageous, talented, and prolific in her self-expression while maintaining a unique character and a captivating public persona. I realize now how completely unfair it was to expect that of any human being--we're all entitled to our limitations, regardless of gender.
That having been acknowledged, it's kind of astonishing how many women did meet my starry-eyed adolescent criteria, from Grace Jones to Wendy O. Williams to Pam Grier (each of whom I'd seen in movies), as well as later revelations that came from Riot Grrrls and sex-positive activists. I celebrated seeing people who were (superficially, at least) like me who were doing more than providing pretty set-dressing*. That's huge for a young woman, and one of the great things about the expanded horizons of internet entertainment is that young people now have access to a whole host of images that they would have had to painstakingly hunt down a couple of decades ago.
*Or "being somebody's wife." I STILL feel like such a shithead for making rottten Beatles-fan Yoko Ono jokes as a kid, not understanding how frikkin' visionary that woman is as an artist before meeting any sainted penners of scatological poems and pop songs.
One of the women who's held a long-lasting and special place in my heart is artist Dame Darcy. Ever since I chanced on issue one of her Victorian/Surrealist/Erotic/Macabre comic "Meat Cake" in an independent magazine store** in the early-ish 90s, my pupils turn into little heart-shapes when I think about her.
**In retrospect, these were a lot like being inside somebody else's blog-roll, only they smelled of rotting paper. Someone needs to get on making a rotting paper incense so the independent magazine store experience can be recaptured and preserved for future generations.
Employing an energetic, fine-line illustration style and an eye for eccentric details, Dame Darcy's work has a surface similarity to that of Edward Gorey. Certainly, fans of Gorey's ghoulish vision will find a lot to love here! But Darcy goes at least three steps further, incorporating images of queer sexuality, baroque violence and gleeful lecherousness into her creepy comix landscape. Her world is more Brothers Grimm than twee adorableness, and she has a fixation on Victorian morality tales. There's also an off-kilter appreciation for contemporary pop culture that's evident in characters like her creation Strega Pez, a woman who expresses herself via engraved tablets that are forced from the gaping wound in her neck.
It was with great joy (and--yeah--more than a little nostalgia) that I discovered a just-released-this-June compendium of "Meat Cake" issues, lovingly designed and published by Fantagraphics. Really--you owe yourself a treat. Go grab the latest "Meat Cake" book from your funnybook purveyor of choice (or from Amazon, if you are lazy).
Her award-winning animation work brings her vision to eerie life. Much as I'd like to embed her "Golden Shoes" clip here, you'll have to click over to YouTube and check it out. Trust me, interpals--you're going to want to click that.
As if I couldn't admire Darcy any more, it turns out that she's got a fearless attitude to match her off-beat artistic vision. Check out her appearance on the not-really-lamented teevee show "Blind Date". Let's watch:
I wish I could kamikaze a date that way. I'd probably NOT participate in the hot-tub part, though, which is further proof of the Dame's fearlessness.
My admiration for Dame Darcy is refreshingly uncomplicated--she's a skilled artist with a fantastical vision who seems to be a genuinely fierce and oddball individual. I'm glad I share a planet with her.
Check out Dame Darcy's website, where you can view (and purchase!) prints, books, and original art pieces.