New comic strip to run in ‘O&AN’ and ‘Xenogeny’

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“Out & About Newspaper” and “Xenogeny” have teamed up to obtain the exclusive rights in the Tennessee market for the comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, a bi-monthly comic that focuses on a community of lesbians and their friends.

Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF) will appear in “Out & About Newspaper” the first week of every month and a new episode will appear in “Xenogeny” the fourth week of the month, giving readers two new episodes per month.

“I’m so excited! I’ve really been wanting to break into Tennessee,” exclaims illustrator and author Alison Bechdel.

“O&AN” editor Brent Meredith said the newspaper has been looking for more ways to reach out to the paper’s growing lesbian audience: “Even though this comic is about a group of lesbian friends, we think all of our readers will enjoy getting to know and follow the characters in Dykes to Watch Out For,” he said.

Bechdel is a Vermont resident and while she has never visited the South, she couldn’t be happier to see that publications in very different parts of the country are running her comic strip.

DTWOF is the story of Mo, Toni, Clarice and dozens of other characters and their interwoven lives.

“It’s a story about this community of lesbians and about their friends…but it’s also an editorial cartoon and I work those things into the story lines. For example, in what I’m working on right now, Mo is… very concerned about the bird flu.”

The origins of DTWOF can be traced back to 1983: “it started out as illustrations for letters to a friend. I was just drawing these crazy lesbians, and now it’s become sort of a soap opera.”

Since then more than 50 newspapers have syndicated the strip, 11 books have been printed, and Mo and her friends have grown and evolved with the world around them.

“I see it in the same vein as For Better or Worse… in that everything is happening in real time. The characters age, and you see their lives progress as they get older,” Bechdel said.

One of Bechdel’s early goals for DTWOF was to help make lesbian life more visible. But now, says Bechdel, “sometimes I wish we could go back to being invisible.”

“There was sort of this moment recently when it seemed like everything on TV was about lesbians,” Bechdel explains. “But I felt that so much of it wasn’t really authentic. I mean, I think there are very few people whose lives are like the L Word.”

But according to Bechdel, depictions of lesbians in popular culture may not be as necessary as they once were.

“We’re really not as hungry as we used to be for these types of images. We used to be really hungry for images of women, but now there’s not as much of a need to see ourselves represented. I mean, there was a time when I didn’t know what lesbians looked like. I had to draw them to try to see what they looked like.”

For the last twenty years, thousands of fans across the country have had the chance to see what Bechdel’s lesbians look like. She attributes some of her success to a medium that is uniquely accessible.

“There’s just something about a cartoon that really draws you in. It’s used in advertising for that reason. Actually, I used to think of it as a very subversive form of media. I was trying to draw people in before they could resist. I also feel like I do have a tendency to preach, so this medium is a way to sugar coat that. I can sort of disguise the message that I’m trying to get across.”

Although Bechdel wants the world of DTWOF to have a meaningful message – sugar-coated or otherwise – sometimes, it’s just about the art.

“I love to draw and I love the challenge of trying to figure out how to tell a story visually. I love the interdependence of words and pictures. There are some things that could never be expressed with only a picture, but at the same time it would take a million words to try to tell what I’m telling in the strip.”

Despite the public success of her 11 DTWOF books – and the personal accomplishment of finally breaking into Tennessee – Bechdel doesn’t plan to stop drawing any time soon. “What I’m doing is trying to capture real life in a black and white comic strip…trying to reproduce the complexity and the three-dimensionality of our world and our experience on a flat piece of paper, which I’m never able to do, but somehow I’m compelled to keep trying.”