I first encountered Gina Wynbrandt during a TCAF event with Youth in Decline where she gave a reading of her comic Big Pussy. It was viciously self-depreciating and had twisted Sailor Moon references which made for a delightful juxtaposition of the girly and the grotesque. You can read the first few pages here.
I’ve since read her other comics in which her representations of herself are just as unflattering and meant to elicit your disgust. They are all available (some in part) on her website.
There’s a lot of disgusting women in comics. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. Representations of women in the mainstream media are so narrow, any images that refuse the strictures of femininity, that refuse to look fuckable, carry a satisfying element of resistance to them, even if that’s not the intention of the artist.
But I’d also like to suggest that grotesque representations of women are not as resistant to the “male gaze” as they might seem at first. Just like how unshaven armpit hair does not necessarily a feminist make.
This thought came to me while reading Wynbrandt’s I’m Funnier Than Your Girlfriend and I Have Fewer Sexual Limits. Its humour is derived from a few points: the bald desperation and self depreciation the author employs to plead her case as a sexual prospect, the skewering of the gender expectation that women have no difficulty finding sexual partners and the expected humourous reading of a conventionally unattractive woman expressing lust.
There’s something refreshing to Wynbrandt’s exaggerated facial expressions, as if every panel references an awkward freeze frame instead of a photograph. And I always enjoy it when an artist, especially a female artist, deliberately represents him or herself in an unattractive manner so it’s easy to read the comic as a defiant send up. But I’m Funnier is more ambiguous; it simultaneously undermines and reinforces patriarchal ideas about female sexuality.
The undermining is clear. While Wynbrandt’s self representation is farcical, she also explicitly mocks an imaginary ideal feminine woman, the girlfriend of the title. The girlfriend is a “nice” girl, the kind of girl who is not immediately sexually available unlike our porn-watching protagonist. But note how the comic is bound by the logic of a dichotomy that is not unlike the virgin-whore complex, which is just about the most patriarchal model of female sexuality there is. It is not clear to what degree the comic mocks the complex and how much it buys into it – but however you answer the question, there is no escaping it here.
To take it a step further, the lustful woman is doubly fearsome when she is not attractive. The idea of a Milo Manara proportioned nympho is just fine by us, she’s progressive and empowered. But the idea of of a woman who is outspoken about her sexual desire and is ugly? She is beyond the pale, a monster.
As such, I’m Funnier simultaneously undermines and reinforces patriarchal standards of beauty. Undermines because sadly, it’s an act of defiance to feature a larger woman as a central figure of any narrative, period. This in and of itself is subversive: the idea that larger women are just as interesting and worthy of our attention as thinner women.
But it is also true that fat people, especially fat women, are often the butt of the joke. In mainstream media, larger women are often not given the same dignities that women with more slender bodies command without effort. When it comes to sex, a fat woman’s attempts to be conventionally and sexually attractive are not seen as an expression of her desire, but rather, it’s a tawdry burlesque side show. I complained about this in my review of Dan Savage’s porno film fest – that if we accept representations of fat people fucking, it’s only because they’re hilarious, and they’re hilarious because they’re totally gross.
Of course when the object is also the subject instigating the mockery as is the case with I’m Funnier, that’s very different. But it’s not different enough to be read as a critique.
This is not meant to say I’m Funnier has failed. It is afterall, an amusing little comic that’s fifteen panels long and I don’t get the impression that it was created with the intention of critiquing anything. Perhaps it’s funnier that I’ve written this ridiculously long post about it.