Sally Ingraham here with Penelope Bagieu’s “California Dreamin'” – plus a look at “Dakota North” and other news and comics!
I thoroughly enjoyed Penelope Bagieu‘s California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas (2017). It’s a great use of the comics medium as a vehicle for biography. Bagieu tells the story of Ellen “Mama Cass” Elliot’s life leading up to the formation of the band The Mamas & the Papas, using the narrative voice of dozens of people who were part of her life. Her childhood and teens are revealed by members of her family and her first voice teacher, and then the story is picked up by friends, lovers, and bandmates. A complexity of prose-based biography is introducing and keeping straight all these people who surround a famous figure – providing the context for their relationship and explaining why their view matters. Handled poorly, it can be confusing and boring.
However, Bagieu uses comics to neatly circomvent any such issues – each chapter simply begins with the name of the new narrator, and then plummets into their version of the story. Bagieu’s characterizations brilliantly capture the personality of the narrator while continuing the construction of the larger-than-life Cass Elliot. The humor and warmth of her drawings make the story wonderfully compelling.
Cass is lovingly brought to life, full of passion and awkward grace. The musical world she tumbled through is well captured, and somehow even the sound of her voice seems to float up out of the pages of the book. The moment when she and future members of The Mamas & the Papas begin to write California Dreamin’ is a highlight of the comic, hilariously revealed from the viewpoint of Cass’ mother.
Penelope Bagieu is a French cartoonist who has followed up her first graphic novel – (Exquisite Corpse, 2015) – with two terrific offerings published in America recently – this book (2017), along with the excellent 2018 collection Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Keep an eye on her – I can only assume and hope that she will continue to make good work that will entertain and enlighten us!
Check out Michael Cavna’s Washington Post review of California Dreamin’ HERE for more thoughts on this comic.
There’s an excellent writeup on Dakota North over on The Comics Journal, a “revisit” by Keith Silva of the 1980’s 5-issue series. I am really fond of this series, but am somewhat astonished to note that there is a deluxe reprint now available. Exciting times! The series was the only comic written by Martha Thomases (ever), and it’s female, regular-powered hero, was remarkable for it’s time. Keith Silva has all the details on how Dakota North came to be, what the series was up against, and why it was cancelled, so I won’t reiterate that here – read the article.
“And yeah, like any (super)hero worth her salt, Dakota does indeed ride a motorcycle out of a service elevator and into a New York fashion shoot. She also rides the same motorcycle up an escalator in a chic Manhattan department store. She shakes off sheikhs, battles a bloodthirsty raptor, and outfoxes a monster truck in Rockefeller Center. And does so with fierce aplomb, style, and a sense of adventure. Dogged and defiantly independent, Dakota North is a fashion-forward comic whose style never caught on.
To say Dakota North was an outlier is a disservice to outliers. The moment Ms. North starts stylin’ is when the ground began to shift under comics—Dakota North #3 comes out the same month as Batman: The Dark Knight #4 and Watchmen #1 [Sally: this detail is slightly inaccurate – see comments on the article]. Now, it would be an act of hubris and hyperbole to say two neophyte creators like Thomases and Salmons (even with a wily vet like Hama at the helm) would come close to equaling the murder’s row of Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lyn Varley, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins. Proximity to greatness does not make something great, and Dakota North is not on par with the craft, canniness and inventiveness of those ’80s masterpieces. And yet what Dakota North lacks in artistic pedigree it makes up for in chutzpah, idiosyncrasy, and how it outdistances its peers in representation and female agency. So subtle is it in its subversion, representation, and agency it almost passes as insignificant, almost. What Dakota North wanted was be seen as an equal in her world and the world writ large. She was a disruption of the status quo and way ahead of her time, perhaps even today. That’s why Dakota North matters.”
Other News of Note
- Phoebe Gloeckner is the Guest Editor of 2018’s Best American Comics – more info HERE.
- For any UK readers – Posy Simmonds has an exhibition of original artwork and unseen sketches – details HERE. Also, Paul Gravett recently listed Posy Simmonds’ Tamara Drewe as one of four highly recommended graphic novels – HERE.
- The New Yorker has a short feature on it’s Women Cartoonists – Then and Now.
- The Harvey Award nominees have been announced – lots of good stuff on the list – check it out HERE.