Shary Flenniken; creator of "Trots and Bonnie"
I've long enjoyed the output of one-time "National Lampoon" artist Shary Flenniken, though her long-running strip "Trots and Bonnie" is by no means the only work she does. I first encountered Ms. Flenniken's work in the Lampoon magazines that I was able to pick up, sporadically, from Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed — the (now-defunct) London SF bookshop that was a regular haunt of my student days in the very early '70s. I was, and I remain to this day, captivated by her quick wit, by which I mean both her intelligence and her humour.
I spent several months in the early 1990s assembling all the material I could find by, and about, this wonderful, Seattle-based, artist, cartoonist, and all-round good gal into a 200-page DTP "book" for my own entertainment. I mailed a copy to her (in hopes, I admit, of helping persuade her to do something about publishing a "proper" collection of her work), and we have emailed one another on occasion from then on. Indeed, had British Airways managed to get its act together at the back end of 2004, Christa and I had been all set to spend a fortnight over there, mostly to visit with her.
Alas, Christa's health then started to rule out such adventures. Anyway, here's a tiny sample of a tiny part of one tiny area of my vast "intranet" now up and running — indeed, sprinting — on my Raspberry Pi2 web server, safely inside my firewall here in Technology Towers.
Flenniken got her start as an underground cartoonist at the beginning of the '70s, and flourished when she entered the circle of the Air Pirates, a cartoonist group whose members included Dan O'Neill, Ted Richards and Bobby London. She appeared in some early Air Pirates sponsored comics (The Tortoise and the Hare, Merton of the Movement, Left Field Funnies, etc.) and joined National Lampoon's fledgling "Funnies" section in 1972.
She is one of the many fine comic book authors and cartoonists featured in the 1988 Canadian film Comic Book Confidential, directed by Ron Mann...
"Women in overground comics — they were there, but they were not appreciated. They were doing things like color work... and... they were doing the work. But they were not known. And, the Romance comics? were almost all done by men from a male perspective — for women. But, were not really representing a woman's viewpoint. My work? My work, apparently — it's like — it projects an image. It must project an image of such innocence, apparently the style is so innocent that people... they don't see it. It's in front of their eyes and they don't see it. And that's why I've been able to talk about some really, you know, extreme subjects, because, the work itself is so accessible and kind of — people have called it naive. And so it was always — a lot of people at first said "Oh, well this looks like children's books. Why don't you do children's books?" which, like, pays miserably and ... how can I talk about things that I want to talk..., how can I talk about sex in a children's book? And that's what I wanted to talk about... That, and political things... a children's book about capital punishment? Right!"
She then reads aloud some (though not all) of the panels from this 1975 "Trots and Bonnie" strip on capital punishment:
When people ask Shary Flenniken where she gets her ideas, she can point to her sketchbooks and say, "from the world around me." The creator of Trots and Bonnie relies on her keen ear, her observant eye and her quick pen to create a hilarious portrait of the modern world. As long as people in restaurants, on subways, at parties and in the street — in short, in public — remain ridiculous, Flenniken will never lack for raw material.
Cartoonist, screenwriter and former National Lampoon magazine editor Shary Flenniken lives in Seattle, Washington and likes to work in her garden, turning over rocks to find the crawly things underneath.
The now defunct National Lampoon, especially during the years that Shary Flenniken was cartoon editor, printed many cartoons by women and became a showcase for new woman cartoonists, such as Holly Tuttle and Mimi Pond...
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the women's underground introduced a number of female creators to comics who may otherwise never have become involved in the field. Among them were ... Shary Flenniken, whose innocent-looking characters Trots and Bonnie got up to anything but innocent adventures;... But the women's comix, like the underground itself, had a limited lifespan. By the end of the 1970s this first wave was dead. They had never sold in anything like the quantities of Zap or the Cozmic Comics and when the underground as a whole began to die out, they were the most 'expendable' and the first to go. Only Wimmins Comix survived and kept to a (more or less) regular schedule. However, their influence was out of proportion to their sales, and it is no exaggeration to say that hereafter women's relationship with comics would never be quite the same.