Friday, May 7, 2021

Shary Flenniken's Trots and Bonnie is Finally Here

 Robert Boyd

Back in the 70s, cartoonist Shary Flenniken drew a raunchy comic strip about two 13-year-old girls for the National Lampoon magazine. (She drew this comic from 1972 to 1991.) These strips are kind of a precursor to the animated TV show Big Mouth. It was definitely groundbreaking work. For some reason, Flenniken never collected these strips into a book until now. In her excellent introduction to this new edition, Emily Flake wrote. "What Flenniken understands and brings gleefully to the page is that adolescent girlhood is positively feral and that teenage girls are both threatened and threats themselves." The book is called Trots and Bonnie and was published by New York Review Comics. 

In 1991, I was an employee of Fantagraphics Books, publisher of The Comics Journal. Fantagraphics was located in Seattle, which is where Flenniken is from. Flenniken was married to Bruce Jay Paskow (a member of the folk revivalist band The Washington Squares) and the pair had moved back to Flenniken's family home in Seattle. That's when I got to know her, and we arranged for me to conduct an interview with her. It was published in The Comics Journal issue 146 which came out in November 1991. I was not a great interviewer, but Shary was a great interview subject.

Much of the discussion of the strip has been about its raunchiness and overt sexuality, but one thing not mentioned often is Flenniken's debt to older American comic strips. In the interview, she tells about cartoonist Dan O’Neill's exercises that he had his disciples (who in addition to Flenniken included Bobby London and Ted Richards) do. He would have them draw strips in the styles of early American comic strips. The idea was for them to lose their ego about having a "style". And all of these artists took this comics art education into their published work, including Flenniken. Trots and Bonnie recalls the drawing style of H.T. Webster (1885-1952), who drew The Timid Soul, The Thrill That Comes Once in a Lifetime, Life's Darkest Moment and other slice-of-life strips. Aside from the brilliance of Trots and Bonnie, I always loved that Flenniken consciously evoked the beautiful history of comics. 

I highly recommend this book. 


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