Underground comix: Independent study

Eliza Poster, Staff Writer

Months after beginning her Independent Study (IS) on the subversive graphic novel movement, Bebe Steel (12) introduced her class to Underground Comix with an interactive lesson on Wednesday.

Steel decided to pursue Underground Comix for her IS after discovering a copy of The Diary of a Teenage Girl in the Guidance Office, and fell in love with the “genuineness and authenticity” of the genre, she said.

By including controversial content, like sex, violence, and drugs, and often having an autobiographical perspective, Underground Comix altered the graphic novel field when they became popular in the 1960s, Steel said.

“Before [Underground Comix], comics were all about superheroes and had boring plot lines, but it added all this emotional weight, made it more of an art form,” Sam Mayo (11) said.

With the help of her advisor Librarian Rachael Ricker, Steel led a discussion on the value of imagery in storytelling.

“Her presentation is looking at, why graphic novels? Couldn’t you just write some of these stories in text? What can you do [with drawings] that elevates a story as opposed to just writing in prose,” Ricker said.

Steel began her presentation by discussing two prominent female artists in the genre, Phoebe Gloeckner, the author of “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,’” and Trina Robbins, who helped create “Wimmen’s Comix,” an early feminist comic anthology, she said.

“[Female graphic novelists] just opened the door to something new and tried to avoid censorship. And they did what they wanted to do as women, for women, and about women. So it just changed the game and opened the door to talk about things more openly,” Steel said.

The Underground Comix movement emerged during a time when the vast majority of graphic novelists were male, and a large portion of content was centered around men, Steel said. However, Underground Comix are often created by women and centered on female protagonists, she said.

“Because comics, like a lot of industries, are really male dominated, it was interesting to see how these comics really [gave] a presentation of the female voice that hadn’t been heard before,” Elizabeth Chung (12) said.

Steel asked her classmates to choose moments from their lives and illustrate a six-panel comic about them without using descriptions or text bubbles.

Chung and the members of her group created a comic based on a story on her friend getting food poisoning on a trip, she said.

Ricker helped select activities for Steel’s presentation based on the curriculum she teaches in her eighth grade graphic novel elective, Ricker said. She mainly advised Steel on how to teach her classmates tools to “create stories without relying on words or captions,” she said.

Steel frequently creates graphic novels about her personal life, focusing on funny experiences, but she also uses them as an emotional outlet when facing challenges, she said.

“Being able to put into art how you’re feeling and sharing that with other people is such an eye opening thing and can make waves,” she said, “ I think if there was a message [from my presentation] it would be about being genuine and being honest about who you are.”