Pride in the Underground (Comix)

The cover for Gay Comix number 6.

Chances are, if you know anything about underground comix (occasionally “comics”) at all, what comes to mind is something along the lines of R. Crumb: male-dominated, drug-influenced, heavily heterosexual counterculture comics from the 1960s and 70s, critical of the materialism and manners of mainstream post-war society, populated by dropouts, burnouts, leering men, and exaggeratedly sexual women. You’re not wrong, and you can certainly find those in the Underground Comix Collection (MS 636), including some issues of ZAP, considered an outstanding example of the form.

Underground comix, however, are a medium, not a genre, and one which marginalized creators from a range of backgrounds and countercultures embraced as a way to express themselves free from the editorial oversight of commerical publishers and Hays-code style censorship of the Comics Code Authority. These presses started as early as the late 1950s and some of them ran well into the 1980s and 1990s: some comics bounced from press to press, or went through periods of being entirely creator-produced; some presses collapsed and were reopened, or only managed a few issues before folding. The history of underground comix is long, complicated, and rich, reflecting a diversity of opinion and experience that’s often absent or erased from the mainstream form of the medium.

No surprise, then, that there are a few flashes of rainbow among the boxes and folders of the Underground Comix Collection. These comics date mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, and provide a look at what gay men, lesbians, and others in the LGBT community (as these creators identified themselves and their community) were thinking, reading, and doing between the watershed of Gay Liberation in the late 1960s and the mass mobilization in response to the AIDS epidemic. They run the gamut from raunchy to goofy to angry: from multi-page stories to single-panel cartoons, these comics were created by and for LGBTQ+ people, unconcerned with a straight audience (and excluded from mainstream publishing by virtue of their subject matter). They talk about sex, both before and after AIDS, about coming out, starting new, building community, breaking up, grocery shopping, and getting hassled.
As much as could be written about the LGBTQ+ comics in the collection, though, it’s probably better to let them speak for themselves.

Looking for more LGBTQ+ comix in ISU’s collection? Check out No Straight Lines, a hardcover compilation published in 2012 which features excerpts from four decades of gay, lesbian, and queer life, in America and around the world.

The images in this post were sourced from:

  • Come out Comix
  • Gay Comix and Super Gay Comix
  • Gay Heartthrobs
  • Homo Patrol
  • Rainbow Funnies
  • Strip AIDS USA
  • Wimmin’s Comix

Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics

March is Women’s History Month, and this year marks the hundredth anniversary of the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, which enfranchised (some) women in the United States. Special Collections and University Archives houses many collections focused on women’s history, work, and lives both at Iowa State and around the world: women’s history is Iowa State history, and vice versa.

The administrative records and photographs of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics (RS 13/21/06) document the establishment and operations of the Center, from its inception in the department of Political Science in 1992 through former director Dianne Bystrom’s resignation in 2018.

In some ways, the history of the Center itself reflects the ways in which the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was an incomplete victory for women’s liberation: the renovation of the former Botany Hall and its re-dedication as Catt Hall, envisioned as a home for the Center and a celebration of women’s political power, sparked action by students who, already living in the incomplete victory of white woman suffrage and the white feminist movements of the 20th century, raised serious questions about naming the building for Carrie Chapman Catt, given her mixed legacy on race in America. The Catt Center’s website addresses some of those questions more fully; evidence of the student protests and the administrative response to them appear in these records largely as newspaper clippings*.

Materials related to the Center’s programs start the early 1990s, keeping pace with changes in the political and material realities of women’s lives in the United States as they moves forward into the current century. The photographs in this collection document the variety of speakers and visitors the Center has hosted, recipients of the Strong Minded Women Award, Mary Louise Smith Chair honorees, and many others (spot Anita Hill, Elizabeth Dole, and Amy Klobuchar); they also offer more candid looks at the workshops, student trips, and daily work of the Center’s staff.

Recently processed, these records will be open to researchers just as soon as SCUA is.

*Those protests (the September 29th movement), are documented in the University Archives in RS 22/03/03, the September 29th Movement records and RS 22/01/08, the records of the Catt Hall Review Committee. For more about Catt herself, check out this previous post.

Introducing A.L. Carson, processing archivist

Carson, in their natural habitat (surrounded by boxes).

A.L. Carson goes by “Carson” and has since approximately the age of 12. Carson earned their Masters of Science in Information Studies, focusing on archives and digital materials, from the University of Texas at Austin in 2016, and spent two years as a Library Fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In February of 2019, Carson left UNLV to come to ISU; joining SCUA as a processing archivist, Carson enjoys both the complex intellectual work of unraveling collections and the more mundane physical tasks of taking records from storage to access. They have a dog, love bicycles and baseball, and listen to a lot of music.