When Roy Lichtenstein borrowed images from comic books for his pop art paintings in the 1960s, he abstracted them into patterns of dots and lines. His crying and distressed girl prints and paintings, taken from romance comics, ignored the source of these images: the popular stories of women’s lives from the millions of romance comics distributed from the 1940s well into the 1970s. While many of the stories in romance comics were conservative in their hopes for women’s domesticity, many had more ambiguous or even exciting messages about adventures in the world as career women, deep sea divers, journalists, Peace Corp workers, nurses in remote places, pilots, performers, and artists. In all cases, the tears seen as the iconic image from romance comics had many good reasons for existing.
I have been experimenting with ways to bring these romance comic stories, especially the ones about sobbing and teary-eyed women, back into our conversations about how women’s stories have been and could be shared. I have become enamored with their struggles and the frustrations that were often behind those tears. My mixed media approaches utilizing panels from romance comics stories has resulted in a quilt, miniature furniture, bell jar assemblages, and old-fashioned collages. As I continue to work with this subject I find that using different media helps me explore the possible stories that underlie these teary-eyed images.
I have chosen to highlight the differences between the fine art and the popular culture depiction of these women’s images and stories by using many forms of traditional crafting and fiber arts techniques. Not only are these typically associated with women and their domains, but they also resist the glamorization of the beautiful imagery that results from the more respected fine arts. As the 2020 exhibit at the Whitney Museum (Making Knowing, Craft in Art) explains, “Together, the works demonstrate that craft-informed techniques of making carry their own kind of knowledge, one that is crucial to a more complete understanding of the history and potential of art.”
Each image used is documented with the original artists (if known) listed and the issue and story included.