Dykes to Watch Out For
Dykes to Watch Out For (sometimes DTWOF) was a comic strip by Alison Bechdel. The strip, which ran from 1983 to 2008, was one of the earliest ongoing representations of lesbians in popular culture and has been called "as important to new generations of lesbians as landmark novels like Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle (1973) and Lisa Alther's Kinflicks (1976) were to an earlier one".
|Dykes to Watch Out For|
Several characters in Dykes to Watch Out For. From left to right: Mo, Sydney, Ginger, and Samia.
|Current status / schedule||On hiatus|
|Genre(s)||Lesbian, Women, Adults, Politics|
DTWOF chronicled the lives, loves, and politics of a fairly diverse group of characters (most of them lesbians) living in a medium-sized city in the United States, featuring both humorous soap opera storylines and biting topical commentary. The strip was carried in Funny Times and a number of gay and lesbian newspapers, and also posted on the web.
According to Bechdel, her strip was "half op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel". Characters reacted to contemporary events, including going to the Michigan Womyn's Festival, Gay Pride parades and protest marches, and having heated discussions about day-to-day events, political issues and the way lesbian culture was changing. The strip was one of the most successful and longest-running gay comic strips. It introduced the Bechdel test, a set of criteria for determining gender bias in works of entertainment, that has since found broad application, though the comic upon which the test is based actually comments on the lack of lesbian representation in entertainment and the alienation that lesbian viewers face as a result.
On May 10, 2008, Bechdel announced that she was putting the strip on indefinite hiatus in order to complete her graphic novel memoir Love Life, which was eventually published in 2012 as Are You My Mother?.
On November 23, 2016, Alison Bechdel published “Pièce de Résistance,” the first Dykes to Watch Out For installment published since the strip went on extended hiatus in 2008. In the strip, the same characters are shown addressing the 8-year gap and responding to the election of Donald Trump. “Pièce de Résistance” was published in Seven Days and on Bechdel’s website. The amount of traffic to the new strip caused Bechdel’s website to crash. Bechdel also drew the cover for the November 23–30, 2016 issue of Seven Days, featuring the Dykes to Watch Out For characters having Thanksgiving dinner. In the strip, the characters reflect on Donald Trump’s presidency and write postcards to the White House for the Ides of Trump campaign. The Seven Days post states that Bechdel “now draws single strips when inspiration strikes.”
The central characters included:
- Mo Testa (given name Monica), the central character, a politically committed lesbian feminist with a tendency to kvetch. Previously a worker at Madwimmin Bookstore who then worked briefly at Bounders Books and Muzak (a parody of Borders Books and Music) while earning a library science degree before getting a job as a reference librarian.
- Lois MacGiver, a sex-positive activist, drag king, a clerk at Bounders Books and Muzak (formerly at Madwimmin) and housemate to Ginger and Sparrow, dating single mother Jasmine, mother of transgender teenager Janis (originally introduced as Jonas).
- Ginger Jordan, a struggling academic and English professor at Buffalo Lake State University, whose star student Cynthia was interning at the CIA despite coming out to her parents. Longtime housemate of Lois and Sparrow, Ginger eventually bought a house with Samia, a Syrian Muslim chemist in a lavender marriage to a man.
- Sparrow Pidgeon (birth name Prudence), former women's shelter director and New Ager-turned-atheist, who identified herself as a "bisexual lesbian" and was later involved with a straight Jewish male activist and stay-at-home dad, Stuart Goodman (jokingly thought of by the others as being "more stereotypically lesbian than many lesbians"), with whom she had a child, Jiao Raizel (or J.R.). Lois and Stuart homeschooled Janis and J.R. Sparrow and Ginger purchased the house they had earlier shared with Lois (and later Stuart) after rooming together for years; Ginger later moved out, and the group was able to buy Ginger out of the house by Sparrow taking the Executive Director position at the state NARAL office.
- Clarice Clifford, a workaholic environmental lawyer and college girlfriend of Mo's.
- Toni Ortiz, a CPA and business manager, who had a child with Clarice; she was a stay-at-home-mom for several years while raising their son Rafael Clifford-Ortiz (or Raffi). Toni and Clarice had a commitment ceremony in the backyard, a civil union in Vermont, and a (not legally recognized by the state) marriage at City Hall. They later explored the phenomenon of divorcing without court involvement. Clarice then moved in with Sparrow, Stuart and Lois, taking the room recently vacated by Ginger.
- Harriet, a state human rights investigator, Mo's ex-lover, and single mother to daughter Isabel.
- Dr. Sydney Krukowski, an academically involved, materialistic, yuppie Women's Studies professor with a compulsive spending habit, Mo's lover and a breast cancer survivor.
- Jezanna Ramsay (birth name Alberta), manager of the late lesbian bookstore Madwimmin Books, which also employed Mo, Lois, and Thea, a Jewish lesbian with multiple sclerosis who was Sydney's lover in college. After the closure of Madwimmin due to financial woes, Thea and Jezanna appeared less frequently. Jezanna later taught English as a second language, and Thea began teaching art to kids.
Only some of the characters' surnames were known, since such names appeared only when it was appropriate to the dialogue (when Ginger and Sydney, as college instructors, were addressed as "Professor Jordan" and "Dr. Krukowski", for instance) and were not established from the beginning.
The strip had a number of strip collections, including:
- Dykes to Watch Out For (1986)
- More Dykes to Watch Out For (1988)
- New, Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For (1990)
- Dykes to Watch Out For: The Sequel (1992)
- Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For (1993)
- Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For (1995)
- Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For (1997)
- Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For (1998)
- Post-Dykes to Watch Out For (2000)
- Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-Based Life-Forms to Watch Out For (2003)
- Invasion of the Dykes to Watch Out For (2005)
- The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (2008)
The first of these collections contained miscellaneous, individual strips; the serialized story centered around Mo began halfway through the second collection, More Dykes to Watch Out For.
Beginning with the third book Bechdel began including graphic "novellas" at the end of each book. Some were flashbacks, such as the tale of how everyone met in Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For, or Serial Monogamy, Bechdel's humorous "documentary" on lesbian relationships, but most have advanced the plot in new and interesting ways, such as Raffi's birth at the end of Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For.
While not a compilation, The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For (1998) included many of the strips Bechdel published in calendars, a timeline of the strip to date, and a fanciful "tour" of the "factory" where Dykes to Watch Out For is produced.
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, published in 2008, compiled most but not all of the strips that had ever been published under the title, along with a 12-page introduction in which Bechdel reflected on her time drawing the strip. The book won the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT fiction in 2009.
As with Bechdel's popular autobiographical novel, Fun Home, DTWOF included many literary allusions. For example, the name chosen for Sydney Krukowski references Stanley Kowalski, a character from A Streetcar Named Desire. Sydney also drinks Loch Lomond, a favorite drink of two characters from The Adventures of Tintin.
- Garner, Dwight (December 2, 2008). "The Days of Their Lives: Lesbians Star in Funny Pages". The New York Times. Books of The Times (column). Retrieved August 18, 2015.
- Bechdel discusses the changeover from self-syndication to the web on the official site.
- "Blog Archive » winds of change". dykestowatchoutfor.com. 2008-05-10. Retrieved 2010-06-14.
- Polston, Pamela. "Dykes to Watch Out For: Pièce de Résistance". Seven Days. Seven Days. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
- Bechdel, Alison. "Same as it ever was, only much worse". Dykes to Watch Out For. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
- Bechdel, Alison. "Pièce de Résistance". Facebook.
- Bechdel, Alison. "Happy Thanksgiving". Dykes to Watch Out For. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
- "The Ides of Trump". The Ides of Trump.
- Bechdel, Alison. "New 'Dykes to Watch Out For' Tackles the Ides of Trump". Seven Days. Seven Days. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
- Revealed in strip #508.
- Dunley, Kathleen (2014). "Dykes to Watch Out For". Comics through Time: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 1005. ISBN 0-313-39751-1.