At the time of her death in 1988, Dori Seda’s work was widely published, having appeared in Wimmen’s Comics, Weirdo, and Rip Off Comix, among others. Seda did her own one-shot comic book called Lonely Nights Comics, and was well-known in the San Francisco underground comix community, where she worked at Last Gasp, first as a janitor and eventually as their full-time bookkeeper. Moreover, nobody who met Seda could forget her, from her hacking cough (part from smoking, part from silicosis) to her outrageous party costumes (just read Don Donahue’s account of the bunny costume). And it is a fairly safe bet to say that anyone who reads Seda’s work doesn’t forget it easily. Nor would one want to.
To be sure, Dori Seda wrote about sex, a lot, graphically, with a great number of variations. She wrote about swinging and made jokes about bestiality (which included emphatic denials of any sexual misconduct with Tona, her ever-reeking Doberman). She did not shy away from drawing nudity, and relished the fact that Lonely Nights was banned in England (something Neil Gaiman bemoans in his astute, but short, introduction). Her comix include vampires, smoking, sex, beer, drugs, lots and lots of drawing, more smoking, a great deal of coughing, more sex, many drawings of whips (sort of like an S&M “Where’s Waldo?”), more cigarettes, cats, and the aforementioned extraordinarily stinky dog whose odor permeated everything he came near. But all of it is done with humor, wit, and style rarely seen before or since. R. Crumb, who first published her work in Weirdo thinking she was male (she’d signed the submission letter “David Seda”), called her a “first-rate excellent cartoonist” (33) for once, R. Crumb understated the situation.
Like most collections, Dori Stories: The Complete Dori Seda includes previously unpublished stories like “Ecstasy!” (1986), where a couple takes ecstasy in an attempt to patch up their disintegrating relationship. The book also includes gems such as “Let’s Eat Brains” (1987) where Dori’s housemates embark on questionable culinary pursuits, and the surprisingly sweet “Retirement Village” (1985), a one-page comic depicting an affair in a retirement home. And, of course, there’s Tona-toons; “Cleanliness is Next to Dogliness” (1986) is one of Seda’s funniest sequences, where she attempts to relieve Tona’s eczema and constant scratching by hauling him into the shower, cleaning the dog but polluting the entire apartment in the process. “Laundry Day Delight” (1986) leaves Tona alone (save for his feline sidekick Dracula) in an apartment full of laundry. The image of Tona hearing Seda opening the door and thinking “Oh-oh. The jig’s up,” with underwear on his head and a sock on his tail never fails to send me into gales of laughter (I dare you not to laugh!).
Dori Stories memorializes a woman who loved being a bad girl, adored her work and friends, and, not surprisingly, had a wide circle of cohorts. Krystine Kryttre’s “Bimbos From Hell” (1988) outlines Dori and Krystine’s friendship and ends with Dori’s gap-toothed ghost coming back for a last dance with Kryttre. Leslie Sternbergh’s “...there’s a way, or, My Dinner With Olga” (1992) details the process of reprinting Seda’s work. Less than a year before she died, Seda willed her work to Don Donahue (which he explains during his essay “My Dori Story”) in a document peppered with disclaimers like, “In the event that I drop dead, which I don’t expect to happen.” After her death, nobody thought about the will until publishers realized that Seda’s work could not be published without her mother’s permission, which she was not willing to grant. Most everyone thought that Dori had died without a will, and, under California law, Seda’s estate subsequenly passed to her next of kin. After much debate and consideration, Dori Seda’s friends and colleagues filed her will in 1991, leaving the rights to her work to Don Donahue, as she wanted it. Dori Stories is the result.
The book presents a compelling portrait of Dori Seda, Artist. It includes photographs of her paintings and pottery (including a vibrator she made in ceramics class), photo essays featuring Seda’s alter-ego “Sylvia Silicosis” out and about in San Francisco, interviews, and photographs of the real-life people she included in her comix. It is arranged chronologically, letting the reader watch Seda’s work blossom, from her 1977 “Bloods in Space” (published in Weirdo #2 in 1981) the one she passed off to R. Crumb has having been drawn by a man and “The Life-Cycle of an Artist” (Weirdo #7, 1982) to “The Do-Nothing Decade” (1987) and the aforementioned “Let’s Eat Brains.” Dori Seda died too soon; that’s a given. This anthology, however, is not it is varied, entertaining, and a fabulous collection of the work Dori Seda accomplished in her too-short lifetime. Thank God it doesn’t come in scratch-and-sniff; the stench of Tona would be too much.