Rage Against the Sex-Gene
Men who read comic books a very small percentage of all men who read tend not to read books like Hothead Paisan. This statement is, of course, a gross generalization. But I vividly remember leading a discussion on Hothead Paisan in one of my graduate classes, and a fellow (male) student turning to me after I asked what people thought of the book. He said, with some disgust, “I stopped reading when she started cutting off penises.” In short, he stopped reading after six panels. Many men seem to have little problem expecting women to read comics where women are abused and objectified, but turn the tables and those same men begin to get a little nervous.
Now, I realize that this statement is absolutely not true of all men. I have two male dissertation directors (one of who taught the aforementioned course) who have read Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, and I also know many women who will not go near the series. Some people never get past the cover they can’t decide if the word “homicidal” is more offensive to them than the word “lesbian.” Some put the book down after the comic becomes violent. Others can’t put the book down once they begin reading. I have never seen a comic book, before or since, polarize readers so drastically so quickly. And that is one of the things I love most about Hothead Paisan. One can determine a great deal about a person from how they respond to comic book representations of revenge enacted upon rapists, payback upon chauvinist pigs (literally drawn with snouts), and a character’s absolute and total refusal to put up with being put down. Do they laugh? Do they hurl the book across the room? Do they insist that Hothead’s an example of all the things that they think are bad about comic books and/or wrong in our world?
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: comic books by women are really not as rare as one might be led to believe from the comics sold in stores and debated in public forums. Women are involved in the creation of comic books at every level: from publishing to writing to pencilling and back again. Some women, in fact, do all of the above Diane DiMassa is one of these women. DiMassa and partner-in-mayhem Stacy Sheehan founded Giant Ass Publishing some years ago in order to produce Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist in its initial ‘zine form. Two volumes of Hothead ensued, but both are currently very difficult to find. So, in order to provide the world with all of DiMassa’s material, Cleis Press (who published the aforementioned two collections) put out The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist in 1999. And it is complete at 428 pages, it contains more revenge, mayhem, and gross bodily harm than most comic books on the market today. (And, at a mere 25 bucks, it is quite a deal.)
Hothead Paisan, quite frankly, takes no shit from anyone. She is an unapologetically homicidal lesbian out to destroy homophobes, racists, and men who abuse women. These walking targets include lawyers who defend clearly guilty and proud-of-it rapists, Marines who harass Hothead (and other women) in the street, and other men who think that because they have a penis they can take up more space, demand more rights, and generally rule the world. One bellows, “Yo dyke! You just ain’t had da right one yet!!” while waving his smirking (drawn with a face) penis at her in the street. In response, Hothead whips out an axe and screams, “Oh My Gosh! It’s the right one! I MUST have it!” and severs it with one clean blow. She rapes a trio of rapists to death by pulling their spines from their body and beats the living hell out of Superman (shoving him in a handy “Please deposit dead, outmoded, patriarchal propaganda” chute). All of this in the same storyline! Her rage is tempered in part by her feline sidekick, Chicken, and her peace-loving blind best friend Roz, whose patience almost always exceeds Hothead’s fury.
I should emphasize that this book and this series are an especially clever and subversive satire, both of the often-misogynist world of comic books and the larger “real world” where lesbians are usually made targets. (DiMassa emphasizes this point at the end of her collection, in a panel where Hothead’s arm is drawn across her face with two tears running down her cheeks. “Two dykes were found in the back of their truck, both of them SHOT in the HEAD. That’s what they do. What am I supposed to do?” And one is not sure if it is Hothead who is asking, or DiMassa herself.)
DiMassa often emphasizes the fact that this work is a comic book, nothing more than ink on a page. She does so by way of margin notes directed specifically at the readers or through small comments in the panel-breaks pointing out ink blobs or uneven borders. Also, the first issue reproduced in the collection began with a disclaimer: “I wonder what would happen if say, some lesbian really checked out for lunch, you know, like say her brain just totally shit the bed one day, and she starts believing everything she sees on TV. So, like, while she’s going about her daily queer routine, all this TV crap is seeping in, and she’s getting psychotic, and like she needs therapy really bad, but she doesn’t know it? I bet her boundaries would be really fuzzy. I bed she’d be lots of fun to be around. I bet she’d be a real Hothead Paisan”
At times excessively violent, Hothead Paisan is a far cry from both the standard superhero fare and most of the comic books by women on the market. Compared to Hothead Paisan, titles like Action Girl and Scary Godmother pale in comparison. Published in black-and-white, the art is unique and never difficult to read, and DiMassa is present on every page. Over the course of the colletion, one sees DiMassa’s art become bolder with stronger lines, and Hothead herself, the homicidal lesbian terrorist, falls in love (though, as ever, it is never as simple as it sounds). Prophetic for this Valentine’s Day, indeed.