Naughty Bits #31 (April 2000)

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By Anne Thalheimer

Like the issue before it, Naughty Bits #31 includes two auto-bio stories. The first, a seemingly cute tale called “New Kitty on the Block” relates the story of the comix heroine Roberta inheriting a determined cat named Pushkin from a lover who eventually leaves her. Pushkin spends most of the introductory panels swiping at his adopted human, the ex-lover who quickly fades from the narrative as Pushkin’s relationship with Roberta grows (even to the terribly sad last panel where Roberta explains how she’s been trying to change Pushkin’s name, since it was her former lover who named the cat). That theme of loss and heartache echoes throughout the issue, right through “Bitchy Bitch in the ‘Oughts’” and into the final story in the issue, the other auto-bio sequence, tellingly titled “Bye-Bye Love.” “Uh,” Roberta says, in the issue’s final panel, “I hope this doesn’t seem TOO tacky — I mean, it’s kinda like a COMIC BOOK PERSONAL AD…”

The entire issue has a weird sort of symbiosis between art and life, something Gregory herself points out in her traditional address to the reader on the inside front cover. As her own relationship was disintegrating, the story which quietly resonates in the background of “New Kitty on the Block,” Bitchy was making plans to leave Chuck after suddenly realizing that some things are truly too much, even for her. “Honest,” Gregory writes, “I DIDN’T tell him she was gonna tell Chuckie to take a HIKE in this issue…right before I got handed my walking papers! WEIRD, huh?”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: one of the best things about Naughty Bits is that its content is so varied. One issue (#27) drops the reader into the Middle Ages, while another (#30) deals more closely with Christian fundamentalism. Gregory’s characters are never one-dimensional. Marcie, the infuriating office born-againer who drives Bitchy mad with rage, is attacked and robbed while out to buy envelopes for her church group’s mailings. When asked by police to list the contents of her stolen handbag, she leaves out any mention of the handgun she’d been carrying everywhere (which everyone but Bitchy was oblivious to).Chuck, Bitchy’s lover for the past six issues (at least until she discovers what he keeps hidden under his mattress), at times seemed the perfect foil for Bitchy, being something of a masochist. Bitchy, sadly, finds herself forced to dump him; despite their shared explorations into sex toys and Sunday brunches (see the past six issues), she finds that there are some things that are just unforgivable about her sweetie.

And there’s Bitchy herself, endlessly caught between her rage at her co-workers plus the rampant classism which seeps in through her television set and her perpetual fear of dying alone. But Bitchy doesn’t seem quite so bitchy as she has in previous issues, though Gregory is sure to end the sequence — as she’s done with many before this one — with Bitchy screaming, hair standing on end, breasts and teeth sharpened into angry, jagged points. Bitchy’s terror at finding a lump in her breast — which causes her to imagine breast cancer manifesting itself in her body at various stages from a hugely deformed and swollen breast to a thin figure wracked with chemotherapy and surgical scars — somehow makes her seem incredibly human even as she rages and shouts in the final panel. She does what she thinks is right when she leaves Chuck and for once, the reader isled to agree with her choices even though, a few pages earlier we were condemning her for peeking in Marcie’s purse.

What Naughty Bits #31 does that previous issues haven’t done as prominently is provide a variety of visuals. Gregory’s auto-bio stories, at least in this issue, don’t seem nearly as jagged and intentionally angular as her Bitchy Bitch pieces. “Bye-Bye Love” even reads at times like a meditation; the first three pages of the story, set in a 6-panelgrid, have a very static visual effect; the word balloons are in the same place (and are roughly the same size) for seventeen panels in a row. By the time Roberta stands up in the eighteenth panel and kicks over the table, declaring her independence and her strength, the reader’s been almost hypnotized by the repetition, so much so that when one turns the page and the background scenery disappears, it is jarring — like a fresh start. The Bitchy Bitch piece uses similar jarring techniques through the use of white space and extreme juxtapositions of images (such as the one between the healthy but scared Bitchy and the post-cancer-treatment one), in order to underscore the human, scared parts of Bitchy.

But what now? Between the resolution of the most recent story line via Bitchy’s dispatching of Chuck back into the dating pool, and Gregory’s own foray back into heavily auto-bio comix, it seems as if Naughty Bits is at a curious place. Gregory herself offers little in the way of what might come next, asking “So, where’s Bitchy’s NEW adventures gonna take her? I haven’t a CLUE! Heck, I don’t have a CLUE what life’s got in store for ME, really! And life’s LIKE that. Ya don’t always KNOW what’s gonna be on the next page!”

True enough. And with that, it is simply time to hunker down and wait it out for issue #32.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/naughty-bits31/