The Two Glorious Years of Ah! Nana by Trina Robbins

26 Sep

Some time in 1976 I received a phone call from a Frenchman in the comics industry, who lived in New York and was somehow connected to various comics venues.[1] He told me that a new magazine was being published in France, featuring women cartoonists, and that he could get me into the publication by acting as my agent and taking a percentage of my pay. That was fine with me, until shortly after that I received a letter from Jean Pierre Dionet, inviting me to contribute to the magazine, which I now learned was to be called Ah! Nana, a pun on the word for pineapple and French slang for girl. Needless to say, I never had to pay the French guy a thing, and it was pretty sleazy of him to even try to make money off me.

From the first issue, I was thrilled to be one of a handful of American women [2] included along with a galaxy of brilliant European women cartoonists. My God, I was being published in France! I had really arrived!

Someone has said that the magazine was hardly feminist, and here I disagree. Along with gorgeous art by women, the first issue of Ah! Nana featured a short history of American underground comix written by me with a decidedly feminist slant. Other issues contained articles on films and science fiction by women; articles on women as diverse as Leni Reiffenstahl, and Blondie and Patti Smith; short pieces on women cartoonists like Shary Flenniken, Grace Drayton, and Fanny Y. Cory. Many of the comics (including mine) dealt with sex, but from a woman’s perspective. For instance, Fantasme et Realitie, by Clodine and Fevre, from Ah! Nana #8, compared a flowery rape fantasy to the gritty, violent, and humiliating reality. None of the male American underground cartoonists ever depicted rape that way!

Ah! Nana was my introduction to most of the European women published in the magazine. I was impressed by how good they all were; miles ahead, I felt, of America’s only all-woman publication, Wimmen’s Comix. In fact, Ah! Nana was the beginning of a sort of hands-across-the-ocean situation for women cartoonists and before long, some of the women from that magazine were contributing to Wimmen’s. We reprinted comics by Cecilia Capuana and Kathy Millet. We later heard rumors that Kathy Millet was actually the pseudonym of a male cartoonist, but we never learned whether or not this was true.

The editor in chief, Janic Guillerez, was actually the wife of publisher Jean Pierre Dionet, and in 1977 I took my seven year old daughter to Europe and we stayed with the Dionnets in their Paris apartment, crammed with art nouveau objets d’art. Jean Pierre was an elfin, round-faced, jovial guy and Janic was a very French blonde. Through them I met Phillipe Druillet and Jean Giraud, Florence Cestac and Keleck. (Yes, I speak French.) Keleck, with her green hair and green fingernails, who drew some of the most revolting comics in Ah! Nana [3], was very sweet to my daughter and bought her a doll.

Ah! Nana lasted for nine issues. By issue #9, the magazine’s controversial themes, sexuality of little girls, sado-masochism, homosexuality, and incest, got it banned. It could no longer be sold in the metro, in train stations, or in airports. With the 30% loss of sales that this meant, the magazine had to fold. The last issue featured a cartoon by Chantal Montellier: a woman dressed in one of my Rosie the Riveter T-shirts walks past five smirking men. She says, “Ah! Nana the only comic magazine made by women!” and they continue, “Forbidden by men!!!!”

It was a glorious two-year ride, during which time I felt as though I were part of the European comics elite. There’s never been another magazine like it.

Award-winning herstorian and writer Trina Robbins has been writing books, comics, and graphic novels for over thirty years. She specializes in books for and about girls and women. Her 2009 book, The Brinkley Girls: The Best of Nell Brinkley’s Cartoons from 1913-1940 (Fantagraphics), was nominated for an Eisner award and a Harvey award. Her 2010 all-ages graphic novel, Chicagoland Detective Agency: The Drained Brains Caper, first in a 6-book series, was a Junior Library Guild Selection.

[1] – Sorry to be so vague, but I actually never understood exactly what his connection to comics was, except that I would see his name in connection with various European comics magazines and conventions. I also do not include his name, not out of fear of being sued, but because I actually can’t remember it.

[2] – Along with Sharon Rudahl, Shary Flenniken, M.K. Brown, and Margery Peters, under the pseudonym Petchesky.

[3] – In issue #1, Keleck drew a sadistic nurse punching a newborn baby, throwing it to the floor and stepping on it. In the last panel she holds up the little corpse and says, “April fool, he was already dead.”

Click here to read more about Ah! Nana in Catriona MacLeod’s guest article ‘Ah! Nana: The Forgotten French Feminist Comics Magazine’.


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