- Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists by Martha H. Kennedy
In her Women Artists Zine, "Blind Illustratrix," minicomics creator, and zinester M. Sabine Rear introduces her list of twenty-four women artists by reflecting on how to effectively negotiate women's erasure from the canon of visual culture. Rear writes that "[adding] the erased subject (here, women) to the canon … does not directly question the canon itself, it merely protests its exclusionary nature."1 Illuminating the illustration and comics work of eighty American women, Martha H. Kennedy's Drawn to Purpose remaps an expansive, multigenre lineage of women's illustration and cartooning from Golden Age illustrators to [End Page 221] graphic novelists to courtroom documentarians. Kennedy's consistent, careful attention to how women created community and navigated the gendered conditions of doing their work sets her survey apart from those that might merely install women's work into preexisting canons and histories.
Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists accompanies an exhibition of the same name that Kennedy curated for the Library of Congress, which was on display through fall 2018. Drawn to Purpose lives on well after the close of the exhibition as an invaluable resource for researchers and those teaching comics history, offering readers a deep catalog of creators in accessible chapters furnished by high-quality reproductions of each artist's groundbreaking work. Drawn to Purpose begins its survey with Golden Age Illustrators and then shifts to comics history with two chapters—one covering early newspaper cartoonists and another that charts its course from contemporary strip-makers to underground collectives, graphic novelists, and even minicomics creators. An "interlude" attending to technical illustrators "overlooked in art surveys, despite the role they have played in shaping the cultural environment" (77), leads into the second half of the book, in which Kennedy covers "Commentators and Reporters," magazine covers, and cartoons, concluding with editorial cartoonists. The project also includes an index of "biographical sketches" about each woman featured in the text. Kennedy's attention to illustration and cartooning as sister media allows her to seamlessly draw together forms like the single panel gag cartoons of the New Yorker by the likes of Barbara Shermund,2 Roberta MacDonald, and Roz Chast and the illustrations that have found a home on the covers of early twentieth-century American periodicals like Puck, Vanity Fair, and Masses.
Though Kennedy does not always draw artists into conversation with one another across chapters, her tour, which includes high-quality reproductions of each artist's work alongside the text, sustains a nuanced account of how gender, sexuality, and race all inflect and inform the canon of women's work in the applied arts of illustration and cartooning. As she writes in her preface, "Women who become illustrators and cartoonists represent a special breed of artist and form a self-selected sisterhood. Taking pencil, pen, or brush to paper, burin or needle to plate, litho pen to stone, or digital pen to pad, they ply their tools toward multiple ends—to tell stories, to entertain, to persuade, to assert opinion, to earn a living" (xii). By considering the "sisterhood" of illustrators and cartoonists holistically, Kennedy not only attends to forms of each medium that are often left at the margins of academic consideration such as the single panel cartoon, book binding and title plate designs, and technical illustrations, including architectural and fashion designs, but she also tracks trajectories of subject matter, style, and the manipulation of text and image that unify seemingly disparate creators. The cute kids and clever dogs who populate the newspaper strips of Grace Drayton, Rose O'Neill, Marge Henderson Buell, and Edwina Dumm set the foundation for the graphic novel's preoccupation with the girlhoods of some of its most lauded practitioners such as Lynda Barry. Girls, too, primed the market for YA graphic novels such as Raina Telgemeier's runaway success, Smile, and Jillian Tamaki's effervescent coming-of-age story, This One Summer. But this child-centric [End Page 222] canon of comics work also rewards...