A PEN THAT'S MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD
A Review of HOTHEAD PAISAN: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist
by Diane DiMassa, aka Mommy St. Wee-Wee
New Haven, CT: Giant Ass Publishing
Review Copyright © 1994 by William A. Henkin
Originally published in Spectator
When I was a tyke of ten or so I gave my next-door neighbor the 25 cents she demanded for the most recent issue of the old full-color 10-cent cover-price Mad magazine: she had it, I wanted it, and I knew of no outlet in our staid middle-class neighborhood that carried anything so radical lest Joe McCarthy's hooligans take notice. But much to my pre-pubescent wonder my parents liked Mad too, so we subscribed to it as a sort of family-that-reads-together-bleeds-together project, opening the door to my secret life as a dilettante of off-center comics, from Krazy Kat and Little Nemo to the comix, as they came to be known when, briefly, the center moved closer to the edge in the late 1960s.
But as R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Kelly/Mouse and the rest of the raging hip-eyes aged, things grew quiet again in my narrow comic-book world. Zippy and a few other characters drawn in these quarters kept my hopes alive that someone with a pen and a vision could alter reality more usefully than a President, but eight years of Ronald Reagan's rule proved weirder than William Gaines's weltangshaung; each day's news seemed to have been written by Stan Lee's brain serving out a life sentence at Euro-Disney.
Fortunately, reality twisted altogether back on itself under the next American Tsar, and now that he, too, is dining on the rubber-chicken circuit I am a heppy, heppy ket. I have bought and consumed yes! yes!! I did! I ATE them all nine issues of the angriest book of funnies I've seen in years, and I'm writing this review specifically to plump it, because
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*REVIEWER'S MESSAGE * REVIEWER'S MESSAGE * REVIEWER'S MESSAGE *
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* THIS IS A GREAT COMIC BOOK SERIES *
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* BUY IT!! READ IT!! HAVE A GOOD TIME!! *
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-- I think it would do America a lot of good if everybody tested her or his tolerance levels for whatever each of us finds intolerable, and almost everyone can find something worth testing in Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist.
Here's your background: Hothead is trendy, young, and furiously enraged: a meat-eating, caffeine-addicted, politically incorrect man-hating dyke who keeps an arsenel of guns, knives, grenades, bazookas, and the occasional tank on hand to slake her lust for vengeance. She lives on permanent disability "because I'm nuts" in the less-than-genteel poverty of the east coast urban food-stamp environment. She has an angelic conscience who advises her now and again to be thoughtful, considerate, and loving. "Why don'tcha quit being such a hateful on-sight bigot!" the conscience advises in one episode: "There's more and more people every day changing their evil ways and some of them are men white ones, even!!" She also has her very own inner devil whose simple message is, "Kill them all! Kill them all," and who retaliates against the conscience by showing Hothead newspaper headlines such as "It's Open Season in Colorado," "Man Opens Fire On 'Feminists'," and "Man Rapes and Kills Six Year Old Daughter," thereby inspiring Hothead to tell her conscience to fuck off.
Hothead is Mom to a highly evolved kitty named Chicken, whom Hothead often calls Turkey and who has her own fan club among Hothead aficionados. Chicken's cartoon lineage includes those felines such as Fat Freddy'Scat, who've trained their humans well enough so that the cats can subvert their nominal owners' plans when they're irked and still get fed. Readers limited to the usual big-city dailies might try to imagine what Garfield would be like if Jon was a gay drag-queen founding an ACT-UP chapter in Bosnia-Herzegovina after a four-day run on crystal while learning that former Senator Jesse Helms had eaten all the leftover lasagna. If this image conjures up Tommy Lasorda, that's not what I had in mind. Helms is still a Senator, too, but wasn't that a nice moment when you thought I knew something you didn't? Let's try again.
Hothead's most frequent friend in the nine adventures out so far is Roz, a blind Zen Mistress in Birkenstocks who counsels a consciousness far more cosmic than Hothead is ready or able to accept. Hothead's bedside lamp does the same in another adventure, but to round out the ongoing cast of characters, Chicken has a cat-thing with Roz's Siamese, Miss Woo, who refers to Paisan as Uncle Hothead and teaches stretching and meditation to the local cat community.
Episode to episode, adventure to adventure, Hothead takes out men and heterosexuals despite Roz's calming advice, but she doesn't limit herself unnecessarily. She takes on anti-abortion forces of both obvious sexes in #7, all het visitors to P-town in #3, male physicians who perform unnecessary surgery on women in #4, and her own bisexual girlfriend in #9. Even Diane DiMassa, from whose fertile brain this loveable churl arises (yes! Loveable! She's confused, she's angry, she's self-righteous, she's vicious she is a homicidal lesbian terrorist, after all and she's banned in Canada for real; but isn't this better than Mary Worth already? And you haven't even read the zine yet!), even DiMassa appears by her own hand in a couple of Hothead's adventures. In #5, for instance, during one of Hothead's rants, she appears to explain her sensibility to a very politically correct lesbian who has phoned the artist to complain.
"I find Hothead disgustingly violent," the P.C. says. "She acts just like the men she's bashing! We, as women, must set an example and act in a peaceful, non-violent way GODDAMMIT!"
"Hothead doesn't know that," the artist explains. "She's blitzed out on too much t.v.! The whole thing is a satire on how manipulative the media is...! A lot of women need to vent their rage and this works for them.... We're dealing with FANTASY here! Haven't you ever been so pissed off at someone that you fantasized about killing them?"
Well? Haven't you? If you're reading this magazine, my friend, I warrant the answer is Yes, more than twice. It is even possible that you are already in some hopeful way outside the pale of the stereotypical IBM clones Hothead is hottest about. That doesn't mean that if you're living a male-over-female heterosexual life with a male-over-female heterosexual attitude you aren't also someone she' be glad to blow away, but it does suggest that you have taken at least one step along the road to becoming your own person; and that, finally, is what Hothead Paisan seems to me to be about. NOT FOR THE WEAK, reads the banner on #2; NOT CUTE, announces #5; COMIX FOR THE CONSCIOUS, says #7. What more do you want for three bucks?
Arlene Stein, who has sometimes written for San Francisco's own Sentinel, notes in her article "All Dressed Up, but No Place to Go? Style Wars and the New Lesbianism," (in The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader, edited by Joan Nestle. Boston: Alyson, 1992), "In 1970 the Radicalesbians declared, A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.' Today we've lightened up."
Hothead Paisan pretty well fits this 1970s definition, and Diane Marie Therese DiMassa, her creatrix, is the 1990s light. Ol' Doctor Freud thought that humor was a socially acceptable channel for hostile aggression, and as Hothead Paisan is here to say "So the fuck what?" so DiMassa is here to make you laugh at the same time. If you think that ours are something less than the best of times, put in a few hours with Hothead Paisan. It"ll put your politics whatever they may be in perspective.
When this comic was being produced on a regular basis it was published four times per year by Stacy A. Sheehan at Giant Ass Publishing, P.O. Box 214, New Haven, CT 06502. Subscription: $10/ 4 issues; single copies $3 by mail and at various venues.
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