Trip the Light Fantastic in the Snazzy Jazz Age with the Comics in 'Flapper Queens'

Trip the Light Fantastic in the Snazzy Jazz Age with the Comics in 'Flapper Queens'

Thursday, 8 October, 2020

The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.

This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.

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We usually feature a novel for Weekend Getaway, but this large-format collection of comics is the perfect Saturday and Sunday morning indulgence. Time travel back to the 1920s in America, a time of bootleg hooch, dabbling with the spirit world, short hair and short hemlines, and a bubbly sense of optimism. Anything was possible if you could just Charleston fast enough.

Cartoonist Trina Robbins — herself a winner of an Inkpot Award and an inductee in the Will Eisner Hall of Fame — puts the women cartoonists of the 1920s in context, then showcases their work with tabloid-size, full-color comics. Every page flaunts elegant graphic design and is afire with the energy of the comics.

We meet characters like Nell Brinkley’s art nouveau ‘Brinkley Girls,’ who go on adventures romantic, mystical, and daring while looking fabulous and holding their own against spinster aunts and grabby-hands beaus. In an installment Dimples’ Day Dreams, it’s impossible the allure of Dimple’s fantasy in which she’s President of the United States — while wearing smart trousers, no less. There are also artist Ethel Hayes’ beauties, who showcase the latest fashions, and Virginia Huget’s angular heroines who get into all manner of scrapes with girlfriends, boyfriends, and even, memorably, a sheik. The charleston, hot rods, visits to mediums, and cavorting on campus all come into play.

Robbins’ informative text provides a brief overview of each artist to set up their work, pointing out elements of their drawing and storytelling styles. Then you can simply lose yourself in the delightful drawings and charmingly-retro (and, occasionally, cringe-worthy) text of the 1920s. The sensibility of the time is on full display, a contradiction of proto-feminism, old-fashioned morals, and some outdated language.

This is a beautiful time capsule of a vibrant era in American culture and cartooning. Put on some jazz, pour a little bubbly, and jump right in. It’s the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, kipper’s knickers, and the monkey’s eyebrows.

jazz age comics illustration

jazz age comics illustration

Prohibition was ratified in 1919, the same year as the amendment that gave women the right to vote, and went into effect the following year. Women had rebelled politically, and the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited alcohol, was something else for women to rebel against. Now they were smoking and drinking bootleg hooch with the boys. As far as women were concerned, they had achieved equality. It was a revolution. The flapper was the new queen, and scores of women cartoonists chronicled her adventures in the pages of America’s newspapers. — Trina Robbins

The Flapper Queens

by Trina Robbins

This gorgeous comics anthology (168 pages) was published in August of 2020 by Fantagraphics. The book takes you to the Jazz Age. Melissa read The Flapper Queens and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Flapper Queens: Women Cartoonists of the Jazz Age

 

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