In one of the comic strips included in the newly released anthology Love That Bunch (Drawn & Quarterly, May 1), Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s autobiographical protagonist, nicknamed the Bunch, is summed up like so: “Compulsively honest...repulsively revealing.” That the description is from 1976, when Kominsky-Crumb first established herself as one of the leading voices of San Francisco’s underground feminist comix scene, indicates just how far ahead of her time she was. Love That Bunch, a compilation of works from the 1970s through the 2010s, reads like a blueprint of contemporary women’s comedy, chronicling her gluttonous appetite, her high-powered sex drive, and her “sordid”—her word—booze-and-drugs-soaked life. “I didn’t think of it as groundbreaking at the time,” the 69-year-old says. “It’s just that’s what came out of me.”
It’s a form of fearless authenticity that’s now practically commonplace: women who are smart and powerful but also sloppy and dirty and raw and contradictory. And Kominsky-Crumb—wife of fellow comics visionary Robert Crumb—helped chart the way forward for many of today’s favorite boundary-breaking, foul-mouthed comedians and comics artists.
The author of the acclaimed graphic memoir Fun Home (which was adapted into a Tony Award–winning musical) credits Kominsky-Crumb as an artistic inspiration. Bechdel’s work, like her predecessor’s, subverts the traditional rules of femininity—see the title of her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. That was the strip in which she conceived of the Bechdel Test—a litmus test for how dude-dominated a movie is.
While watching Girls and seeing Dunham sitting on a toilet, Kominsky-Crumb wondered, “Did she find my comics under her mother’s mattress?” In Dunham’s breakout indie flick Tiny Furniture, her character is shown having sex inside a metal construction pipe in a vacant lot, a blend of shamelessness and shamefulness that is a Kominsky-Crumb hallmark.
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson
Before she ever caught an episode, Kominsky-Crumb remembers friends telling her of Broad City, “It’s like you wrote it!” In the pilot, the two women find themselves stripped down to their underwear, cringing as they scrub the floors of a creepy man’s apartment so they can score money for weed and concert tickets. In its absurd raunch and delinquency, the show has Kominsky-Crumb’s DNA all over it.
Kominsky-Crumb says she sees herself particularly in Fey’s comedy. Indeed, in 30 Rock, Fey’s Liz Lemon is a woman in charge, but not as the empowered, self-actualized boss. She is harried, perpetually hungry, anxiety-ridden, and self-flagellating—like a showbiz version of the Bunch herself.
A descendant of Kominsky-Crumb’s middle finger to female purity, Wong fills her oeuvre with the messy details of sex, mixed with smart commentary about our warped gender and racial dynamics.