“I am not remotely ashamed of not being a hot sexy number,” writes Virginie Despentes in her 2006 memoir King Kong Theory, “but I am livid that—as a girl who doesn’t attract men—I am constantly made to feel as if I shouldn’t even be around.” That we as a society not only minimize but reject the value and sexual autonomy of women is nothing new, nor is it new that the standards held to women versus men are ever-increasingly impossible. Standards can be bent and broken based on a few standing privileges—heteronormativity, class, and of course, attractiveness—but what about the sexual autonomy of the unwanted, and therefore, unseen woman: the “hag?”
Enter Gina Wynbrandt’s 2016 comics collection Someone Please Have Sex with Me, in which Wynbrandt’s character Gina struggles against the chains of hag life in a never-ending quest to find validation and, ultimately, get laid. Situated nicely between the gross-out humor of Lisa Hanawalt and immaculate loserdom of Simon Hanselmann’s Meg, Mogg & Owl, Someone follows the character of Gina through stories of her obsession with Justin Bieber, a parallel Sailor Moon universe, an erotic video game, and her prediction of how her unwanted sexual appeal will play throughout the future. The engine of Someone’s humor runs off the cliché that women can get sex whenever they want simply by making themselves available to it, unlike men, who must woo and convince women to have sex with them. This cliché doesn’t actually apply to all women: the advances of an undesirable woman are seen as horrific or even threatening in so many tired comedies. Wynbrandt situates her character Gina in exactly this space: if it’s only a matter of availability, why isn’t she getting laid? In order for a woman to be wanted, she must already be wanted, but she can’t project too much sexuality or risk seeming desperate (remember when I noted the ever-increasing impossibility of standards earlier?). What compounds and frustrates the Gina character too is that she has more avenues and outlets to connect to sex than ever, via the internet, dating apps, etc. The blackest humor here lies in the chasm between theory and practice: desperation spirals, the grotesquerie of her drawings increases. “ANYONE could take advantage of me right now,” a teenage Gina exclaims after drinking “an entire beer” — only to be literally looked down on with pity in the next panel.
Wynbrandt is an artist whose progression shows over the four years of work included in this volume, and it’s obvious this progression is hard-won: the draftsmanship improves, the gags hit faster and harder, and she grows more and more willing to plunge head first into totally pathetic depravity with each piece. The style of Someone focuses on the essential, with few details in the drawings that don’t suit the gags. The book also rides out the cresting wave of the Risograph aesthetic, with pink and blue coloring, for a pleasing, sometimes teenage diary-esque effect.
Wynbrandt doesn’t play these stories for applause at her own bravery, or in the name of contemporary ideas about body-positivity or acceptance. She plays them for straight laughs at her character’s own desperation. However, there are still small moments where empathy (not sympathy, which so much new work stabs at) takes hold: take for example the panels where she struggles to pull her sexiest dress over her body, or caking Teenage Spirit on under her shirt. It’s these quieter moments where you truly come to empathize with someone who has to live up to a standard, or act as a performer, before she can be a human.
The most recently completed story, “Manhunt” from 2016, draws the deepest and blackest comedy from the juxtaposition of an erotic, softcore video-game where the player is given undeniable sexual appeal plus professional power, versus the character’s real-life casual sexual partner, whom she is denied not only sexual autonomy, but even courtesy as a human being — the book ends with his simply saying “don’t” as Gina tries to strike her sexiest pose. While this book is deeply funny, the undercurrent of rage of someone who “shouldn’t even be around” as an undesirable is there, and I can’t wait to see how it manifests next.