"You're cute, like a velvet glove cast in iron. And like a gas chamber, Varla, a real fun gal," Lori Williams tells Tura Satana in Russ Meyer’s 1965 Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! A director who created his own language of sexploitation and menace, Meyer used film to skate a thin line between titillation and disorientation: a black-and-white world with its own ferocious logic and bone-cracking justice, delivered by women whose bodies visually dominate the frame and whose lawlessness excite the imagination. To love this type of exploitation is to get sucked into its world: asking questions and dragging your feet is not only futile, but makes its antagonists only that much more vicious.
Ryan Heshka’s Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn creates a perfect extension of one of Meyer’s black-and-white worlds, adding feverish pinks to the mix. Serving up full throttle exploitation with its eponymous gang, Heshka swerves into pop surrealism and sly satire, touching on both the gorgeous and grotesque with equal ease. The comic opens in a haze of “mid-century madness,” with a melee shootout between the girls and the authorities. The gang--Sweets, Wanda, Wendy, Pinky, Blackie, and McQualude--are fighting an eternal battle against the corrupt Mayor Schlomo and his evil cronies, which include a perpetually drunk judge bent on frying the girls and a perverse priest/nun duo aiming to turn the youth into sex zombies. Roxy, one of the few pure souls in the town, is at one point pitted against the girls by Mayor Schlomo so she can finally collect a long overdue paycheck from him.
Heshka’s style oscillates between Fletcher Hanks and the Lowbrow movement for a super accomplished, infectiously readable story where the emotion is always at 11. The dialogue may owe a bit more to John Waters than mid-century exploitation: “Just because you got two cantaloupes and a wiener warmed don’t think you’ll ever milk a cent out of me!” the Mayor screams at Roxy, reminiscent of Divine as a man berating Divine as a girl in Female Trouble. The real meanness is situated in its design: every character’s brow is furrowed at all times, its panels jar diagonally across every page, knives and nails and cigarette smoke swirl together for an aesthetic experience that’s sharp and poisonous.
There is an unexpected sweetness to the girls, though, who its revealed have all rescued each other from some torture or another, even if they also occasionally nail each other in the face with planks. This seems to be the angle the marketing for the book is trying to come from, maybe goofily: calling it “stereotype busting” seems a bit off-target, unless Heshka himself is on a personal crusade to say Tura Satana and her ilk were actually just fiction’s misunderstood good girls (they weren’t). Heshka’s main targets of distrust are religion and government, both perverse from corruption, but the struggle in Mean Girls Club isn’t with the deviants so much as the systems that put the wrong kind of deviants in power. It may not be a slam dunk resistance parable the copy wants it to be, but why would that be worth making? Let Mean Girls be mean.