Fantagraphics has just released a collection of comics from Dame Darcy, the Mermaid-identified cartoonist and sometime reality show star, in the form of Meat Cake Bible. Ornately designed by Keeli McCarthy, the die-cut hardcover opens to a scene of Dickensian magical realist debauchery, featuring some of Darcy’s core cast of characters, such as Strega Pez, Effluvia the mermaid, and Wax Wolf. They all live in Sobriety Straight, a Victorian hellscape/dreamscape, wherein the dozens of short stories from the Meat Cake comics took place, published by Fantagraphics from 1993-2008. The strips reflect the giddy viciousness of the best Riot Grrrl art and music from the early nineties, with a collection of mostly (white) women characters as cackling demonesses, taking up space and being loud. The floppy individual issue Meat Cake comic books, published by Fantagraphics during the rise of the 1990s ‘zine culture, seemed to revel in their cheapness, so the lush production might seem like a beautiful, tender joke in some ways to those familiar with the original issues.
Darcy’s hatching-heavy art style can take time to get used to; I showed the book to a fairly comics-fluent housemate, and he said, “What am I looking at? There are so many lines!” The lettering is often claustrophobic and dense, but the amount of visual noise is worth parsing through.
The Idaho-raised cartoonist, animator, and performance artist frequented the art scenes of LA, NYC, and SF, and she lives today in Savannah, Georgia. Darcy describes in her afterword that “I got into goth (thanks to the ‘80s death rock scene), I was really into what is now Lolita, and I’m happy that that has thrived--along with the trans/bi/LGBT community, comic book geeks, punks and freaks…”
With shades of short story writers like Aimee Bender, A beam of heavenly light impregnates a young virgin, but the birth turns out to be all amniotic fluid. Effluvia the mermaid solves the problem of being on land by just hopping into a wheelchair, because of course she does. A young woman lives with a giant Pez candy bloodily sticking out of her neck, her head at an askance angle. The book includes a photo gallery, diagrams for paper dolls, and comics made from stories by the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, and Alan Moore. Like Andersen, whose “Little Mermaid” provides influence for Effluvia, Darcy’s stories are violent, funny, problematic, riotous, and life-affirming. These comics, full of pointy tits, ghosts, scary dolls, and Victorian dresses, influenced a generation of women artists, such as Tuesday Bassen. Rapists are attacked, friendships are made, and dolls are possessed. Margaret Cho is blurbed as saying, “Dame Darcy’s world gave me solace in a time when I longed for beauty, yet there was none to be found.” I can see why.