MARTHA THOMASES: Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker was a poet, short story writer and critic for The New Yorker in its heyday. When I was first writing, I wanted to be Dorothy Parker. Well, actually, I wanted to be Nora Ephron, who wrote a column in Esquire at the time, and who said that she had once wanted to be Dorothy Parker. A quick trip to the library, and I had an entertaining week reading her poetry. You probably know at least one of her poems, “News Item,” which goes:
Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
Her literary and theatrical criticism, under the nom-de-plume of Constant Reader, was also hilarious, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can catch up with her poems, short stories and reviews in the omnibus Portable Dorothy Parker.
Mostly, however, she was celebrated for being the only woman at the Algonquin Round Table. In a group that included Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, George S. Kaufman, Harpo Marx, Alexander Woollcott and others, Parker was the only woman considered witty enough to be a regular (although Edna Ferber and Jane Grant, Ross’ wife, sat in occasionally).
It was an attractive fantasy for an unpopular girl in boarding school. I was not a person who got to sit at a table with boys. The only males who listened to me were my teachers, who were paid for it. Naturally, I looked for a way to be sought after, instead of merely tolerated. I spent the next twenty years writing, trying to earn my place at the table. If only I had known that the easiest thing to do was to work for a comic book publisher.
I’d freelanced for Marvel in the 1980s, but being on staff at DC was an entirely different animal. All of a sudden, I had everyone’s telephone number, and if I called someone for no apparent reason, my call was still answered happily. I could go to one of the Warner Bros. movie screenings and have people save me a seat. I could sit at any table at any bar near a convention and be welcome. In fact, I was often the only woman at the table.
It was heady stuff. True, these were not the prep school boys whose attention I had craved in my teens, but instead comic book editors, artists and writers. They were often smart and funny, but hardly ever blond or WASPy. Still, it felt as if I was sitting at the table with the cool kids. I was getting laughs telling jokes to guys who weren’t my husband. This was better than therapy!
It was fun, but it wasn’t enough.
It can get lonely being the only woman at the table. No one else notices shoes. Guys may talk about who’s stronger, Hulk or Superman, but they don’t talk about who’s cuter, Dick Grayson or Peter Parker. For the most part, they’d rather sit and drink another round instead of going for a walk through the mall (not that I shop, really, but when you live in Manhattan, a mall is an exotic adventure).
I had been dazzled by the attention for a while, but eventually I started to focus.
Now, I’m one of those old-school feminists, one who was first radicalized in the early 1970s. Gloria Steinem put my consciousness-raising group together. My best friends have always been women, and my female friends have always been important to me. I’ve had some of the same friends since junior high school, and made more at every stage of my life. I knew some women who worked in comics, including Trina Robbins and Mimi Pond, but I’d met them through writing for the Village Voice, not comics.
Luckily, even in the boys’ club that was comics in the 1990s, there were lots of interesting women in the business. I met Heidi MacDonald, Anina Bennett and lots more than I could ever list here who shared my love of comics and my desire to introduce more readers of all ages and genders to the medium.
Through Friends of Lulu, I met even more. By the end of the decade, when I was ready for a break from the business end, we had made the tables bigger. I think Dotty would have had a good time sitting with us.
Martha Thomases is the Media Queen of ComicMix. Howard Chaykin, when he heard how much she liked Dorothy Parker, recommended Dawn Powell. He was right.