Diane Noomin was a pioneering female voice in the revolutionary underground comic scene of the 1960s, but she never stopped speaking.
The artist and writer – who lived the last 34 years of his life in Connecticut and died on September 1 at the age of 75 – continued to be a unique voice in comics for decades. She was best known for her outrageous, gloriously emancipated character DiDi Glitz and for a sly satirical style that made her work fun and accessible. But she was also revered as a teacher, editor, and artist whose work spanned sculpture and theater.
A retrospective of Noomin’s shorter works, “Glitz-2-Go”, was published by major comic book publisher Fantagraphics Press in 2012. His introduction to the book provides a factual account of his life and work. The scale is remarkable. She was part of the Wimmen’s Comix collective in the early 1970s, co-founder of “Twisted Sisters Comics” in 1976, editor of the anthology “Lemme Outa Here: Growing Up Inside the American Dream” on childhood difficulties in the suburbs and contributed to some of the most influential underground comics of the time. And that was only the 1970s.
In the 1980s, its most famous character, DiDi Glitz, became the star of a musical created by San Francisco’s all-girl theater group Les Nickelettes.
In the 1990s, Noomin co-edited two “Twisted Sisters” anthologies of “bad girl art” – a variant of the idealized and sexist erotic term “good girl art” that was part of comic books, pulp fiction and magazines. for men since the 1930s. – which brought a slew of underground artists above ground. The books were available at chain bookstores and shopping malls, introducing readers to a new generation of female comic book artists. The collections were drawn from the relationships Noomin and her longtime friend and fellow cartoonist/editor Aline Kominsky-Crumb had established through “Twisted Sisters Comics”, which they began publishing in 1976.
In 2011, Noomin’s work was part of an exhibit at the Yeshiva University Museum titled “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women”.
In recent years, she has edited “Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival,” published by austere art book publisher Abrams in 2019.
Underground comics (or “comix”, as they are often called) were known for breaking taboos, whether satirizing mainstream icons like Mickey Mouse or depicting drug use. illicit or explore explicit sexual themes. Unfortunately, much of the sexual content was male-dominated and misogynistic.
Noomin was a powerful voice that was heard in the middle of the male maelstrom. His comics encourage self-expression, poke fun at self-centered men (“I Married a Hypochondriac”), advise on midlife dating (“Puttin’ on the Glitz”), normalize sexual trivialities (“Rubberware “) and the anxiety of coming out (“Lesbo-a-go-go”). All of Noomin’s work is marked by a mischievous sense of humor, whatever the sensitive subject matter.
DiDi Glitz was a self-proclaimed modern glamor girl who, in her introduction to “Glitz-2-Go”, Noomin describes as “a vehicle for satire but also a non-personal character that I could put on to mask very personal issues while still keeping a safe distance.” Eventually, Noomin will insert himself as a character in DiDi’s adventures, arguing wildly with his own alter ego.
Noomin was married for more than 40 years to Bill Griffith, another underground comic legend whose daily strip “Zippy the Pinhead” runs in the comic section of the Hartford Courant. Griffith met Noomin in 1972 through a mutual friend, cartoonist Art Spiegelman (now famous for “Maus”), who invited the two to dinner. “I did my best to impress her,” Griffith recalled. Besides the comics, the couple had a lot in common. They were both born in Brooklyn, both dropped out of college, and both ended up in San Francisco.
Griffith says their move to Hadlyme, Connecticut in 1998 started as a “recreational house hunt” suggested by an artist friend they used to visit in Lyme, and became “one of those turning points where you really want to do something different”.
The couple collaborated on several projects. Noomin’s DiDi Glitz made a guest appearance in a series of Griffith “Zippy” strips “as early as 1976 or 1977,” Griffith recalled. Noomin herself appears in Griffith’s 2015 book “Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist”. The “graphic memoirs” concern Griffith’s belated attempt to uncover details of an adulterous relationship his mother had in the 1950s and 1960s. Noomin appears throughout the book as a supportive partner, a sounding board for the Griffith’s guesses as he finds more clues to the family mystery, and often as the most balanced piece of the story. “Your mom loved stripping herself of her housewife persona,” she says at one point. Their marriage, with its easy flow of conversation, contrasts with the secretive, distant, and dysfunctional relationship between Griffith’s parents.
“It was me writing down something that was happening all the time,” Griffith says of Noomin’s role in “Invisible Ink.” “Diane has always been my first audience, my first critic. She was incredibly sharp and skillful. Every criticism she gave me, I took very seriously. In the book, she comments on my mother’s 16-year love affair in a way I can’t. She’s critical in a way that I couldn’t be.
One of the key figures in Noomin’s career was Kominsky-Crumb, another cartoonist in San Francisco’s burgeoning art scene of the 1960s. Kominsky married underground comics icon Robert Crumb in 1978, and Noomin contributed comics edited by Kominsky-Crumb and Crumb.
Griffith explains that “when Diane arrived in San Francisco with a vague idea of getting involved in the comic book scene, Aline looked at her sketchbooks, free-form comic books she had been doing since she was was a kid, and said, ‘Do something in the right format, and we’ll go to Wimmen’s Comix.’”
Noomin and Kominsky-Crumb became members of the legendary collective of female artists who released the landmark “Wimmen’s Comix” series, but the pair left due to artistic differences and started their own projects.
“They thought it was like a cult within another religion,” Griffith said. “They didn’t fit the vision there, which was a bit humorless, I thought. They were trying to do something noble and dignified but they weren’t totally in tune with the political line. Diane was still involved in “Wimmen’s Comix”, but what she did was more satirical and self-deprecating. She thought that while she was enjoying it as her debut, she didn’t “feel like one of the girls”.
Noomin taught, and Griffith continues to teach, at the School of Visual Art in New York, one of the most prestigious comics programs in the world. Noomin taught a class on “personal comics,” the genre of sensitive autobiographical works that have transformed the medium of comics over the past 20 or so years.
Griffith says Noomin had been working on a book about her parents, an extension of shorter plays she had done over the years about her unusual childhood. She learned when she was older that her parents had been Russian spies, making her a so-called “Red Diaper Baby”. There were regular visitors to her family’s home whom she knew as “uncles coming to visit” but who were actually part of an “Underground Railroad” operation her father ran “when the FBI harassed the American communists,” says Griffith.
The title of the book, which she never finished, comes from a phrase her father used to say: “Well, back to abnormal.”
While in Connecticut, Noomin returned to one of her first artistic loves, sculpture.
“She had done sculpture when she was younger, and living here she went back to doing traditional clay sculpture,” says Griffith. “But in the last two or three years she has also done these bas-relief faces of Didi Glitz characters. She painted them with these bright and bold colors. We think the ancient Greek statues are white and plain, but they were found to be very brightly painted. She wanted these sculptures to be that: cartoonish, funny.
DiDi Glitz fully deserves to be a Greek Goddess, and Diane Noomin deserves acclaim as one of the funniest, sharpest, and most progressive minds in American comics.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at [email protected].