For my dear friend Patty Jeres
In marking Bisexual Visibility Day (as late as this may be today) I thought I would forego focusing on bisexual characters in today’s mainstream superhero books, which is most definitely a worthwhile topic to discuss, in favor of talking about one of comics’ pioneering bisexual characters. Who is that, you ask? Her name is Pudge and she was created by Lee Marrs as the star in Marrs tour de force series “The Further Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp” which ran for a handful of issues from 1973 to 1977.
Marrs’ Pudge is an overweight girl who’s unpopular at school and and decides at age 17 she’s had more than enough of her parents’ strict upbringing in aptly named Normal, IL (yes, that’s the city’s actual name) and runs away to San Francisco — “Home of a million dreams, a billion schemes, sexual freedom, spiritual truth, and thousands of punch drunk seagulls”. Trouble is Pudge arrived without any arrangements. Hijinks ensue starting when she spends a few days as a vagrant until she’s arrested farcically soliciting an undercover vice cop. After her release Pudge’s base for her further adventures is established when she rents a room in a communal building which serves as
hers and the readers introduction to an assortment of counter cultural and liberal characters in Pudge’s unabashed quest to have sex. It’s just that Pudge can only see herself having sex with a man, the majority of whom have no sexual interest in her. If the lack of interest is because of Pudge’s weight it’s immaterial to both Pudge and Marrs because despite rejection and lack of opportunity the message here is about self acceptance, self respect, and finding one’s place in the world through experience and self examination. That message is just as powerful today in our media saturated society as it was in seemingly more simple times of 1973. Not to say that Pudge doesn’t experience doubt and has a lot to learn about herself and life. After all, she is 17 and Marrs gave voice to all her female characters from an aging prostitute who tells Pudge while in jail for her second arrest that sex feels like nothing to the women in a self help clinic helping each other discover and self-treat their own genitals.
And yes, finally the possibility of sex seems promising when quite by accident Pudge meets a man who’s interested in her. The only trouble is he’s an undercover detective. It’s also the cliffhanger ending of the issue and I don’t own issue #2 though from the recap in #3 it seems Pudge and Jethro (yes, that’s his name!) experienced coitus killing capers! One panel condensed a scene in which Pudge’s friend Jane raised the idea of the pair having sex only for Jane to become exasperated by Pudge’s naivete.
Jane figures prominently in #3 as Marrs follows up Jane’s proposition in the opening story. Bringing up Jethro, Jane matter of factly tells Pudge she thinks Jethro can’t handle her. “Shit, dumpling — you better just forget him. Move on, kid. What about the rest of us who like you?!! What are we — bubblegum wrappers? You and your goddam one-track choochoo!” Marrs follows this pretext with a three page sequence of Jane using her considerable masseuse skills to seduce Pudge and give her an amazing first orgasm and have Pudge return the act for Jane. It’s beautiful and tender and electrifying in its directness. In the blissful moments following them having sex, Marrs took the opportunity to deliver such a most deftly explained case against labels that it’s best served by giving you the panels to read for yourself.
A little later Marrs revisited the idea of labels when she has Pudge confess to Jane confusion over her still having a desire to have sex with a man. The message once again and clarified is there numerous possibilities beyond straight and gay/ lesbian.
The idea of experiencing sex with a man is still on Pudge’s mind when she runs into Skeets, a man she knows from a grassroots political office, at a political party. They can’t get away to the privacy of a bedroom fast enough to rip off their clothes and cut through the sexual tension. Marrs showed tender, fumblinh moments of foreplay between them before switching to show Skeet’s building excitement and Pudge’s profound disappointment that leads her to wonder if the prostitute who told her in issue #1 that sex is nothing was correct. The morning after Pudge’s female roommates learn she had sex with a man and insist on taking her to a clinic to start some type of birth control. Marrs used a humorous tone to highlight the responsibility of birth control being while jabbing at the reality that it unfairly burdens women, which makes me think of the maddening and callous efforts of the past decade or so by conservatives to dismantle women’s health care.
The humorously titled “Can I Interest Ya in a Climax? chapter details Pudge and Skeets second tryst. This time the experience is every bit as toe stretching, earth moving, waves crashing good for Pudge as sex was with Jane. Pudge enjoyed sex so much that Skeets is utterly dismayed over the next day by how much Pudge tries to initiate it. And that right there — the idea that women could initiate sex — was once (and still is to some) a groundbreaking and shocking idea.
Marrs wrapped up Pudge’s story with her surprise birthday celebration thrown by her communal roommates. There’s much merriment and food and of course cake and wish making while blowing out candles. Pudge has had a realization from her birthday – she’s experiencing satisfaction in life and while Skeets may have disappeared, Jane is still part of her life and beginning to understand that her life is wide open to possibilities!
When Marrs first began Pudge Girl Blimp in 1973 the identity politics of America were decidedly split between the majority straight population and gays and lesbians who maintained almost exclusive camps separating themselves. One of the widely held stereotyped ideas about bisexuality was it was a phase people went through and they would sooner or later figure out if they were gay, lesbian, straight; just as was the belief a bisexual person couldn’t be trusted until they decided. Sadly, these negative ideas about bisexual people still exist in other people’s minds and is especially disheartening when encountered coming from gays and lesbians who know well the sting of judgment from others based on whom and how we love. Let’s hope and work for more empathy for and acceptance of the bisexual community in the coming years.
Pudge Girl Blimp deserves to be discovered and read by a new audience. Thankfully the issues have been gathered and printed in a trade and can be purchased on Amazon unless you prefer diligently tracking down and spending more for original copies. Please visit Lee Marrs site.