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Jane Caminos: That’s Ms Bulldyke To You, Charlie!

Jane Caminos is an artist whose body of work since the mid 1970s has focused solely on the life experiences of women. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Caminos’ canvases are bold and vibrant, the colors describing shapes in a decorative manner that attracts the eye. At times the subject is a single woman, other times a pair, or small groups. Size and shape are all a delight. Their expressions and gestures tell stories but the fuller meanings might not be grasped by those without shared experiences. They may look at each other or cast their gaze at something between them and the outside world. On occasion their faces look directly outward as if waiting to have a conversation with the next woman from the outside world who happens upon this or that painting, the invitation implicity extended through Caminos’ informal style. For example, a smile can belie a tragedy as is the case with the two women depicted in Cherries In The Snow. Caminos’ partner’s great Aunt Ruth casially stands next to her “special friend” against a background of reindeer amidst stylized snow drifts festooned with cherries. The two women lived together in Greenwich Village in the 1930s until one day Ruth was strangled to death by her lover whose name has been lost to time. Each painting in Her On Women Bound series is made with the intent to raise awareness of crimes against women regardless of country, culture, or religion.

In 1991 and 1992 Caminos created a series of one off cartoons that were collected in the 150 page paperback titled That’s Ms Bulldyke To You, Charlie! Madwoman Press published the volume in November, 1992. The book was a finalist in the humor category for the 1992 Lambda Literary Awards. Other finalists included The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green (Eric Orner), The Night Audrey’s Vibrator Spoke (Andrea Natalie), and BB and the Diva (Rupert Kinnard). Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For: The Sequel was the category winner that year.

Inside the covers Caminos used humor and wit to explore the joys of being a woman, of loving women, dating and relationships, sex, body image, coming out and acceptance, culture, and politics. The energy of Caminos’ line art defining these women’s bodies – bodies of all sizes and shapes like her paintings – is more kinetic even when their poses are meant to be quiet and contemplative. Backgrounds when they exist are usually minimal – their bodies are sufficient to ground themselves. Caminos drew them free of panel borders, free of patriarchal social expectations and conventions. Unlike the women in her paintings who were silent, the women of these cartoons all have something to say, even when their words are unspoken Caminos reveals their thoughts on, desires for the women around them or of their own lives and insecurities. They eat, laugh, cry, argue, have sex, some are care free while others are high strung

It was quite accidentally that I stumbled on Caminos’ book of cartoons earlier this year while searching on the Internet for copies of another rare queer comic. While that other comic proved elusive and still is, I couldn’t let a copy of this rarity pass me by too. Unlike Alison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For strip which was syndicated in various local LGBTQ newspapers across the United States, this book seems to be the only instance of the cartoons being published publicly as far as I can tell from the limited information available online.

Likewise, little information exists online about Caminos’ publisher. Madwoman Press was a small, independent publisher whose first book was offered in 1982 and its last book seeing print in 1998. A total of nineteen books in its catalog across seventeen years; 1993 was its busiest year with five books including That’s Ms Bulldyke To You, Charlie! Several Madwoman Press books are available for checkout through the Internet Archive’s Open Library. Unfortunately Ms Bulldyke isn’t one of those books and the few copies available for purchase through a couple online stores are going for upwards of $35.

Visit Caminos at her site and on Instagram. The artist is represented by Fogue Studios.

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