The Ephemeral Archive: Bedroom Cultures in 1990s-Era Comics

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:40 AM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Rachel Miller, Ohio State University
Bedrooms of teenage girls were the foundation of feminist print media made during the most vibrant and complicated period of cultural production in feminist history. In 1992, the raucous call for “revolution girl style now” that defined an era of feminist activists as “Riot Grrrls” issued from girls’ bedrooms both real and imagined, as these spaces were transformed into hubs for the production and consumption of media with a feminist consciousness. As Kathleen Hanna, co-founder of Riot Grrrl, put it: “Girls’ bedrooms sometimes can be this space of real creativity. The problem is these bedrooms are all cut off from each other.”

A year after the Riot Grrrl movement gained momentum, Dan Clowes began serializing Ghost World (1993-97), a tale of two suburban outcast teenage girls, in his anthology Eightball. Both the comic and its filmic adaptation furnish protagonist and proto-Riot Grrrl Enid with a lush bedroom space in which she reads zines, indulges in bad TV, listens to punk music from the 1970s and 80s, and critiques the feminist glossy magazines of the time like Sassy. In my talk, I suggest that Enid’s bedroom can be productively understood as an “ephemeral archive”: a body of materials drawn together by Enid’s own desires and tastes that exists for a limited time in a temporary space. Connecting Enid’s bedroom to the bedrooms of other teenage girls making their own comics during the 1990s, such as Ariel Schrag, Sarah Dyer, Megan Kelso, and Ariel Bordeaux, I argue that these fleeting, ephemeral bedroom spaces constitute a unique archival mode for 1990s-era feminist discourse.