One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its eighty-sixth choice, Sensible Footwear – A Girl’s Guide, by Kate Charlesworth and reviewed by Tripwire’s contributing writer Joe Gordon…
Sensible Footwear – A Girl’s Guide
Writer/ Artist: Kate Charlesworth
Kate is a veteran of the UK cartooning scene, from her Twice Nightly strip in the Manchester Evening News in the early 70s to work with the Guardian, New Scientist The Pink Paper and more, in addition to longer form works like the quite superb Sally Heathcote, Suffragette (with Mary and Bryan Talbot), and of course her much-beloved character Auntie Studs (some of which she has been reposting daily during Lockdown on her Twitter). Sensible Footwear has been a labour of love, years in the making; I would hear bits and pieces about it and I was eager to read it. It was well worth the wait.
The book is partly Kate’s story, from her birth in 1950s Barnsley through to growing up, feeling different, trying to figure out what she wanted, who she was (this in a time when sexuality – especially anything deviating from the Sacred Norm – was simply not discussed), to that great life experience of moving out of the home, going off to college and the freedom to explore yourself more, meeting new people, new ideas, through to the women’s movements of the 70s and beyond, the LGBT groups springing up, especially in the wake of Stonewall, fighting for fairness and equality that anyone should have. And just as Sally Heathcote pointed out that the Suffragette movement was never “just” about getting the vote for women, but about fighting for a whole raft of social problems to be solved, from poverty to health to education, Sensible Footwear shows that those women’s movements and the gay rights movements were not just fighting for rights for themselves, but for those rights to be enjoyed by everyone (consider, for instance how the authorities would use the vague wording of the Obscene Publications Act to try and shut down gay publications or bookshops, but then also use the same act against any other groups they didn’t care for, from the infamous Oz trial to Knockabout Comics’ Tony BenneTt fighting them and HM Customs to reprint classic underground comix).
Woven through Kate’s story is a walk through the Queer history of British culture, from the days when homosexuality wasn’t merely frowned on but actually illegal, but still appearing with wonderful cheek in mainstream popular culture through radio shows like Round the Horne to looking for role models and idols wherever they could be found in that more repressed era of society (Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman in The Avengers, powerful, sassy women who took no nonsense, the wonderful Dusty Springfield, of course). As it does, the book reminds the reader that no matter your orientation, that gay culture has been a part of the general British pop culture for decades, even when some weren’t overly aware of it, it was there, everyone shared it, it’s part of our landscape.
The artwork makes great use of colour and shading to suggest different times and subjects, switching to a more collage-style approach between eras, mashing up elements from different decades to give a flavour of the time. For those of us of a certain age this also leads to a number of highly enjoyable “Oh, I remember that or him or her”, be it the burning injustice of the vile, openly homophobic Section 28 imposed by the government, the devastation of the AIDS era (and the brutal, horrible way many in authority and the media used the diseases as a way not to offer help to sufferers but to stigmatise them further), or Edinburgh’ first Pride March. Gay, straight, trans, bi, pan or asexual, lots of these moments were important milestones in the way our shared society and culture has developed, and Sensible Footwear reminds us of that communal aspect of our culture. The book is also wonderfully, delightfully warm, often smile-inducing, laced with humour, leaving you with a similarly pleasurable feeling to having spent time drinking and chatting with an old friend.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far