Dykes to Watch Out For
) is a comic strip
by Alison Bechdel
. The strip began in 1983.
DTWOF chronicles the lives, loves, and politics of a fairly diverse group of characters (most of them lesbians) living in a medium-sized city in the United States, featuring both humorous soap-opera storylines and biting topical commentary. The strip is carried in Funny Times and a number of gay and lesbian newspapers, and also posted on the web.
According to Bechdel, her strip is "half op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel". Characters react to the contemporary events including going to the Michigan Womyn's Festival, Gay Pride parades and protest marches and having heated discussions about day-to-day events, political issues and the changing lesbian culture. The strip is one of the most successful and longest-running queer comic strips.
On May 10, 2008, Bechdel announced that she was putting the strip on indefinite hiatus in order to complete her graphic novel memoir Love Life, due in late 2009.
The central characters include:
- Mo Testa (given name Monica), the central character, a politically committed lesbian feminist with a tendency to kvetch. Previously a worker at Madwimmin Bookstore who then worked briefly at Bounders Books and Muzak (a parody of Borders Books and Music) while earning a library science degree before getting a job as a reference librarian.
- Lois McGiver, a sex-positive activist, drag king, a clerk at Bounders Books and Muzak (formerly at Madwimmin) and housemate to Ginger and Sparrow, currently dating single mother Jasmine, mother of transgender teenager Janis (originally introduced as Jonas).
- Ginger Jordan, a struggling academic and English professor at Buffalo Lake State University, whose star student Cynthia is interning at the CIA despite coming out to her parents. Longtime housemate of Lois and Sparrow, Ginger has now bought a house with Samia, a Syrian Muslim chemist in a marriage of convenience to a man.
- Sparrow Pidgeon (birth name Prudence), former women's shelter director and New Ager-turned-atheist, who identifies herself as a "bisexual lesbian" and is currently involved with a straight Jewish male activist and stay-at-home dad, Stuart Goodman, with whom she has had a child, Jiao Raizel (or J.R.). Lois and Stuart are currently homeschooling Janis and J.R. Sparrow and Ginger had purchased the house they shared with Lois (and later Stuart) after rooming together for years; Ginger recently moved out, and the group was able to buy Ginger out of the house by Sparrow taking the Executive Director position at the state NARAL office.
- Clarice Clifford, a workaholic environmental lawyer and college girlfriend of Mo's.
- Toni Ortiz, a CPA and business manager, who has a child with Clarice; she was a stay-at-home-mom for several years while raising their son Rafael Clifford-Ortiz (or Raffi). Toni and Clarice have had a commitment ceremony in the backyard, a civil union in Vermont, and a (not legally recognized by the state) marriage at City Hall. They are now exploring the phenomenon of divorcing without court involvement. Clarice has moved in with Sparrow, Stuart and Lois, taking the room recently vacated by Ginger.
- Dr. Sydney Krukowski, an academically involved, materialistic, yuppie Women's Studies professor with a compulsive spending habit, Mo's lover and recently a breast cancer survivor.
- Jezanna Ramsay (birth name Alberta), manager of the late lesbian bookstore Madwimmin Books, which also employed Mo, Lois, and Thea, a Jewish lesbian with multiple sclerosis who was Sydney's lover in college. Since the closure of Madwimmin due to financial woes, Thea and Jezanna seldom appear. We have learned that Jezanna now teaches English as a second language, and Thea is teaching art to kids.
Only some of the characters' surnames are known, since such names appear only when it is appropriate to the dialogue (when Ginger and Sydney, as college instructors, are addressed as "Professor Jordan" and "Dr. Krukowski," for instance) and are not established from the beginning.
The strip has had a number of strip collections, including:
- Dykes to Watch Out For (1986)
- More Dykes to Watch Out For (1988)
- New, Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For (1990)
- Dykes to Watch Out For: The Sequel (1992)
- Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For (1993)
- Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For (1995)
- Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For (1997)
- Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For (1998)
- Post-Dykes to Watch Out For (2000)
- Dykes and Other Carbon-Based Life-Forms to Watch Out For (2003)
- Invasion of the Dykes To Watch Out For (2005)
The first of these collections contains miscellaneous, individual strips; the serialized story centered around Mo begins halfway through the second collection, More Dykes to Watch Out For.
Beginning with the third book Bechdel began including graphic "novellas" at the end of each book. Some have been flashbacks, such as the tale of how everyone met in Unnatural Dykes To Watch Out For, or Serial Monogamy, Bechdel's humorous "documentary" on lesbian relationships but most have advanced the plot in new and interesting ways, such as Raffi's birth at the end of Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For.
While not a compilation, The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For
(1998) includes many of the strips Bechdel published in calendars, a timeline of the strip to date, and a fanciful "tour" of the "factory" where "Dykes To Watch Out For" is produced.
As with Bechdel's popular autobiographical novel, Fun Home
, DTWOF includes many literary allusions. For example, the name chosen for Sydney Krukowski references Stanley Kowalski
, a character from A Streetcar Named Desire
. Sydney also drinks Loch Lomond
, a favorite drink of two characters from The Adventures of Tintin
The Bechdel test
The strip popularized what is now known as the Bechdel test
, also known as the Bechdel/Wallace test
, the Bechdel rule
, Bechdel's law
, and the Mo Movie Measure
. Bechdel credits her friend Liz Wallace for the test, which appears in a 1985 strip entitled " The Rule
", in which a character says that she only watches a movie
if it satisfies the following requirements:
- It has to have at least two women in it,
- Who talk to each other,
- About something besides a man.
The name Mo Movie Measure is a misnomer as neither Mo nor the other regular characters had been introduced yet at the time of this strip's publication.