Tuesday, June 18, 2024 Jun 18, 2024
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Marian Henley’s discovery of the Maxine within her

Marian Henley is fine-lined and ladylike. She has an indignant mass of red hair and barely opaque white skin, about which she is alternately proud and defensive. She once went around introducing herself as “Cookie Fortune,” She uses expressions like “Yikes!” She admits to having spent no time in her adult life without a beau. She’s thirty-one years old. She’s seen at nearly all sorts of arty parties, and seems to know everyone at them. Her heroes are Lewis Carroll, Max Fleischer, Charlie Chaplin, and Lillian Hellman.

Maxine Pince-Nez is a shopping junkie who once married her credit card. Doctors say she lives in a fantasy world. She leads a colorful life within the confines of a black and white comic strip.

Maxine Pince-Nez is cartoonist Marian Henley’s creation, mouthpiece, and alter-ego. Together they struggle with the complicated times we live in- particularly the changes that the feminist movement has wrought-weekly in The Dallas Morning News, the LA. Weekly, Santa Barbara News and Review, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Suggest to Marian that she’s a flesh-and-blood Maxine. and she’s incredulous. Pursue the topic and the distinctions between “she” and “I” lessen.

Marian sees Maxine as “a small-town girl that came to the city with an innocent egomania. She can go into situations and have it not even occur to her that she might gaffe.” Marian, for her part, is not one to gaffe. She was raised, most politely, in Highland Park. Her father is a lawyer, her mother a Southern lady. She went to Highland Park schools until high school, then to a girls’ boarding school in Virginia. She received a BA in studio art and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Scripps College. She returned to Dallas nine years ago.

In 1980, Marian discovered the Maxine within her. She had been wanting to express the delights of the party-girl life, but couldn’t decide if words or pictures would say it best.

A wild party one weekend, “an apocalyptic experience,” provided the final catalyst. “I had been trying to write something about it. but prose wasn’t enough. Two days after that party, I just went into my studio and. . .bam! It just fell out of my head.” The first pieces-colorful, captioned paintings on black backgrounds-were girls just having fun: at parties, on the town. After a year, the paintings developed into comic strips.

Maxine has “this wonderful absence of mind,” says Marian, “1 give her more freedom than I give myself to be angry, hateful, aggressive, spiteful, manipulative. I let her be a lot more human than I let myself be.

“I was raised in a Southern-belle context. I’ve always been trying to smash surfaces. My core self is a strange hybrid; the product of intensive Southern-belle training, but also strong, striving, and action-oriented.”

Feminism in the strip is satirically portrayed in sometimes brutal forms of role reversal: caveman-like women grabbing for what they want. But it also looks at the stereotypes that women still battle: vanity, jealousy, love addiction. A thesis from the Maxine School of Social Research gives a sense of Maxine’s nature: “A woman has her Dignity and no man should ignore that. Unless she wants him to.” As Marian says, “It’s a different kind of feminism, but the theme of female solidarity is there.”

Maxine used to be a femme fatale. but now she’s “actually come to the conclusion that men are human beings” and manipulating men is less of a| theme than it once was. In fact, says Marian, “I don’t believe as many of the myths about myself and the world in general as 1 used to.” Maxine is not all feminism, not just party girling. It’s “the politics of liberation.” a free-floating sensibility, life in the wacky Eighties. It’s a lot of Marian, a little of everyone else. “It’s-you know.” says Marian, “the Maxine state of mind.”