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All the Comics #7: Marty Links
By Shaenon K. Garrity
Thursday January 17, 2008 10:00:00 am
Our columnists are independent writers who choose subjects and write without editorial input from comiXology. The opinions expressed are the columnist's, and do not represent the opinion of comiXology.
Marty Links died, which feels strange, maybe because I didn't realize she was still alive, or maybe because just the other day I was sketching transvestites dressed like her female characters. I'm very attached to the late '40s/early '50s teen aesthetic epitomized by Links' Bobby Sox: gawky girls in men's shirts, rolled-up pants and saddle shoes, hair back in ponytails, limbs folded at nigh-impossible angles. It's such a great look.

Girls borrowed men's clothing in those days, maybe for some of the same reasons cartoonists borrowed men's names. In 1948, according to Lynn Peril's Pink Think, the look was so popular that Brooks Brothers introduced a line of men's shirts tailored for coeds, identical to the standard model except for extra fullness in the chestical region. (They also came in pastel colors, but so did the shirts for men; such, for better or for worse, was postwar fashion.) Links' rail-thin teenage characters don't need the Brooks Brothers modification; instead, they pile layer after layer of mismatched clothing over their ironing-board physiques and assure one another that they're devastating. "You know," says freckled Bobby Sox heroine Emmy Lou, modeling a straw hat, headkerchief, striped T-shirt, patterned men's shirt, baggy pants, and saddle shoes with the ubiquitous and titular bobby socks, "there's a possibility we just might be TOO attractive!"

I own one hardcover collection of Marty Links comics, Bobby Sox: The Life and Times of Emmy Lou, published in 1954. Since Wikipedia doesn't have an entry on Links, I'll have to crib from the back cover bio, by San Francisco Chronicle editor Joseph Henry Jackson, which begins: "Marty Links (she's Mrs. Alexander Arguello and has three children, although most of her fan mail comes to ‘Mr. Links') is a dark, bubblingly enthusiastic, five-foot, hundred-pound bundle of energy, talent and sparkling imagination."

Ah, 1954, you were so cute! Try addressing Trina Robbins as "Mrs. Steve Leialoha," or referring to me as a bubbly 150-pound bundle of anything, and the authorities will never find your corpse. But Jackson (he was Mr. Charlotte Cobden, although I don't know how his fan mail was typically addressed) clearly means well. He notes with pride that Links got her professional start in the Chronicle before launching her strip Bobby Sox, which at the time of his writing was serialized in over 150 papers and appeared in such exotic locales as Denmark, Trinidad, Hawaii and Alaska (all, at the time, foreign territory). As proof of "Marty's genius for getting inside the teen-ager," he cites the notables who wrote in to request original art, including Robert Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Guy Madison, and Robert Hutchins, former chancellor of the University of Chicago. Okay, I've heard of Ingrid Bergman.

"You can't convey in mere words the endearing, gentle-yet-tart flavor of Marty's work," writes Jackson, the same problem I find myself facing fifty years and change later. Marty Links had one of those loose, cheerful styles where every line seems to tumble naturally into place—charming to look at, impossible to reproduce. She excelled at ridiculous poses. Her girls are knock-kneed, her boys jug-eared, her hot rods collapsing under their 90-pound drivers. She could draw funny.

Martha Links Arguello drew Bobby Sox until 1979, retitling it Emmy Lou when bobby socks went out of style. She ended the strip, she told Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, because "everything I know about teenagers today is unprintable." Done with comics, she drew greeting cards and other commercial art, first for her own company and then for Hallmark, until retiring at 82. She was 90, and still painting watercolors, when she died. She drew her last sketch for a fan in the hospital the week before her death.

As much as Bobby Sox was a product of its time, on the level of craft it's timeless. You can see a lot of Marty Links in Jim Borgman's art for Zits, the same splayed limbs and ill-fitting clothes, not to mention some of the same problems with "getting inside the teen-ager" in a static daily strip; as Links was finally forced to address those out-of-date bobby socks, surely Borgman and Jerry Scott must someday face the grim fact that their teen protagonist has slouched into the 21st century still dressed like Kurt Cobain.

Emmy Lou bowed to the winds of change by acquiring a bobbed haircut, a mod wardrobe and a running crush on Steve McQueen, but she belonged in a world of hot rods and ponytails and billowy prom dresses. You can take the girl out of the bobby socks, but you can't take the bobby socks out of the girl.

I know Bobby Sox isn't one of the all-time greatest comic strips, but sometimes I like these little gems better than the acknowledged titans of the craft. It's cute and funny and it looks lovely, and Ingrid Bergman thought so, too. We should all leave such a legacy.

Previous: #6, Top 5 lists, part two
Next: #8, Highlisghts from the Garrity/Farago Art Collection
Image credits:

Shaenon K. Garrity is a manga editor at Viz Media and is best known for her webcomics Narbonic and Skin Horse.

All the Comics in the World is © Shaenon K. Garrity, 2010



klg19 (1 year ago)
Can I just say how much you crack me UP? This line:
"Try addressing Trina Robbins as "Mrs. Steve Leialoha," or referring to me as a bubbly 150-pound bundle of anything, and the authorities will never find your corpse. "
...had me HELPLESS with laughter.

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