When I was a kid, I really liked the syndicated comic strip Luann by Greg Evans. There are very few female protagonists in the funnies, and as a kid I couldn’t really relate to Cathy or Sally Forth. But Luann was an age I would be fairly soon, and like with Archie Comics, I looked at her pleasingly cartoony adventures as a guide to the whirlwind of romance, adventure, and hilarious misunderstandings I would enjoy as a teenager.
So it’s kind of a shame that the comic regularly renders my adult self incoherent with rage.
It’s hard to know where to start in listing the problems with the way Luann handles gender, but let’s start with the very basic: it contains some of the most brain-numbingly hackneyed gender essentialist humor I’ve ever seen. Now, the comics page is rife with ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ jokes, from the acerbic The Lockhorns to the gentle Hi and Lois, but that doesn’t excuse Luann. Nine out of ten Sunday strips return to the same tired well:
Women like pink! Men are dumb (but practical)! The sexes are forever a mystery to each other! This dated perspective does neither gender any favors (and of course presupposes that everyone in the world is cisgendered, so thanks for erasing a significant chunk of the population, Luann).
Then, of course, there’s all the slut-shaming. This mostly happens to Luann’s nemesis, cheerleader Tiffany. (Because cheerleaders are evil, of course. Although she appears to be the only one at their school, which would make anyone a little snappish.)
That’s the school guidance counselor angrily telling a student she looks cheap. Because that’s appropriate.
The whole thing is especially unpleasant because Evans lavishes so much attention on his rather adorable drawings of Tiffany in her not-particularly-revealing outfits. As Josh Fruhlinger of the Comics Curmudgeon put it, ‘it’s OK to include a lovingly detailed drawing of a teenage girl in a bikini in the comics, as long as you call her a tramp.’
Anyway, you’re wasting your breath, Miss Phelps. Tiffany was even slutty at eight years old:
But lest we think it’s only Tiffany’s navel that is the subject of hand-wringing horror, Evans makes sure to also slut-shame his protagonist:
You hear that, teenage tramps of the world? Your bared navels are not just tacky, they are immoral!
Then, of course, there are the straw feminists:
And did you know about all the ‘guy-bashing’ that occurs in this matriarchy in which we live? It’s a serious problem!
But as might be imagined, the strip is at its worst when it delves into romance. Or, uh, ‘romance.’ Like the time the school miscalculated the funds needed to send Luann’s class to Washington, D.C., and told Delta, the most civic-minded student in the school, that she couldn’t go. Enter Elwood, the creepy teenage millionaire with the hots for Luann. He offered to pay for Delta’s trip if Luann would go on a date with him. Luann’s friends pressured her into accepting, because of course a real friend would become a literal prostitute, albeit a G-rated one, for a friend, right?
‘Now it’s time for you to pay.’ SHUDDER SHUDDER SHUDDER
Or how about the time that Luann’s older brother Brad and his best friend TJ decided it would be hilarious good times to have TJ aggressively hit on Luann constantly, while he was living in her house?
Eventually Luann’s dad got wind of it and made the boys apologize, sparking a rare moment of reflection from Brad:
Oh, right being ambushed in safe spaces like her own bathroom by an adult man she thought she could trust was actually scary and upsetting for Luann! Wait, no, sexual harassment is flattering, isn’t it? Oh, TJ, you lovable scamp!
But by far the worst of Luann’s paramours is Gunther. Gunther is the nebbish nerd who has been in love with Luann forever. He’s a quintessential Nice Guy, and not in a good way the kind of guy who thinks that his pathetic, passive aggressive stalkerishness will eventually make Luann see that they are Totally Meant to Be:
I’m sorry, show me one girl who finds ‘I spent an inordinate amount of time sexily Photoshopping your face’ charming and not horrifyingly creepy, and I will give you five dollars.* Gunther gives me the serious skeeves, and the really tragic thing is that he is transparently set up as Luann’s eventual soulmate:
Never mind what Luann wants, even though it’s ostensibly her story. Dogged persistence has to count for something, right?
I’m especially bothered by Luann’s apparent need to coddle his feelings all the time, even when he’d being blatantly passive aggressive and needy:
Yes, Gunther, everyone loves you. Especially when you’re being a jealous creep:
‘Your costumes cover my whole body.’ Excuse me, I have to go wash now.
Confidential to Greg Evans: Women do not exist to soothe the tender wounded feelings of vulnerable men. They’re allowed to actually want things for themselves. They are not rewards.
Oh wait, I forgot what comic strip I was reading. This is, after all, the strip that contains the epic romance of Brad (Luann’s schlubby brother) and Toni (the unattainable goddess). Brad and Toni first met while they were both training to be firefighters, and Toni was dating the musclebound Dirk. Oops, I’m sorry, I mean she belonged to Dirk:
You’ll note that even though Toni takes offense at the word ‘property,’ Brad doesn’t. Hush now, Toni, the men are talking.
It’s cool, though, eventually Brad will win the game of Toni’s Life!
Eventually, of course, after Brad got a restraining order against Dirk and lurked passive aggressively around Toni for a few years, they wound up together. And these two epic romances met when Gunther asked Brad for advice in wooing Luann:
Note how Brad shames Toni for her foolish past in front of this random teenage boy. Girl, you got yourself a catch!
Incidentally, ‘You can’t understand why she’s so blind to your sincere love’ pretty much perfectly sums up the intense creepiness of the Nice Guy archetye.
Anyway, the reason this all boiled over on me, resulting in this outrageously long post, is because of the current plotline. You see, Dirk is back! He’s out of jail, where he was placed for assaulting Brad after repeatedly violating his restraining order, and wants to see Toni, who broke up with him because he was verbally and emotionally abusive to her, and who he then proceeded to stalk. Even worse, he’s got a new job as the trash collector for their neighborhood! Naturally, our heroes call the cops.
Ha ha, no, just kidding, this is Luann. What actually happens is this:
The good guys of the strip place a teenage girl in the path of a proven stalker with a criminal record, a history of violence, and anger management issues, and tell her to lie to him The amount of sheer dangerous stupidity at play here is breathtaking. In any real world situation, Tiffany would be lucky to get out of there with a few swears thrown her way.
And yes, I realize this isn’t a real world situation. It’s a comic strip. But if Greg Evans doesn’t believe he has a responsibility to show the appropriate way to deal with a violent stalker by calling the cops he could at least have the courtesy not to attempt to make comedic hay out of it.
Ha ha, Brad and TJ are putting Tiffany in serious danger! It’s okay, because she’s a slut! Good one, Greg!
I hate Luann so much.