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Humor from the underground

Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli made waves in the 1970s with a raw feminist comic series. Now Farmer has published an acclaimed graphic novel.

December 02, 2010|By Cindy Frazier, cindy.frazier@latimes.com
  • Joyce Farmer in her home office in Laguna surrounded by inspiring items. She is known for her published alternative comics in the 1970s and is now releasing a graphic novel.
Joyce Farmer in her home office in Laguna surrounded by… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli were Laguna Beach working mothers with a creative bent in the early 1970s when they decided to join forces in an unlikely alliance as underground comic book creators. Farmer was the artist. Chevli, now 78, was a writer and the owner of a celebrated alternative bookstore, Fahrenheit 451, opened by her ex-husband in 1968.

Chevli recalls that in 1972 she had decided to sell the popular but floundering bookstore, located next to the Hotel Laguna, after splitting up with her husband. For four years she had been selling underground comics by legends such as R. Crumb and other Zap comix artists and thought there was a need for a women's version of the ribald, raw and sexually provocative books that were top sellers at the store.

"So I put a sign in the window saying, 'Artist Wanted,'" Chevli said. Farmer, who worked at a bail bonds office next door, responded. The rest is comic book history, as the pair became pioneer women comic book publishers.

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"I made her draw for me," Chevli recalled. "She drew well, but then I said, 'do something startling, something dirty'."

Farmer produced a raw graphic that would become their staple and ensure their success in the era of the sexual revolution.

Farmer had a studio in Top of the World, where she still lives, in an expansive home she built in 1994. A trained graphic artist, she and Chevli shared ideas and sparked each other to new heights of provocation.

"We wanted to tell the truth and to be funny," Chevli said.

"It became a sensation," Farmer recalled.

Their creation, a feminist series with an unprintable name that took on the controversial and taboo subjects of menstruation, birth control, and sexual promiscuity, sold more than 100,000 copies and made them stars in the comic book world. But the raw nature of the material also led to the arrest of the subsequent owner of Fahrenheit 451 on obscenity charges and the eventual abandonment of the series, according to Farmer.

The last of the series was published in 1987, Farmer said. "Then I had to make a living and take care of my parents." She decided to go into the bail bonds business herself and put her art career on hold.

Both women are still in Laguna Beach, and Farmer has just released a graphic memoir, "Special Exits," which recounts in excruciating detail the demise of her parents over the last few years of their lives. She will sign the book at 5 p.m. Saturday at Latitude 33 Bookshop, 311 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach.

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