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Diane Noomin, the underground cartoonist behind DiDi Glitz, dies at 75

She challenged the boys club of underground comics with a character who endured sleazy men, bad hookups and hangovers but loved gossip and cocktails and decorated excessively

“I Enjoy Being a Girl” by Diane Noomin. (Fantagraphics)

Diane Noomin, a feminist cartoonist who challenged the boys club of underground comics and created DiDi Glitz, a big-haired, hard-drinking single mom obsessed with interior decorating, died Sept. 1 at her home in Hadlyme, Conn. She was 75.

The cause was uterine cancer, said her husband, cartoonist Bill Griffith, creator of Zippy the Pinhead.

In her loud leopard- or floral-print outfits, fishnet stockings and big blond bubble wig, DiDi endured sleazy men, bad hookups and hangovers but loved gossip and cocktails and decorated excessively. The character, who began life with a costume Ms. Noomin created for a Halloween party, gave voice to many of Ms. Noomin’s own irritations and eccentricities.

“DiDi was a personification of all of the housewives that she knew growing up in Canarsie (Brooklyn),” Griffith said. “They were the role models that she was supposed to follow even though her parents were left-wingers. She was kind of in awe of them but also worried that she might become one of them. I think she did it as an exorcism of them. She shared an aesthetic with them in a detached, ironic sense. She often said she kept her DiDi costume in her closet and only took it out on special occasions.”

In an early story, “I Chose Crime” (1974), DiDi is pregnant and decides to rob a bank. She gets away with the robbery, takes a cruise to Rio and has the baby.

“In comics, there’s no great need for continuity, so I don’t have to explain the next time you see her that she’s not in Rio, not pregnant,” Ms. Noomin said in 2003.

In later stories, DiDi goes to a women’s camp for the inorgasmic, becomes a private eye and marries a gay hypochondriac.

“At first glance, DiDi Glitz’s life is nothing short of fabulous: a high percentage of ‘fascinating devastating love affairs,’ ‘lavish interior design schemes,’ and ‘utterly gorgeous outfits,’ ” art historian Nicole Rudick wrote in the Comics Journal in 2012. “But DiDi wouldn’t be half as exciting if that were all there was to her. Formed in the crucible of the underground comix and women’s movements, she is equal parts sex, anxiety, domesticity, and rebellion — by turns a garish, boozy mess and a modern, self-affirming woman.”

DiDi appeared onstage in “I’d Rather Be Doing Something Else: The DiDi Glitz Story,” a 1981 production by the San Francisco all-woman theater troupe Les Nickelettes.

The previous year, Ms. Noomin donned the blond wig and portrayed DiDi in the “Zippy for President” series produced by the San Francisco public radio station KQED. In the episode, Zippy the Pinhead tries to pick her up in a bar while she gets loaded.

Ms. Noomin, whose background was in sculpture, didn’t set out to be a cartoonist. She came to San Francisco, a major center for underground comics, from New York City in the early 1970s, after the end of her first marriage. (Her pen name was homophonic with her first husband’s surname, Newman.) The new style of comic book, published on an infrequent basis by small presses and sold in head shops, featured dark satire, drug use and explicit sex and violence.

“One of the [San Francisco] cartoonists, Jay Kinney, made a map of all the places where each of us lived,” said Griffith. “There were 16 of us, and we all lived within 10 blocks. We were a very close-knit group at first. There were only two publishers, Last Gasp and Rip Off Press, and whenever a comic came out there would be a party with a keg and weed, celebrating the premiere.”

After showing her sketchbook to cartoonist Aline Kominsky, she joined the Wimmen’s Comix collective, a group of like-minded artists struggling in the largely male underground genre.

Ms. Noomin drew her work on white scratchboard, a labor-intensive form of engraving where the artist scratches off ink to reveal a black layer beneath.

Wimmen’s Comix (later Wimmin’s Comix), where DiDi Glitz made an early appearance, published 17 issues from 1972 to 1997 in counterpoint to the masculine and often sexist culture of underground comics. Contributors included such creators as Kominsky, Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs and Sharon Rundahl. Artists took turns as editors and the books were often themed — a kvetching issue, a disastrous relationships issue and even a 3D issue, with the prerequisite glasses.

Ms. Noomin and Kominsky — who would marry cartoonist Robert Crumb, creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural — were annoyed by the relentless consciousness-raising at collective meetings. After leaving Wimmen’s Comix — Ms. Noomin would occasionally return to edit in later years — they teamed up to produce the comic “Twisted Sisters” (1976), which featured DiDi Glitz and Kominsky’s alter ego, “the Bunch.”

The back cover of the book showed a pie chart of DiDi’s priorities in life, divided into percentages. Love affairs rated 21.7 percent and gorgeous outfits rated 19 percent while sex rated 1 percent.

Ms. Noomin revived the name for “Twisted Sisters: A Collection of Bad Girl Art” (1991), a paperback anthology of women’s comics featuring work from 15 cartoonists, as well as a four-issue anthology series in 1996.

In later years, her work took on a more somber tone. “Baby Talk: A Tale of 4 Miscarriages” (1994), recounts the couple’s painful efforts to conceive. Initially, she drew a stand-in couple for herself and Griffith named Glenda and Jimmy. DiDi, serving as Greek chorus and comic relief, pulls Ms. Noomin directly into the story, saying: “Are you gonna let some cartoon yuppies cry cartoon tears over your lost babies?”

More recently, she edited “Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival” (2019). The book — dedicated to Anita Hill, the lawyer who accused future Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, and inspired by the #MeToo movement against men who abuse their power through sexual misconduct — featured more than 60 female artists of different ages, ethnicities and sexuality.

Diane Robin Rosenblatt was born in Brooklyn on May 13, 1947. Her father had a jewelry repair shop in Manhattan’s diamond district, and her mother was a civil servant.

“I grew up on Long Island in the 1950s, and my parents were communists,” Ms. Noomin told the Library of Congress in 2015. “They basically were operating a safe house for people who were trying to leave the country, running from [the anti-communist Sen. Joseph] McCarthy, didn’t want to testify [or] didn’t want to go to jail. My sister and I knew nothing of this. We were just going to Republican Party picnics and trying to fit in.”

“My parents didn’t start talking about it until I was in my 40s,” she added. Referring to the husband and wife executed in 1953 for conspiracy to pass atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, she continued: “My father said that what he and my mother did was worse than what the Rosenbergs did. I didn’t ask him what he did. I just stood there with my mouth open.”

After graduating from a New York City arts high school, Ms. Noomin attended Brooklyn College and Pratt Institute, where she studied sculpture and photography.

Her marriage to Alan Newman ended in divorce. In addition to her husband of 42 years, of Hadlyme, survivors include a sister.

When asked if she thought of her work as women’s art, Ms. Noomin answered, “No, but I think that unless you’re a White, Anglo-Saxon male, you’re going to have an adjective. You’re going to be a Black artist or an Asian artist or a woman artist.”

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