For the longest time when people asked me when I got into comics I gave one of three answers:
1. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman
2. Geoff Johns & Mike McKone on Teen Titans
3. Late ’90s/Early ’00s manga
All of these answers are true, in some way. It wasn’t until I started reading manga that I found stories that made me want to read more. It wasn’t until I read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that I saw that superhero comics weren’t just Batman and therefore uninteresting. And it wasn’t until I read the Johns and McKone run of Teen Titans that I realized I liked superheroes (and even Batman, occasionally).
And when I started liking comics again, I remembered that I had liked them as a kid, because my parents would buy me Archie Comics. I remember Archie and Jughead and Betty and Veronica, and I liked them. But above all other comics, the one I loved the most was Katy Keene.
Katy Keene Comics Digest Magazine #1 was released in 1987 when I was just 6 years old, and it was formative. Obviously I loved her because she had the same name as me, but I also loved the comic. Looking back, it was because it was so much more than a comic.
The cover proclaims that featured within these pages were:
And it wasn’t wrong. A 94-page book (80-pages, once you subtract the advertisements and subscription pages) contained five multi-page stories, smaller one-page stories, recipes, paper dolls, and small text-based stories where pictures were substituted for certain words or parts of words. (I’m sure there’s a name for this comics form but I don’t know it).
What stands out to me now is the 16-page section where Katy Keene was drawn in outfits sent to them by fans. Whether the fanart was redrawn based on artistic submissions or just idea, each contributor’s name and location was listed. The artist doing the drawing (or redrawing) was John Lucas, who went on to work for Marvel and DC, among other publishers. I’ve never read any of his work, but his drawings of Katy Keene and all of her fabulously stylish clothes never left me.
In my memory, Katy Keene was a glamorous character who lived a glamorous life wearing glamorous fashions. She couldn’t have been more different from a chubby girl growing up in rural Oregon. But I felt connected to her by more than just a name. I was connected to her, because every single issue contained her fans, and I was a fan. Katy didn’t belong to one artist or storyteller alone. She belonged to everyone.
And all of the activities that were put in her book–the paper dolls, the recipes, the pin-up pages — all of it made her more accessible. The stories were also a mix of contemporary art and fashion and stories that took place in other time periods, or in other continuities. As a child,I knew that “Sis,” Katy’s younger sister, couldn’t be simultaneously 6 years old and 16 years old, even if there were some stories where she was a child and some where she was a young adult.
In retrospect, Katy Keene digest wasn’t just an introduction to comics as a medium. It was an introduction to comics fandom. It was continuities, and fanart, and stories told by different people. It was cohesive only as a bound collection. I’d never seen a comic like this before and to be honest, I’ve never seen once since.