by Posy Simmonds
in "The Guardian", 1985
Mrs Weber’s Diary was a weekly strip that appeared on the Women’s Page of the Guardian from the late 1970s (originally as “The Silent Three”) until the late 1980s. The Guardian’s Women’s Page disdained dieting and dresses for feminism. The strip soon turned into a commentary on modern issues and a satire of its Guardian readers: middle class post-60’s counter-culture types grown up with families, working in social services, universities or as would-be artisans. The strip encapsulated them as people for whom the personal is political. The little dramas of domestic life were further fraught by ethical and social quandaries. Simmonds’ Weber family were the archetypal “Woolly Liberals” tying themselves into knots over the right responses to racism, capitalism, education, childcare, ecology and Thatcherism during dinner party conversations. Simmonds also captured contemporary tastes in fashion, furniture and holidays. Americans might care to think of it as an infinitely better drawn equivalent of “Doonesbury”. It is a superb series wittily dissecting many aspects of 80s Britain.
An Omnibus of all the previous “Mrs Weber’s Diary” collections has just been published as “Mrs Weber’s Omnibus”. The promotional material says the book collects the entire run of strips, but it doesn’t, although at almost 500 cartoons, it’ll satisfy all but the most completist of Simmonds fans, and it does restore the colouring of the originals. (Still: Lying bastards at Jonathan Cape publishers) This strip is one of the omitted. It was reprinted in Alan Moore’s 1988 “AARGH” comic collection - “Artist’s Against Rampant Government Homophobia protesting the introduction of Clause 28. “AARGH” collected works that either attacked Clause 28 and homophobia, or else showed homosexuals in a positive light as people with real loves and feelings. As this strip predates Clause 28 by a number of years, it was selected as a positive representation.
So here we get George Weber and his unnamed friend, a cuddly, older clonish looking gay chap with moustache , jeans, checkered shirted and bomber jacket (who I don’t think I’ve even seen before or seen after this strip, but never mind). Homosexuality and camping it up – which is seen as being expressive and not merely innate – are part of a larger argument about the perception of masculinity and acceptable manly roles. The strip is actually about George’s embarrassment before the shopkeeper, an unreconstructed male chauvinist. George’s arguments for the broadening of traditional male/female responsibilities have been undermined by visible homosexual behaviour, thereby confirming George’s apparent unmanliness. If George is abashed, his friend is given a significant space in the strip to argue for his own particular brand of dignity and independence of traditional assumptions.