The audience at Ellen Forney's packed reading at Elliott Bay Book Company last week included her agent, her parents, Sherman Alexie, and a woman with a huge white cockatiel on her shoulder. It wasn't so much a reading as a multimedia performance, with images taken from Forney's new collection of comic art, I Love Led Zeppelin, projected on a screen, and Led Zeppelin's music, and Forney narrating.

She treated the crowd to her comic about what she wants playing on her car stereo if she gets into a fatal wreck, to the one about Seattle landmarks that look like penises and vaginas and buttholes, and to her collaboration with Margaret Cho about how to be a fag hag. But the best by far was "My Date with Camille Paglia." It appears in I Love Led Zeppelin but is even better in performance. It begins with (and, in the live version, is repeatedly punctuated by) a drawing of Paglia (with thin lines, shadows, and cross-hatching, totally unlike Forney's typical style) looking iconic and severe in a suit jacket. Forney recounts that, when she was living in Philadelphia in the early '90s, a friend convinced her to call Paglia (the author of Sexual Personae and, in the words of another of Forney's friends, a "megalomaniacal pseudo-feminist pseudo-intellectual backlash bitch from hell") to see if they could collaborate on something. Maybe Forney could illustrate one of Paglia's theories for a magazine. Forney sent Paglia some of her drawings and followed up with a voice mail. She wasn't expecting much and was moving to Seattle soon anyway.

A couple days later, Forney received a fax from Paglia. (Hilariously, every time Forney said Paglia's name, that same drawing of Paglia, set to the opening of "Immigrant Song," flashed on the screen.) The fax, which Forney read aloud, said: "(1) Sorry, I do not have time for any collaborations. Neither do I have time for meetings with private individuals. (2) However, are you asking me for a date? That's quite another matter, and it would surely get another answer. (3) But if you're 'out of town after March 15,' it's a bit pointless, so one is back to square (or item) #1."

Forney, nervous at the prospect of meeting someone whose books she hadn't read, had a friend read to her a passage from Sexual Personae, one about how women's genitals are swampy and symbolize death. ("No wonder she couldn't find a date!") When the two women finally talked, Paglia sternly barked, "Why did you wait until right before moving to call me?" And then hung up. They never met.

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During the Q&A, someone asked if Forney ever sat down and read Sexual Personae. "I paged through it, and I just... I mean, it's a lot. I guess, in a word, no." Someone asked about how the people Forney draws respond to her depictions. She said the response is always positive because she emphasizes people's good qualities. "With few exceptions, like Camille Paglia, who was just asking to be made fun of."

frizzelle@thestranger.com