I work at a comic store. My walls are lined with comics, manga and graphic novels of all shapes and sizes. I like to think I have something for everyone in store, if they’ll only let me find it for them.
Which is why, when a young person (usually a girl) comes in and browses the plentiful section full of comics just for them I cringe inwardly when they grab the latest issue of Archie (or Jughead or Veronica or Betty) and I scream inside my head “NO FOR THE LOVE OF BATMAN PUT THAT DOWN AND LET ME FIND YOU SOMETHING GOOOOOOOD!!!”
Parents I know you get overwhelmed in my store. There is so much out there on the shelves and so much of it is not appropriate for your kids to read. So you grab something familiar, something safe, something you remember.
But Archie is, in my opinion, one of the worst comics on the shelves for anyone to read.
The girls in the comic are vain and petty or play the role of the good-girl doormat. Or they are just flat-out sexual objects there for the punchline. The boys are led around by their libidos and are, for the most part, brutish and unintelligent. All the girls are perfect doll-like figures where the only difference, really, is their hair. Of course there’s one ugly girl – she’s tall and gangly and has buckteeth and is often made fun of or bullied by the other characters (which is seen as funny or part of the book’s jokes). The setting doesn’t allow for any possible examination of things young readers may currently be experiencing (racism, sexism, gangs, violence etc…) and every other issue seems to involve friendships breaking over squabbles about who gets to “go steady” with Archie.
“I haven’t read THE Archie comics for years. I bought some for the boys when they were kids and they hadn’t changed since I was young. They were sexist in the 60s and reflected a 40s or 50s attitude about teenage girls and their place in school and society WHICH BOTHERED ME THEN(the 60s) since I never felt part of the crowd who fiddled with makeup,etc even though I liked boys. Maybe some teenage girls still feel this way about boys, makeup etc. I hope they have deeper thoughts about social justice and their adult aspirations as well. I’m sure there are better comics available than Archie if there have been no changes in 50 years.” – My wise and awesome Mother In Law
So what to pick up instead? Here is a list I’ve compiled using the comics and graphic novels on my store shelves. All of these either have a female lead or a VERY strong and awesome female character in them. Please be aware that not all of these are for very young readers and you’ll need to check them out yourself to make the final decision on what is appropriate.
Zita The Spacegirl – A young girl explores outer space and fights aliens in this fun and colourful graphic novel. This is one of my favourites and will delight fans of all ages!
Courtney Crumrin – Perfect for fans of magical stories with a darker twist (Harry Potter, Beetlejuice, Emily The Strange) Courtney lives in a spooky mansion and always manages to find herself embroiled with ghosts, goblins or fairies of some kind or another.
Bone – Truly an all ages comic often parents are just as excited to read this epic tale as the kids are! Action, adventure, comedy and rat-creatures.
Amulet – I just started reading this magical tale and I’m hooked. A young girl and her brother, who struggle with the loss of their father, are transported to a magical world and are the key to saving the inhabitants. Might be a bit scary for very young readers – parents might want to read this with their kids.
Adventure Time – Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve seen this cartoon and it’s stuff pop up everywhere. It’s a fun colourful comic full of different art styles and in-jokes. The two main girl characters are a Pink Princess who’s all about the science and a rock and roll vampire queen.
My Little Pony – Another franchise that’s hit it big with different age groups. The comic keeps the theme of friendship put forth in the show but adds a bit more wacky humour and a different art style. I love that all the ponies have their specialty and the main character around which the show operates is a bookworm who values science and locical thought.
Tiny Titans – Could DC super heroes get any cuter? Yes they could, and this book proves it. An easy read with fun storylines – all the titans are 5 years old and deal with normal 5 year old activities using their superness.
Marvel Adventures – this series of comics put out by Marvel could star anyone from Spiderman to Thor to Black Widow but are written and drawn with young readers in mind.
Avatar The Last Airbender – The show may have ended but Avatar continues in these stories overseen by the original production crew. Great for fans of the show but may be confusing to those who haven’t watched it. To whom I say GO WATCH IT NOW. Seriously. It’s good stuff.
Smile – Great for any child that’s had to have dental surgery or braces – a story of surviving tough times that get even tougher.
Hereville How Mira Got Her Sword – Just another story about a troll-fighting 11 year old orthodox Jewish girl. A spunky and emotionally realistic heroine leads this story that is just a joy to read.
Sperra – Two princesses embark on a journey to save the world they live in from unspeakable evil. Another favorite of mine and though it stars princesses these aren’t like any you’ve met before! Especially Pira…she’s awesome wrapped in amazing.
Delilah Dirk – Part Aladdin, part Indiana Jones – Delilah is what great action-adventures are made of. I urge you to give this a read!
Princeless – With a chapter titled “Sexism in the Armor industry” I knew this was going to be a fun read. This princess isn’t waiting for her prince to come – she’s off to save her sisters and wear armor that doesn’t look like a corset. Fun, imaginative and full of warrior women (whether they fight with swords or not)
I Kill Giants – This is a masterpiece of a graphic novel that both young and old readers will appreciate. A coming of age story about a young girl who battles monsters both real and imagined. Sad, touching and beautiful.
Runaways – “At some point in their lives all young people believe their parents are evil…but what if they really are?” Teen superheroes done right. Takes “teens trying to find their individuality and place in the world” to a new level. Each of the kids is a unique, believable individual, and not cliched like so many teens written by adults these days. Very few can pull of writing young characters in a way that will appeal to young readers, but Vaughan is one of them.
Young Avengers – The critically acclaimed team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie reinvent the teen super hero comic for the 21st century, uniting Wiccan, Hulkling and Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop with Kid Loki, Marvel Boy and Ms. America. I love that there is a young kick-ass Hispanic super heroine and the relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan is sweet and romantic. Before reading this run, however, you might want to check out THIS and THIS and THIS to get a feel for what came before.
And because my list isn’t long enough here are a couple non-action books that are amazing and I wouldn’t hesitate to put in the hands of my teenage daughters.
Glitter Kiss – A story that really highlights the sexual harassment and degradation that girls go through in life. The boys are treated to a rare glimpse as to what it feels like to be objectified while the lead character learns to take responsibility for her own actions.
Friends With Boys – Amazing story of navigating the tricky waters of friendship and romance. Also deals with the main character’s feelings after the separation of her parents.
Also keep an eye out for Molly Danger – looks like a great addition to this list, but I won’t know until I read it.
Anyhow I hope this list helps any parents (or young readers) who stumble this way and are looking for a positive, fun and engaging read for themselves or their young ones. Comics can be a garden of eden when it comes to getting kids to read but finding the good stuff – well that’s what helpful comic shop staff are here for. Feel free to leave me any questions (or suggestions for the list) in the comments section below.