Fab Fearless Females In Comics – Summer Reading List

At the comic shop I work at we had a special event last weekend that was met with much success.  A “Ladies” night.  A night where women and woman-identified could shop, chat and just generally geek out in an open store staffed by all female staff and attended by a local female artist.  Even at my store (which is pretty damned inclusive and open) women have felt uncomfortable.  It was nice to shop without the judgement or stares from other male customers and our ladies told us so.

So in the spirit of the night here are my top recomendations of graphic novels and comics that are either written or drawn by a woman or feature a fearless female as it’s main character.  For the simplicity of this list, I’m going to avoid super hero books – even though several fit the bill (Ms Marvel, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Young Avengers) and focus on “alternative” publishers such as Image and Boom.

Saga – A Romeo and Juliet type sci-fi fantasy that features one kick-ass mama who is on the run from multiple people trying to kill her all the while looking after (and breastfeeding!) a newborn baby.  This book is full of sex, violence, humour and fun.  Written by Brian K Vaughn (Y The Last Man, Runaways) and drawn by Fiona Staples, Saga will leave you breathless and begging for more.

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Rat Queens – What can I say, I love this all-female adventurer group as they hack, slash and sass their way through a dungeon and dragon-esque world.  With all the blood, sex and drug references this is not for the faint of heart but give these Queens a try and I assure you, you will be smitten.  (A surefire hit for anyone who has ever played D&D)

Pretty Deadly – Kelly Sue DecKonnick brings us a Western that is beautiful and dark.  The storytelling is unlike any other comic on my shelf – raw and powerful – with artwork to match.  I’m not usually a fan of westerns but Pretty Deadly had me from page one – and has left me yearning for more.

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Sex Criminals – Truthfully I don’t know what to say about this book.  It took me by surprise-I didn’t think I’d like it.  At it’s heart it seems to be about sexual awakening and our society’s opression of sexual expression.  A woman finds out that when she orgasms she can…stop time…and later meets a man who can do the same.  Then they turn to a life of crime using their, um, combined powers.  There’s more to it than that, but I’ll let you have a Sex Criminals awakening of your own.

Castle Waiting – Truly a fable for modern times – this isn’t about princesses or knights or battles against good and evil, but about being a hero in your own home (or castle).  A dysfunctional family of leftover fairy tale characters lives together looking after a somewhat lost pregnant woman.  Beautifully drawn and masterfully written – this is a fav on my shelf.

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This One Summer – A beautiful look into girlhood and growing up – this graphic novel was one of the most heartfelt things I’ve read this year.  A must read – and all ages too.  About two friends named Rose and Windy who are weathering the storms in Rose’s house – and the looming tragedy in the small summer getaway.

Strangers In Paradise – Oh how I love this book.  The complications of friendship.  The raw and powerful emotions.  The realness of the characters (from their personalities down to their angles and curves).  Terry Moore has crafted a masterpiece with SIP and if you haven’t already, I URGE you to give it a read.  There’s more to it than meets the eye at first glance – more passion, more substance, more reality – than anything else I’ve ever read.  I’ll be forever thankful to my friend for introducing me to it – and SIP will remain in my heart one of the comics that showed me comics were more than just mis-proportioned females in capes.

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Nana –  Yes, this is a manga.  And if you value women in comics at all this is a manga you will read.  Written and drawn by the Manga-ka Ai Yazawa (Paradise Kiss) the story about two women named Nana becoming impossible friends and the ups and downs their lives take is a rare glimpse into the Japanese music industry – but also has two of the most realistic representations of women in manga I’ve ever read.  Though it doesn’t end the ride is well worth it as we wait for the creator to feel better and perhaps, someday, we’ll find out what happened to Nana and Nana.

The Wicked and the Divine – This comic only has one issue so far, but by Gods what an issue!  I was drooling by the end of it for how amazing it was – I’ve been waiting my whole life for this comic.  By the team that brought the Young Avengers comics I love so much how could I resist?  The artwork practically sings with it’s subtle emotions and the characters are already so likeable and the ending such a twist that I cannot wait for the next issue.

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Lumberjanes – A great all-ages comic about five girlfriends at a sleepaway camp who, in scooby doo (or gravity falls) style find themselves up against all manner of supernatural strangeness.  It’s fun, it’s campy and it’s a perfect fit for a summer read.  Three issues are out now…find them as soon as you can!

What fab, fearless females do you have on your list, and why?

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And they better be good as us, *$%#&^’s!

Get Yourself Some Issues!

I see complaints bemoaning the lack of diversity in the mainstream comic medium quite frequently.  Blog posts and Facebook group updates pointing out the lack of racial, religious and gender diversity in comic books – written both by people who read mainstream comics, those who shun mainstream comics but read indie, and those who have only a passing knowledge of the medium at all.

While I agree that the mainstream comic industry has a long way to go with their representations of women and people of color there are comics on the shelf RIGHT NOW that break the barrier and start moving in the right direction.
It’s up to us to put our money where our mouth (or keyboard) is and show them we want more, by actually buying the issues that represent what we want to see.
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Let me be completely clear about comic issues vs graphic novels.  When a mainstream comic series is first released, it hits comic book store shelves in issue format – floppy comics that represent one chapter in a story arc.  Those story arcs, after several issues have been released, will be collected into a graphic novel format that, while still sold in comic shops, can also be easily sold in mainstream bookstores as well.
Think of it like TV shows.  There is an episode per week that is eventually collected in a boxset for sale.  The initial sales and ratings of the episodes help the companies decide whether to continue the show for another season.  It’s the same with comics.
With comic books, single issues are a companies bread and butter.  The single issue sales give an indication as to whether there is a market for a particular title and whether or not that title will continue in the future.  There have been many great series with amazing artwork and captivating stories that debuted to critical acclaim…that have stopped due to lack of sales.  It’s rare that the collected graphic novel can save a series – it’s the issues that matter.
So ladies and gents….get yourself some issues.
February saw the debut of a super heroine that is everything we’ve wanted.  Carol Danvers has stepped out of the Ms Marvel role and it’s about to be taken over by one of her greatest admirers.
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I love what Comic Book Resources has to say on Ms. Marvel #1:
G. Willow Wilson is writing a common teen’s tale. Kamala Khan is not understood by her family, her peers can be bullies, she finds trying to fit in awkward and frustrating. This is an experience we’ve seen or had ourselves, it just so happens to be told through the eyes of a Muslim Pakistani-American girl in New Jersey. Her ethnicity and religion aren’t used in broad brush strokes, like how ’80s-era Chris Claremont would throw in a “By the White Wolf!” or “Unglaubich!” and be done for the day. Comics don’t necessarily have the best track record for representing diversity in a way that doesn’t seem like a Captain Planet cartoon. Despite the media attention around this new series, Kamala is not defined by what makes her different. Who she is and what she wants to be is woven into the story, so while the details might be foreign to us, the weight of what’s happening is universal.”
She’s a kick ass teenage girl who lives in New Jersey, is growing up Pakistani and American and comes from a Muslim family background.  AND IT’S A FANTASTIC BOOK!  Judging by the reaction and the fact it sold out almost everywhere right away, I’d say Marvel is doing many, many things right.
Did you miss it?  Don’t worry, a second printing is just around the corner, and issue two is due on shelves soon.  Speaking as a fan, I can’t wait.  The first issue was great and has left me wanting to know more about Kamala and how she deals with these new powers of hers.  I haven’t looked forward to a single issue THIS MUCH in quite awhile.
But that’s not all – Marvel has several comics that I would not only recommend from a feminist standpoint, but also from a comic fan standpoint – solid titles that will capture your attention and have you anticipating the next issue.
Black Widow – If you enjoyed the character and wanted to know more about her, here is your chance.  Natasha flies solo as she searches for atonement for her blood-stained past.  Stunning artwork and full of mystery I hope the movie can live up to the high bar this comic has set for the story of Black Widow.
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She Hulk – I came for the artwork, I stayed for the brilliant story.  Jennifer Walters is She Hulk, but she’s also a struggling lawyer trying to find her place in that cut-throat world.  She’s strong, capable, and fun to read about.  This is a great introduction to the character, I especially enjoyed when she “hulk smashed” a boardroom table with her finger.
Captain Marvel – She’s become somewhat of a feminist icon this past while, just coming off a critically acclaimed run.  This new title will take her to new heights (outer space!) and present new challenges, from saving worlds to saving personal relationships.  Plus her costume is totally bad-ass.
Not feeling the Superhero love?  No problem!  Here are some other choices for you to hunt down:
Rat Queens – Who doesn’t love a fantasy world full of hilarious hi-jinks and bloody action?  Rat Queens delivers with all the beauty and violence one would expect in a D&D campaign, perpetuated by an all female crew.
Fiona Staples - of Saga fame

Fiona Staples – of Saga fame

Red Sonja – Speaking of fantasy, Conan’s female counterpart recently had an overhaul.  Gail Simone is penning this fabulous book (and please, do not judge the book by it’s…um…outfit).  Not to mention the book featured different covers by the best FEMALE artists in the industry.  Miss Xena?  Give this warrior woman a read, you won’t be disappointed.
A Voice In The Dark – This is a very off-kilter coming of age story.  Not for the feint of heart.  Taking cues from Dexter but coming at the type of story in a whole new way.  Definitely a must-read if it’s your cup of tea.
I’ve given you a good place to start, hopefully it will inspire you to seek out a local shop and see what they have to offer.  (Try Hater Free Wednesdays for reviews of comic shops and a list of “safe spaces” for women and LGBTQ customers)
Do you have a title you buy the single issues for that you feel deserves more readers?  Any up and coming comics you think my readers would be excited to know about?  Tell us about it below!

Don’t Spare The Spook – Ghoulish Graphic Novels To Get You Pumped for Halloween

I love Halloween.  The candy, the costumes, the creativity.  This year our store celebrated the Halloween ComicFest and I gathered up all our best reads in the horror category and made a giant display at the front of the store.  Here is a list of my top ten favorites.

10:     Sweet Tooth – Tired of all the hype around zombies but still love yourself a good post-apocalyptic tale?  Then look no further than Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth.  The world has gone to hell in a hand basket and suddenly women are giving birth to animal-human hybrid babies – some more feral than others.  Sweet Tooth is one such hybrid named for his penchant for chocolate bars and other sweets.  The story is captivating and the artwork ranges from sweet to downright creepy.

09:     The Lost Boy – This book has beautiful artwork.  Like, blow-your-mind beautiful.  Also fairly creepy in spots.  Now this is a book on Scholastic’s print so it’s suitable for younger readers.  A boy moves into a new house and finds a tape recorder in his room – that thrusts him into a dark and dangerous mystery about a boy who went missing years ago.  It’s completely in black and white – which only adds to the spooky appeal.

Can't get enough of this work!

Can’t get enough of this work!

08:     American Vampire – Stephen King partners with Scott Snyder and they both finally do Vampires some justice.  They don’t sparkle.  It isn’t a high-school drama with fangs.  This is horror storytelling at it’s finest – I would love to see this become an HBO type show – it has that kind of potential.

07:     The Walking Dead – Speaking of television shows – The Walking Dead has hit the big time.  I always laugh internally when people come in and see the graphic novels on the walls exclaiming “Oh, Walking Dead has a comic now?”  I’ve watched the show and I have to say, I’m not a fan.  It lost so much of what made the comic so amazing.  And it IS amazing.  Also much, much, much more sinister and horror-filled.

Darker than the show!

Darker than the show!

06:     From Hell – To be honest, this is not a one night read.  Moore treads a fine line between the fact and fiction of the Jack The Ripper case.  There is social commentary here – of both London in 1888 and the world in the 1990’s.  More than a century later we are still fascinated with the Ripper case and the conspiracy theory Moore presents is as plausible as any other.  This is a heavy read but well worth it.  Brew lots of tea and settle in for the long haul if you pick this up.

05:     Bedlam – This book is so popular we can barely keep it on our shelves.  An ex-homicidal maniac is “cured” of his mania and now wants to help the police clean up his city.  But can he be trusted?  A fast-paced, often disturbing read.

04:     Locke & Key – Fantasy, mystery, horror.  This comic has all that and more.  With stunning graphics that portray the character’s emotions perfectly Locke & Key is a dark fantasy about a New England house where the keys unlock doors that transform all who walk through them.  You’ll be on the edge of your seat through each volume – I know I was.

One of the keys opens YOUR HEAD.  You can put things in...and take them out.

One of the keys opens YOUR HEAD. You can put things in…and take them out.

03:     Beasts of Burden – Some probably won’t find this scary.  I mean, it does involve talking animals.  And zombie dogs.  And witch cats.  And creepy haunted sewers filled with flesh eating rats.  All brought to life by one of my favorite artists Jill Thompson – her watercolors blow my mind.

Adorable Sandman chibis?  Yes please!

Adorable Sandman chibis? Yes please!

02:     Witchdoctor – This esteemed Doctor fell from medical grace into the waiting arms of some seriously black magic.  Now he heals the paranormally inflicted with a sarcastic wit that rivals House.  I LOVE THIS BOOK.  It’s everything I want.  Great characters you fall in love with.  A bit of off-beat humour and rawkous action.  And some seriously fucked up monsters.  Hell yeah!

01:     Uzumaki – It’s Halloween.  I’ve given you horror.  I’ve given you creepy.  I’ve given you sick humour and bloody action.  What could possibly top the vampires, zombies and witchdoctors on this list?  I present to you Uzumaki:  Spiral Into Horror.  And spiral you will.  Junji Ito is a master of horror.  Creating twisted tales that puncture your brain and sit festering in your gut long after you’ve put the book down.  His artwork and his storytelling set him apart from everything on my shelf.  I can read horror and dark fantasy but when I want to be truly scared – I read Uzumaki (or Museum of Terror)

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This page always gets me creeped out.

 

Do you have a Halloween favorite to recommend?  Please let me know!Have a safe and happy Halloween and a blessed Samhain (happy New Year) to all my pagan friends!

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My Little Doctor – Here To Save The World

What To Buy INSTEAD of Archie Comics

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.

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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.