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!