Where to Start Reading: Feminism & Comics

Recently I was invited to speak on behalf of Kapow at the Lethbridge Public Library Comic Con. I put together a talk about Feminism & Comics: Where to Start. I wanted to share some of the great research I put together about the amazing modern comics there are who have women authors, artists, creators and which have feminist themes that are approachable for everyone. In this post, I will just give some examples of a few comics that might be a good place to start.

 

Here are some all-ages comics that are worth a look:

Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan):

Written by G Willow Wilson

 

Kamala Khan is a young muslim teenager, the daughter of immigrants from Pakistan, born and raised in Jersey. She is a normal teenager who wants to party and be cool. Kamala gets her powers after a strange mist rolls through the city (turns out she has ‘Inhuman’ genes that were activated by an alien mist). 

The first comics in the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel series go through her life as she gets a handle on her powers; sort of like a second puberty, dealing with weird growing and shrinking, not knowing what is coming next! She has to balance her home and religious duties with her superhero status, while being a teenager (in school, with a social life). Her name comes from Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers, who is an Avenger and who is Kamala’s idol.

This comic won the Hugo award for best graphic story in 2015

 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl:

Written by Ryan North (Canadian), and art by Erica Henderson

I met Ryan North, the writer of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, when he did a signing at Kapow not too long ago. I mention this mainly so that you can imagine me in a squirrel costume with a one year old in a squirrel costume! Ryan is a super nice Canadian guy. I asked him on twitter if I could use the label ‘feminist’ to apply to him, and the quote from him is: “Sure, that’s fine!” (So, he is officially of the label ‘sure that’s fine’ – which cracks me up!)

About The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Girl is the alter ego of Doreen Green. Her squirrel companion is Tippy-Toe, who can talk (or at least talks to her). Squirrel girl can talk to all squirrels, and also has the proportionate strength and speed of a squirrel. So, she is very strong!

What makes this comic different, great and feminist is the large diversity in the characters included in the comic, who don’t fall into stereotypes. This comic is weird, kooky, funny, and is also often referred to as an empowering portrayal of the young woman superhero

So many reasons that Squirrel Girl is different from many other super women:

  • Hilarious in her own right
  • Extremely powerful
  • Often battles villains with empathy, by talking & listening to them
  • Sort of a Deadpool-style (though not dark) humor; she even has Deadpool hero and villain trading cards that give her stats on whoever she is fighting
  • She is incredibly likable and normal; she is a college student studying Computer Science
  • LOOKS different; she is actually drawn like a real human person (minus the tail)

So, check this comic out if you want to laugh, and want an interesting, wacky, great female character to look up to!

 

Lumberjanes

Created by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen, and Shannon Watters. Multiple writer and artist contributors. 

Lumberjanes was originally written as an 8 part series, but continued on as a comic series because it did so well in sales and with a growing fan base. It takes place at the summer camp “Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types”. The young women who are the campers are called “Lumberjanes Scouts”.

The story focuses on one of the cabins at the camp, the Roanoke cabin. The scouts in this cabin are Jo, April, Molly, Mal and Ripley. Everything is pretty normal until these scouts see an old woman transforming into a bear, then run into three-eyed supernatural foxes, and then more and more mysterious three eyed creatures. Not your normal summer camp!

Lumberjanes is all about these five girls racing into danger and solving mysteries, and more importantly, becoming best friends along the way.

 

Now let’s go through some adult titles that are a great place to start for the not-so-all-ages crowd. These are my personal favorites; the comics that are in my own personal comic file!

 

Feminist comics for adults:

 

Saga

Written by Brian K Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples (Canadian)

This story is set in a fantasy world that is embroiled in war between the wings vs. the horns. The wings vastly outpower and outnumber the horns, but the horns have magic on their side!

Saga is the story of when a soldier with wings falls in love with a man with horns who is her captive. They run away together and do the unthinkable; have a baby. This is an amazing, colorful, beautiful comic book, full of commentary on our own world and lives.

The comic art, done by Fiona Staples from Calgary, Alberta, broke ground and spurred controversy with its first issue cover art, which showed the woman breastfeeding her baby. The horror! The first issue showed a full length image of the couple, with the mother holding her baby while the baby is breastfeeding. There was a response to the controversy in the art for the first hardcover collection of the comics; instead of the full length picture, the art wasa close up image of the baby breastfeeding!

This comic Includes discussion and visuals of race, poverty, sex trafficking, homosexuality, transgender issues, war, violence, sex, power, parenting, and more. All the hard hitting and very relevant issues of today. Saga has won multiple awards, including Eisner and Hugo awards, over several years. Absolutely worth a first, second and third read through!

 

Bitch Planet:

Kelly Sue DeConnick

Bitch Planet takes place in a dystopian future where patriarchy has run rampant.  Women who are “non-compliant” are sent to a prison planet where they are either locked away forever, or leave only when they can be perfect Stepford Wife partners. Lesbians, transgender, or any non-heterosexual or non-binary people are considered “non-compliant”. Being overweight or unattractive, as well as not wearing makeup or wearing clothing to please men,  is non-compliant. Being an individual autonomous person while being female? Definitely non-compliant!

This comic book was Kelly Sue DeConnick’s response to being called an angry feminist.

“You want angry? I’ll show you angry”

Each comic focuses on a different woman and her story; representation is wide ranging. At the end of each comic there is a letter section called the “Bitch Fest”. This section includes a  letter from Kelly Sue, as well as many, many emotional, heartwrenching, funny letters from readers, as well as photos and art, including non-compliant logo (“NC”) tattoos! The letter section alone makes Bitch Planet worth a read, and is a huge reason why I collect the individual comics rather than the trade paperbacks, which don’t include the letter section. 

 

Hopefully this gives you some great stories to start with. There are some amazing women artists, creators, writers and great feminist topics to get into; this is only the beginning!

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