We hope you’re all as excited as we are about the Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics exhibition that we wrote about last week. Starting on February 5, the House of Illustration will be hosting the exhibition, which will be the UK’s largest ever showcase of the work of pioneering female comics artists. And it looks beyond smashing.
It comes in light of the Angoulême Grand Prix cockup, in which the most prestigious comics prize on earth failed to include one single women in its list of 30 nominees because “there are very few women in the history of comics art.” (you can read a full explanation of the controversy here). Not only is this blatantly sexist, it is also ridiculously untrue, as the Comix Creatrix exhibition well proves.
Included in the exhibition are 100 women comics creators from the 1800s to the present day. Their work spans genres – from memoir to science-fiction to comedy – and, as written by co-curators Paul Gravett and Olivia Ahmad, “debunks the myth that women have a limited stake in the world of comics.” Featured in the exhibition are women whose work Turnaround distributes, such as Una, Trina Robbins, Anne Opotowsky, and Marie Severin. There is also work by Alison Bechdel, Kate Beaton, Hannah Berry, Tove Jansson, Aya Morton, Jackie Ormes and so many others! (Check out the full list on the House of Illustration site).
In anticipation of the exhibition, we’ve been chattering on about our favourite female comic artists for the last week, and, as we are apt to do, we thought we’d share them with you. So below are our top-3 female comic creator idols. If you share our enthusiasm, or have any particular favourites of your own, don’t forget to share in the comments!
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Kelly Sue DeConnick has seen her popularity explode in recent years with her outstanding work on Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet. However, for me her run on Captain Marvel will always be my favourite entry in her library of work. Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel has for a long time been a heavy hitter in the Marvel Universe. However, her popularity reached new heights in 2012 when she took over the Captain Marvel moniker and under the pen of DeConnick became the star of an all-new Captain Marvel series. DeConnick did a masterful job of keeping Carol the likable character she has been for years while at the same time cramming new pressures on her, whether it be having to juggle her superhero and military responsibilities, becoming the cornerstone of her apartment complex to residents both young and old, almost losing her powers and later heading off into the far corners of space as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Special shout out to the final issue of the main series which features an incredibly moving tale as Carol comes to terms with the death of one of her oldest friends (made all the more moving by DeConnick’s notes at the end of the issue). Without DeConnick’s run, I am certain we would not be getting a Captain Marvel movie in the near future. As much as I am looking forward to the new Captain Marvel series starting this month, the new writers have big shoes to fill.
If you’d like to start reading DeConnick’s Captain Marvel, you can start with either Captain Marvel Volume 1: In Pursuit of Flight or Captain Marvel Volume 1: Higher, Faster, Further, More
One of my favourite artists in comics today (and favourite artist tables to visit when she’s at Thought Bubble), Emma Rios has also seen her popularity on the rise in the last few years. She has built up quite the body of work at Marvel with great contributions to Amazing Spider-Man, Cloak and Dagger and Dr. Strange. In 2013, she brought her work to another level on the Image Comic series Pretty Deadly alongside writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. A fresh take on the western, the series mainly focuses on the exploits of the adopted daughter of Death: Deathface Ginny. Besides the great storyline and the diverse range of characters, the best part of this series is Rios’ lush art which can go from psychedelic to action packed and gritty at the blink of an eye. She’s no slouch in the character design department either. Everyone looks great but Ginny is one of my favourite looking characters in my recent readings (think Clint Eastwood meets Day of the Dead). Rios is currently working on the latest arc of Pretty Deadly and is also editing the monthly comic anthology Island (Image Comics) which she has also contributed more of her unique work including the great ID two-parter that explores gender identity in the future. One to keep your eyes on!
Since her debut at Marvel in 2008, Sara Pichelli has been one the top stars in Marvel’s pantheon of artists with her work on series such as Runaways and X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back garnering a strong reputation among Marvel fandom. But it was her work on Ultimate Spider-Man that launched her to greater heights, in particular her work following the death of Peter Parker where, alongside writer Brian Michael Bendis, she co-created Miles Morales – Peter’s successor and now one of the most popular characters in Marvel today. Pichelli excels at action sequences and is a perfect fit for the Spider-Man series. However, her true strength is in the more character driven moments as her depictions and use of facial expression and body language is some of the strongest you’ll see in comics today. She was the perfect fit for the Spider-Men series that saw the Spider-Man from the main Marvel Universe crossover to the Ultimate Universe and meet his replacement in that universe. There’s all the action you’d expect, but the moments when Peter finds out that the alternate version of himself died in action in this universe and his meeting with the Ultimate versions of Aunt May and Gwen Stacy who are still coming to terms with Peter’s death are some of the most moving scenes in recent Spidey history. Pichelli has just finished up a run of Guardians of the Galaxy and is set to return to Miles Morales alongside Brian Michael Bendis as Miles makes his move to the main Marvel Universe following Secret Wars. Pichelli is quite simply a megastar and enjoys a place among Marvel’s All-New Young Guns line-up of artists. Expect to see more great things from her in the future.
If you want to find out why Pichelli is so awesome, a good place to start is with Spider-Men.
Julia Wertz is hilarious. I don’t often LOL in public, but her comics make me do so without fail. When I first came across her about 5 years ago I found her instantly identifiable. Given that in the comics Wertz is a self-destructive misanthrope who drinks too much and battles to live like a real adult, this isn’t perhaps a positive thing. Still, I was obsessed. Her work is completely autobiographical and created more in the moment than with any kind of retrospect, making the strips really raw. So far she’s produced three books; the latest is Museum of Mistakes, an omnibus collection that brings together her webseries The Fart Party. There are also two graphic memoirs, Drinking at the Movies and The Infinite Wait. Her drawings are really simple (all except her drawings of buildings, which are amazing) which adds to the hilarity. Watching a cute little bug-eyed character get so drunk she passes out on a bench in the Middle of New York beside a crazy person is surprisingly charming. And watching the same little character struggle with her brother’s addiction (and her own), and her own health problems is hugely poignant. Buy her books and see for yourself!
The first time I read Fun Home changed my life. Mostly because it was one of the first truly relatable books on coming out and queerness I’d found at that point (as in Fun Home itself, I’d dug through a lot of heavy, slightly depressing LGBTQ books but none of them really hit me in the same way), but also because it is heart-breaking, hilarious, incredibly intelligent and a work of story-telling genius. Basically, everything you could ask for in a book. Before Fun Home, I’d dabbled with Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch out For, an underground comic that ran from 1983 to 2008, and absolutely loved it. But it was her first full-length memoir that turned me into a superfan. I went to watch her talk whenever I could (my mate got incredibly embarrassed when Bechdel recognised her three consecutive nights in a row), and re-read her comics probably more than I’ve reread anything ever. Her last book, Are You My Mother? was amazing too, and I can’t wait for whatever she does next.
I had a very similar teen-hood to Ariel Schrag, which is probably why I find her work so awesome. Her comics, Awkward and Definition, Potential, and Likewise, chronicle her life through high-school in the 90s. She comes out, tries to understand her lesbianism, falls in love, gets her heart smashed and spends a lot of time listening to/watching bands like No Doubt and L7 (two of my teenage favourites). Her chronicles of family life and school are awkwardly accurate; in fact, everything in her comics is accurately awkward. On another note, Schrag has also written a brilliant novel, Adam, set in New York’s queer/trans scene, and she wrote some episodes of the L-Word. So great all round, really.
Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant was a mainstay in the house I shared with my pal while at uni. He was in the habit of emailing me strips from her website from his bedroom down the hall when, really, we should have been studying or writing papers or whatever it is they expect you to do while getting a Bachelor’s degree. Thus, I’d be stuck hitting the ‘random’ button on her site for hours on end, laughing till I cried and forgot all about whatever actual work I was meant to be doing. I think what I love about Beaton is what everybody loves about Beaton: that perfect combination of history and literature, geekiness and humour. She makes it easy to laugh at the regrettable aspects of recorded history, often lampooning the silliness of perceived superiority and oppression or subjecting old-timey folk to the modern condition.
Montreal-based comics creator Meags Fitzgerald really stood out to me when Turnaround first started distributing Conundrum Press, her (very excellent) publisher. I’d seen some of her work in Bitch Magazine (also very excellent) and immediately recognised her bold drawing style. Her graphic novels are in equal parts beautiful, experimental and accessible, and the fact that they’ve so far dealt with memoir gives them an intimately personal touch. This year’s Long Red Hair was acclaimed across the comics and queer media, and rightly so. Dealing with young Fitzgerald’s feelings of bisexuality – and the pressure and phobia that comes with it (“pick a side!”) – and issues surrounding celibacy, as well as imagination and belief. Autostraddle put it perfectly: “Long Red Hair by Meags Fitzgerald packs more emotional and educational punch in its less-than-a-hundred pages than many books three times its size.” Her critically-acclaimed graphic novel Photobooth: A Biography is also a work of sheer genius. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who thinks that Meags Fitzgerald is a writer to watch!
G. Willow Wilson
Sana Amanat & G. Willow Wilson (along with artist Adrian Alphona, but this is a post about ladies) are the brill, brill and even more brill creators of Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms Marvel. At a time when young women need relatable heroes more than ever, and likewise at a time when positive interpretations of Muslims are pathetically rare, they gave us Marvel’s first solo series to feature a Muslim female super hero. These folks deserve a standing ovation not just for what I feel is a culturally important message, but for lovingly crafting a well-formed, capable, funny hero who doesn’t feel like a token effort. I’ve only scratched the surface with Kamala Khan, but I can’t wait to continue on with this series. And if you need convincing? The thing that got me into Ms Marvel in the first place was this enthusiastic and affirming post from Swapna Krishna of Panels.net: 20 Things I Learned from Kamala Khan.
To get started with Ms Marvel, try Ms Marvel Volume 1.
It’s hard to describe how finding Saga felt. All I can say is that I hadn’t felt that way in years, comparable only to picking up Harry Potter, seeing Star Wars, or playing Final Fantasy all as a young child. There was something about it that made it seem like despite its stupendous popularity, this series was for me, and all of a sudden I cared about it as much as I enjoyed it. There’s a geeky kind of thrill in it that I don’t get from reading a mind-blowing feminist polemic or some masterful piece of contemporary fiction – though Saga is made up of both of these forms, I think I need a layering of outlandish setting to tick all my boxes. Fiona Staples’ sharp and strange illustrations of this space opera world are pretty much perfect, and watching Alana and Marko age and change through her art has been mesmerising – she makes me want to be Alana. Her breastfeeding cover ought to go down in history.
The way Una navigates the personal and the public in Becoming Unbecoming is astoundingly impressive. While we journey through the collective panic felt in the horrendously executed hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, she weaves her own story of childhood trauma in with a level of subtlety and expertise that is amazing for a graphic novel debut. Black and grey artwork conveys the sense of deflation after being let down – and pushed down – again and again by the authorities. When the realities depicted become too harrowing, delicate tricks like an airborne speech bubble or literal representations of metaphors rescue the reader and the protagonist. Where other art might collapse under the weight of Una’s message, her narrative is solid and successfully imparts a heap of upsetting information and a personal story that’s hard to forget. One of my most important reads of 2015.
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Bitch Planet is a great remedy to the kind of low reading something like Becoming Unbecoming induces. Since finding burly, bad-ass women in the likes of Love & Rockets and Jessica Jones, they’ve become a kind of vital sustenance for me. DeConnick’s women’s prison based in space is a great source for them, and the boiling rage she writes into her comics is palpable on every page – at every instant you see Penny slamming a guard in the background, and in every painfully sarcastic fake ad found in the back matter. It’s an angry story written with no holds barred, and its intensity is strange and a little bizarre at times, but totally necessary. With the feminist fight unearthing as many shitty terms of patriarchy as it smashes every day, Bitch Planet is a sane and stable outlet of rage for pissed off women everywhere.
Laura Jane Callaghan
Laura Jane Callaghan drew the flyer for the women in comics exhibition that this series of blogs has excitably been leading up to.
This flyer typifies what I like about her work – it largely depicts women doing normal things. Here is an image I love of women looking bored in a diner, and another of women looking wildly intellectually stimulated playing a video game.
Her images are so still and precise they begin to look almost surreal – in this way they remind me of Ghost World.
I found Vanessa Davis through reading an interview with Julia Wertz about which other autobiographical comic-creators she would recommend. On the strength of Wertz’s recommendation, I ordered Davis’ Make Me A Woman. Having read this, I can confirm that Davis’ narrative comics are great; funny, self-deprecating, contemporary – everything I like.
That said, if I am being truthful, the piece of work I’m the most attracted to by her is still this single still of a large angry lady playing guitar:
I think what initially drew me to Vanessa Davis, and what keeps me coming back, is how great she is at drawing fat legs. Seriously. My ‘about me’ section here on this blog mentions my interest in documenting subculture. I am starting to feel that due to a lack of documentation, fat legs are BECOMING a subculture – so by drawing them in action so regularly Vanessa Davis is ticking my boxes.
I found Julie Delporte through her autobiographical title Journal. For one year she drew a picture every day, and the result is a book of such tremendous gentleness and magnitude that I genuinely feel like I’m pressing a tonne weight on the people I give it to.
During the time she wrote it she had a break up, and the small honesties of how difficult it is to re-form yourself after a structural part of your life disappears physically pain me to remember, let alone actually straight-up look at. My favourite image from the book is her saying ‘now you are gone I draw every day,’ next to a sad selfie.
Oh! How I relate to that sad selfie! Haven’t we all had break-ups that are better for our creative and intellectual lives, and we know it, but that still absolutely suck?
Loving this book feels like the adult equivalent of my love for The Snowman. Perhaps the association is on a practical level as both are drawn in pencil crayon. If there is a more cerebral connection, in the sense both leave you with of the world opening up for you, and being both scared and excited about that.