Celebrating Women in Comics
Like many readers I was dismayed by the recent all-male long list for the Grand Prix announced by the prestigious Angouleme festival. Actually no, not dismayed, I was angry – here is one of the pre-eminent comic festivals in the world, one which celebrates not just the medium but the medium as an artform, and yet it produces, in this day and age, an all-male shortlist (several prominent creators on that list, including Dan Clowes and Joann Sfar asked to take their names out of consideration because of this – see Wim’s report here). We’ve seen so many reports about our beloved medium not treating female comickers equally, and when you think it is slowly getting better something like this comes along. From fellow comickers, who you would hope would be more appreciative of the hurdles any creator, let alone women, have to go over to make something of themselves and their work (and that almost certainly goes even more so for many creators from minorities).
So I could have spent my time castigating the frankly shameful all-male list. Or I could use that time to do something positive… And to that end I’ve asked around for people to pick out a female comicker whose work they admire and tell us briefly why they love their work. Does this fix a major bias problem in the medium? No, of course not. But it’s never a bad thing to shout out about some great creative talents, and this seemed like a very good time to focus specifically on female comickers for a change. Plus hopefully it does what we like doing most on here and pointing readers to the work of comic creators new to them. And if it encourages women or young girls who had been thinking about it but had been put off, that yes, they can make comics if they want, then that’s absolutely terrific too(in fact if it makes anyone of any gender, persuasion, age, ethnicity etc want to make comics and tell their stories, that’s wonderful). Please do feel free to tell us about your own faves in the comments.
Doctor Mel Gibson: “My immediate thought, is, of course Posy, whose work across newspapers, children’s books and graphic novels is a superb body of work. However, I suspect that lots of other people will suggest Posy too, so I’d like to additionally suggest Trina Robbins as a creator and ‘herstorian’ of comics who has worked in the medium for over thirty years. Initially an underground creator (as well as a feminist), Trina has responded to sexism in comics through both her indy and mainstream comic work. Her work on women creators of the past flags up their work and significance in a way reminiscent of the female fine art historians of the 1980s and onwards.
(Trina’s The Brinkley Girls, celebrating Nell Brinkley’s cartooning, published Fantagraphics)
Gary Northfield: “Anouk Ricard is one of the few cartoonists whose work I buy sight-unseen. Her series Anna and Froga is disarmingly simple, yet packed with emotion and wonderfully observed characters. Anouk understands the playful, yet spiteful, minds of children better than any writer I know.”
(Anouk Ricard’s delightful Anna and Froga, published by D&Q)
Cliodhna Lyons: “I’m going to be cheeky and name three because honestly if I was asked to do the same for male creators I’d struggle to name just one (it’s cheeky, but being Cliodhna she’s allowed to do this – editor).
Erika Moen – stalwart of the Indie comics scene on the US west coast. Queer and female and an amazing talent. First came to most peoples attention with her comic DAR – featured in the Flight anthology series as well as several Black Horse publications and took part in the webcomic reality tv show Strip Search and now rocking the web comic Oh Joy Sex Toy which features her and her husband reviewing sex toys among other things. She talks freely about sex without shame and her comic features people of all colours, sizes, genders and abilities.
(DAR by Erika Moen)
Liz Prince – another power house of the Indie comics scene on the US west coast whose been a long time contributor to many antholiges, published many short comics and had four graphic novels published including the amazing Tomboy which I got at Angouleme last year from Liz. She draws comics about her love of punk music culture and Tomboy is a great bio comic that focusing on not fitting into a mould.
(Liz Prince and a happy eavesdropping moment)
Raina Telgemeier – not doubt going to be mention by many many other people as she is one of the shinning examples of the future of women in comics. Like the my other picks shes been a long standing contributor to the small press/indie scene and contributing to anthologies before she started working on the Babysitters Club graphic novels. She then had her webcomic Smile published as a graphic novel and has had two follow ups and is working on her next graphic novel right now. She’s been nominated and won Eisners. When I run comic book workshops for kids and teens I bring comics from all around the world to show them, and hands down the one they all ask me where/how to buy, male or female, is Smile.
(Raina Telgemeier’s popular Smile, published Scholastic)
All these cartoonists are in their thirties and I could name twenty more, so I think the future for not just female comic creators but comics in general is bright, given the work being made. Just some people need the blinkers removed. Some might question why I’ve only picked American artist but they were the first three I named, I could have named many from all round the world. In 2013 I spent most of the year playing comic book tourist and went around the world to meet comic creators, and what I found was it was very much a fifty-fifty mix of male and female creators that I met. There are some awesome female creators in Russia, South Africa and the Philippines…and well just all over!”
(“Why Marriage?” by national treasure Posy Simmonds, originally featured in the Guardian)
Simon Gurr: “Out of the many female cartoonists I admire, I am choosing Paula Knight. Paula is working on a huge, two hundred-plus page graphic memoir called The Facts of Life, which Myriad are publishing next year. I’ve been lucky enough to see some pages from it and I’m looking forward to it a lot. It’s a deeply personal story, brave and wise, but written in such a way that anyone can relate to it, even if they’re not affected by the issues Paula is describing.
(a page from The Facts of Life by Paula Knight, coming from Myriad Editions)
Paula’s background is in children’s book illustration and I think her clarity of line and design sense are part of the success of her comics work, but she’s also a musician and I find the overlap between music and visual storytelling fascinating. I’m a fan of her visual style, which you can see examples of on Myriad’s site. She has also been active in the small press and some of her self-published comics are still available in her online shop.”
Pat Mills: ” So here’s my choice: Fay Dalton. Truly brilliant artist. Cool, classic retro painted style. Check out her web site. I gave a talk about girls comics (separate sub-genre to female comics per se) and an agent heard my rant, and astonishingly it inspired her to start a competition to find a girls comic artist with a £1K prize. We only got three entries!!! Fay was the natural winner. Since then she’s produced excellent comic strip for American Reaper and other series. I’ve shown and enthusiastically promoted her work to editors and publishers at Dark Horse, that US company who do Bond (because she did work on Casino Royale for the Fleming estate), 2000AD, Titan and another graphic novel publisher. Are they beating a path to her door? Er – no. And why not? Well, perhaps the answer lies below in. So we could lose this incredible talent !!! It pisses me off big time, so I know just how those folks at Angouleme feel.
(Fay Dalton’s “Reaper Files” cover artwork for the Judge Dredd Megazine #1335)
And you probably know my ex, Angela Kinckaid, was the artist creator of Slaine. (The original credit said A. Mills – not Angela Mills because we were aware of possible bias in the blokey world of comics.) Why didn’t she continue with the series? Well, apart from being (rightly) pissed off by my endless editorial changes to the character, it was because she also found the comradeship that existed between all the male comic artists at the time did not extend to her, even though she knew many of them. Not one 2000AD artist or editor rang her up with friendly words or congratulations that she had designed and illustrated a character that for the very first time beat Judge Dredd in the popularity polls. Angela’s episode was the only time this happened to my knowledge. An unpalatable fact that I’m sure is whitewashed out of history. Surprised by the deafening silence of her peers, she decided to return to the much friendlier world of children’s books, and I don’t blame her.
(Angie Kincaid’s fabulous fantasy art for Celtic barbarian Slaine in 2000 AD)
I suspect the experiences of Fay and Angela are not unique for female artists. Similarly, it’s taken eight years of my ranting to get a Misty collection off the ground – from Rebellion. Good for them! Previously it was turned down by a major comic publisher because, even though he’d bought the rights, he couldn’t find any editors interested in taking the project on! (This included female editors! So much for the sisterhood! ). Even though girls comics once outsold boys often by two to one. (Thus Tammy once sold 250, 000 copies a week compared to 2000AD which sold 200, 000 copies a week. ) But no one cares about commercial realities, they’d all rather stick to super heroes and super heroines with impossible anatomies
My reading of all this is comic publishing is largely a boys sandpit run by fans and no one else is welcome in it, but they can’t admit it in these politically correct times, so they just use the cold shoulder as exampled above. Sounds like exactly the same happened in Angouleme.
Although I have to say I thought the bias was uniquely Anglo-American. Thus the superb W.I.T.C.H.E.S. originated in Italy, I think. And I did a BD with Cinzia De Felice for France (Biankha) and had none of this nonsense.”
Matt Badham: “I love Liz Prince’s Tomboy. It’s a smart, entertaining comic and reading it gave me a glimpse into a world I know nothing about (the childhood and adolescent mindscape of a girl struggling to reconcile her own gender identity with the expectations and prejudices of those around her). It’s easily one of my fave comic books ever. (I’m purposefully not calling it a graphic novel. It’s too good for that kind of condescension!)”
(a scene from Liz prince’s Tomboy, published Houghton Mifflin)
K.A. Laity: “The legend, Marie Severin — EC, colouring everything from war comics to horror in the 1950s; Marvel, coluoring on a wide variety of titles in the 1950s, 60, and 70s, and then drawing Hulk, Iron Man, Conan and more; co-creating Spider-Woman; later Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies comics. Decades of comics work, multi-skilled! If she were male the fan boys would be falling over themselves to just to touch her sleeve.”
(pages from Marvel’s Not Brand Echh #3 by the great Marie Severin)
Steve Morris: “Rachel Deering – after the huge success of her ‘In The Dark’ anthology, which raced from Kickstarter to print to full-on IDW Publication, Rachel Deering has steadily been steering Archie Comics into the modern age. Her lettering expertly tells horror, comedy, romance or action in clear, sprawling fashion – she knows how to tell a comics page, and you can see how she’s been able to really play around with her work across a variety of differently-toned comics. She’s at Rosy Press at the moment, and Lord knows where else, because she’s rightly in demand at more places than anyone could hope to keep track of. Rachel Deering, everybody!”
(Bone White, Blood Red by Rachel Deering, Matteo Scalera et al)
Paul Cornell: “I think Rachael Stott is extremely talented. You can see her line getting better all the time, and she gives populist subjects a very detailed and directorial presentation, adding, for example, huge crowd scenes to Cav Scott and George Mann’s Doctor Who comic set at SDCC. She deserves the title ‘award-winning’.”
(I cannot resist including this gleeful depiction of the female Ghosbusters by Rachel Stott, it is just far too wonderfully fun and smile-inducing. Besides, as we know it is a scientific fact that bustin’ makes us feel good)
Kate Evans: “I’d like to nominate Corinne Pearlman for her work in promoting and nurturing comic artistry. A talented artist and illustrator in her own right, Corinne works tirelessly and selflessly through the publishing house Myriad Editions, where she is artistic director, and in a personal capacity, helping other people’s comic lights shine.
If our industry and our society were not riddled with sexism, I feel sure that Corinne would have received greater recognition for her art. Instead, she has a very female, maternal and self effacing way of down-playing her own achievements and connecting, promoting and lauding others.
Since she’s the last person to blow her own trumpet, I’d like her to get some external appreciation for her devotion to this field. I’ve bestowed upon her the honorary title “The Grand Dame of British Comics”. I think it’s time to make it official.” (BTW, Kate, artist on the new Red Rosa from Verso, which sold out pretty much on launch day (wow) commented in her email about her own comic art and that “I plan to learn from the previous generation’s mistakes and not hide my lights under a bushel.” Quite right!
Alison Sampson: “Carla Berrocal. I first came across Carla’s work when we were looking for designers to take part in our Think of a City project and Emma Rios put her name forward. We were immediately taken with the emotional, slightly awkward quality of her art, her bold use of color and shape, and the work’s simplicity, whilst it gets a lot across. There’s a lot of pain there, in a good way.
Whilst doing all this, Carla also is a founder member of the Spanish association of female comic artists, Autoras de Cómic, which has been instrumental, with the Collectif des créatrices de bande dessinée contre le sexisme in standing up for female comic artist’s rights in Europe. You can see her quoted here, alongside the rest of the story about what’s been happening with the Grand Prix, from the female point of view. She has worked across comics, illustration, posters, editorial work and more in Spain and internationally, with self-written sequentials for DC Vertigo and elsewhere.”
Alison was also kind enough to talk to Carla so we could borrow some of her art to include, and Carla very generously sent us over several pages from Orbital Variations, a science fiction graphic novel with three stories crossing over each other (and I believe she’s still looking for a publisher, so hint, hint to any publishers reading!) and since it is so lovely and since we’re waving the flag for female creators let’s just enjoy a pile of pages while we’re at it:
Colin Smith: “Where to start in praise of Gail Simone? Her scripts are technically sharp, enthralling, adventurous, beguilingly humane, persistently touching and politically charged. Whether it’s on franchise books – from Secret Six to The Simpsons and all points between – or on titles of her own invention – such as Leaving Megalopolis – her work’s always as entertaining as it’s thought-provoking. I’ve never once read a comic that she’s written and regretted in any way doing so.”
(cover to the first volume of Gail Simone’s cracking New 52 version of Batgirl, which emphasised the human as well as superhuman; cover art by Adam Hughes, published DC)
Mary Talbot: “I’ll single out Corinne Pearlman of Myriad Editions, for her remarkably supportive, hands-on editorial style. She continues to nurture numerous graphic novel projects on challenging subjects, many of them by women, that would be unlikely to see the light of day otherwise. The most recent of these being Una’s Becoming Unbecoming and of course Kate Charlesworth’s Work in Progress (ha! I slipped two more names in…)”
(a page from For the Love of God, Marie! by Jade Sarson, coming from Myriad Editions this summer)
Katie Schenkel: “Marguerite Bennett – Bennett is doing some of the most provocative writing in mainstream comics today. I can’t get over how excellent DC Bombshells is, how she turned what could have been simply a tie-in to a popular figure line into something totally new, but everything she’s doing right now adds so much to the comic landscape and is so distinctly her aesthetic.”
(a page from the first issue of one of my favourite new series of 2015, Marguerite Bennett and Marguerite Sauvage’s wonderful reinvention of DC superheroines in WWII, Bombshells)
Sarah Lightman: “If I could suggest anyone for your article it would be Diane Noomin. As well as creating her fabulous, glamorous and occasionally vulnerable alter-ego DiDi Glitz, I consider Noomin’s 12 page comic ‘Baby Talk: Tale of 4 Miscarriages” a brilliant and nuanced work, that gives women permission to discuss the frequently experienced but also frequently silenced topic of miscarriage. I have seen first person how this comic can change audience’s pre-conceived notions of what comics can be about.”
And my own choice? Oh, it is so much easier asking our guests to be generous with their time and forcing them to select just one name than it is for me to narrow it down to but a single person! So many to choose from – Mary Talbot (with husband Bryan) creating the first graphic novel to win the prestigious Costa book award, Sarah McIntyre who moves through rooms of Comics and Picture Books leaving the doors open behind her as she goes so they all blend wonderfully, and at the same time delighting young readers with her live events and standing up for artist’s rights. Gail Simone who brings a wonderfully rounded humanity to her characters, the emotional depth of her Barbara Gordon, given the use of her legs again after years in a wheelchair, almost had me in tears. There’s Wendy Pini who has commanded a loyal following for so many years.
Kate Beaton who makes me think while reducing me to fits of laughter. Fiona Staples, not least for her amazing Saga work. Alison Bechdel whose Dykes To Watch Out For was so wonderful on so many levels, let alone her later work. G Willow Wilson, especially for her fabulous Ms Marvel. June Mills creating Miss Fury even before Wonder Woman took to the page. Lynda Barry, Marjan Satrapi, D&Q’s Peggy Burns chamioning new creators, the powerhouse female manga collective CLAMP (who has sales numbers the likes of which even big publishers like DC and Marvel can only dream of these days), Emma Beeby being the first woman to write the iconic Judge Dredd, Karrie Fransman who is not content unless she is experimenting with and pushing the medium (and also being a delight to interview).
I’ve loved work by Julie Doucet, Amanda Conner, Colleen Doran, Pia Guerra, Elaine Lee, Leah Moore, Scotland’s own crime novelist with a strong penchant for comics, Denise Mina, the wonderful Jill Thompson, Vanessa Davis. How would my groaning bookshelves be complete without some Tove Jansson? Posy Simmonds? Maruerite Abouet’s tales gave me a view of life in Africa different from what I normally see in news or documentaries. FP’s own Kenny introduced me to one of his longtime favourites, acclaimed German comics master Anke Feuchtenberger. Ria Schulpen at Bries in Belgium, surely as fine in Europe as D&Q are to the Anglophone world? Katie Green bearing her soul in Lighter Than My Shadow. Phillipa Rice delighting us with scraps of cardboard and oddments and turning them into comics. Ellie de Ville who has lettered so many of the 2000 AD strips I read every single week. Lauren Beukes who pens morally complex comics as well as some of the most fascinating novels (all while sporting some very fine footwear).
And what about…? Well, you get the picture – for all the nonsense of this being a medium for boys, read by boys, even sold by boys (try telling that to my female colleagues here, including some who are the managers running some of our stores, and you’ll get a lightsaber shoved somewhere you really don’t want it to be), the moment you stop and think about it your brain starts a chain, one name making you think of another, and another, and another, and so many others we haven’t named here, because there are so many. How much poorer would our medium be without all that creative talent? How is it possible with so many talented women working in comics for years, decades, that a prize list can come out in this day and age which totally ignored them?
But yes, I’m avoiding doing what I made everyone else do and forcing them to pick just one name out. I considered a number of those I mentioned above and some of those our guests picked out. Finally though I thought I would select someone from behind the scenes: Karen Berger. Karen worked her way up the tree at DC Comics from the late 1970s onwards, but years ago I didn’t know that. I first became aware of Karen’s name because I would see it in the inside page of the Sandman as I picked up those issues (a lifetime ago now, it seems), and again heard her praised when hosting Neil Gaiman, way back in the early 90s for a book signing, mentioning how she had given him and the series a chance.
And later I would become aware of her influence which had nurtured many talents, brought more over from the UK to the US and given them a new playset to run wild with and the Vertigo imprint which consolidated those “out there”, oddball titles which I loved so much, giving them their own home, a home which even though she has finally moved on from, still stands and is still offering a home to just those kinds of series (look at the new wave of a dozen Vertigo mini series over this autumn and winter, written and drawn by women and men). Imagine Karen hadn’t worked her way up that industry (and in a time when the phrase “career woman” didn’t exist, in the early years). Imagine she hadn’t been there to champion Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, and the gates that opened to many other creators. Imagine nobody was there to put faith in a story about the lord of Dreams and let it run, and let it end as the author wished.
I wonder how many creators owe their lucky break to catching the eye of this editor and publisher who would put faith in them, encourage them, support them? How many more will benefit from the Vertigo imprint in years to come? How many readers’ lives were enriched by the work of those creators she supported? How many new talents were inspired by reading those and thinking, I want to do that?