The Feminism of Modern Comics: A Very Introductory Guide
by Maria Perica
By now, most people are aware that nerd culture has a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity (see: Feminist Frequency, The Hawkeye Intiative, etc). Mainstream Hollywood adaptations of popular comic books fuel the anger surrounding the lack of diverse and multi-dimensional female characters. However, when you take a short detour from the multi-million-dollar budget movies coming out in droves, women are doing some pretty amazing things in the realm of comics in particular.
While you wait for mainstream media to catch up, here are a few comics to get you started.
Saga (written by Brian K Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples)
One of the most popular series coming out of Image Comics right now is Saga, a part love-story, part epic space action-adventure inspired by Star Wars. Without giving away too much of the plot, Saga begins in a way that may lead a reader to believe that it is a run of the mill good-vs-bad story, but Saga’s development of plot and character make it worthy of the praise it has been receiving. The main female characters are complex and nuanced; for example, the main female protagonist, Alana, is a mother but she is never reduced to being only a mother. She continues to be vibrant, sexual, and tough without ever falling into the trope of being pushy or emotionless.
Persepolis (by Marjane Satrapi)
Many comics have delved into the autobiographical, but few have done it as successfully as Satrapi. Persepolis is a memoir of Satrapi’s childhood from ages 6-14 growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The power of this comic lies in the intertwining of events that were broadcast on the news with Satrapi’s accounts of daily life as a child growing up in such a tumultuous time. Persepolis has received wide acclaim and has been adapted into an animated movie that was nominated for an Academy Award.
Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel (by Anya Unlinich)
Lena Finkle is another attempt at memoir, but unlike Persepolis, Lena Finkle crosses into fiction territory. However, that does not make its raw emotion any less powerful. Ulinich documents her life as a Russian-American single mother trying to navigate the modern, technology-driven dating world. While funny at times, Lena Finkle deals with themes of abuse and heartbreak while adding a layer of complexity that includes being an immigrant caught between two identities that sometimes seem irreconcilable. Readers will find it easy to see a piece of themselves in self-doubting, imperfect yet charming, Lena Finkle.
Bitch Planet (written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Valentine De Landro)
Fans of Orange is the New Black might like this comic series. Bitch Planet takes place in a dystopian future where patriarchy has won. In this male-dominated world, “noncompliant” women are shipped off to a women’s prison planet. The series tackles tropes and stereotypes in a way that is blunt and unapologetic, and a diverse array of races and body types can be seen on nearly every page.
Hark! A Vagrant (by Kate Beaton)
Beaton began drawing comics at the same time that she was pursuing her undergraduate history degree, and Hark! A Vagrant seems to be the result of the blending of history and comics. Unlike the other comics on this list, Hark! A Vagrant is a webcomic that Beaton publishes on no particular schedule. The webcomic often features feminist and historical themes, but even people who are not that into history (like me) will enjoy Hark! A Vagrant simply because of how effortlessly funny Beaton is.
Rat Queens (written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and drawn Roc Upchurch/Stjepan Sejic/Tess Fowler)
Rat Queens is set in a fantasy world and follows a tough and hilarious girl-gang who are in the business of killing for money. Wiebe writes a compelling and diverse cast of characters, which feature various races and sexualities seamlessly interwoven into the storyline in a way that does not hijack the plot but instead adds to it. Each character has a strong personality but they remain flawed and human in a beautifully relatable way.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (by Alison Bechdel)
Alison Bechdel is a household name by now, if not for the eponymous “Bechdel Test” then for the smash-hit musical adaptation of graphic novel Fun Home. Drawn completely in shades of blue, Fun Home is a melancholy memoir that details Bechdel’s coming out as a lesbian and her strained relationship with her queer father. Fun Home is cheeky and poignant but never fails to remind you that at its heart it is a truly emotional story that will remain with the reader for a long time.
This One Summer (written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki)
Although this graphic novel is about young teenagers and features light and airy cover art, This One Summer deals with surprisingly mature themes. On its surface, This One Summer is a classic coming-of-age story about summers spent by a lake with friends. However, unlike many coming-of-age stories, This One Summer does not hold back. The story feels painfully real at times. It is emotional , and simultaneously hopeful and will have you reminiscing about what it was like to be an awkward teenage girl in those early adolescent years.