Not only is there a lack of female characters headlining ‘good’ Western comics, women creators (writers, artists, even editors) are underrepresented too. The work of only three female creators cracked Forbidden Planet’s 50 Best Graphic Novels, and only one of them–Lynn Varley–was actually listed. Paste Magazine’s 20 Best Graphic Novels of the Decade (2000-2009) includes the work of only one woman, and only thee books in which women take the lead.
Where are all the good stories starring women? The great comics made by women?
The truth is, while men’s stories still dominate the world over, there’s no dearth of wonderful stories about girls and women. What there is, is a sad lack of attention being paid to the books themselves, and to their creators. A good Batgirl book feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity, both because dude heroes still vastly outnumber ladies in tights, and because books with female leads are under-promoted, under reviewed, and seem to just naturally fall by the wayside. They don’t last as long. People aren’t buying them (actually, people are). They’re first on the chopping block when money gets tight. This goes double for female characters of colour and LGBTQ characters. This isn’t plain mustache twirling misogyny on the part of comics publishers or journalists. A lot of the time this under-representation and under-promotion ‘just happens’; a series of decisions that lead to virtually every Marvel and DC book with a female lead being suddenly disappeared.
Quite a few people–readers and participants–have expressed frustration with our upcoming topic. For some of you the struggle is narrowing things down to a singluar favourite. Others are grappling with some depressing confirmation bias: My favourite stories don’t appear on any top ten lists. Maybe they’re not ‘good’ comics. Are they really my favourites?
Last year your friendly neighborhood editor spent about two minutes coming up with a list of comics starring girls and women. (Seriously, five minutes tops). It’s hardly comprehensive, as I’m no comics historian. But check out this rather zaftig list of superheroines. Once we take international comics into account, the number explodes (holy shoujo, Batwoman!). There are a lot of comics starring women. There are a lot of comics by and about women. They range from the terrible to the sublime, but for some reason, they don’t get much air time in the ongoing conversation about Western comics.
Some of my personal favourites include: the lusciously gonzo introduction of Vampirella, the so very 70s original run of Ms. Marvel, Batwoman: Elegy (in which JH Williams redefines awesome), Fun Home, Persepolis, The Hikiteia, Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals, the Dark Phoenix Saga–I could go on. Are they good comics? Old school Ms. Marvel is of dubious value, but it sure is fun. Elegy and the Hikiteia are good enough to sometimes make those ‘good’ lists, and of course Fun Home and Persepolis are representing for us, so much of the time.
When “Favourite Stories Starring Women” came up in the nominations, part of me went, “really?” Part of me wondered if we shouldn’t be tackling some weightier issue than our favourite comics. But now I’m wondering if isn’t exactly what we need: a no excuses roundtable about the comics we love, be they good, bad, or inexplicably satisfying. Our own lists (on lists on lists) of best comics, favourite comics, and favourite creators. What the hell does it matter if Claremont’s Ms. Marvel could go toe to toe with Watchmen (it really can’t). This is comics.
So hey, if you’re still working on your post for round two (I am, oh lord), write whatever you want. Write about Emma Frost, She Hulk, Utena, Lucy from Peanuts, or freaking Witchblade. Write about a great comic with a female lead, or a terrible one. Your favourite stories don’t have to do double duty, being good comics and good comics about women, they just have to be special to you.
Save the date, ladies!
Round Two: Favourite Stories Starring Women
March 18 – 24
We’re looking forward to all of your contributions! As always, you can ensure your submission’s inclusion by tagging your posts ‘womenoncomics’ on Tumblr and Twitter, or DMing or emailing us directly.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.