For the purposes of this article, I’m narrowing down the definition of feminist to include covers which avoid showcasing the breasts and/or butt of any woman portrayed, avoid poses as viewed between the legs or worm’s eye view directly at the crotch, and which also avoid incorporating those elements with minimizing clothing or otherwise oversexualizing the women in question. Pretty ridiculous (or tragic) that we need so many criteria, huh?
Kids and family titles, of course, are automatically exempt. The ones that don’t feature humanoid women or women at all don’t even meet the qualifications (sorry MLPFIM fans!), nor do the ones at the “for adults only” end of the spectrum.
Still, that leaves a large middle ground with a lot of great covers to explore. This is a top ten, so despite all the great work, I had to whittle it down to the ones that really hit me hardest.
So congratulations to:
A Ninja Named Stan #4
Delia Gable, Artist.
This one is an eye catcher because it’s not superheroic. It’s just a woman in civilian clothing. No TNA pose. No minimization of clothing. And a woman of color gives it extra points in my book! I’m not familiar with this title or this creative team. I may have to find and read this now, which is ultimately the true purpose of a comic cover! Great work, and the indies never seem to get enough love.
9. Drawn & Quarterly:
Aya: Love in Yop City
Clement Oubrerie, Artist
This is the cover to a graphic novel originally not produced in English, compiling three issues in English for the first time. Aya’s cover gives us three women of color, with natural hairstyles, and all in stances that regular people might take on any given day. Another one I’ve never laid eyes on before, which has now piqued my interest enough to go find it. Aya’s cover is more proof that you don’t need sensational or misogynist elements to catch a reader’s eye or sell a great story.
8. St. Martin’s Press:
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Lucy Knisley, Artist
This one turns some typical woman on the cover tropes out as well. It’s a woman, looking happy. Her mouth is open, but she’s not screaming. She’s not reaching to kiss a lover. She’s not crying. She’s opening her mouth to have a bite to eat. The media gives women a complicated and troublesome relationship with food and especially with eating it, so it is a delight to see a woman enjoying food, right there on the cover.
7. Action Lab:
Emily Martin, Artist
Princeless in general is a feminist title. It’s about a princess who decides she doesn’t want or need to be rescued by a prince and neither do any other princesses. It’s only fitting that a cover from such a title would land on this list. There’s also the fact that Princeless features women of color in the cast: another plus. This cover features Jeremy Whitley’s main character calling out the comics industry as a whole for the selfsame misogynist and sexist tropes that this top ten list is lauding avoiding! How could I not include it? Plus, look at the emotion and color in the art!
6. DC Comics:
Mikel Janin, Artist
I tried to keep the covers with less than a full body shot to a minimum, but I knew Batgirl would probably end up on this list one way or another. This cover is powerful for a different reason than many others you’ll see on this list: Batgirl has had the use of her legs back for 17 issues now, and is clearly capable of standing on her own two feet. She’s beaten some seriously nasty characters and has the bruises to prove it. She’s also conquered, or at least come to terms with, a good chunk of the fear that resides in her backbrain. But she’s still got vulnerabilities, and one has been exploited to bring her back in contact with the literal author of her torment–Joker. Comics covers don’t usually go to a place of vulnerability, even for their women characters. Look at the body language. She’s got her hands resting atop her knees, not hugging them as if she were trying to protect her core or hold herself together. She’s grieving, but she’s still showing strength. We see Barbara in tears, but she’s still wearing her full coverage costume, and she’s not in a fetal position. To me, that’s a sign that vulnerability is not weakness–an important message for readers no matter where they fall on the gender spectrum.
5. Marvel Comics:
David Lopez, Artist
Four, count ’em, FOUR women featured on the cover! None in a TNA pose! All clothed! Storm, looking leaderly, regal, and majestic. Pixie, in the classic black and yellow, looking mischievous. Domino, in her usual stealth covers, looking rugged and ready. And for a wonder, Psylocke, in one of the very last appearances of the costume most fangirls referred to as “butt floss,” but not in a pose that shows us Betsy’s bum! Really good! (Marvel thought so too: this cover was also the cover of the Reckless Abandonment TPB!) It could only have been improved by Marvel finally giving Betsy Braddock her original face back.
4. Marvel Comics:
Captain Marvel #9
Jamie McKelvie, Artist
Full disclosure: Carol Danvers is not a favourite character of mine, and I was really not pleased to see her get the Captain Marvel title back, relegating Monica Rambeau to Spectrum. But credit where credit is due: this cover featuring Carol in the Captain Marvel costume against a backdrop of stars, showing off a power pose is still a striking image to stop you in your tracks. It also has the distinction of being one out of only four on this list that has the woman on the cover by herself. It became pretty close to iconic. I saw it everywhere last year. Tumblr. Twitter. The blogosphere. The news. It boasts full head to toe coverage, and a can’t-miss image of a woman looking powerful rather than helpless. Marvel liked this one enough to make it a TPB cover too.
3. Marvel Comics:
All New X-Men #6
Stuart Immonen, Artist
Another full disclosure: I’ve been with Kitty since day one on the original Uncanny title. I’ve gotten to watch her grow from “flat-chested teen” baby X-Man Sprite, to ninja, to genius scientist, to dimension-hopping Excalibur member Shadowcat. Now, despite her lack of codename, to see Kitty occupying the same position Charles Xavier originated for the Original Five is a powerful image for me, even if Charles’ shadow looms over her. That she’s fully clothed and not showing off cleavage or a spine made of flexible silicone is only an underline to this image of her as a powerful, significant figure in the lives of the founding five X-Men. They’re calling her Professor K these days.
2. Image Comics:
Saga, Chapter 9
Fiona Staples, Artist
If you’ve been paying attention to comics news in the past year and change, then you’ve heard about Saga. Everything you’ve heard about this series is true. It’s a departure from your typical wacky sci-fi romp. This cover–by Fiona Staples, who also does the interiors–flips some of the common tropes around. The Stalk is the pale one, and while she’s a hot blonde being sexy, it’s The Will whose bare skin is showing, and who looks like he’s the more helpless here. Nice juxtaposition; no surprise from Fiona Staples.
And at number one!
The Movement #1
Amanda Conner, Artist
The Movement, if you’re unfamiliar, is Gail Simone’s latest project. It’s a Metahuman 99% group standing up to dirty cops and unscrupulous corporations seeking to take advantage of, or obliterate, the poor in Coral City. This cover features, again, a lovely four women. Three are women of color, and one is disabled. There’s one with an impressive bust size, but it’s no more emphasized than that of the literal next girl. While men share the cover with them, they stand as equals, and again, the man is the one showing the skin here.
A wonderful bit of accompaniment to the great work showcased here is that at least half of these covers were drawn by women, which makes them all the more respectworthy in my opinion.
Honorable mentions go to:
Marvel Comics for the late, lamented Fearless Defenders series, which by turns ignored and parodied a lot of the sexist tropes usually found on comic covers involving women.
And dishonorable mentions:
Bluewater Productions for Female Force, which delivered an entire series of powerful real life women, in close-ups, and with respectful depiction in every case…but who apparently are not good with paying their artists.
I also wanted to include the first issue of the all-woman X-Men, but while the cover does a great job, Brian Wood’s name is still in the credits. I couldn’t include it in good conscience while there were so many other great covers to choose from.
Special thanks to ComicVine, whose wiki helped immensely with researching an entire year’s worth of comic covers.