Trying to get my friends and family into comics has been a rough journey. Comics are my favourite medium, but I will be the first to admit that they don't have the best reputation. Comics is an incredibly diverse and experimental medium, but their public image is so dominated by one spandex-clad genre that it's sometimes hard to get past, particularly in the representation of women. Luckily, we're living in a new golden age of comics that star women, are written by women, drawn by women, and are aimed at women. Everyday the medium is changing, becoming more inclusive and diverse, and there are more and more amazing titles to recommend to the curious and dubious new reader. Here's a few.
STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONIST
Brendon Lee Mulligan (Writer), Molly Ostertag (Artist)
So, superheroes: fun as they are to watch and read about, aren't really equipped to tackle the real worlds ills, right? "What are you going to do, Mega-Girl? Fling poverty into the sea? Smash us all into a better tomorrow?" Mainstream comics do sometimes address this, and it's often cringe-worthy. But, the first rec on this list makes superhero ineffectiveness a central theme. Strong Female Protagonist is a smart, gorgeously drawn webcomic updating Tuesdays and Fridays, following the life of Alison Greene, aka Mega-Girl, formerly America's leading superheroine, physically invulnerable, and the strongest human being who has ever lived. She's also a twenty year old Uni student, who's desperately trying to find an identity for herself outside of heroics that defined her teenage years and to understand how she can more effectively help the world beyond punching people in the face.
The comic explores the ethics of superheroing and social justice issues in a world just as messed up as our own. This can make for a pretty somber reading experience sometimes — SFP doesn't shy away from explicitly addressing homophobia, racism, poverty and privilege. Still, all these issues are treated with sincerity and honesty, and you never feel as if the writer and artist are using them for cheap shock value. And for all the darkness inherent in the stories themes, SFP doesn't come across as nihilistic. It's a fundamentally hopeful story, about continued action in the face of injustice and the importance of cooperation over individualism in tackling complicated issues. After all, you can't just kick homophobia through dimensions all on your own.
You can find SFP online, where it is still ongoing, or find the first print volume.
G. Willow Wilson (Writer), Adrian Alphona (Artist)
Ms Marvel began early last year, after the former Ms Marvel, Carol Danvers, claimed the title of Captain Marvel (actually a step down, she was a full Colonel when she left the Air Force. Lady outranks Captain America.). Kamala Khan of New Jersey is the "average girl" of the Tumblr age: obsessed with superheroes, writing fanfic, and stifling under parents who just don't understand how important this gifset is. She's also developing bizarre superpowers after exposure to a plot device. Inspired by her favourite superhero Captain Marvel and her inherent desire to do good, she sets out to protect the youth of New Jersey from various supervillains. Ridiculous teenage shenanigans ensue, iconic characters guest-star (Wolverine thinks Kamala is awesome), and writer G. Willow Wilson manages to intelligently and sensitively tie Kamalas Muslim faith to her heroic identity and motives. Kamala isn't defined by her faith, but it is an important aspect of her character and her life that the comic treats with utmost respect.
Ms Marvel is also a magnificent rebuttal to every "teenagers today are useless and lazy and will contribute nothing to the future" argument. Teenagers today are as varied and wonderful as the rest of the world, whatever out-of-touch baby boomers say. And let's be real, they didn't screw up the economy or fry the polar ice caps, but they are the ones who are going to have to live with it. I'll be honest, talking about Kamala and what a magnificent hero she is was about 98% of what motivated me to write this rec list. She's not Marvel's first female Muslim hero (X-Men has Dust and M, and Captain Britain has the delightful Dr Faiza Hussain, aka Excalibur), but is the first to headline her own ongoing title. Ms Marvel is about inspiration, hope, initiative and perseverance, doing what you can because it's RIGHT, to make a difference, even if it's hard, even if your parents don't like the giant space dog you just brought home.
SUPER MUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY
Jillian Tamaki (Writer and artist)
You know those long, aimless, vaguely philosophical conversations you have with your friends during lunch or after school? Where you contemplate your future, your present, your place in the world, and whether there is any real significance in any of it? You're not unique. Every high school student has those conversations, even students at a bizarre high school for vaguely defined magic and superpowers. Super Mutant Magic Academy is a collection of vignettes, short stories and one shot comics set in a high school that could be any high school. Yes, there are cute lizard girls and an immortal boy drifting through existence with blank faced ennui, but those aspects of the characters are secondary to their quintessential teenager-ness.
Super Mutant Magic Academy is many things. It's a bizarre, irreverent, absurdist comedy. It's a parody of the literary tropes of school and fantasy stories. It's a visually striking work of art, rendered in loose, sketchy lines that resemble the margin-doodles you can find in any students textbook. It's a witty, incisive look at teen culture as it exists today. But most importantly, Super Mutant Magic Academy is a pitch perfect depiction of both teenage angst and teenage apathy, without passing judgement on either state of mind. In one comic, a character lies motionless on the ground. What's wrong?
"I don't know."
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
Keiron Gillen (Writer), Jamie McKelvie (Artist), Matt Wilson (Colourist)
Keiron Gillen, Matt Wilson and Jamie McKelvie are one of my favourite collaborative comic creator teams, and their current ongoing The Wicked + The Divine is possibly their greatest work together yet. Every 90 years, a Pantheon of twelve gods from various mythologies are reincarnated as young people. They live. They inspire. They are loved, hated, and without exception, within two years, they are all dead. The comic follows the Recurrence of 2014 through the eyes of Laura, a teenage fan, who finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery among the gods she idolizes. The twist is that the Pantheon of the 21st century embody the symbols of worship and adulation of the times... which of course means that here and now, they are pop idols. Part of the experience, outside of the luminous art and writing, is in recognising how each god echoes real world musicians — Lucifer resembles a 80s-era Bowie, Amaterasu is more than a little Florence Welch, and Baal is Kanye, with all the ego and OTT of the real thing.
Celebrity is fleeting, and the lives of most of the main characters have a definite expiry date, which gives the series a sense of real immediacy as it questions ideas of fame, music and the power and meaning of both. The cast is wonderfully diverse as well, and the multitudes of women, queer characters and PoC in the story all have dimension and personality without having to fit into some imaginary diversity checklist. This is a series in which the literal incarnation of the Devil admits that transphobia is not okay. WicDiv, as it's fans affectionately call it, recently wrapped up its second story arc, with the series thus far collected in two trade Paperbacks. It's a great time to start.
Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters (Writers), Brooke Allen (Artist)
It's a sad theme in fiction that all women hate each other. All women are constantly in competition with each other, for whatever the plot demands. Women can't support each other, or celebrate each others successes, they're too busy despising each other. Sigh. Female friendships can be some of the most fantastic, enriching and supportive relationships there are, and it's horrible how often they are misrepresented. FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS ARE GREAT. And Lumberjanes is a beautiful, hilarious, all ages testament to this, with the creedo 'Friendship to the Max', and a magnificent array of female friendships at the core of the comic.
Set at a summer girl scout (not THE Girl Scouts) camp, Lumberjanes is a paranormal adventure in the vein of Gravity Falls, with a core cast of five friends who set out to unravel the mysteries of the surrounding woods... and get their merit badges for puns, make friendship bracelets, and goof off. I'm a Kiwi born and bred, so I can't speak for the summer camp experience, but I did attend an all girls school for five years, and the comic perfectly captures the camaraderie of girlhood and the friendships formed in adolescence. Lumberjanes also features several queer relationships, in both the main and supporting cast. The comic doesn't talk down to it's younger audience, and manages to deliver some simple, universal life lessons without ever being didactic or boring. This is a brilliant comic for young and old, and is a perfect entry point into comic reading.
I would go on, and I'd love to go on eternally, but I don't want to keep you here. Go read some comics.
Tell me about comics you like! Comics, y'all. Comics.▼