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Review: Girl Comics #1

Robin Brenner

girl comics 01 Review: Girl Comics #1When I first heard about Marvel’s Girl Comics, I freely admit from the title alone I rolled my eyes.  A few times.  However, in investigating a little further, I was excited by the idea of seeing comics created entirely by women hit the comics stores.  Is it a media ploy?  Yes, likely.  Does that mean it couldn’t be interesting?  No.  Could it also be appalling?  You betcha.

Girl Comics #1
by Colleen Coover, Valerie D’Orazio, Robin Furth, Devin Grayson, Lucy Knisley, Trina Robbins, G. Willow Wilson
Age Rating: T+
Marvel, March 2 2010
$4.99

I’ve been giving the whole project the benefit of the doubt. In Heidi MacDonald’s interview with editor Jeanine Schaefer over at The Beat, she emphasizes that the collection is "…actually comics BY women—and I mean, top to bottom: written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered. The logo is by a woman, all the interior design, production, proof-reading and editing is all by women.  Although some creators have gravitated towards their favorite female super hero, it’s not specifically focused on our female characters, and I’m not trying to generate content that I think will appeal to more women."  I applaud the idea of featuring an all female staff for all of these stories.  There’s a part of me that would enjoy being able to hold up the collected edition to show my female teen artists and writers the variety of women working right now in the industry.

So, in the interest of taking a look at this series as it comes out, I invited one my Good Comics for Kids cohorts, Kate, to help me tackle issue number one.  We will continue by covering issues number two and three as they arrive.

Robin: What were your intial thoughts? While I didn’t hate it, I didn’t really fall in love with any of it, and I found most of it too…short to be feel really impressed.

Kate: For me, the bigger problem with Girl Comics is that it had no overarching theme; it was eclectic to the point of being incoherent. The cover art led me to think the series was going to feature stories about Marvel’s A-list female superheroes, as told by the industry’s best female writers and artists. Yet the contributions were all over the map: some were cute and a little too pat for my taste, while others registered more as scenes than stories, lacking a narrative arc. About the only contribution that really worked for me as a story was "Clockwork Nightmare," which had distinctive, appealing artwork and a good punchline. 

Robin: It does leave me wondering: who are these stories for?  As a showcase for female talent, it’s a debatable success, but who is going to pick it up?  We’ve got a few superhero snapshots, a retro tale of Gods and Goddesses, and a wacky adventure through Hansel and Gretel. It’s obviously for Marvel folks, because all of these stories expect knowledge of the Marvel universe to make any sort of sense. So, are they just trying to show off female creators to the fans they already have?  Not a bad aim, particularly, but not an inclusive or inviting one to new readers.  As you say, none of the stories had enough meat to them to make a strong enough narrative impact to make me want to run out and buy more by that writer immediately.  I love G. Willow Wilson’s work on Cairo and Air, but her story here, "Moritat," wouldn’t have made me seek them out.

The good, for me, was simply being introduced to the artists.  I’d admired Emma Rios previously, and I really like her style in "Head Space."  I’d love to see her tackle a long run on a series.  I also discovered a number of talents new to me who’s art I thoroughly enjoyed: Ming Doyle’s Nightcrawler period jaunt and Agnes Garbowska’s "Clockwork Nightmare" really appealed to me in the art department.

Back in the Beat interview, Schaeffer goes on to say, "That said, I definitely think women and girls will pick this up but not because we’ve hit upon the combination that will make all women like comics. I’m hoping it’ll be encouraging to see so many women who are making their livings in comics, that the idea will be reinforced that comics can be (and already are) as much for them as they are for men."

That’s a pretty grand claim.  All women will like comics from this? What’s the combination she’s talking about?  Yes, women can and do write any kind of story.  They don’t all need to be about in depth character development or fashion to appeal to women.  The Punisher vignette shows that a female team creating a tale doesn’t automatically make it touchy feely or melodramatic.  But who really needs to be told this?  Marvel fanboys?  Are they reading this?  Or are the women who might pick this up instead getting a message of "Wow, I feel just as lost as when I’ve tried to read that random X-Men title!"?

Kate: You raise a great point, Robin: if the purpose of this series is to highlight great female artists, shouldn’t the purpose of the collection be made more explicit? As I noted before, the presentation is misleading. From the cover, one could easily infer that Marvel Girls was some kind of "event" series: "All your favorite Marvel Misses in one brand-new adventure!" The interior doesn’t help matters, either. The contributors’ names appear in tiny print at the end of each story, which undermines the "BY women" agenda.

As for Schaefer’s comment about inspiring by example, I think most female comic readers can name women making a living in the comic industry — those women just might not be working in the superhero comic industry. It’s a laudable goal to highlight women working in such a high-profile sector, but for folks like me who are already reading a lot of great books by women, Scahefer’s comments rankle a bit. What about Hope Larson, or Marjane Satrapi, or Alison Bechdel? Or Rumiko Takahashi, Hiromu Arakawa, and CLAMP, female artists who have enjoyed crossover success working in the predominantly male world of shonen manga?

Robin: I agree, Kate, that it’s laudable to try to highlight the women who do work in what is still a male-dominated industry (i.e. mainstream superhero comics.)  I fear, however, that for me this miniseries is having the opposite effect that they intended.  While it’s certainly making me aware of how many women are working in the industry (and as I said, many artists that I’m looking forward to seeing more from in comics), it’s made it all the more obvious how few women there really are who are big names in this world.  The fact that it’s a three-issue mini-series just makes me disappointed that women haven’t come further by now.

I was curious to take a look at the line up of women and see how many of them have worked on major mainstream series.  A few of these women are notable for works outside comics creation, namely Trina Robbins and Valerie D’Orazio (the President of Friends of Lulu), as well as comics work.  Here I’m looking strictly at comics, not commentary or academic contributions.

Here’s the break down for issue #1, looking at the writers and pencilers.  I mean no disrepect to everyone else, from inkers to colorists to letterers, but writers and pencilers are usually the most recognized names in the industry.  I’ve listed major works that I’ve found or, in the case of no major series work yet, linked to their online portfolios and collections.

Writers:
Colleen Coover (Banana Sunday)
G. Willow Wilson (The Outsiders, Cairo, Air)
Trina Robbins (It Ain’t Me, Babe Comix, Wimmen’s Comix, GoGirl!, and she was a penciler on Wonder Woman)
Valerie D’Orazio (Cloak and Dagger miniseries)
Lucy Knisley (French Milk)
Robin Furth (Dark Tower, with Peter David)
Agnes Garbowska (http://mymisiu.blogspot.com/)
Devin Grayson (Batman/Ra’s Al Ghul Year One, Batman War Games, and a plethora of other Batman titles, Nightwing, Black Widow)

Pencilers:
Ming Doyle (contributed to Comic Book Tattoo)
Stephanie Buscema (http://www.stephaniebuscema.com/)
Nikki Cook (http://nikki-cook.blogspot.com/, founding member of Act-I-Vate)
Sana Takeda (X-Men Fairy Tales, Drain)
Emma Rios (Hexed, Strange)

This list, no matter how mainstream, does represent a heartening variety of work, including work on mainstream titles.  No one can deny that Devin Grayson has written for a pile of major series, especially at DC Comics.  Sadly, though, this list really highlights that while this mini-series is strong in introducing new artists and writers with potential, it’s not really the pat on the back that Marvel (or the comics industry) might wish it is.  It instead makes me realize just how much women haven’t been there all along in the key, visible roles of major writers and pencilers.

We are well aware that we’re only seeing one third of this work, and we’re curious about how this mini-series will shake down.  We’ll be back to cover issue #2 in April.

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Robin Brenner About Robin Brenner

Robin Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. When not tackling programs and reading advice at work, she writes features and reviews for publications including VOYA, Early Word, Library Journal, and Knowledge Quest. She has served on various awards committees, from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards to the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. She is the editor-in-chief of the graphic novel review website No Flying No Tights.

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