It’s a good time to be a reader interested in feminist comics. When I say “feminist,” I don’t necessarily mean “a book in which a women fights the patriarchy.” I don’t even require the story to be written by a woman.
What I mean by “feminist comics” is that they offer stories that include three-dimensional female characters. That’s it. I know, it seems like a low bar, but it’s surprising how often it isn’t done. And yes, many of them that do it are written by women—but not all.
In compiling a list of feminist comics I think everyone should read, I looked beyond Marvel and DC Comics, because I wanted to spotlight work being done outside of the “Big Two,” though I do love and applaud the work being done on Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, A-Force, Black Canary, Batwoman, and Gotham Academy. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list; rather, it’s a glimpse at a handful of the many comics out there with fascinating female characters. Please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. (And to those wondering why Lumberjanes isn’t on this list, well, I sang the praises of that book in a previous article.)
Monstress, story by Marjorie Liu, art/cover by Sana Takeda (for young adult readers)
A teenage girl in 1900s Asia is trying to survive the trauma of war and shares a psychic link with a monster of incredible power. The literal situation is a metaphor for real-life issues in this steampunk-like tale which has concerns powerful emotions and their cost.
Aya, written by Marguerite Abouet, drawn by Clément Oubrerie (for young adult readers)
The story is fictional but draws on the writer’s knowledge of 1970s Côte d’Ivoire, where she lived until she was 12, before moving to France. The setting is one not usually seen in young adult literature but, as all coming of age stories, the themes are universal, and the focus is personal. This graphic novel won the Awards Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for First Comic Book. Originally written in French and translated to English.
Concrete Park, by Erika Alexander and Tony Puryear (for teens and above)
Described as “dark, sexy, sci-fi,” Earth’s outcasts have been exiled to a desert planet and have to fight to survive amid gang warfare and a lack of resources. It’s a classic SF concept done in a fast-paced, vibrant art style with several protagonists that are going to be hard to forget.
Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley (for all ages)
It’s a “feminist fairy tale,” and unabashedly states that even in the description for the book. The story focuses on the odd inhabitants of an abandoned castle why try to bring it back to life Or, as the blurb says, “about being a hero in your own home.”
Boston Metaphysical Society, by Madeleine Holly-Rosing and Emily Hu
Steampunk fun! A Pinkerton Detective, an Irish Catholic girl from South Boston and an African-American scientist band together in this comic, first available to print audiences on Kickstarter. Did I mention there’s also B.E.T.H., a secret organization of scientists comprised of Bell, Edison, Tesla, and Houdini? You can read this one in web comic form or buy print versions from their shop.
Jem & the Holograms, written by Kelly Thompson, drawn by Sophie Campbell (for all ages)
The New Yorker said this series, based on the 90s’ cartoon,, “is about femininity, and performance, and social aggression, and about how to be fair to everyone.” I couldn’t have said it better. It’s about music and friendship, and loving people for who they are. If you’re a fan of the television show, check it out. Even if you’ve never watched the show, if you love books about female friendship and music, and adventure, this is for you.
Bitch Planet, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (for mature readers only)
If by feminist, you mean “fight the patriarchy,” this is the book that epitomized that, as “non-compliant” women are shipped off to a women’s prison for a mental readjustment. It’s a taking back of the female in prison movie but it’s also an amazing science fictional dystopia featuring all kinds of women. Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, drawn by
Rat Queens, by Curtis J. Wiebe, several artists
The “Rat Queens” are a group of adventures in a medieval fantasy whose resemblance to Dungeons and Dragons characters and settings are deliberate. But it’s so much more than that, witness the issue where one member felt completely out of place in her home because of her beard, and the atheist cleric. These are rowdy, fun, free and profane characters and the book is a blast to read.
The next time I hear someone say “men can’t write women well,” I want to point them this book’s write, Wiebe. There was a controversy concerning the arrest of the original artist but the series rebounded well from that with the addition of Tess Fowler on art.
Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton
If you are not reading the incomparable Kate Beaton, whose work is available for free on the internet, go forth and read now, especially her chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Wonder Woman, but especially by Hark, a Vagrant. She also has a terrific children’s book, The Princess and the Pony, which will start the young ones in their Kate Beaton love.
What feminist comic books would you add to this list?