Charm / Offensive

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10 comic books that are doing it right
So, as a kind of companion piece to this post and as a general "hurrah!" - also as proof that I don't just bitch about the Awful State Of Things but can hand out credit where credit's due (in my self-nominated positions as arbiter of taste, Grand High Poobah of forward thinking Art and Captain of the Seekrit PC Brigade*)

This is my list of 10 comics that have, in my view, stood out amidst a sea of lycra clad football breasts and vapid girlfriends being rescued to present a variety of female characters in exciting and interesting situations with damn fine plotlines. These are not just examples of non-sexist comics, they are examplers of outstanding pieces of comic creation that also happen to be non-sexist. None of them are dry, dusty or "worthy" and very few of them make a song and dance about their characterisation, it's just have that built in to them in the same way that sexism is built into far too many comics. They are all superb pieces of work in and of themselves, proving that you don't have to sacrifice art, storytelling or creative quality.

They are all, above everything, comics that I love to bits and I could read and re-read over and over again.

They are not in order of preference, because I couldn't jostle them about like that.

1) BONE by Jeff Smith. I could sing the praises of this forever. It's cute, smart, funny and whimsical without making you want to vomit. The art is wonderful - lovingly done traditional style inked characters - Disney without the schmaltz. Hidden princesses who fight for what they believe in and who don't come close to needing a handsome prince. Also I defy anyone to fail to enjoy Grandma Ben and the cow race or understanding the true meaning of STUPID, STUPID RAT CREATURES.
2) Promethea by Alan Moore. This is a beautiful comic - some of the artwork on the panels is lush beyond belief. It's a story about magic, mysticism, sci fi and superheroes. It has an array of female characters, from diverse backgrounds. Like a lot of Moore's work it's complex (and often complicated) and has plenty of subtelties that mean you pick up something new with each re-reading.
3) Phonogram by Gillen & McKelvie. You can look at the first issue here. There's the obvious inclusion of female magic - calls to Goddesses and suchlike, but beyond that it's the simple things - that women characters are present in number and without simply being add-ons to prove that the male characters are heterosexual.
4) The Invisibles by Grant Morrison. There's a lot going on in this piece of work, about many things, so I'll just touch on what I really like - female characters of colour not defined by their colour, transgendered and queer characters and subversion of what it means to be a superhero as well as what it means to save the world.
5) Y The Last Man by Brian K Vaughan. This one almost didn't make the list because despite it being about one man stuck in a world with only women, he is the central figure and more about his relationship with this strange, new world than anything else. However, it stands out because Vaughan has made a serious effort to imagine what a world without men might look and feel like, highlighting our own societal views and values. He also makes women as varied as men - they are good, bad and ugly. And many things in between.
6) Fell by Warren Ellis. On the surface, it's a detective comic but what I like about Fell is the way it subverts and marginalises traditional stereotypes often adopted by the genre. Femme fatales and dames are avoided. Instead we get more interested women like vitenamese Mayko who neatly avoids most of the "exotic eastern" paradigms. And our "mystery woman" is a dangerous nun in a Reagan mask.
7) Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. A series of comic strips about a group of lesbians home to the (in)famous Bechdel test. It is rather a niche comic, especially compared to the others, about a very specific subject - lesbian musings and slice-of-life. It's funny, grown-up and winsome.
8) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I'm really growing to enjoy the comic medium as a way of presenting real stories and this is a wonderful example. Divided into two parts we follow Marjane as she grows up, leaves and returns to Iran. I like the way she is able to present the difficulties of the regime and of her life without ever seeming like the helpless victim.
9) Air by Willow and Perker. You wouldn't really expect a comic about an air hostess to make the list. Or my bookshelf. But it does. Aside from the lovely art and twisty plotline there's a lead heroine who treads a wonderful line between nascent hero and uncertain young woman. And Amelia Earhart is in it.
10) The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore. Featuring in 2000AD and competing against the likes of uber vamp (literally) Durham Red, here we have a female lead character who is real, realistic and grows up before our eyes. Her gung-ho attitude always makes me smile. Along with her cool 80s stylings. I wish there had been more of this than there was.

There are parts of this list that I am not happy with. Starting with the fact that there are so few female writers or artists involved - partly a sign of their lack in the field and partly a sign that my reading list is clearly not wide enough - suggestions welcomed. I'm also aware that these are, more or less, mainstream comics and that there are more and more varied representations in the indie sphere - again, suggestions welcome. The reason for the latter is that I wanted to include titles that it was easy to get hold of, and to show that you can walk into any Forbidden Planet (or even Waterstones) and come out with a real gem.

* You know, those powerful people with mind control powers who have infiltrated all levels of society so that no racist or sexist statement can ever be uttered or printed thus ensuring we live in a complete Utopia of fairness and equality. Ahem

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Promethea, Phonogram, The Invisibles, Y The Last Man, Fell, Persepolis...

*Falls off his chair in appreciation of these comics*

It's funny how this list is very similar to my top 10 list of just really great comics of any type. Maybe there's a lesson there for writers :)

I'd add more to the list, but I realised that my examples are mostly so heavily fantasy-based that they don't portray real women so much as demons/goddesses (in 'Lucifer' etc). But several do have realistic personalities, agendas and a distinct lack of football boobs.

Sadly a quick look down "Top 100 Comics" list reminds us that 90% of what's available is precisely what you were right to complain about in the previous post :(

Yes, I did want to cite Lucifer and also Sandman, but did want to try and avoid those because most of the women are so "unreal" but both contain some very good examples.

Just finished re-reading Lucifer and I think I know what you mean. They are too many things wrong with the work as a whole, I suspect.

I thought of Sandman too. Your list contains comics I love - and others that I now need to buy...

That's a good list, full stop. Certainly half of those would go on my 'comics for none comic readers' list.

Been meaning to read Air for ages.

I love Alison Bechdel! She is awesome. I did part of my queer theory essay oh her :-)

Next Wave? I'm pretty sure it passes the Bechdel test a few times...

Great non-sexist comics by women, off the top of my head:

La Perdida, or really, anything by Jessica Abel.
Hopeless Savages (multiple volumes), Jen van Meter.
Blue Monday (multiple volumes) + Scooter Girl, Chynna Clugston.
Finder (multiple volumes), Carla Speed McNeil

Not by women, still non-sexist, still great:
Slow News Day, Andi Watson.
Queen and Country (multiple volumes, novels) + Whiteout (multiple volumes) Greg Rucka.
Pedro and Me + Barry Ween (multiple volumes), Judd Winick.
How Loathsome + Courtney Crumrin (multiple volumes) Ted Naifeh

Gail Simone! <3 (First female writer of Wonder Woman)

She makes me love DC Comics again. Secret Six is so damn funny.

Also as for female artists, Amanda Connor is love. The expressions are gorgeous! (Again, I love her DC stuff).

Becky Cloonan also.

Simone's work leave me cold, I'm afraid.

She's not the 1st female Wonder Woman writer, either - Mindy Newell was the 1st in 1985, Trina Robbins wrote her as well, and hell, Jodi Picoult did it in 2007, all of six months before Simone took over the title.

Which isn't to say that this is an acceptable state of affairs, just there are other women (Trina Robbins is particularly ace, and I am ashamed I neglected to mention her above - she had written several great histories of women-in-comics that are pretty much required reading) who came before her, I hate to see them get shorted on credit.

Well okay, first female ongoing writer of Wonder Woman. That's pretty big. It's her title. But thanks for clarifying that. :-)

I love her Birds of Prey but I can see why you wouldn't, you didn't like Strangers in Paradise, as I recall...

Can I lend you Secret Six? It might be more your style.

I'll take a look at anything, sure, and in fairness to her, I haven't looked at much of her stuff since Deadpool, which now I actually think about it, was quite a few years ago... :)

Edited at 2010-06-04 09:39 am (UTC)

Air makes me so happy.

I also like Transmetropolitan for a different interpretation - Yelenna is something else.

And DMZ! Actually, Wood is pretty good, Northlanders also has some good female characters. Not a story centred around women, tho.

Someone gave me Phonogram and at first it didn't grab me but once the lead caharcter expressed an interest in Kenickie I decided to keep reading. By the time I finished I was sold on it completely, I'm guessing the writer was a similar age to me because the take on the early 90's and how different being there in it as opposed to looking back at the medias selective memory of it was brilliant. Made me feel old but not in a bad way and I could just see myself and the people I was hanging around with at the time sitting around at the back of one of the panels.

Gillen's in his very early 30s. Sound about right?

Younger than me then, but I was a late starter in record-buying and gig-going.

Yeah, Wood nearly made my list too - I was thinking of Channel Zero, Demo and Local, rather than Northlanders, where his time period limits him a bit - although the new volume is one with a female lead, so we'll see how that pans out...

Promethia? Nice story line, pity about the plot.
The storyline was cracking along nicely with beautiful art when suddenly Alan Moore popped up and did the equivalent of "Hello, I'd like to talk to you about Jeeeesus". If I wanted a tract on chaos magic and the kaballah and stuff I'd wear more tie-dye.

The Martha Washington stories were much better.

(Deleted comment)
Thanks for posting all these great suggestions. I love comics but had pretty much given up on mainstream comics because the sexism drives me crazy. I'm so done with over-sexualized women with giant fake boobs. These titles sounds great! I just bought 4 of the books :) Thanks for all the suggestions everyone.

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