Friday, 14 December 2012

12 Strips, Comics & Graphic Novels Featuring Compelling Female Protagonists: The Best Of 2012 Part 3

According to Comiclist, there were more than 100 individual comics released in North America this week. Of these, only 11 had titles which clearly indicated that the comic had either a single female lead or a woman co-star. Remove from that number the books which promised "bad girls" and "saucy steampunk sweethearts" and there's a shamefully small number of comics left which openly advertise the presence of female protagonists as their central concern. Out of 19 comics from DC, for example, only two were marketed with a female lead, while Marvel's 18 different titles starred not a single woman who got to carry the name of the book on her shoulders. (*1) Though the act of counting up the ratio of female-headlined comics to those which aren't is an obviously crude and unsatisfactory way to measure the persistence of a male-centred bias, it does, in its own qualified way, tell a disturbing and yet all-too-familiar truth.

*1:- The figures are approximate. Being a bear of little brain, the difference between new comics being released and old ones with variant covers is somewhat obscure. Mea culpa. 
Yes, the presence of a book with a woman's name as its title is no guarantee at all that its contents will be anything other than tawdry. Yes, there are plenty of ensemble properties which - to a greater or lesser degree - laudably succeed in representing women as individuals rather than types. Yes, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Captain Marvel, from Rachel Rising to Batwoman, there's a undeniable core of today's comics which are far more femalecentric than has historically been typical. As such, there's ground for hoping that some vital transformation in the presentation of women is glacially occurring, but that shouldn't obscure how relatively little change is actually going on. No matter how things are seemingly evolving in a positive direction, the pace of evolution is obviously not an inspiringly swift one where the action/adventure comicbook is concerned.
Thankfully, the situation is far more inspiring where the graphic novel is concerned. And if the reader cares to wade through the wearisome mass of patronising, hypersexualised pap which still clogs the arteries of both the broader market and the monthly comic too, then 2012 has seen an inspiring range of works published which neither push female characters to the margins or present uber-bloke-minded stereotypes of them.
The list which follows isn't in order of any preference, and it doesn't discriminate between the more literary endeavour and the tights-on, fight-crime pamphlet. There's certainly no attempt been made to suggest that these titles constitute anything other than a reflection of my own personal taste and experience over the past twelve months. As such, these examples certainly doesn't constitute a manifesto, but they are a selection of a dozen strips, comics and graphic novels from this year which feature fascinating female protagonists right at the centre of events.

Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes, by Mary M Talbot & Bryan Talbot, Jonathan Cape

Bandette, by Paul Tobin & Colleen Cover, Monkeybrain Comics 

Love And Rockets New Stories no 5, by Gilbert & Jamie Hernandez, Fantagraphics

Zara's Crown, by John & Patrice Aggs, serialised in The Phoenix
Rachel Rising, by Terry Moore, Abstract Studios

But I Really Wanted To Be An Anthropologist, by Margaux Motin, SelfMadeHero 

Jennifer Blood, by Al Ewing, Kewber Baal, et al, Dynamite 

Saucer Country, by Paul Cornell, Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton, et al, Vertigo Comics

Courtney Crumnin, by Ted Naifeh, Oni Press

Batgirl, by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, et al, DC Comics

August Moon, by Diana Thung, Top Shelf

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, by Andrew Chambliss, Scott Allie, Cliff Richards, Georges Jeanty et al, Dark Horse

The Nao Of Brown, by Glyn Dillon, SelfMadeHero

And finally, a shot of Paul Harrison-Davies' Paintgirl, a character which, he promises, will eventually become the star of her own comicbook. The picture was never intended to work as anything as manipulative as a teaser image, but at the moment, I'm looking forward to a Paintgirl adventure as much as I am any other feature. In the strange way that beguiling images work, Paintgirl's been a small but a significant part of my comics life this year. If I needed to smile, this picture was often where I headed;



  1. It's been awhile since I caught up with Jimmie Robinson's provocative Bomb Queen, but it looks like she's still going strong with a new TPB released this year that collects "The End of Hope" stories. As "bad girls" go, she might have made an interesting addition to this list--though much of what you've already listed looks fascinating.

    1. Hello Comicsfan:- Thank you for the nudge. Bomb Queen is a book I've never checked out before. Rest assured I will now :)

  2. Given that you're a fan of quality female protags, I highly suggest you check out Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's Stumptown (published via Oni Press). The TPB of the first 'case' is, with a second series is currently underway. It's essentially a contemporary take on The Rockford Files, with the added proviso that the down-in-the-heel lead detective at the center of its narrative, Dex Parios, happens to be a woman.

    1. Hello there:- sold! I shall go check it out this very day. Thank you for the recommendation :)

  3. I really wish I'd been able to try The Phoenix from the start. I may have to take out one of those Christmas Gift Box Subscriptions.

    1. Hello Martin:- I was late putting my money on The Phoenix too. I just didn't come across it until around Easter, and from then on, I became more and more fond of it.

      Those Christmas Gift Box subs look good, don't they? And since I can't rely on my local Waitrose to get every issue, or put them out on time, or even in the right sequence ....

  4. I may be one of a tiny minority but I really didn't take to The Phoenix when I read the first few issues. It lacked the excitement of the DFC and seemed, with it's book exerpts and articles to be more akin to Look and Learn and have that feel of "the comics parents would like their kids to read". However there appear to have been changes so I'll take another look.

    Mostly though I was pleased to see Paintgirl make the list as comic you'd most like to see. I'd certainly support that desire, having known Paul for over 15 years and watched his creative skills grow since those early days.

    Great article as ever and has brought up a few comics I really need to try.

    1. Hello Peter:- You make a good point. I did read the first few copies of The Phoenix and they weren't overwhelmingly compelling. But I picked up the odd copy as time passed and somewhere around #26, the penny dropped. It helped that I'd also started reading the Dandy by then, so I'd become a huge fan of Jamie Smart's. It's still a comic with an educational purpose, as I was writing about a week or two ago here, but .... I think it's become rather splendid, I really do.

      Ah, Paintgirl! How much longer will we have to wait? :)

  5. Thank you the inclusion of Paintgirl, means an awful lot!
    Great list, some I'm a fan of and some I need to check out. Increasing the list of female protagonist comics is definitely my main goal in my comic making hobby.
    You, and Peter (almost finished Astrodog), will be glad to know that I've made a start on Paintgirl. The plan is to do something roughly episodic that will form a 44-8 page book. Fingers x-ed!

    1. Hello Paul:- No need for a thank you. I added the Plantgirl epilogue because she has been part of my year after her own fashion :) However, I am glad that it might have made you smile.

      I hope I might be able to convince you to answer a few questions here when Piantgirl appears. I would be happy to add some hucksterism to the process.

  6. Once I have work to show, and perhaps before then, I intend to drum up as much interest as I possible can. I'll be attempting the difficult balancing act of "Oh, I should check that out," to "Oh for the love of heck, do shut up!", so any voice to add to the mix is greatly appreciated.
    While I have your ear, did you see the process panel I tweeted a couple of weeks ago?....

    1. Hello Paul:- You'd be very welcome here indeed when that moment comes.

      And I did see a second Paintgirl moment of splendor. Very well, very splendid :)