12 Women Who Have Helped Transform the Comic Book Industry

By Paste | PasteMagazine.com

WomanHistoryMonth

As we reach the end of Women’s His­to­ry Month, Paste reflects on some of the female voic­es that have helped diver­si­fy the com­ic book and strip indus­try, by both cre­at­ing some of the most mem­o­rable works as well as paving paths that invit­ed in larg­er audi­ences. This is by no means an exhaus­tive list and, admit­ted­ly, focus­es more on mod­ern fig­ures than not (though we still have a deep admi­ra­tion for pio­neers like Ramona Fradon and Marie Sev­erin). Ulti­mate­ly, these fig­ures have kept an entire medi­um on its toes, ensur­ing that comics are, and remain, for every­one.

Lyn­da Bar­ry
Ernie Pook’s Comeek, What It Is

Photo credit: Guillaume Paumier

Pho­to cred­it: Guil­laume Pau­mi­er

Run­ning in alter­na­tive newsweek­lies nation­wide, Lyn­da Barry’s messy, vibrant work greet­ed eye­balls scan­ning for events list­ings and local news. If you read “Ernie Pook’s Comeek” every week, it end­ed up becom­ing an addic­tion, not a dis­trac­tion. Her characters—male and female—were equal­ly messy and, there­fore, real. Built in four pan­els for the most part, week after week, these strips showed new pos­si­bil­i­ties for the form while being utter­ly indi­vid­ual in their approach and their char­ac­ters. In Barry’s work, char­ac­ters like Marlys, May­bonne, Fred­die and their friends and fam­i­ly dealt with Big Social Issues and the every­day hor­rors of almost-adult­hood. Barry’s teach­ing and more recent series of books about cre­ativ­i­ty are like­wise encour­ag­ing artists old and new to loosen up and face their fears about doing some­thing weird. Hillary Brown

Kate Beat­on
Hark! A Vagrant

Photo credit: Emily Horne

Pho­to cred­it: Emi­ly Horne

Women prob­a­bly don’t get enough cred­it for nerd­ing out about his­tor­i­cal detail to the same extent men do. Hence: Kate Beat­on. She’s quick with a joke, unafraid to put her sketch­es up online and a hard-core devo­tee of Cana­di­an his­to­ry, clas­sic lit­er­a­ture, the Eliz­a­bethans, etc. She bal­ances the adorable with the fierce­ly smart, even when craft­ing stu­pid jokes. And, of course, she helped cre­ate “Strong Female Char­ac­ters,” per­haps the swiftest and finest put-down of what pass­es for fem­i­nism in comics. Hillary Brown

Ali­son Bechdel
Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For

Photo credit: Elena Seibert

Pho­to cred­it: Ele­na Seib­ert

Ali­son Bechdel has pub­lished only two stand­alone graph­ic nov­els, but even if she had only writ­ten and drawn one, Fun Home would mer­it her place­ment on this list. Rich and com­plex enough to fuel thou­sands of col­lege syl­labi, the graph­ic nov­el has proven to be an essen­tial gate­way drug to comics, root­ed in the author’s trag­ic child­hood and emerg­ing sex­u­al­i­ty. Bechdel’s con­tri­bu­tions from her long-run­ning strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, are equal­ly impor­tant in their par­al­lel accom­plish­ment: ush­er­ing queer char­ac­ters to the fore­front with casu­al grace, just as read­ing Fun Home pro­vid­ed com­ic agnos­tics with a sophis­ti­cat­ed-yet-acces­si­ble gate­way. And her epony­mous test for assess­ing how well a work of enter­tain­ment treats women like peo­ple remains (some­what unfor­tu­nate­ly) rel­e­vant. Hillary Brown

Karen Berg­er
Ver­ti­go Comics

Photo credit: DC Comics

Pho­to cred­it: DC Comics

It’s unimag­in­able to think what the cur­rent state of com­ic books might be if not for the stew­ard­ship of Karen Berg­er. The Swamp Thing edi­tor found­ed Ver­ti­go Comics in 1993, cre­at­ing a chal­leng­ing, exper­i­men­tal cor­ner of main­stream comics where bold voic­es craft­ed some of the great­est works the medi­um can call its own. Berg­er also served as a liai­son to the bur­geon­ing voic­es of the Unit­ed King­dom, recruit­ing authors like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Mor­ri­son and Peter Mil­li­gan to con­tribute to a new era of post-mod­ern, lit­er­ary com­ic books. In an alter­nate time­line where Berg­er decid­ed to run film stu­dios (she would have run the Wein­steins out of busi­ness eas­i­ly) or flew jet planes, com­ic books would be a much flat­ter, safer, infi­nite­ly less inter­est­ing art. Luck­i­ly, Berg­er raised hell and made waves, and you can bet that the cur­rent cre­ator-owned renais­sance start­ed with her excep­tion­al work. Sean Edgar

Colleen Coover
Small Favors, Ban­dette

Photo credit: Lori Matsumoto

Pho­to cred­it: Lori Mat­sumo­to

It’s kind of fun­ny that Colleen Coover is best known for her erot­ic les­bian com­ic Small Favors as well as her ongo­ing all-ages series Ban­dette, but both show a joy for life that’s remained the cartoonist’s hall­mark. Coover’s porny stuff is a wel­come corrective—especially more than 10 years ago, when it was first published—to the usu­al broke­back non­sense, while Ban­dette is nice­ly unsex­u­al­ized, down to the ado­les­cent mystery-solver’s cos­tume, designed for action rather than any­thing less func­tion­al. Coover has also pro­vid­ed pleas­ing art for such main­stream comics as X-Men: First Class, Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man and Fan­tas­tic Four. Hillary Brown

Kel­ly Sue Decon­nick
Pret­ty Dead­ly, Cap­tain Mar­vel, Bitch Plan­et

Photo credit: Image Comic

Pho­to cred­it: Image Com­ic

When your work inspires mem­bers of your female audi­ence to per­ma­nent­ly tat­too the sym­bol for “non-com­pli­ant” on their limbs, you must be doing some­thing right. And Kel­ly Sue Decon­nick cer­tain­ly is. The com­ic scribe fun­nels such lost gen­res as girls-in-prison and pinky vio­lence into sto­ries that empow­er and bad-assi­fy female pro­tag­o­nists, twist­ing the chau­vin­ist grind-house for­mu­la into a refresh­ing explo­sion of estro­gen and fun in titles like Bitch Plan­et and Pret­ty Dead­ly. Also: she writes a com­ic book called Bitch Planet. Though Deconnick’s made a sub­stan­tial mark in the main­stream with Cap­tain Mar­vel, she con­tin­ues to show how the fair­er sex can dom­i­nate any fic­tion, whether in space or the the fan­ta­sy wild west. Sean Edgar

Joyce Farmer
Tits & Clits Comix, Spe­cial Exits

JoyceFarmerPortrait-thumb-400x597-146146The truth can some­times be ugly, pro­fane and hilarious—sometimes all at once. Nobody under­stands this con­cept more than Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli, the respec­tive car­toon­ist and writer behind the ‘70s under­ground fas­ci­na­tion Tits & Clits Comix. These strips couldn’t be any more hon­est in their por­tray­al of women tak­ing full agency of their bod­ies in the after­math of the sex­u­al rev­o­lu­tion. Farmer exer­cis­es that same can­dor in 2010’s Spe­cial Exits, an unflinch­ing auto­bi­og­ra­phy of her par­ents’ last days. Though Farmer’s name may not be as ubiq­ui­tous with women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in comics as oth­ers, few cre­ators have exer­cised a voice so potent and clever. Sean Edgar

Françoise Mouly
RAW, The New York­er, TOON Books

JeffreyBeall-thumb-400x527-146071

Pho­to cred­it: Jef­frey Beall

Françoise Mouly does not make comics in any direct sense of the word, but she’s not only one of the most influ­en­tial women in the field, she’s one of the most influ­en­tial peo­ple, peri­od. Per­haps because she doesn’t spend her efforts on cre­at­ing her own art, her aes­thet­ics have spread much far­ther. From her ear­ly work on RAW to her long-time gig as art edi­tor of The New York­er, she’s proven a queen matron of many a tal­ent­ed car­toon­ist (includ­ing R. Crumb, Jaime Her­nan­dez, Chris Ware and Dan Clowes), show­ing their work to a much larg­er audi­ence and putting a pay­check in their pock­et. It’s a kind of fer­til­iz­ing effect, and her more recent found­ing of TOON Books, a pub­lish­er that prints high-qual­i­ty comics for chil­dren, will no doubt bear sim­i­lar fruit in the future, as its read­ers grow up and decide they want to make comics. Mouly’s taste is great, and she always seems to know just how far to push the com­plex­i­ty of her mate­r­i­al so that her audi­ence moves up the scaf­fold­ing she’s con­struct­ed. Hillary Brown

Mar­jane Satrapi
Perse­po­lis, Embroi­deries

img-marjane-satrapi_105359402637-thumb-400x609-146077Mar­jane Satrapi’s work has become so suc­cess­ful that it almost obscures the immen­si­ty of what she actu­al­ly accom­plished. She’s like Oprah (if Oprah made comics and with more angry yelling and less hap­py yelling) in that it’s easy to for­get how unusu­al it is for a woman, and specif­i­cal­ly a woman of her back­ground, to achieve the heights of recog­ni­tion she has. Perse­po­lis, Satrapi’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy of liv­ing through the Islam­ic Rev­o­lu­tion, is a stan­dard not only in comics cours­es, but in mul­ti­cul­tur­al lit­er­a­ture and women’s stud­ies. Although it is about a young woman com­ing of age and find­ing her voice in the mid­dle of oppres­sion, it is such a force­ful and enter­tain­ing work that even read­ers with absolute­ly no inter­est in comics or Iran­ian his­to­ry get sucked into its nar­ra­tive. Hillary Brown

Noelle Steven­son
Nimona, Lum­ber­janes

Photo credit: Marvel Comics

Pho­to cred­it: Mar­vel Comics

In the sum­mer of 2012, Steven­son pub­lished the first dig­i­tal pages of web­com­ic Nimona, a fan­ta­sy fol­low­ing a (not-so-evil) genius and his shapeshift­ing side­kick with a pen­chant for vio­lence. Read­ers adored Stevenson’s clever writ­ing and charm­ing illus­tra­tions, so much so that it won numer­ous awards (and was named the best web­com­ic of 2013 and 2014 by Paste). Then came Lum­ber­janes with edi­tor Shan­non Wat­ters, a com­ic series co-cre­at­ed and co-writ­ten by Steven­son, fea­tur­ing a diverse group of tween girls adven­tur­ing at a sum­mer camp. The series not only cre­at­ed a cool and vivid world where female char­ac­ters rev­eled in charm and friend­ship, but the book suc­cess­ful­ly engaged younger read­ers. After launch­ing, Lum­ber­janes soon grad­u­at­ed to a con­tin­u­ing series from it’s orig­i­nal run of only eight issues. What’s Stevenson’s secret ingre­di­ent? Three-dimen­sion­al female char­ac­ters with spunk.

This aus­pi­cious start inspired Mar­vel to recruit Steven­son into its fold. This spring saw the release of Stevenson’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Thor Annu­al, and she’ll also script the revamped Run­aways series for Secret Wars. In oth­er words, Steven­son and her con­ven­tion-defy­ing voice are here to stay. Fran­nie Jack­son

Raina Tel­ge­meier
Smile, Dra­ma

Photo credit: Scholastic

Pho­to cred­it: Scholas­tic

The hal­cy­on days of ado­les­cence may look care­free in hind­sight, but the real­i­ty of mat­ter is that they’re kind of ter­ri­ble. Kids are cru­el, hor­mones are relent­less and noth­ing fits under any def­i­n­i­tion. Car­toon­ist Raina Tel­ge­meier has become some­what a uni­ver­sal big sis­ter to this age group, relat­ing fun­ny, heart-break­ing sto­ries of kids turn­ing into adults one pan­el at a time. Smile relays the auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nar­ra­tive of an acci­dent that left Telegeimer in need of years of oral pro­ce­dures, while Dra­ma explores the mid­dle-school maze of bul­lies and self dis­cov­ery. For young female com­ic read­ers approach­ing the gaunt­let of life, these books are an invalu­able aid craft­ed by an author with a mag­i­cal pow­er to empathize with a time most of us have ful­ly blocked out. Sean Edgar

G. Wil­low Wil­son
Cairo, Air, Ms. Mar­vel

Photo credit: Amber French

Pho­to cred­it: Amber French

There’s no oth­er word that can describe G. Wil­low Wilson’s impact on the com­ic book indus­try oth­er than unex­pect­ed. A New Jer­sey native who con­vert­ed to Islam in col­lege (and wrote about the trans­for­ma­tion beau­ti­ful­ly in the prose auto­bi­og­ra­phy The But­ter­fly Mosque), Wil­son deliv­ers ten­der, fun­ny heroes who tran­scend gen­der and reli­gion. Though her work on Ms. Marvel—an ado­les­cent Mus­lim shape shifter who rede­fines adorable—has recent­ly gained crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial adu­la­tion, Wil­son has been chal­leng­ing stereo­types and craft­ing engag­ing fic­tion for years. So when talk show hosts posit that an entire reli­gion thrives off intol­er­ance and vio­lence, the cross-cul­tur­al progress made by voic­es like Wil­son doesn’t just raise new questions—it helps pro­vide answers. Sean Edgar

Author: Rhonda 2.0

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