The best comic books are the ones my best friend drops into my hands as we head to the register during our weekly meet-up on New Comic Book Day (aka Wednesday). She knows my taste pretty darn well. I have gotten some great recommendations over the last few years, but I have to say, the latest—and best—have almost all been written by women or have been projects where women pay a vital part in the process.
It’s been awesome to see the ultimate success of these women, because the world of comics doesn’t exactly have a solid reputation for gender diversity. And while it’s getting better, there are setbacks almost weekly. Just ask Wonder Woman: the dude on deck to draw her in upcoming issues said she’s not a feminist. I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor.
In the meantime, here are a few of the lady-driven comic books you should read, and a few you might want to share with your little sister. You know you’re probably her super heroine, after all.
Ms. Marvel caused some serious kerfuffle in the comic community when it relaunched in 2014. The character has been around since 1968 and as any change in, well, anything, tends to send the die-hards into a tizzy. Wilson’s Kamala Khan is a smart teenage Muslim girl with awesome potential and a uniquely diverse story to tell in a mainstream comics world that frequently feels white-washed and male. Read it for funsies, and make sure you give it to a younger sister so she knows she can be anything she wants.
Summer vacations come and go but that one friendship that can somehow last through family upheaval, hormone rages and the silences that come with adolescence—that’s the one you can’t let go of, right? This One Summer tells such a story with complex family dynamics, friendship and dancing around the kitchen in the midst of a sugar high. You find yourself reminiscing about the last time you drank so much soda and your bestie called you an addict and was only half kidding.
It’s hard to remember that your parents are actually people too. People with pasts and experiences that affected them deeply long before you arrived on the scene. Carol Tyler’s three-volume memoir,You’ll Never Know, explores her father’s past, his intersection with history, and her own realization that she may never truly know him. The art is a beautiful mix of ink and watercolor—not something I am used to seeing but it definitely works.
A dash of reinvention; a swirl of cafeteria maps just this side of Mean Girls, and a world post-terrorist attack is where Cecil Castellucci takes us with The Plain Janes. All thrown together with artistic expression, and you’ve got a girl group on the cusp of changing the small town they live in (complete with authority figures who walk the streets to the Footloose soundtrack). You have to love a girl who walks to the school cafeteria on her first day and turns away from the school’s Regina George by choice.
Sonja’s bad-assery has been around for decades, but with Gail Simone at the helm, we’re getting a lady lead with a new, more empowered backstory. Before Simone, Sonja was conceived as a fierce lady warrior who survived a brutal attack on her village, only to become the victim of rape by marauding men. A goddess granted her mystical fighting skills in return for her promise not to fall in love with the wrong guy. Simone’s retelling of Sonja’s origin story still involves her being the lone survivor of an attack, but there’s no rape and no goddess. Instead Sonja survives on her own skill and dedication to become the legend she has always been. Look past her “traditional” skimpy costume to the warrior underneath. Maybe that bikini getup really does let her fight more freely?
Death’s Daughter in a darkly beautiful Western fantasy? I’ll take it. I went with Pretty Deadly instead of DeConnick’s more mainstream—and wildly popular—title Captain Marvel. The art is gorgeous (and done by a very talented female artist). The story explodes with magical realism. And the book makes no apologies for embracing its roots in magic, horror and western myths. Yes, horror—be prepared for some gore. The storytelling is for the dedicated reader, as it has many threads that tie together for the full story, and you need to get them all in line before you can appreciate where it’s all going.
Are you familiar with Finn and Jake? Let me introduce you to Fionna and Cake—the gender swapped versions of your favorite Adventure Time characters. If you love Adventure Time and the sometimes crazy but all together unique story telling of the Cartoon Network hit, you will love Adventure Time comics’ Fionna and Cake. The franchise has a good history of embracing aspects of the fandom that fall outside the box, and gender-swapping the main characters to feature some more ladies is right up there in that fandom tradition. Give Natasha Allegri’s graphic novelization of your favorite show a shot and go on adventures that feature Fionna, Cake, Prince Gumball and the Ice Queen, instead of your normal male lineup.
Five kickass best friends and a scouting summer camp? Yes. Three-eyed falcons? Yes. Adventures galore? Yes. Lumberjanes might be the hottest thing to hit girl-driven comics this year. At least, it’s the thing I’ve heard the most about in my circle of comic-reading friends. (Also, you need to be following Noelle Stevenson on tumblr.) Oddly enough, this comic takes me back to the best friends in YA books I read when I was a young teenager—but it’s completely up-to-date for today’s reader. Go and get it immediately.
Teenage heroes for hire and a part-cat, part-ladybug who is part of the team—that’s a slice of what you’ll get from Bravest Warriors. Kate Leth of the KateorDie online comic just took over writing Bravest Warrior this issue, and it’s already super fun. If you’re not familiar with the web series from the creators of Adventure Time, this is a great place to dive in and get to know the totally empowered characters and finally find out why your friends occasionally write about #CATBUG in all caps.
And two final bonus recommendations: If you’re not reading Saga, which is being drawn by the incredible Fiona Staples and written by Brian K. Vaughn of Y: The Last Man, you really, really need to get on it. This one is not for kids, though, as it has quite a bit of violence, graphic adult situations, and some pretty eye-opening art. I just really love it.
Also, go read I Think I’m In Friends Love With You by Yumi Sakigawa. It’s gorgeous and poignant, and the art is unique. I adore it.