Last week, I posted about the challenges of recommending comics to my young nieces, when I know that some of the stories these books contain treat women as disposable plot devices. Afterwards, a friend asked for a list of comics that I would want young readers to discover, and I put together some recommendations. These aren’t stories with a particular ideological bent, and they’re definitely not for girls only. They simply feature girls and women who know their own minds and seek out their own paths.
If you’re shopping for a budding feminist of any gender, here are a few suggestions:
Smile and Sisters are a pair of comic-book memoirs by Raina Telgemeier, in which she chronicles the twin challenges of dental work and sibling rivalry. Telgemeier’s ability to express the complexity of children’s lives in fun, relatable stories, has made her a rock star among middle grade readers. Find the Smile/Sisters box set here.
While Telgemeier’s stories thrive by reflecting widely shared childhood experiences, Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin books celebrate a heroine who is more than a little odd. Courtney is cranky, antisocial and not above using dark magic to exact revenge on those who wronged her. Think Sandman channeled through Lemony Snicket, by way of MTV’s Daria. It’s great because everybody deserves a chance to empathize with characters who aren’t pillars of virtue, but are snarky and fun and self-determined anyway. The series is available in pretty but inexpensive hardcover editions, starting with The Night Things.
For slightly older readers — ones looking toward high school and its social challenges – consider revisiting the original graphic novels of DC Comics’ now-cancelled Minx publishing line. When these books were being published, no one was quite sure how to categorize them. With the breakout popularity of Raina Telgemeier’s work, though, it looks like Minx might actually have been ahead of its time. Check out Emiko Superstar, drawn by Steve Rolston and written by Mariko Tamaki — who would go on to create one of 2014’s best books, This One Summer, with her cousin Jillian Tamaki. Emiko is the story of a girl who wants to participate in an open mike event, but isn’t confident her own experiences are interesting enough to entertain her peers. This leads to some ethical compromises, which could resonate with aspiring artists of any age.
For readers who prefer nonfiction, Jim Ottiviani has written an impressive selection of biography comics about famous scientists. In Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, Ottiviani and artist Maris Wicks present the stories of three women who did groundbreaking work in the study of chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, respectively. Wicks’s art is charmingly cartoonish, while the writing handles the subject in way that’s as engaging as it is informative.
Finally, older teens who are not just aware that comics exist, but are curious about how they came to be, will thrill to the twists and turns of Wonder Woman’s real-life origin story in The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a work of prose nonfiction by Jill Lepore.
And if they want to hide their secret identity while they’re reading these books? They can carry their glasses in this sweet Eyeglass Holder, from Spoontiques.Storm Lightning Totebag, offered by Cafepress. Ororo Munroe is as much a symbol of power femininity in the Marvel Universe as Wonder Woman is for DC, and she deserves a visible place in comic book merchandise.
I’m just scratching the surface with this gift guide. I’d love to hear some recommendations readers have for comics and other gifts for young feminists.