Comics/Graphic Novels

Graphic Novels and Illustrated Books About Women by (Mostly) Women

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S.W. Sondheimer

Staff Writer

When not prying Legos and gaming dice out of her feet, S.W. Sondheimer is a registered nurse at the Department of Therapeutic Misadventures, a herder of genetic descendants, cosplayer, and a fiction and (someday) comics writer. She is a Yinzer by way of New England and Oregon and lives in the glorious 'Burgh with her husband, 2 smaller people, 2 cats, a fish, and a snail. She occasionally tries to grow plants, drinks double-caffeine coffee, and has a habit of rooting for the underdog. It is possible she has a book/comic book problem but has no intention of doing anything about either. Twitter: @SWSondheimer

Last week, I screeded. I screeded hard about the fact there were exactly zero women on the San Diego Comic-Con small press comics panel. And shouting, well, it feels really good but it doesn’t solve the industry-wide problem of women being locked in the back office or relegated to the kiddie table. The way we solve that problem is to shift the shouting focus so the noise we’re making is about books written by women. Some of them have men as members of the creative teams and hey, look at that, collaboration and cooperation (no, I’m not saying that can’t happen on projects led by dudes, slow your roll, this isn’t about you person getting ready to bust into our Twitter thread, I’m a mom, I actually do have multiple sets of eyes and I can see you getting ready to attack your keyboard).

So, here are some lady-led volumes about other ladies (and girls) to counter the disrespect:

Kusama: The Graphic Biography by Elisa Marcellari (Laurence King, October 20)

We’re lucky here in Pittsburgh; being the birthplace of Andy Warhol means we have modern art baked into the city’s industrial skeleton and a permanent Yayoi Kusama installation at one of our museums. Many people, however, have never even heard of this Japanese artists who revolutionized the New York’s painting, installation, and performance art scenes in the 1960s before returning to Japan, where she made the brave and difficult decision to admit herself to a psychiatric hospital where she still lives the majority of the time, being treated for severe OCD and other disorders. Kusama is, at the age of 91, still creating and, occasionally traveling, to bring her remarkable vision to the world.

I’ve always loved Kusama’s work and in a society where so many people insist on suffering for their art, found her decision to seek help for her mental illness and her insistence on continuing to create thereafter as proof one needn’t always bleed (literally or figuratively) to build something from nothing an inspiration. I’m so glad this graphic biography will bring that message to a wider audience.

Fierce Heroines: Inspiring Female Characters in Pop Culture by Rosie Knight and Arielle Jovellanos (Running Press Kids, September 13)

My daughter could not have been more excited when this book showed up at our door and immediately fell open to the page featuring Ahsoka Tano. As she flipped, she found more of her favorite badass ladies: Ochako Uraraka from My Hero Academia, Adora from the She-Ra reboot, Carmen Sandiego from the Netflix show, and the Thirteenth Doctor. Knight and Jovellanos won an immediate fan.

What I love about Fierce Heroines is that when I say “badass” I don’t just mean of the ass-kicking sort; those ladies are certainly present but so are the girls who think their way out of danger or plan other people’s way out of it. Who use kindness or straight up enthusiasm to save the day. So many books focus on a single definition of heroism and that can be frustrating to girls who may not be ready, or able to meet the specifications laid out therein; Fierce Heroines lets its readers find the model that best fits them and that is an incredible gift.

The Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda (Udon)

Oscar François de Jarjeyes, Commander of Marie Antoinette’s royal guard, has a secret. He is, in fact, she, raised as a boy by her father who, disappointed after having six daughters, decided his youngest should inherit his place in the military regardless of birth gender. The longer Oscar remains in the company of the royal family, however, the more disillusioned Oscar becomes with the manner in which France is being ruled and the more she begins to question her loyalty to the monarchs.

Riyoko was one of Japan’s most popular manga writers/artists in the ’70s but this Udon reissue is the first time Rose of Versailles has been available in English. These hardcovers are absolutely gorgeous and contain many of the original issue covers, which had been removed from previous collected volumes, and even some of the original promotional sticker and poster art. Volumes I and II are out now with Volume III to follow in the fall.

The PLAIN Janes

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg (Little Brown)

Jane Beckles is 100% sure she’s going to hate living in the suburbs—after all, what is there for any arty misfit used to city life to do out in *shudder* nature (hey, I don’t blame her, there’s a reason I choose to live somewhere I can see into my neighbors kitchen from my dining room). Relatively quickly, however, she finds the “reject table” (I object to this nomenclature, we were the “weird art kids” and we ate in the art room so we could climb out the window and dance to Bobby Darrin songs in the field) in the lunchroom and her cabal: three other Janes who also object to the static quiet of the ‘burbs and adult apathy. Together, the Janes embark on a mission to commit works of artistic mayhem throughout town, determined to change everyone’s life for the better.

There’s plenty more where this came from. So let’s give ’em hell, ladies.