Last month, Eric and I were fortunate enough to present a panel at New York Comic Con titled “Super Girls: Engaging Female High School Students Through Comics,” and we had a blast. We spoke to a packed room of educators , along with Dr. Meryl Jaffe and Josh Elder, about how comics aren’t just “boys stuff,” and if girls were given the same exposure to these great stories, they could love them just as much. Now, the question was posed as to how we address the amount of terrible images and ideas about women that can often be found in comics (especially in how female superheroes are depicted) our response was “Give them the good stuff!” Yes, we have to make our students aware of what’s out there, but our goal is to help them find stories they will connect with and be inspired by. With that being said, we’ve decided to have another Comics Fantasy Draft, but this time we’ll focus on comics we think that female (and first time readers) will dig. I got first pick this time!
Ronell: So, I’m up first this round. My first pick is Lumberjanes by Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Brooke Allen. I know, I know, it feels like a gimme pick, and it kind of is. Anyone who will give me more than five seconds of silence has to sit through a long soliloquy about how awesome this title is, and how EVERYONE, male, female, old, young, EVERYONE should be reading this book. The creators describe the book as “Baby Sitters Club meets Buffy the Vampire slayer and Scooby Doo goes to camp.” Mix in a dash of Spice Girls, Tegan and Sara, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, and everything that made you like any John Hughes movie and you’ve got the basic DNA for what makes Lumberjanes great. It’s supernatural, mystery and adventure all wrapped in a ready-for-Cartoon-Network package.
Eric: To engage the female reader, especially the fan of classic literature, I’m going to select the Marvel version of Sense & Sensibility adapted by Nancy Butler and Sonny Liew. This Jane Austen classic contains amazing art, and that’s the key to creating comic adaptation of classics: engaging art. Marvel has a few of these amazing adaptations, and I feel like they are created for readers of classics and comics and not just produced in masses to make money off of the comics boom. I have used this book in the classroom, and have seen much success with it. As a reluctant reader in high school, I wish I had my AP titles presented to me like this…but my AP Literature teacher played Chekhov plays on a record player and made us listen and follow along in the book…for days, and days. And it was 1st period! Soooooo sleepy. More reason to expose 21st century readers to this version of Sense & Sensibility.
R: Can I say, I ACTIVELY dislike Jane Austen’s stuff, but I really dug this adaptation? I think I just did. My pick is one I just did with my English 4 class, and that’s I Kill Giants by Joe Kelley and JM Ken Niimura. I hate the term “strong female protagonist” if only because it’s become cliché, and a little hollow, but Barbara Thorson is the very definition of that term. She IS strong and brave in her way, but she is also very flawed and vulnerable, and weird and geeky, and the reader falls in love with her instantly because of it. I think it would be a great way to get the uninitiated reader into comics because Barbara’s story of dealing with tragedy through fantasy and escapism is a universal story for kids. This is especially true for kids dealing with loss. Great read.
E: Love that book, but I think I’m going to keep most of my picks in the classics realm; I’m in that type of mood today. So, for my second pick, I’ll go with the Bradbury approved graphic novel adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. An amazing adaptation, that in a pinch, could replace the original with no loss in content or discussion. All of my learners have enjoyed the book, especially the female students that I have surveyed. A great book to use as an entry point to the medium; I feel that all English teachers should check this one out…especially the skeptics. The art and panel layouts offer up some amazing discussion.
R: I’ve never been one for classic adaptations, but that is an OFFICIAL adaptation I can get behind. I feel like I’m making a lot of picks of books with female leads, but there are so many good ones out there now. I think that’s a good problem to have. With that being said, my next pick is one of my current favorites: Ms. Marvel by G. Willow WIlson. Much like Miles Morales did for Ultimate Spider-Man, Kamala Khan puts a new and interesting spin on an old character. Thing is, I like this new Ms. Marvel WAY more than the previous (although Captain Marvel kicks so much butt now, I wasn’t really a fan of her back then). Kamala is smart, she’s a feminist, and she’s real. She is the best kind of the superhero: the kind we can all see ourselves in. Add to that Wilson’s humor and the funky art, and you get a great book for anyone on your list.
E: Ms. Marvel is great, but is she Marjane Satrapi great?! Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, is an autobiographical graphic novel about a young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Powerful, moving, funny, and black and white, this book is also a must for the high school exploration of what it means to grow up, have family that you don’t get, and everything else that comes along with being young. Yet another title here with a female protagonist that kicks butt! I’m seeing a semester course developing here…
R: We could SO build a course around this! Graphic Feminism? Sounds kinda edgy. I’m gonna switch gears just a bit here. Up till now I’ve been picking female led/female written titles, but this next one is just a great story, by a great writer: Pedro and Me by Judd Winick. Our students do not know remember Judd and Pedro from MTV’s reality show The Real World: San Francisco, but you know what else our students don’t know? A world where AIDS and HIV didn’t exist. I think Pedro and Me is a powerful example of comics as a communication medium, but I also think it is a prime example of how essential it is for us to share our stories. Pedro’s tale of living with, and ultimately dying from, HIV/AIDS was one of the landmark moments in television and American culture. This intimate comic retelling of that story is a beautiful love letter to Pedro and Judd’s friendship, and to the memory of an amazing person.
E: While the series contains nudity and sexual situations, Brain K. Vaughan’s Y the Last Man is an amazing tale of the last man on earth, Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand. As women begin to figure out their next move in rebuilding their society, things get crazy. While I would not use whole books of Y, parts or snippets of this series can open up some really interesting conversations about gender, society, morality, etc. Check it out, and think about paring parts of it with Lord of the Flies or other gender driven titles to inspire some very cool compare/contrast or cause/effect essays. Yes, Ronell, this is starting to sound like a really cool course. I’d enroll in it.
R: Y the Last Man is one of those comics series that I’ve putting off finishing because I don’t want it to be over. Great pick! I’m actually torn between Brian Wood, Jordie Bellaire and Ming Doyle’s Mara and Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch; both are amazing in their own way, and both feature female leads. While Mara is a cool deconstruction of the superhero genre, I’m going with Rat Queens. There is definitely some violence and language in this book, but it is the most fun you’re going to have on a dungeon crawl. This comic is what happens when Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Heart and PJ Harvey get together and have a weekly D & D game catered by Jack Daniels.
E: Nice…my final pick is Marvel’s new roll out of She-Hulk. Now, I’ve only read a couple of issues, but the art is sick, and She-Hulk as a lawyer fighting crime on the side is very cool. It reads a bit like the Fraction Hawkeye, and that’s not a bad thing. I think more comics will head to the disjointed, non-linear story telling that is making itself known in the comics’ world. I like to say that story-telling is not dead, and there will always be a need for unique ways to tell a story. If you teach comics, you better throw some unique titles in the mix. Hit us up for ideas.