Graphic novels were a thing that happened to me when I started my masters degree, moving closer to one of my top nerd pals who started slipping me copies of Walking Dead and Preacher. I knew I’d like them, given the opportunity to engage and a little guidance from where to start – same for tabletop board games.
Entering the world of comic books can be admittedly tricky for anyone – what do you mean there are a number of reboots – but when you are facing the hyped up gore or sexualisation of women or plain dodgy writing, it gets a little tricker. At first I kept wondering how on earth I was going to remember to buy those singles every week (hint just buy the volumes, if you have patience to wait).
I’ve been lucky enough to read some excellent books written by women about women in the last few months, so let me share them with you.
First up is Ms. Marvel, penned by G. Willow Wilson, which I came to with admittedly not much more knowledge of Marvel than beyond the movies. Kamala Khan is a muslim Pakistani-American teenage girl, growing up in New Jersey, trying to balance her newfound powers with the expectations of her parents. The stories are great fun and actually laugh out loud funny – I especially love the first story in volume 2 which involves her and X-Men’s Wolverine wandering around a sewer. She is refreshing in that she has dilemmas about life that can be related to, but still kicks but really hard. So far there are two volumes out (all those little single issues collected into two decent sized books) which you can devour, snorting at the references to Harry Potter. Volume one is £7.89 on Wordery.
Staying with “girls who kick butt”, Rat Queens is your fantasy RPG Dungeons and Dragons roaming party of bandits but who are all funny, intelligent women. None of them are rats, like I had thought. But it’s still good! It’s also written by a man (so probably should have been excluded given my premise of girls by girls by idgaf). I have so far read the first volume which has some amazing artwork and a great storyline. As a casual D&D player and lover of all-things-rpg in video games, I often long for stories that explore different kind of women banding together. Not only are the four main characters different personality wise, but there is a diversity of body shape and skin tones which is refreshing. All the characters have sexual agency, which is also refreshing! I have genuinely fallen in love with Hannah, Dee, Violet and Betty. The first volume is a cheapie cheap £5.73 on Wordery! The 2nd volume is about twice the price, but you expect this with graphic novels – they lure you in with low prices and misandrist jokes and well here you are, in a fort of books.
Moving away from the series format to self contained novels, I’ve been lucky to read some beautiful ones. No bookshelf is complete without Marjane Sartrapi’s Persepolis, an autobiography of her childhood growing up in Iran. If you don’t read the book, at least watch the movie, but really really you should read the book. My knowledge of the history of Iran has certainly expanded, and it is a history you should explore. Marjane’s childhood stubbornness reminds me of being a small girl, very set in my mind of what was right and wrong.
A lesser known treasure (to me at least) has been This One Summer, a sort-of growing up story between two girls, Rose and Windy, who is possibly one of my favourite people ever. Windy will call you out when you say something that parrots the patriarchy or is judgey. The story is gently paced but melancholy and hopeful, and makes me long for swimming in lakes. It is written by Jillian Tamaki and drawn by Mariko Tamaki, who have written a number of other books that I have my eye on.
If you like creepy as heck books then you should consider picking up Through the Woods by Emily Carroll which has some of the most terrifying images and stories I’ve ever read. To a lesser extent I also recommend the short-but-not-at-all-sweet Gosh Comics published Dreadful Wind and Rain by Isabel Greenberg, which is a short, haunting tale about two sisters told through seriously beautiful imagery and is only £6 from Gosh!.
Other honourable mentions that aren’t books I’ve read recently but will probably appeal to you if the above does: Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley is an homage to turning 30 and not knowing if you’ve done the right things to get there; In Real Life uses World of Warcraft style online MMOs to reach across topics such as poverty, culture clashes, and adolescence and is written by the wonderful Cory Doctorow; anything by the wonderful Jamie McKelvie and Kieren Gillen (Young Avengers, Wicked and the Divine and Phonogram); the Saga series by Bryan K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
If you are in London, I recommend popping to the delightful Gosh! Comics in Soho to pick these up. The staff are always wonderfully helpful and attentive, and the huge array of excellent books on display in the central table represent some of the best books in store – I’ve found that picking up one of these at random has often ended well. They also have a really good sized selection of zines and small press comic books for you to enjoy, which also make excellent gifts.
What have you read recently? Share your faves in the comments!!