GutterGeek Review: GIRL COMICS

Posted by on September 7th, 2010 at 9:21 AM

Various Artists, Girl Comics (Marvel Comics, 2010). 3-issue miniseries, $4.99 per issue.

Marvel’s recent Girl Comics reportedly began as a way to mark 2010 as a “Celebration of Women in Marvel Comics.” As celebrations go, the date is a bit arbitrary. This year marks the 30th anniversary of both the National Women’s History Project and the first appearance of She-Hulk. That’s what Marvel’s hitching their celebration to, and they’ve put together an assortment of female-focused books (including Her-Oes, Heralds, Black Widow, Black Cat, and Spitfire) to mark the anniversary. According to editor Jeanine Schaefer, the Girl Comics anthology miniseries grew out of a brainstorming session about how to appropriately celebrate the contribution of women creators (not just characters) in comics. The series also provides a respectful nod to the Timely/Atlas Girl Comics series that ran from 1949 to 1954. The result is a book that, while effectively showcasing female talent in the industry, never really attains thematic cohesion.

To be fair, thematic unity is hard to pull off in any anthology. To Marvel’s credit, Schaefer doesn’t seem to have placed any constraints on the creators involved in the project. The women who contributed to Girl Comics were allowed to create short stories about subjects that interested them—nothing more and nothing less. The series is an interesting and useful experiment. All of the creators involved in Girl Comics—writers, artists, letterers, and colorists—are women, and this project highlights talent that is too often unnoticed and underappreciated in an industry dominated by men. I just wish the book were able to say something more with its content—not just with its form.

 As is the case with all anthology books, Girl Comics has strong stories and weak stories. The strongest are Robin Furth and Agnes Garbowska’s Franklin and Val Richards story from #1, Kathryn Immonen and Colleen Coover’s Shamrock story from #2, and Marjorie Liu and Sara Pichelli’s Wolverine and Jubilee story from #3. These stories are wildly divergent in tone and message, but together they work to demonstrate the potential and possibilities of cartooning and comics art. The Richards children story is written and illustrated as a children’s story. Franklin and Val tamper with their dad’s lab equipment and end up on an alternate world full of robot mice. Every element of this story—from the fairy tale structure to the artwork in the gutter frames—is experimental and fun. The Shamrock story uses a salon setting to tell a story of affirmation and empowerment. And the Wolverine/Jubilee story is essentially a rooftop conversation between two characters with a long history together.


As good as the Wolverine/Jubilee story was, it made me think about how much more interesting Girl Comics would have been if the series had adhered to some version of the Bechdel Test. In 1985, Alison Bechdel (Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For) penned a DTWOF strip called “The Rule” that outlined three rules a film should follow if it wants to appeal to women: 1) It has to have two women in it 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than men. Obviously, this isn’t what Girl Comics was going for. The book features female talent, and I suppose that should be enough. But comics is an industry dominated by male characters as well as male creative talent. The Girl Comics project would have been more engaging—and possibly more meaningful and cohesive—if all of the creators had been asked to feature women’s experiences (not contingent on the experiences of men) in the Marvel Universe. If this had happened, then the Dr. Strange story from #2 and the Cyclops/Jean/Logan love triangle story that closes #1 would not have seemed so oddly out of place. Granted, the Timely/Atlas Girl Comics series was largely focused on women’s experiences with men. But why shouldn’t a new Girl Comics series be a 21st century iteration of a mid-20th century idea?

Another potential drawback to the series is the price point ($4.99 per issue). Anthology books necessarily cost more to produce because more creators need to be paid. The care and attention put into compiling this series is clear. The biographical features on women comics creators—including Flo Steinberg, Marie Severin, June Tarpe Mills, Ruth Atkinson, and Louise Simonson—and the creator biographies at the end of each issue are appreciated and add significance to the book. The covers, vacillating between playful and powerful, are striking as well. The interior pinups in each issue, however, are a clichéd, unnecessary waste of space. Must a series focused on women by necessity have pinups associated with it? All things considered, $4.99 isn’t an obscene amount to charge for each issue. I just worry that the price might have prevented readers from taking a chance on something new and different—especially since there’s no distinct thematic thread (beyond the gender of the people hired to create the stories) tying it all together. When Marvel collects this series in a single volume, a strong selling point would be the inclusion of the excellent Women of Marvel magazine that also shipped this summer. This book would provide a useful context for the project Marvel was trying to assemble in Girl Comics, and it would add value to a book that at times seems to be unfocused and unguided.

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