I’m taking a great class online right now called Gender and Comics. It combines two hobbies of mine – being scandalized at gender stereotypes in popular culture and reading comics. I’ve always been scandalized but I came to comics somewhat late in life. For good reason, I think. I tend to favor fiction with strong female characters and triumphant story lines.

As a child, my television viewing surrounded three programs (it was four but I sent a pot flying into the screen when Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was on and that was the end of that). The Muppet Show, the Electric Company, and Wonder Woman made up the sum total of my TV experience. Everything about Wonder Woman resonated with me. Invisible jets? Magic defending bracelets? Lasso? Tiny costume? Dude, it doesn’t get any better than that. Although my mom wasn’t down with buying comics, I somehow acquired a slim volume of Twilight Zone comics and wore it thin with repeated readings. Understandably, there were no super heroes, male or female.

This week’s module is all about Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel and I love reading them with an eye toward their gender roles and possibilites. Did you know Wonder Woman had her powers stripped by her creators sometime in the 60s which, while meant to be a feminist move (look! she’s trained in martial arts! look! she has a career! she doesn’t need superpowers!), was met with extraordinary criticism. Her powers were restored and her invisible jet set off to fly another day. I had no idea Ms. Marvel even existed although I’m irritated to find that she has a split personality – when she’s being super she has no recollection of her regular, journalist, life and when she’s at the editing desk, she has no idea she’s super. What a disappointment! To be able to fly and not know it? For shame.

And so it’s conveniently timed that PBS is airing a documentary about Wonder Woman, further fueling my class discussion and send me into the library stacks for more. There are more female superheroes (and anti-heroes) than you’d think and they bring with them a host of conversation starters about costumes, body image, strength and intelligence. I hope I can interest RR in reading when she gets older. While I try to pair every compliment on her appearance with a compliment about her strength or curiosity, it’s nice to have something to show her in print!

My best picks? My favorite series of all time (despite its occasionally problematic female portrayals for which we can blame the Brothers Grimm) is the Fables series, which follows all of the characters of childhood storytelling into the modern day world. The new Rachel Rising series features a female lead and lesbian presenting characters. Supergirl and Ms. Marvel are, well, super. And, in the graphic novel realm, I very much like the serious Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. She also writes Dykes to Watch Out For which I never got excited about but which is amazing for its age and content. And don’t forget about National Comic Book Day where you can stop into your local shop on the first Saturday of May and pick up the free comic for the year. They have kids books, too! If you want to go, there’s a handy search box to the left to find the nearest store to you.


8 Responses

  1. I’ve never really gotten into comics at large. But, I do have most if not all of The Tick – I love his stupid optimism. And I have Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels. I love Death and Sandman. I have Buffy season 8, because no one kicks ass better than Buffy, and who doesn’t love Faith?

    I’m glad there are more offerings available for women and girls these days. But I never really got bothered by gender stuff in general.

  2. Have you read Castle Waiting by Linda Medley? No superheroes, but a great graphic novel that started as a comic. I think you’d like it.

  3. Not sure if you’re into vampires and witchcraft but there is a series I LOVE by Kim Harrison (the Rachel Morgan series in the Hollows) and the lead character kicks all kind of ass and its an awesome series. If you are into sci-fy, I highly recommend it!

    • I love that series! I’m always looking for more badass women in my books. If you’ve read Kim Harrison, I’m sure you’ve read Patricia Briggs – if not, do! Her character Mercy is a mechanic and sometimes hero. It’s great!

      • That’s so funny – I just got done with the Mercy series & the Alpha/Omega series by her. Have you read Laurell K. Hamilton? She has the Anita Blake series and a Fairy series that are both really good. The Anita Blake ones start out slow but there are a million of them and they get much better. 🙂

      • Yes! Sounds like we have similar reading tastes – let me know if you find more good ones!

  4. I was reading the Fables series for awhile (in collected graphic novel form, since I’ve never been hard-core enough to get individual issues), but I have to say I gave up on them. Snow White was my favorite character, up until she had the babies, and evidently expelled her personality along with the afterbirth. I *haaaaaate* that. It’s entirely possible to be both a mother and an interesting person, I swear. (And for the record, I quit reading the series for this reason well before becoming a mother myself.)

    If you can find the Courtney Crumrin graphic novels, they’re well worth a read. They’re aimed at the younger crowd, but this has never been a particular deterrent for me.

    Also, I’ll second the Sandman recommendation, if you haven’t already read the series. There’s a spin-off series, Lucifer, by Mike Carey, which I’ve also been enjoying. (Though as a disclaimer, I haven’t read all of them yet.)

    • I’ll keep my eyes open for them! And I do like Sandman, so I’l check out Lucifer too. I agree with regard to Snow White. The most recent volumes have focused on the cubs though, and so some of the girls are getting entire issues devoted to them. One is the North Wind, another the Queen of the Island of Lost Toys. There is nothing particularly ground breaking about their character development – but at least we’re seeing some new female character creation.

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