Last year I did two massive posts about the 20 best female comics creators of 2010. I thought about revisiting that list this year, but I felt a lot of those ladies still belong on that list and I wanted to make sure to feature new creators. So instead I decided to add to it, with 13 new ladies who did great work in 2011 that I’d like to recognize. So, without further ado, here are 13 fantastic female creators in comics that you should be watching, reading, and supporting.
Please, before filling up the comments with women you think are missing, make sure to check out 2010’s list which includes: Kate Beaton, Rebekah Isaacs, Becky Cloonan, Amy Reeder, Jill Thompson, Gail Simone, Faith Erin Hicks, Kathryn Immonen, Emily Carrol, Amanda Connner, Hope Larson, Linda Medley, Fiona Staples, Colleen Coover, Raina Telgmeier, Lucy Knisley, Sarah Glidden, Katie Cook, Jen Van Meter, Nicola Scott, and Gabrielle Bell.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Anya’s Ghost, What Were You Raised By Wolves
Why I’m loving her work right now: I was familiar with Vera Brosgol only through her shared project with Emily Carroll – Draw This Dress – and so it was fun for me to read her wonderful first graphic novel Anya’s Ghost from First Second. Having missed Brosgol’s work that appeared in the Flight Anthology (she has work in issues #1, #2, and #4) Anya’s Ghost was the first sequential work I’d seen of Brosgol and I was quite literally floored by her talent. A wonderfully bold and confident drawing style, influenced largely by her experience as a storyboard artist for feature animation, Brosgol matches her strong cartooning with a surprising YA story about Anya, an immigrant to the US, that falls down a well and meets a ghost. The resulting tale is decidedly unexpected in a number of ways and is simply a joy to read. In 2011 Brosgol also produced an exceptional mini-comic (now available online in its entirety) titled What, Were You Raised By Wolves. It’s funny, and sad and violent and heartbreaking and is the kind of story that leaves you imminently interested in what a creator might do next. I simply cannot wait to see what Brosgol will do next.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Supergirl #64 – 66, Osborn: Evil Incarcerated, Castle: Deadly Storm
Why I’m loving her work right now: Kelly Sue DeConnick first came to my attention in 2010 when she penned a handful of quite interesting one-shots for Marvel including Sif and Rescue, as well as a story for Marvel’s Girl Comics Anthology and a story from issue #4 of CGBG. One-shots and shorts are notoriously tough to write well and so when anyone manages it, I sit up and take notice. This year DeConnick followed those strong stand alones with some incredible stories for DC and Marvel, most notably a three issue arc on DC’s Supergirl before it re-launched this past September, and Marvel’s critically acclaimed and massively interesting Osborn limited series. With a great sense of humor and interesting takes on both heroes and villains DeConnick has quickly made herself a writer to watch in comics. In 2011 DeConnick also co-wrote a Castle Graphic Novel (which I have not read) but which, by the very nature of being a graphic novel tied to a television show, and being co-written by Brian Michael Bendis, is possibly her most well-known work to date and one likely to put her on the map even more powerfully.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Womanthology, Servant of the Bones
Why I’m loving her work right now: In the interest of full disclosure, I am involved in Renae De Liz’s Womanthology project as both a backer and contributor. That fact likely makes me horribly biased, but I don’t think given De Liz’s contributions to comics this year, and especially “women and comics” that there’s any way De Liz doesn’t belong on this list no matter who puts this it together. In addition to her continuing illustration work for IDW – this year with Anne Rice’s Servant of the Bones – De Liz put together the single most successful comics project in Kickstarter’s history with Womanthology, an all female comics anthology that raised over 100k (which means it funded at 437% of its original goal).
I first read something of De Liz’s when I came across her stunning illustration work for IDW’s adaptation of The Last Unicorn in 2010 (which released as a gorgeous hardcover edition in 2011). From there I began following her on twitter, which was how I learned of her ambitious Womanthology project. Though De Liz has spent a lot of time in 2011 doing work for IDW (among other things I’m sure) a huge portion of 2011 has been consumed with the business of creating and executing the massive 300-page Womanthology volume that will release in early 2012. While it’s arguable that De Liz might belong on next year’s list since that’s when Womanthology will release, in truth, her contribution to comics this year is so much more than whatever final product Womanthology produces. More importantly, De Liz has established herself as a creator that galvanized an entire movement of women in comics, bringing attention and focus to the issue of women in comics, connecting women together, and giving them an avenue for creation and publication. That, to me, is far more important than the actual volume itself.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger, Osborn
Why I’m loving her work right now: Emma Rios’ first big mainstream project for Marvel was the Dr. Strange mini-series Strange in 2010, and she has been just killing everything she touches ever since. For Rios 2010 included everything from a fun short in Marvel’s Girl Comics, an Elektra one-shot, work on the excellent Heralds mini-series, and a gorgeous Firestar one-shot. Rios followed up her 2010 work with even more impressive work penciling both the critically acclaimed Osborn mini-series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and a Spider Island: Cloak & Dagger mini-series. Rios’ work is fluid and loose, with a slight Manga influence, and she’s proven herself to be incredibly versatile when it comes to subject matter and her interpretation of that subject matter. Her storytelling and page layouts are unique and visually striking, packed with detail and yet easily understood. Reading Rios is like feasting your eyes on a veritable smorgasbord of gorgeous and disturbing details (see above for proof!).
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Ultimate Spider-Man
Why I’m loving her work right now: Sara Pichelli has been doing great work in comics for several years now, from her first work in comics on Star Trek for IDW to work on Runaways with writer Kathryn Immonen in 2009 to a Pixie Strikes Back mini-series in 2010 also with Immonen. However her work this year on Marvel’s new Ultimate Spider-Man title has been straight up revolutionary. Pichelli’s attention to detail for everything from Miles’ haircut to his clothing to the environment he lives in is exceptional and her strong vision has undoubtedly helped make Ultimate Spider-Man one of the best and most well-executed superhero origin stories I’ve seen in comics in a very long time. Pichelli’s work has always been passionate and enthusiastic as well as very pretty, but what she’d doing on Ultimate Spider-Man feels far more refined and clean, well-considered and confident. There’s an absolute precision in her storytelling choices and her character decisions that is breathtaking. More than once she has given me goosebumps just in how she has chosen to execute a page. This is some groundbreaking work, and it’s fitting that it’s on a groundbreaking series.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: X-23, Daken: Dark Wolverine, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller (Puss in Boots)
Why I’m loving her work right now: Marjorie Liu first really got my attention in 2010 with her exceptional Black Widow series from Marvel with stunning art from Daniel Acuna. Unfortunately, the series was cut short, but it left me anxious to see what Liu did next. And X-23, one of the only series headlining a female character at Marvel, was her next stop. While the art for X-23 was not always my cup of tea, Liu did an excellent job of fleshing out a character that in a lesser writer’s hands would have just been a sexy teenaged female version of Wolverine. Under Liu’s pen Laura (X-23) grew into a fantastic and 3-dimensional character while still managing to remain true to what had come before. In fact, Liu’s work with artist Phil Noto on X-23 issues #13 – 16 for the “Chaos Theory” arc were hands down some of the best comics I read in 2011. Unfortunately, X-23 has been canceled, but Liu is moving on to write Astonishing X-Men for 2012, with an interesting cast that has in the past frequently been left on the sidelines, so I can’t wait to see what she’ll do with them.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Ivy
Why I’m loving her work right now: I had never heard of Sarah Oleksyk until I picked up her book Ivy from Oni Press this past year. That’s unfortunate for me because Oleksyk has been doing wonderful indie/mini comics for years now (most of them available in full for free on her website). They are introspective and sad, funny and bold, smart and beautiful, all rolled into one, and they provide a great glimpse into the insightful and gorgeously illustrated graphic novel Ivy that was collected into a graphic novel this year from Oni. The artistic skill on display in Ivy is incredibly impressive, but it was Oleksyk’s willingness to tell a daring not necessarily “easy” YA story that felt real and honest that made me such a fan of her work. I expect many more great things from Oleksyk and I hope she continues to not pull her punches.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Hinges
Why I’m Loving Her Work Right Now: Tapped to draw the much awaited new Hopeless Savages (volume 4) from Jen Van Meter for Oni, McClaren is a crazy talent, evident by pretty much everything she creates and most notably her brilliant full color webcomic Hinges that she has been producing in 2011. You can read Hinges in full thus far here, to see for yourself what an insane talent McClaren is. Her exaggerated cartoon-y style is fluid and beautiful, and so on point that words are frequently completely unnecessary. McClaren’s character design is particularly impressive and there’s a feeling of boundless creativity and possibility in nearly everything she touches. From a storytelling point of view she handles everything from sweeping vistas to the most subtle character expressions with seeming ease. I cannot wait to see her Hopeless Savages work (when will it come out?! WHEN?!), and expect to be enjoying her work – both creator owned like Hinges, and collaborative like Hopeless Savages - for many many years to come.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Finder: Voice
Why I’m loving her work right now: Carla Speed McNeil has been an indie comics darling for a while now, but I’ve just recently gotten into her Eisner Award Winning Finder series, and it’s absolutely excellent. Her eye for detail and illustration chops are only equaled by her ability to tell a compelling story and create characters that you can’t help but feel for. McNeil’s incredibly detailed black and white artwork is also somehow sublimely clean and the fact that it’s all indescribably beautiful doesn’t hurt either. A scene in which a character transforms from her “stage look” to her “regular look” as illustrated by McNeil is absolutely phenomenal and is just a hint of the depth and consideration she has for her characters. Finder: Voice features a “new” main character in Rachel and she’s flawed in all the ways that make for a great protagonist, ways that allow McNeil to show us real growth and triumph for both the character and the story.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Templar, Arizona
Why I’m loving her work right now: Spike has been putting out Templar, Arizona since 2005…which is a VERY long run for webcomic. That kind of devotion and commitment are rare in webcomics and it’s all the better for all of us. Spike has created a fantastic world of characters, and one in which Templar, Arizona itself is perhaps the star. Bold and funny, freewheeling and aggressive, Spike’s Templar, Arizona is one of those worlds that you just fall in love with…flaws and all. Spike has described her Templar as a “slightly irregular Arizona that fell off the back of a truck somewhere, and now all the power outlets are a weird shape and a couple of wars never happened”, which pretty much sums up the offbeat sense of humor and rollicking energy of the series. Templar, Arizona is filled with wonderful diversity from race and orientation to body shape and even clothing style. It’s the kind of diversity far too rare in most comics, but found in surprising abundance in creator owned work like Spike’s. Spike is also working on (and publishing soon?) a book she wrote with illustrator Diana Nock called Poorcraft which was an early kickstarter success.
*ETA – as noted by commenter Phil Jackson below, Sylvain Savoia is actually male – and thus – though wonderfully talented – not eligible for this list…which means I should change the title to 12 Fantastic Female Comics Creators of 2011. But I’ll leave it as is. Huge apologies to Mr. Savoia – in my brief research I didn’t find any reference to gender and made an assumption – which is never a good thing. Mr. Savoia is incredibly talented however, and deserves recognition for this wonderful work regardless of gender.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Marzi
Why I’m loving their work right now: Originally six volumes published in France and then published as three volumes in Poland, 2011 saw Marzi collected and translated into one massive tome by Vertigo. The combination of Sylvain Savoia’s engaging and frequently adorable art and Marzena Sowa’s intense but matter of fact writing, creates a fascinating memoir that skirts the line between childhood innocence and intense, painful reality. Executed as a series of vignettes that build on one another impressively, the initial feeling when reading Marzi is almost light, despite the surroundings in which Marzi and her friends and family live. But as the story progresses the intensity and reality of things becomes impossible to ignore. The result is a powerful and fascinating memoir sure to stay with you.
Significant Comics Work of 2011: Emma, Northanger Abbey
Janet K. Lee burst onto the comics scene in 2010 with a gorgeous Eisner Award winning graphic novel The Return of The Dapper Men from Archaia, written by Jim McCann. Insanely creative and anchored by Lee’s phenomenal visuals, McCann and Lee were instant talks of the town thanks to The Return of The Dapper Men (which I, unfortunately, did not read until 2011, or I would have put Lee on last year’s list!). In 2011 most of Lee’s comics work has been in the form of illustration work for excellent Jane Austen adaptations for Marvel written by Nancy Butler. Adaptation is a tricky art form and Lee manages to skirt the line between creativity and representation excellently. These volumes, with Lee’s trademark style which is wholly unique and wildly inventive, are slavishly beautiful. The adaptations have done a wonderful job of bringing Austen’s novels into the comics world with respect and enthusiasm and just enough inventiveness to keep things interesting. The hardcover collections of these mini-series are particularly lovely and make a great addition to any bookshelf for fans of adaptations and Austen.
And that’s it for this year. I’m sure, as always, I have missed many wonderful creators. I hope I’ll discover many more in the coming year both new and old and have an opportunity to focus on many that I’ve missed both here and on She Has No Head!
I feel compelled to mention that doing pieces like this have sometimes drawn criticism from those that think it’s a mistake to feature “women only” lists – that it suggests that women need special treatment, or are not “good enough” to compete with their male counterparts. I can understand the sentiment and concern, but given my experiences in comics I have to say that I think that women creators DO still need special treatment and all the exposure and support that we can give them. Not because they’re not just as talented as their male counterparts, but just because it takes a very long time to change an industry that is used to doing things a certain way. It says nothing of their talent or ability to market themselves that they need a bit of a spotlight shown on them, it’s just an unfortunate necessity when trying to help talented individuals break into an industry that has long been fairly closed to them.
For those that think there are no issues with women finding work in comics, I urge you to remember that of DC’s “new 52 re-launch” just four short months ago – which had a minimum of 150+ jobs available to creators (I’m using an estimate of three jobs per book – writer, artist, and colorist – which is a low estimate as it doesn’t include potential inkers or cover artists, etc.) only SIX* women were given jobs on those books. The wonderful Gail Simone was brought on to write Batgirl and to co-write The Fury of Firestorm, Jenny Frison did covers for I, Vampire, and Amy Reeder had already been scheduled to draw the second arc of the Batwoman series (her issues are still not out yet). Also colorists Nei Ruffino, Jessica Kholine, and Tanya Horie. Those are painfully low numbers considering the massive amount of female talent out there. While Marvel has done a much better job of putting great female creators to work on their books of late, and more independent houses continue to be good at this, the lack of female creators involved in the DC Re-launch was a wake up call for everyone in comics. And until that sort of thing just doesn’t happen anymore, I think we need as many blogs and posts and lists featuring great female comics creators that we can get.
That’s why I do this, that’s why I think it’s important. And even if you can’t quite agree, I hope you can agree that there is some amazing talent featured here, talent that is deserving of your attention and support. I hope you all found some creators worth following and I hope to bring you at least a dozen more by the end of next year as well.
Happy New Year everyone!
*I originally neglected to give DC credit for three female colorists.
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