So this week (who knows if this will be a weekly thing? I just like doing it because I like comics) I’m focusing on a couple of great books entirely by women and one that has a woman as its primary creative force. Comics are verrrrry verrrrry slowly becoming a more welcoming place for women (and man, have I heard some ugly stories about the way male editors treat their female staffers and are then protected from discipline), so I figured I’d take a little time out to explore the comics of a few folks who are doing it especially well and whose work is relatively fresh on the shelves.

LADY KILLER I wondered where I’d first heard of Joelle Jones after I picked up her (and cowriter Jamie S. Rich’s) Lady Killer on the strength of a really enthusiastic recommendation from the woman staffing the counter at Fantom Comics in Washington, D.C., and then I realized she’d produced a surprisingly solid adaptation of Janet Evanovich’s ubiquitous, numerical crime series (Jones’ young adult-marketed comics version of One for the Money came out around the same time as the misbegotten Kathryn Heigl movie). To give you an idea of how hard that is, I have read I believe a total of one interesting novel-to-comics adaptations, namely David Mazzucchelli’s version of the Paul Auster novel City of Glass, and at least ten dreadful ones.

Anyway, Jones is just a total delight. The series could be a USA dramedy in that it’s fun but a little lightweight (which I enjoy), but holy cow, the artwork. I mean you can find some fun pinups on her website but there’s just this whole incredible subterranean level of detail that you really have to read the book to appreciate. Everything is rendered within an inch of its life in a style that’s a few tones away from full-on cartoonishness – which is quite difficult! most artists that opt for a high level of detail tend to express their styles in composition rather than rendering – and it’s such a pleasure to read. It’s a period action comic, first and foremost – no sci-fi elements, no superheroes, no ghosts or goblins – and it’s just incredible fun for everyone, especially me.

STEP ASIDE, POPS Kate Beaton, the best possible form of carbon-based life, is back on the shelves with a gorgeous collection of new cartoons that includes her hilarious Straw Feminist strips, her Strong Female Characters (who are all scantily clad dork-loving babes) and a bunch of weirdness from free-associated Nancy Drew synopses based on the covers of the books (which are all totally ridiculous) to to Edward Gorey stuff. Anyway, she’s great.

I did a feature interview with Beaton a few days ago and she just could not possibly have been smarter or more charming so I’m probably biased here, but i also only did the interview because I read the book and went, “Holy cow, this is great.” Anyway rather than go on and on about this I’m going to excerpt a bit of the interview that I cut because it felt to comics-insidery and nerdy but hey if you read my blog you deserve it and it sort of comes to bear on the next entry…

RED SONJA Okay here’s where I diverge slightly from public taste: I only kind of love Red Sonja. I WANT to completely love it, because I am firmly in Gail Simone’s corner and think she’s a really gifted hero comics writer and her Deadpool is one of the funniest things anybody’s ever written for superhero comics, but it leaves me a little cold. I think what people are responding to in this book – and my goodness, folks adore Red Sonja – is that Simone (the writer) has redeemed this ultra-campy tits-and-ass character by making a super-tough, hard-drinking, merciless sword-warrior, the lady equivalent of Conan the Barbarian. Walter Geovani handles the art chores here and a lot of it is pretty obviously photo-referenced in a way that’s a little annoying but he delivers the goods a few times over the course of the volume. The covers are totally gorgeous and Dynamite had a great crew of women artists do the variants. Red Sonja’s origin story is kind of cool and there are some plot points you legitimately don’t see coming that I really, really enjoyed, but I sorta can’t shake the feeling that if Simone had a better artist, she’d be at the head of a vastly improved book. I mean, what’s Joelle Jones doing? Her women are sexy and she has an incredible flair for action.

Anyway. Wanted to love, only liked, will try to get deeper into the spirit of the thing soon. ANYWAY. More Kate Beaton:

ST Are you a superhero comics fan? You have Wonder Woman in this and Sexy Batman in the last book and of course the Strong Female Characters.

Kate Beaton: Yeah! It’s super fascinating to me. I didn’t know that much about it but when you start doing comics they’re kind of inescapable. When you start paying attention to the storylines you’re like, “Oh, that’s cool! That’s interesting. I never would have thought of this.” And coming into it as an adult with not a lot of background information sometimes people will tell you about this or that storyline and you’ll be like, “What? That’s crazy!” Because you’re not acclimatised to it at all, and these characters may be regularly established to people who read superhero comics but I’m like, “Wow, the Enchantress!” I’d never heard of her, but she’s hilarious! I love her! She could be a character, because her power is seduction, you’d think a lot of modern women readers would be like, “She sucks and we don’t like her,” but they do! They love her. They sort of take what they can get as far as the women in comics go. If you read stuff online, people will say, “I love how persistent she is,” and all these other qualities beyond just the outfits she’s drawn in, which are always hilarious. So they find things to like about them and I find that really charming. I find it really endearing that those audiences have these favorite characters and not always for reasons they’re going to think. You can’t always say, “Women aren’t going to like this, because she’s sexy!” That’s also a giant lie.

It always seems to me that there’s so much disagreement among women about how to approach those characters as a reader.

Oh yeah. Well, you know, women aren’t a monolith. I love reading all sides of it – I love reading people who say, “Let’s get rid of Red Sonja forever” and I love reading people who say “Let’s keep her and make her our queen!” Both are really fascinating reads – all the perspectives are great.

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