Some intellectual and female-friendly comics to read

Someone asked me:

My BFF’s boyfriend is into superhero comics which she finds too violent and too anti-feminist. She herself would like to find some more intellectual and female-friendly comics to read, as a way to share his interest in a way that better suits her tastes. Can you recommend some comics that might work for her?

Wow, I could make recommendations all day. I’m assuming your friend is a grown-up and doesn’t object to stories that include occasional nudity or sexuality.

How about Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” and then if she likes that, “Are You My Mother?

Rutu Modan’s “The Property,” and also her earlier graphic novel “Exit Wounds.”

Although it has a male protagonist, I’d still recommend Howard Cruse’s “Stuck Rubber Baby” as an intelligent and beautifully drawn graphic novel with good, sympathetic female characters. (It’s a memoir of coming out as gay in the civil rights era South).

I’d HIGHLY recommend trying “Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories,” although it might make sense to try it for free from the library before buying a copy (it’s a huge book, and expensive). The first few chapters require a little patience, because the creator took a little while to find his voice, but after that it’s amazing – some of the best comics ever made.

The Tale of One Bad Rat,” an excellent, quirky, and beautifully drawn graphic novel about recovering from abuse.

The NAO of Brown.” An extremely odd and appealing graphic novel, about an eccentric girl with OCD falling in love.

If your BFF likes the gritty detective genre, “Stumptown” is fun and well-done. Even better, sort of in the same genre (and by the same writer), is Whiteout, about a U.S. Marshall in Antarctica (it’s amazing how dramatic artist Steve Lieber makes drawings of scenes set in blizzards).

Tamara Drewe” by Posy Simmonds. I really loved this one – perfect mix of intellectual references and snarky fun. Also the most successful comics/prose combination format I’ve ever read. And Simmonds’ drawing is beautiful, with figures so fluid and expressive they reminded me of Eisner.

If your BFF likes fluffy fantasy (and I sure do), the two “Castle Waiting” books are wonderful, and do lovely things with both gender and architecture. This is a good recommendation for any age.

La Perdida” by Jessica Abel is a wonderful and smart memoir about traveling in Mexico.

All of Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder graphic novels are good, but the two best are the two most recent – and, fortunately, they can be read without reading the previous novels. The most recent graphic novel, Voice, was designed to be a good starting place for new readers, and is my favorite of her books. Talisman, her book about being a reader and a creator, is almost as good. Both of these books are science fiction.

And speaking of science fiction, here’s the blurb I wrote for the back cover of Jenn Manley Lee’s Dicebox: “Molly and Griffen are blue-collar workers in space looking for work and avoiding past mistakes. Jenn Manley Lee’s unique brand of science fiction – part slice of life, part travelogue – is daring, refreshing, whip-smart, and gloriously entertaining.”

I could go on all day, and there are lots of great graphic novels I didn’t mention here, but that’s probably enough for a start!

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13 Responses to Some intellectual and female-friendly comics to read

  1. 1
    mythago says:

    Also, depending on what your tastes run to, Bone.

    Finder is wonderful, but I’d think it would be pretty confusing if you start with Talisman, since it assumes you already know the history of Rachel and her family, and the cultural context of Anvard and the twelve clans. Sin-Eater is probably where I’d start.

  2. 2
    mythago says:

    And the edit button is not working, so I’m going to have to double-post to point out Girl Genius.

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    I’m assuming your friend is a grown-up and doesn’t object to stories that include occasional nudity or sexuality.

    I generally require it.

    I do love me Girl Genius. Just about the best comic out there. And what I like about it is that it promotes the female characters without making all the male characters look like idiots.

  4. 4
    Doug S. says:

    She could try the manga section?

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    I don’t know enough manga to make a specific recommendation, alas.

    I’ve only read a couple of manga series with a female protagonist – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, of course, and InuYasha. But while I really like both of those series, I honestly don’t think they’re as well-written as most of the other books I’ve mentioned, especially when it comes to depth of characterization. Plus InuYasha is over 10,000 pages long, which makes it a bit hard to recommend to someone who doesn’t know what they’re in for.

    Swan‘s another manga I’ve read with a female protagonist, but despite some stunning artwork, the writing is… not great.

    If someone wants to recommend some intelligent, feminist-friendly manga for me to check out, I’d be grateful!

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    I do love me Girl Genius. Just about the best comic out there.

    Girl Genius is terrific. The Foglios are wonderful cartoonists. I’ve been a fan of Phil Folio for almost as long as I’ve been reading comics.

    But it is not even CLOSE to being the best comic out there. It’s a well-done, unpretentious, sci-fi romp. But that’s all it is (or aspires to be), and it would be very depressing if the entire comic book field didn’t produce anything better. (I’d say the same about my own work.)

    I’d bet Phil himself – who always remembers me when we meet and is super-nice to me, even though in the comic book world I’m about ten miles below him on the ladder of importance – would disagree with the claim that GG is “just about the best comic out there.”

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Mythago, I liked your comments yesterday over on “Popehat.”

    I would think that if someone read Voice first, then that would give them more enough info so that Talisman would be enjoyable. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with Sin-Eater, because I think it’s not her strongest work, and someone could be turned off the series who would completely enjoy some of the later books if they read them.

    I love Bone, and agree with that recommendation. I’m not sure I’d call it an especially feminist book, but it’s not offensive to feminists, and it has at least two important and interesting female characters, and it passes the Bechdel test.

  8. 8
    mythago says:

    Ooku is an amazing manga; I think it’s fine for mature teens and up, but not little kids. (This is not simply because it has sexuality, but because it has a lot of dramatic tension and betrayal and heavy emotional stuff. But it’s won many awards in Japan for good reason.)

  9. 9
    Charles S says:

    For non-violent manga, I’d suggest Yotsuba!. It is not overtly intellectual (at all), but it actually has a really good build over its 10 volumes (it is an ongoing work). It depicts the daily life of a 5 year old girl, her adoptive father and her neighbors, and is incredibly sweet and surprisingly deep and detailed.

  10. 10
    Lars Fischer says:

    Great recommendations – thanks! I really liked both of Bechdel’s books; I’ll follow up on some of the other ones.

    Can I recommend some European comics?

    High on the list would be French-Yugoslavian Enki Bilal. Both his work alone (the Nikopol Trilogy is spectacular) and his haunting work with writer Pierre Christin (The Black Order Brigade and The Hunting Party should both be available in English). These are politically charged works, and yet have a lot poetic storytelling.

    Tardi’s “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec” (9 volumes) is a great example of gothic fantasy, with a female protagonist. Most of Tardi’s body of work is excellent.

    Loisel’s “Peter Pan”, with the added dystopian cynic elements, is great. 6 volumes, at least some of them in English.

    Schuiten and Peeters’ “Cities of the Fantastic” (many volumes, at least some translated) are possibly my favourite comics, beautifully poetic, amazingly drawn, full of harsh political commentary on everything 20th century. Some will find them too academic / intellectual, I guess.

    And of course, there’s always Moebius. “The Inkal” (written by Jodorowsky) is great science fiction.

    There’s so many great works to pick from in the Franco-Belgic tradition. Too bad much of it has not been translated. If you ever need a reason to learn French … ;-)

  11. There’s Clint Hollingsworth’s The wandering ones, about a future US after a plague has largely depopulated the continent.

    Ursula Vernon’s Digger is one of the best comics I have ever read. It made me cry. Not many comics manage that. And it’s fantastic. And it won a well-deserved Hugo.

    And, of course, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” books. They are not AFAIK available as web comics, but they are impressive.

  12. 12
    Ben Lehman says:

    Digger is great! So is Yotsuba.

    The Colors Series (The Color of Earth, the Color of Water, the Color of Heaven) is a really good slice of life series about a single mother and her daughter in just-pre-modern Korea. Focus is mostly on their personal relationships and daily life.

    Depending on your correspondent’s BFF’s opinions about beautiful men, Earthian is pretty great and a classic. It is extremely gay.

    I’ve been reading a lot of lesbian slice of life manga recently. Two really good ones are “Happy Picture Diary” and “I Love My Life.” Happy Picture Diary is a 4 panel gag strip, “I Love My Life” is a soap opera.

    Tramps Like Us is a really fun manga about a businesswoman who lets a homeless kid stay with her as her pet. It’s… less horribly than it sounds. Really sweet actually.

  13. 13
    Dianne says:

    I can’t believe no one’s mentioned Hereville yet.