By Erik Grove
Last week’s Essential 8 column generated a great deal of feedback. Some of it was critical. Most of it was supportive. One thing was clear though – there are a lot more women deserving of recognition and acclaim. Last week’s column was never meant to say “this is it – these are all the awesome women working in comics!” It was intended to be a conversation starter. I picked women working in different parts of the industry. I picked a couple of artists, a couple of writers, a writer/artist, a journalist, an executive and a celebrity from outside of comics who is generating a lot of mainstream press attention. This was obviously and intentionally a tiny sample and a follow-up is warranted. Before we get right to it though, a lot of people have asked great questions about the methodology and consideration that goes into creating the list so I put together a FAQ. Click on over, read through the questions and answers and then head back over here for Essential 8 (More) Women Working in Comics!
Colleen Doran broke into comics when she was teenager. She’s been writing, drawing, inking, coloring and lettering comics for thirty years during which time she’s worked with talented people as diverse as Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice and Tori Amos, worked with characters like Wonder Woman, Teen Titans and Sandman and created an impressive catalog of creator-owned work including her sci-fi opus A Distant Soil. Her accolades are too numerous to list and her career is too prestigious to summarize and do it justice. Doran is an expert in craft of comics and her contributions to the medium are both substantial and shockingly under heralded. Just reading the updates on her current projects, posted earlier this year on her website, show a creator still in her prime and still generating memorable and diverse content. If you don’t know her name, you should remedy that as soon as soon as you can.
I had to double-check when I first read that Becky Cloonan, in 2012, was the first woman to draw the main Batman title. It seems preposterous that in the 70 year history of the Dark Knight that there wouldn’t be more women drawing Batman’s cowly grimace but it’s true. Full disclosure: other women have drawn Batman, but not in the flagship book. Cloonan started in indie comics a little over 10 years ago and has seen her star steadily rise. She’s been nominated for multiple Eisners and earned a great deal of well-earned praise. She’s also passionate about comics (on display at her website, in her tweets and interviews) in a contagious and instantly grin-inducing way. It’s hard to look at Cloonan’s work, even her cowly grimacey work, and not feel a genuine enthusiasm and glee in it. She may have ended Batman’s decades long streak of dude-drawers and that’s gained her some notoriety but her talent is genuine and I’m confident we’re going to be seeing more awesome comics from her in the near future. In fact, I’m very much looking forward to it.
Nobody gives colorists enough credit. Not even me. One of the names that came up again and again in suggestions after last week’s column was Jordie Bellaire, one of the most noteworthy, prolific and awesome colorists work in contemporary comics. Her work is impressive in it’s volume and variety. She works on titles like The Manhattan Projects and then on Deadpool. You’ll know a Bellaire comic because of how well her colors compliment and elevate the the art and create a mood and style without detracting from her collaborators. It’s an impressive talent with a keen sense of restraint that I have to admit is beyond my understanding. I just know the comics are eye-popping and memorable. Best current example? Check out Marvel’s Moon Knight. Her colors in that comic, especially the contrast between Moon Knight and the rest of the world he inhabits, are striking and help give the comic a signature look. Don’t be like me. Pay attention, and give proper respect to the colorists. I promise to do better from now on.
I love being surprised by a comic I didn’t know enough about. That happened most memorably recently when I got a copy of Smoke/Ashes by Alex De Campi. I had heard of it and definitely knew Smoke by reputation but I hadn’t gotten around to reading. Then I came across a glowing and particularly compelling review of the book on this very website (check it out here!) and I finally got around to adding it to my Amazon comics queue. Well, I got it and, sure enough, it knocked my socks off. It’s a great comic that had the fatal flaw of not being nearly long enough. I wanted 60 issues of the characters and the world De Campi created. Luckily for all of us, one successful Kickstarter and a Dark Horse collection later and the story of Rupert Caine and Katie Shah continues. De Campi has many other comics projects to her credit and a slowly growing career in film. Her writing is smart, tense and full of black humor. After Smoke/Ashes, I’ve added her other work to my queue. It all sounds very good (and quite different from Smoke) and there’s a strong chance I’ll be talking about it more in future columns.
Noelle Stevenson is the creator of a peculiar and amazing webcomic called Nimona about the supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart and his overeager new villain sidekick, the titular Nimona. Stevenson was mentioned by a few people last week and I had been considering Nimona for a future column I’m researching on webcomics so when I started work on a follow-up, she was a natural choice. Like a lot of webcomics, Nimona grows with Stevenson as she refines her art style, fleshes out her characters and delivers longer and more densely plotted chapters. This is one of the things I really enjoy about following a good webcomic. You can watch the creator experiment and grow as the story unfolds and it creates a very personal connection to the creator. Nimona, like Stevenson based on her Tumblr and other social media interactions, is full of what I think is best defined as moxy. The comic is really quite addictive and it wouldn’t surprise me if you clicked over to it and found yourself catching up for hours (I may have some experience with that). I’ll also take a moment here to plug an upcoming comic Stevenson has coming out from Boom! Box called Lumberjanes that’s due out in April. If you hurry you can still make sure your LCS gets your a copy!
Kathryn Immonen writes great characters and great comics. The end. Well, that’s all I really need to say about her work but it deserves more credit than that. During her time working for Marvel (starting with a Hellcat mini in 2008), Immonen hasn’t been given easy assignments. She’s written characters that are compelling and engaging but haven’t had a strong record of commercial success like Hellcat, the X-Men’s Pixie and Jubillee and Lady Sif. She writes books that have strong female characters in a market that, frankly and unfortunately, isn’t always kind to books with female leads and she does so with a depth of character and a storytelling grace that deserves notice and support. Every word and beat in Immonen’s comics have a sense of being both carefully considered and effortless. She gets these characters. They seem fully formed, flaws and all and she drives the stories forward from a place of that understanding. Things don’t just happen to happen in one of Immonen’s comics – they happen because of the characters. I like her superhero work but I’m also recommend the webcomic she worked on with her husband Stuart that was later completed and compiled by Top Shelf, Moving Pictures. The story involves a Canadian woman in France during World War II. It pairs all of Immonen’s incredible character work with an elegant plot that avoids being predictable or heavy-handed with subject matter that frequently tends to be. Great comics. Great writer. The end.
The love of comics is a family affair. There are generations, the Romitas and the Kuberts, and couples united by their love for the medium and each other. Amanda Conner is one half of one such comic book power couple (like the Immonens, mentioned above) with her husband Jimmy Palmiotti. Conner is one of the best known and most highly esteemed women drawing superhero comics in modern comics. She has a distinct and energetic style that is instantly recognizable. I remember first becoming aware of her work with the insane superhero parody The Pro written by Garth Ennis a dozen years ago. She’s only gotten better since. She’s worked for DC, Marvel, Image and Archie and has drawn scripts for a lot of comic book heavyweights. My favorite fairly recent work by her has to the Supergirl (and super pets!) story she did for Wednesday Comics with Palmiotti. Her work is always vibrant and dynamic and draws you right into the story. She’s currently collaborating with Palmiotti on a highly successful Harley Quinn comic for DC. She’s a Hell of an artist and if you don’t know that by now, you probably haven’t been paying enough attention to the credits in your favorite books.
Okay, here’s my “what the Hell is Erik thinking?” pick for this column: Lauren Schuler Donner. Don’t know who she is? Check her out on IMDB. She’s a Hollywood producer that has never written, drawn, colored or been credit in a single comic. Cue blank stares and a chorus of questions about why she’s on my list about women working in comics. The answer to that question has a lot to do with Batman’s nipples and more specifically the financial and critical trainwreck that was the last Batman movie of the 20th century, Batman & Robin. You see, Batman & Robin was so bad that it all but killed superhero movies. Productions stalled. It was a dark, terrible time to be a fan of superhero movies. A couple years after this unmitigated disaster, Fox began work on an X-Men feature film. It’s tough to describe the absolute terror that X-Men fans (like me) had at the prospect of their favorite comic being Batman & Robin-ed. The casting was questionable with a lot of unknown actors and director with a very thin resume. The whole project was being pushed forward by a producer, Donner, that had been most notably involved with the Free Willy franchise. The prospects were grim. The first trailer for the film showed some clunky special effects and makeup decisions (I’m thinking of a sequence with Wolverine on the Statue of Liberty and Sabretooth’s eyebrows) and didn’t inspire confidence. I went to see the film with some friends and we fully expected it to be terrible. It wasn’t. It was an okay to pretty good movie and it surprised me and a lot of people. X-Men was an unexpected hit and kickstarted a new era superhero movies. Spider-Man followed shortly after and within a decade superhero movies dominated the box office and popular culture. It’s entirely possible, maybe even probable, that without X-Men creating that break from Batman & Robin that there wouldn’t be an Avengers.
X-Men’s success and Marvel’s lackluster preparation for it also directly led to Joe Quesada being named editor-in-chief. Now, not everyone likes every superhero movie that followed X-Men (or even every X-Men movie that followed X-Men) and there are plenty of arguments for and against Quesada’s tenure as EiC at Marvel but it is undeniable that these changes have shaped comics in early years of the 21st Century through to today. It all started with X-Men and X-Men happened because of Donner’s efforts. I can’t say that she contributed anything specifically to the movie that made it work, she may have even made it more challenging for Bryan Singer and the cast and crew to pull out a passable film, but she still made that film happen and in doing so has had more impact on comics than many men and women. At a time when comics and films based on comics become more and more reliant on each other, Donner belongs in this conversation. She might have some funny ideas about a Gambit movie and she is still involved in Free Willy movies (apparently that’s still a thing), but like it or not, she’s a force and a presence in modern comics.
Thanks this week especially for last week’s readers and all of the great suggestions given back by commenters. Keep agreeing and disagreeing with me – it makes these columns get better, I swear. Extra special thanks also to my editor, Hannah for saying nice things even though she doesn’t have to about my stuff and for being patient with me (even though I’m running super late this week).
Agree with me? Disagree with me? Let’s talk comics.
Erik Grove is a writer and comic book lover that lives in Portland, OR.
I’m going to be in Seattle at the Emerald City Comicon in just a couple of weeks! If you’re going to be there, you can agree or disagree with me in person. Get my attention on Twitter @erikgrove or go to my webpage and send me a message through one of those form thingys at www.erikgrove.com.