Even after spending the last year plus writing She Has No Head!, a column about women and comics, I continue to have a real interest in and curiosity about women and comics, and specifically why women do and don’t read comics and what they do and don’t respond to as readers when they do read. With those thoughts and inspiration from both an old (hilarious) Laura Hudson piece and a more recent interesting Greg Burgas piece, the idea of The Ladies Comics Project was born. The premise is simple – pull together some great ladies from as many age groups and walks of life as I could reasonably manage, women both familiar and not with comics, and give them a comic book to read and have them report back.
The results, like in the first Ladies Comics Project, which you can read more about here, here, and here, are fascinating. Phase I challenged a lot of thoughts I had about women in comics, while confirming others. One of the biggest revelations was how interested ladies I knew were in reading a comic and participating in this project and that is one thing that has definitely held true for Phase II – in which 18 of the original 19 women immediately got on board for a second round along with a whole new group of ladies. In fact, I had so much interest (our ladies reading has gone from 19 to 32) that you’re going to get Ladies Comics Project Phase II in four parts, from today through the end of February. So come back every Monday to read more.
One of my biggest revelations about women who don’t read comics and comics themselves came not long after Ladies Comics Project, Phase I via my mother. I had posted a column reviewing Sarah Glidden’s How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less, and my mother had read the column and in an email to me mentioned that she liked the column and thought the book looked interesting but that she didn’t understand how it was a comic. She admitted that she had seen the pictures, so knew it must be, but still didn’t understand how it was a comic. She also mentioned she planned on buying it (which kind of blew my mind). I didn’t really respond to her email because quite frankly, I didn’t understand the question – if she could see the pages how could she not understand that it was in fact a comic? When we spoke on the phone she asked me why I hadn’t answered her email and I explained my confusion. Through the course of our conversation it became clear that she was conflating genre with medium. In fairness to my mother, though she has been exposed to more of the comics world via me than a lot of people, most of the time she was actively around comics (i.e. when I was a teenager and living at home) I was reading superhero comics almost exclusively. However, it surprised me that she, even with her exposure to comics, didn’t understand the difference between genre (in this case superheroes) and medium (in this case comics) and the idea that comics can (and do) tackle any subject imaginable.
At the time of this conversation, I was already pulling together the ladies and the book lists for Ladies Comics Project Phase II – focusing on giving ladies the opportunity to read all kinds of graphic novels and trades – books whose genre, subject matter, and execution would be much broader than the monthly floppies I had offered in Phase I. And I became suddenly very excited about it. Excited about the opportunity to show other women who might feel as my mother did – that comics were a based on such a limited scope – the reality of comics and how they can (and do) tackle ANY subject.
While Phase I was about monthly floppies, and how women would react to the format, continuity, characters, and ongoing stories, I immediately wanted to explore something that might feel slightly more natural to them in the form of longer and more self-contained stories, thus Phase II quickly became focused on graphic novels and collected trades.
So here’s how it worked: I sent all the ladies images of a selection of graphic novels and trades from my personal library. My choices were limited to my own library for obvious cost reasons, and in addition to that I left out books I felt were not necessarily female friendly, and a few that I wanted to include but that were just too expensive to be practical to send (I’m looking at you Black Hole). The only information the ladies were given was the cover image and a brief description that included title/writer/artist/page number/ publisher/and maturity rating (I used Young Adult, Adult, and Mature). You can go here if you’d like to see the books they had to choose from.
And now, a few interviews, phone calls, gchats, and 627 emails (and still counting!) later, we have: Ladies Comics Project: Phase II, Part One…enjoy!
Name: Jennifer G.
Book: Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III (DC Comics)
Location: New York, NY
Occupation: Production Assistant
Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels? I read a Wonder Woman comic book for Kelly’s “Ladies Comic Book Project: Phase I”. It was…okay. I came to the conclusion that I’d probably enjoy reading the whole arc in one sitting—which is something I get to do with Batwoman: Elegy. I’d previously read Fun Home (and have since read How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less), and quite enjoyed the graphic novel format.
Why did you pick the book you picked? I was very uncertain at first. I felt like I ought to read the Wonder Woman book that was available, since I’d had previous experience with the character. But it kind of felt like a chore. Then Kelly recommended Batwoman for me. Badass, redheaded, lesbian superhero? Yes, please. And she’s Jewish too? Oy vey.
Okay, let’s just start out by saying: I love this book. Truly. I love everything about it. The art. The writing. The story. The characters. Even the introduction, which is written by Rachel Maddow. Rachel Maddow, people! So, all right, maybe I was biased before I started reading, knowing that Rachel Maddow personally approved this book. Also, I knew going in that Batwoman, also known as Kate Kane, plays for my team. Bias number two (i.e., hoyay!).
But all biases aside, Batwoman: Elegy truly is a great read. It’s really neat to be able to discover this character as she’s being introduced to the world. I especially like watching the story of Alice and Kate—past and present—unfold. I don’t know how the story of Kate Kane will continue to unfold, but I think Alice is perfect as Batwoman’s nemesis. Someone who will haunt the character throughout her whole existence. (As though poor Kate doesn’t have enough ghosts already!)
The structure of this story is really smart. We meet three distinct versions of the hero within the first few pages: Batwoman kicking ass, Kate Kane on a date (getting dumped, no less; poor Kate), and Kate discussing the night’s mission with her dad. Our superhero is likable, yet flawed, in all three scenes. But you really get to see her vulnerability as the story develops. Especially when the story goes into flashback mode. As a reader, I felt privileged to be witnessing Kate’s history–like I was being included in something private and special.
And I will say only this for the twist: unexpected and perfect.
Other details I love: Alice only speaks in Lewis Carroll quotes, a detail I’m proud to have picked up. I thought Batman’s cameo was very clever. He is positioned as Kate’s mentor, cautioning her about the dangers of being a superhero with long hair. Kate has the final laugh though, when she goes home and takes off her wig. It’s a lovely comment on gender expectations–both of the reader and the characters.
One of my favorite moments is a two-page spread depicting Kate going through intensive Batwoman-training. It reads like a film montage, very naturally. Just when you think you’ve seen Kate at her hottest, sparring blindfolded with her hands tied behind her back, you see another picture of her reading late into the night, studiously chewing on a pencil by the light of her computer. I just want to swoon and bring her coffee.
Kate Kane/Batwoman is everything I would want in a superhero: noble and brave; clever enough to get away with taking stupid risks, because they usually pay off; troubled by a dark past; vulnerable and slightly socially inept; and hot. I might not be converted enough to run out to buy the first issue of the Batwoman series when it comes out in February [ed. note: now April], but I certainly plan on keeping my eyes open for the next Batwoman book.
Book: Fables Volume 1: Legends In Exile by Bill Willingham and Lan Medina (Vertigo)
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: MFA candidate, Sarah Lawrence College Writing Program, and Education Programs Coordinator at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America
Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels, if any? To graphic novels, only Blankets and Berlin, and I loved both. To comics, whatever I used to pilfer from my brother’s collection (X-Men!) and lots of Betty & Veronica, way back when.
Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? I like reading Fables, Legends, and about Exile. Plus I would like to sit on top of a train in a dress like that chick on the cover.
So there was a MURDER. Rose Red was killed. Oh my god, there was blood EVERYWHERE. Her boyfriend Jack (as in from the Beanstalk!) runs to Big Bad Wolf, (Fabletown’s detective) all out of breath, like, my girlfriend’s missing and her apartment is doused in blood! Big Bad Wolf’s smoking his cigarette, not even looking up, and is all, Calm down, cowboy. Big Bad Wolf, the badass detective, oh he will solve this, but all in due time, and in his own way goddamit! Things get complicated- Rose Red is Snow White’s renegade, rebellious sister. So of course as soon as he tells her, Snow White gets involved even though she’s totally not supposed to. Rose Red, Snow White, they couldn’t be more different. Rose Red parties, doesn’t have a job, she and Jack, I don’t know, they need to get their shit together. Snow White, on the other hand, essentially the mayor of Fabletown since King Cole, technically mayor, all he does is slurp soup in his thoroughly 80’s decorated penthouse. Snow has definitely got her shit together but man is she stressed out, plus her sister is now maybe dead. Sheesh.
“Who Killed Rose Red?!” It was a proper whodunit, so in terms of narrative, it definitely moved along and was satisfying in a Masterpiece Theater / Law and Order type of way, complete with the big reveal at the end and the male-female detective tag team, (some romantic possibility there, Big Bad Wolf and Snow White? A la Pam and Jim from The Office and all Jane Austen novels, hint, hint, certainly keeps you reading).
Not going to lie, I’m always a little disappointed in the insane bust-to-waist-to-hip ratio of comic book ladies (or at least the ones I have seen). I recognize it as a style, I know it’s fantasy, but, you know, not mine.
I definitely enjoyed how each fable’s history was translated into The Modern World – I mean, had to chuckle that one of the Three Little Pigs who got his house destroyed is now a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, down-and-out, disgruntled pig who plays on Big Bad Wolf’s guilt about the whole thing in order to crash on his couch whenever he feels the need to leave the “farm”. And what can Big Bad Wolf do about it? He fucking ruined his life – even after The Amnesty; you still got to feel bad about that. (The “farm” being where all the maladjusted fables go when they can’t deal with life…I’m curious to see what that sitch is like.)
I guess it was kind of distracting that the cover art and the inside art didn’t match up, and that at the beginning of each chapter there was the cover artist again, but not enough to bother me. Plus the cover artist is so good, I wanted to rip out the pages and put it on my wall. The one I liked best: there’s a huge, gnarly tree, one of the little piggies is peeping out of a branch, Snow White’s contemplating eating that poisonous apple whilst wearing a lovely dress, the big bad Wolf is hanging out of a zip-up yet totally realistic-looking wolf skin suit (what!), while the skyline of New York City hovers above them.
Will I be reading more comic books? YES. Definitely want to get my hands on more Fables. Besides the fact that I felt supremely cool reading it on the subway, (yes, people – I do this all the time – even though I clearly do not), I also just really enjoyed reading it. I’ve only read a couple of graphic novels, and the only problem with those being that the ones I had were humongous and hard to lug around, whereas these guys are totally not. And like most chicks, I read a lot of Betty and Veronica when I was younger. So I was never opposed to comics to begin with, just, honestly, never re-introduced to any in my adulthood.
So, final verdict? I’ll keep reading anyway, but ideally, my wishlist would be: easy on the Barbie bodies, and more please of the drawn-out, sometimes unrequited sometimes not, LOVE stories. Sorry to play into some stereotypes and not others, but there’s my honest opinion.
Book: Wet Moon Volume 1 by Ross Campbell (Oni Press)
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: Currently a stay at home mom.
Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels? As a kid, I devoured every single Betty & Veronica I could find. Other than that I’d say little to no exposure at all.
Why did you pick the cover/book you picked? I wanted something kinda gothic and sexy with a female lead…so this fit!
KELLY: So you read Wet Moon Volume 1 by Ross Campbell. Did you like it or hate it…somewhere inbetween?
ALEXA: I liked it a lot and got absorbed in it quickly. This time, as opposed to last time [ed. note: reading Morning Glories #1 for Ladies Comics Project Phase I] the teen voice didn’t bother me. I really liked Cleo and thought she was very real – especially the way she was drawn. The facial expression were so real that she felt like someone I know. I really loved the art. I liked the style and the clothes and the drama and the emotional extremes.
KELLY: Did you have a preference for the writing over the art or vice versa? If so, which and why?
ALEXA: I liked both, but probably the art. I particularly liked the differing body types, a lot of the characters were still really sexy but it didn’t bother me here like it sometimes did in Morning Glories. As a woman I really related to it and was surprised to find out it was written and drawn by a man – I found it just so relateable – it felt like such a female perspective to me. I did find the text a bit small and hard to read sometimes though.
KELLY: Were you surprised by how much you liked it?
ALEXA: Yes, because after Morning Glories I wasn’t expecting to like it, but then really did. I was concerned when I first got it that it might be too angst-y or corny but I was really happily surprised. I really connected with the main character Cleo and found her so relateable and real. I liked that it was very slice of life and not vampires or superheroes or something. There were these really subtle and delicate things about the art that surprised me. I wonder if it is kind of the perfect kind of story for this medium…because I found myself wondering if this story would work well in other mediums, like a movie or novel or TV show…maybe without the art I wouldn’t like it as much?
KELLY: Could you follow the story easily?
ALEXA: Yes. There were a few moments where I would get confused, or be afraid I was missing something, and I didn’t really understand the last few pages as they didn’t seem to relate to everything else? But overall I had no problem following it and “getting” it.
KELLY: Was it rewarding in the way other reading material, like novels are?
ALEXA: Probably I got less involved with it and emotionally attached than I do with regular novels.
KELLY: So what was your favorite thing about it?
ALEXA: Just generally the character of her Cleo and her relatability. Also the lack of idealization in some of the characters – especially Cleo.
KELLY: What was your least favorite thing about it?
ALEXA: I guess the plot stuff that I didn’t understand – like the bit at the end that I mentioned.
KELLY: Do you wish you’d picked a different book?
ALEXA: No. But I am curious about some of the books I didn’t read – there was a lot of interesting stuff on the list. I really wanted to read that French Milk book.
KELLY: Would you ever have considered buying a comic book or graphic novel before this experiment?
ALEXA: I might have considered it, but I probably wouldn’t have. I still feel, even though I liked what I read, that it still seems a bit juvenile…does that make sense?
KELLY: Sure, I can understand that. Would you be more likely to consider buying one now…or not?
ALEXA: Maybe. Maybe if access was easier. If I had been sent a list of books and could read a preview and it was affordable enough to try out? Definitely.
KELLY: So…last question…if anyone could make a comic you’d be interested in…what would it be about? What would it look like?
ALEXA: Wow, that’s a hard question. I guess I’d say, I’d love to see a really great realistic book about motherhood. It would have to be drawn really well though, like this book, it would have to be relateable and feel real, but yeah, I’d be really interested in something like that.
KELLY: Interesting! Well, thank you so much for participating again in Ladies Comics Project – it was great to have you on board – I hope you’ll come back for Phase III when I figure out what it is!
ALEXA: Of course, thanks for having me!
Name: Jessica Kuiken
Book: Goodbye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson (Pantheon)
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: Pilates Instructor trainee and Personal Assistant
Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: Absolutely none – unless Mad Magazine or those gum wrappers count.
Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? Well – first off I have to say, the title got me. Goodbye, Chunky Rice…It’s just cute. It made me smile. I was also drawn to the calming simplicity of the cover. It was also on the shorter side which made reading it fit better into my hectic schedule.
I liked it. I didn’t wholly understand it, but I liked it. As my second ever comic read, it went much better than the first [ed note. Jessica read an issue of Angel for Ladies Comics Project Phase I]. The title, which again made me smile, made me think it would be a little lighter than it was. My first impression was that the story was melancholy and sad, but then my opinion changed and it seemed to me that it was a story of hope and embracing change. Each character introduced had some sort of oddity. They were all misfits in some way, but they all seemed content with where they were, except Chunky Rice. He was a brave character to me. He was scared to leave what he knew, for sure, but he was still ready to go on the journey to find out where he belonged.
The last few pages were touching because it signified to me how lonely the journey to find yourself or where you fit in can be. When the bottle thrown into the sea by his dear friend, finds its way to the boat where Chunky Rice is, I have to say, it was a little predictable, but it was also a sweet ending. Even though we don’t know if Chunky Rice finds his way, we get the feeling he is not alone.
Overall I thought it was a pretty quick, easy read, but I still struggled with some of the general formatting of it. I think I have discovered am more of a words person and like to come up with visuals in my head rather than have them laid out for me.
Book: Echo Volume 1: Moon Lake by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)
Age: 18 years old
Location: Rochester, MI.
Occupation: College Student
Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels: I’ve never really been much of a comic or cartoon person…but last year one of my friends let me borrow his copy of The Watchmen and though I didn’t finish it, I loved what I had read. Now I’m not as opposed to comics as I used to be ha-ha. [ed. note: Kell also actually loved the book she read for Ladies Comics Project Phase I – and issue of the Black Cat mini-series]
Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? Originally, I didn’t pick this book. I believe I asked for, let’s see… 6 books that were already taken before I got to Echo, although I’m very glad this was the one I ended up with! I’m very much a person who judges books by their covers, so as I’m sure Kelly’s picked up on, the books I tend to lean toward have colorful, pretty graphics on the front. I think one of the reasons I didn’t pick Echo right away was because of how the woman on the cover looked. From the picture all I could tell was that there was a woman in a white tank top standing in what looked like rain. I’m not usually so picky about those kinds of things, but I personally don’t want to read a book if it seems like it objectifies women like that. However, after I read the book, I was extremely pleased to know that this was not the case!
The first thing I realized when I opened the book was that there was no color.
My childish instincts immediately told me to grab my 64 pack of crayons and color in the first panels I could get my hands on.
Luckily, my adult side told my inner child to take a chill pill and I got on with reading.
I work in a library, so I decided to take Echo with me to read during slow time (trust me, slow time in the library is sloooooow). To be completely honest, I was almost a little bashful about reading my comic book when students and professors would be walking around. I feel like I’m starting controversy by saying that, but I’m not an avid fan of comic books, so for the first few minutes I was a little embarrassed to be reading one in public. But that feeling went away once I started getting into the plot.
I love that the action in Echo starts right away. What’s the first thing I see when I open the page? A woman in some kind of metal suit flying through the clouds. Most books I read start off with la-di-da intros that gradually lead into a thicker plot. But Echo literally grabs you the instant you open it. I found it really hard to put the book down once I had started it, because I felt like if I did, I would have missed out on the action.
Reading Echo is very much like watching a really good TV show: the action never sticks to one person for very long. Just when you start to get involved in Julie’s emotional and physical hardships, a new panel comes along with Ivy and Randy’s detective work. I found this to be really annoying after a while for the simple reason that I wanted so badly to find out what was happening with the person I was already reading about! I suppose that means the author’s done his job, since it keeps me from putting the book down. But there were times when I wanted to be a cheater and skip Julie’s section to get back to Dillon’s, skip Dillon’s to get to Ivy and Randy’s, and so on. There were definitely some “grrrr….” moments.
But I love that the things that I disliked about the book weren’t necessarily bad bad things, if you get what I’m saying. They were bad for me because I had to wait to find out what happened to my favorite characters, but they’re good because like I said, they kept me from losing interest.
Oh, before I forget! (I actually did almost forget this comment… I didn’t say that just to sound cute) I loved loved LOVED the art in Echo. The details are unbelievable! Little things like the wedding ring on Julie’s finger, the cute little “ping!” exclamations next to the metal pellets, and the extra “cushion” Terry Moore seems to put on Pam to make her seem heavier (since Julie mentioned that the doctors said they were putting her on a diet) all nearly subconsciously add to how life-like the drawings are.
Overall, I was stunned by Echo. It is a beautifully written piece of work that can simultaneously tug at my heart strings and make me never want to go anywhere near army or nuclear testing facilities ever in my life. To anyone who is looking for an action book that also has a deeper, emotional plot line, go for Echo before anything else. I wish I could say I’m glad I did, but I’d be lying, since Echo wasn’t my first choice.
Name: Grace Miner
Book: The Secret Science Alliance by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing (Bloomsbury)
Location: Stately Wayne Manor
Occupation: 2nd Grader
Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels? Grace is an avid reader of comics, and read and reviewed Set To Sea for Ladies Comics Project: Phase I. She also knows TONS about superheroes as one of the main players of 5 Minute Marvels!
Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? You’ll have to watch the video!
Grace of 5 Minute Marvels (with the help of her dad Tim) graciously offered to review a comic for our experiment as well. Grace and one other young reader picked outside the selected books – which was no problem – especially since she picked a book as great as The Secret Science Alliance! For some reason the image link isn’t working, so click HERE to watch Grace’s video.
Book: Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly)
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels? Watchmen a couple years ago, was WAY into a (probably totally cheesy in retrospect) series called Psi-Force as a kid, intending to take Akira down from the bookshelf and read it at some point….
Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? I had a tough time picking because I had no preconceived notion of what kind of graphic novel I wanted to read. More of a movie-watcher than a book-reader, I tried to translate the experience to picking a movie at the video store. I knew I wanted good art, but genre-wise, I was aware that the field was far more open than with comics, and that “indie drama” specifically was a pretty strong contingent. I checked those out first, either by the cover art, the title, or some previous knowledge I had of the graphic novel. But in looking up little synopses for each, I found myself repeatedly coming back to the ones with some action, fantasy or mystery to the plots and didn’t all take place in a 23-year-old’s feelings. I began to worry a dry, plodding, mumblecore, so-real-it-hurts story was going to get annoying and fast. In the end, it was down to The Walking Dead or Exit Wounds. I went with Exit Wounds which sounded faintly “international intrigue,” had beautifully spare cover art, and was not a TV series I was already currently watching.
As it turns out, faint is right. This was about 2% international intrigue and 98% indie drama. But contrary to what I feared, I could not turn the pages fast enough, hardly allowing myself the time to look at the art. The story, centered around the search for a man, is immediately engrossing. The two main characters, which are in almost every frame, are fleshed out so convincingly; my brain had no trouble filling in the details that the minimal drawing style leaves out. Set in Israel, there is a mildly exotic tinge to everything — elements in the plot, settings, lines of dialogue, minor characters, incidental details — that makes for an interesting overlay on these two otherwise very familiar characters and their evolving relationship. Obviously, the Israeli author/artist’s personal experiences were the reason for the setting, but for me, it was an extremely effective device for adding a strangeness that makes you more open to how things may happen or characters may react, as well as pay closer attention to the periphery, in much the same way foreign films do (“That wasn’t weird — it’s French”). This, I think, is also my first experience reading a comic book that actually strives for realism, which Exit Wounds achieves not in the angsty, self-absorbed kind of way I wanted to steer clear of earlier, but more in a natural, unflinching, meandering kind of way. Time passes unevenly, neat endings to plotlines picked up here and there are nowhere to be found, and sex doesn’t look hot, all of which you just accept without question. The art lends itself to this tone — clean lines and flat colors in a soft warm palette, nothing aggressive. In fact, everything was so easy on the eye, it really takes a second pass at the book to truly appreciate the art.
Ultimately though, I finally catch on to the fact that I had just read an indie drama comic book when I turn a page and goddammit! there is no next page. The abrupt ending stands out to me in contrast with the rest of the book as a bit cloying and contrived. All of a sudden, I’m aware of the author, and there’s no getting around the fact that she very deliberately ended at that point, at an inhale, and then left out the exhale. This effectively drew a huge arrow pointing to the ending with a sign reading “METAPHOR! THINK ABOUT IT!” After being immersed in a completely believable story, it felt like a brisk slap. I can’t help but wish the story ended as unselfconsciously and naturally as how it unfolded. That said, I still liked Exit Wounds a lot. Writing this review now more than a month after I had read it, I actually want to pick it up and reread it just for the pleasure of again going along for the ride. Thanks again, Kelly, for sharing something sweet and not available through Netflix.
Book: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Mariner Books)
Location: New York, NY
Occupation: work in the licensing department of a publishing company
Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels? I read and loved The Crow when I was in high school, but otherwise, have had pretty much zero exposure
Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? I selected a few covers that looked interesting and did some research on Amazon to see what they were about before making my selection.
Once of the reasons I was drawn to Fun Home was the fact that it was a memoir. I’ve always been interested in the different ways that people tell their stories, so I wanted to see how a memoir style would be handled in a graphic novel. I think using the graphic novel form really opened up the possibilities of storytelling in this book. This is a story about past and childhood, but also about two discoveries—the discovery of the narrator’s own sexuality, as well as that of her father—and the author uses the graphic novel form to its full potential. The story isn’t restricted by chronology or needing to set up a scene in order to make use of an interesting juxtaposition of different times in her life. Instead, through the art, Bechdel is able to shift from her childhood, to college, from her parent’s courtship to the end of her father’s life, seamlessly. We get a sense of the author’s voice not just from the words themselves, but the ways the words interact with the illustrations. At one point, while reading, I tried to imagine what the book would be like if written strictly in prose, but what works so well is the lightness of the words, how one line can tell so much. The way the author really uses the form to tell more than just words ever could. I think that moments in the book that are beautifully handled, like the analogy to the relationship between Icarus and Daedalus that both opens and closes the book, would run the danger of being heavy-handed if written strictly in prose.
When participating in the first phase of this project I commented that I felt that the 32 page format left me feeling unsatisfied [ed. note: Marta read Stumptown #4 for Ladies Comics Project Phase I]. That I preferred to sit down and have the full story available to me, rather than waiting for the next piece. Reading a graphic novel this time, I certainly didn’t have that issue, although there was still something I felt like I was missing. I haven’t read enough graphic novels to know if this is true of the medium, or just this particular book, but I didn’t feel as connected to the experience of reading, as I usually do—that feeling of getting lost in a book. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that when reading a book, I am creating images to accompany the text in my mind, so in a way becoming more participant than audience in the experience; but then again, this was a graphic novel in which the narrator comments on her distance from her own emotions—says, at one point, that she would relate the information about her father’s death in the most matter-of-fact tone possible, “eager to detect in my listener the flinch of grief that eluded me.”—so perhaps in this case that emotional disconnect was just part of the design.
Has this changed the way I think about graphic novels? I don’t know that I’ve ever had a strong opinion about graphic novels. I’ve never made a declaration against them, as I have been known to do about other things (like reading poetry, and watching opera). There are a few graphic novels, including Watchmen and Persepolis that have been on my list of things to read for a while now. But it doesn’t feel as though a door has been opened, introducing me to something I had been missing. Would I read more? Absolutely, but like with most books that I end up reading, I imagine I would come to them through someone’s recommendation, not my seeking them out.
So that’s it for this week’s installment!
I find it fascinating that two of the ladies today talked about how they felt while reading in public – and had completely opposite feelings about it. I also find it interesting that several women have mentioned missing out on the imagination process of reading a graphic novel instead of a prose novel – that having the images provided for them rather than having to create the images themselves leaves them feeling a bit emotionally distant from the work. I had honestly never thought of that idea before, perhaps because I started reading comics early enough that it’s become ingrained into my process that it wouldn’t occur to me…but it’s an interesting comment…and one I heard frequently in this installment of the project.
A huge thanks to all the ladies who participated in Phase II, Part One and especially to Tara Abbamondi who provided me with the custom illustration for the the project. I hope you all have enjoyed Part One of this experiment and will come back next week for Part Two in which the ladies tackle everything from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim to Gabrielle Bell’s Lucky. Until next week!
***FYI – She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female positive comics and graphic novels” for future columns on CSBG. Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.***