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How Erica Henderson Made Marvel’s Squirrel Girl So Unbeatable

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
How Erica Henderson Made Marvel’s Squirrel Girl So Unbeatable

This past Friday, longtime The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl artist Erica Henderson announced she was stepping down from the series.

Breaking the news via her Twitter feed, Henderson said she left “of my own accord” to do creator-owned work. Further, she’ll continue doing covers for the series, and the the book, written by Henderson’s Eisner Award co-winner Ryan North, will continue.

With her name on Unbeatable issues solicited through May, it’s safe to say Henderson’s art will be gracing readers with its presence for some time yet. But with 37 issues (counting this month’s #30) plus the OGN The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe, on hand, there’s plenty of evidence to examine how Henderson went above and beyond to make Doreen Green the kick-butt hero comics needed.

RELATED: Erica Henderson Leaving Squirrel Girl, Series Will Continue

From the outset, Henderson took a very different tack to drawing Doreen. In other Marvel books published before Unbeatable‘s 2015 debut–and concurrently with it, like the concluded U.S. Avengers volume in which she co-starred in–Doreen was drawn in the typical female character mold: Barbie doll-esque figure, long hair, thin face, etc. Right on the cover of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1 #1 (the series ran eight issues and then was rebooted with new numbering under the All-New, All-Different initiative), Henderson said nuts to that.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26

Get out your markers for the zine-themed The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26.

Her Doreen — the one who, as page after page of heartwarming letters and tweets suggest, is the first version of her either experienced Marvel readers or kids are encountering — is short-haired, stocky and noticeably strong. In personality and looks, is about as far from a typical cheesecake superhero drawing as you can get. To have that all happening in a mainstream Marvel comic is nothing short of revolutionary.

As laid out so clearly in Henderson’s energetic pencils, her and Tom Fowler’s vibrant inks, Rico Renzi’s poppy, energetic coloring and Travis Lanham and Clayton Cowles’ exceptional lettering, Doreen isn’t the goofy punchline she had been pre-Unbeatable. She’s capable as hell, endlessly empathetic, and willing to do anything that needs to get done to save the day, whether that be talking a bad guy out of their crimes or punching them till they see sense.

It’s Henderson’s skill with body language that’s testament to that. Rounding out Doreen’s face so her pointed buck teeth blend in while still standing out, Henderson has her be as expressive and animated in the way Fiona Staples draws Hazel in Saga, or how any number of artists have made Deadpool and Spider-Man’s masks convey every bit of what they’re feeling. Her faces for everyone — but especially Doreen — are so good that i09‘s countdown of 25 great Squirrel Girl moments mostly contained Doreen faces.

Another area Henderson brought her expertise to is the design. The backgrounds on up are always impeccable and vibrantly real, and the character design is, likewise, consistently memorable. Doreen’s roommate and BFF, Nancy Whitehead, has changed hairstyles several times over the course of the series, with each looking as natural as the last, and none obscuring the character’s identity.

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