She Has No Head! – Ladies Comics Project, Part 1

Did any of you read a hilarious post by Laura Hudson on her Myriad Issues blog like three years ago where she had her mom read comics?  If not, head over and read it now, because it’s fantastic, and half of the inspiration for this column as it’s a post I’ve never forgotten (how can you forget spitting most of your diet soda all over your keyboard as someone’s mom makes awesome accurate hilarious observations on the internet about independent comics?). The other half of the inspiration for this three part column belongs to our own Greg Burgas who did a great What I Bought this summer in which his friends read and reviewed his weekly pull list for him.

Especially because She Has No Head! is about women and comics, and I have a fascination with why women do and don’t read comics and what they do and don’t respond to as readers, I decided to do my own little comics reading experiment.  I called it “The Ladies Comics Project” (crazy creative, right?).  The premise was simple - pull together some great ladies from as many age groups and walks of life as I could manage, women both familiar and not with comics, and let them pick a comic to read from the month of September and then make them tell me what they think.

I figured only a handful would agree to do the experiment, and of those many wouldn’t follow through, but I was shocked when 18 of the 22 women I emailed immediately wanted in.  And I was further shocked when almost all of them actually got back to me with their notes.  Either comics are even more interesting than I thought or my friends are just really responsible.  Maybe a bit of both.  In any event, what I had intended as a one-time column, has turned into a three part series, I hope you guys get some enjoyment out of reading their responses and hell, maybe we'll even learn some stuff!

Here's how it worked:  I sent all the ladies images of all the comics I was planning to buy in the month of September and based solely on cover image, title/issue number, and expected release date, they had to pick which comic to review.  You can go here if you’re curious to see all the books they had to choose from – which is also a bit of an intimate peek inside my average monthly pull list for any of you who have been curious.

Almost immediately some interesting things happened.  For one, though the list of comics was nearly 70% superhero related…only 5 out of 18 women picked a superhero book, and of those, 3 picked something else non-superhero first, only to find it already taken and having to go with an alternate.  Amazing.  I knew the superhero books would not be the most coveted but those low numbers really surprised me.

Also, while art is always highly subjective and personal, either my friends have very similar tastes, or there was one clear “best” cover of September as I, Zombie #5 was the most picked cover by far and the first one to go (in total, 7 women picked it as their first choice).  American Vampire, Fables, Morning Glories, and Scarlet also had multiple requests but I, Zombie really did mop the floor with the others.

Once everyone had picked I sent them an email requesting a small bio and picture and then promised to mail them their comic when released.

286 emails and a few in person interviews and gchats later and here we are:  The Ladies Comics Project: Part 1

Name: Marta

Book: Stumptown #4

Age: 29

Location: New York, NY

Occupation: Licensing department of a major 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?: The cover drew me in - I liked the grittiness of it.

Overall I really liked the book, although I had no idea who was who on my first read, since I was reading part 4 of 4 of the story, so that was a little distracting.  But on the second read I could really appreciate it and see how good it was, and liked it more and more.

Part of the reason I'd picked it was because it didn't really look superhero-y.  The cover was gritty and dark and reminded me of things I've read before.  It seemed different from what I normally imagine when I think about comics.  I think, subconsciously I had some preconceptions about the superhero comics, not bad preconceptions per se, but just a feeling like I knew what they were about, and this I didn't.  Ironically, looking back at that decision, I think I actually have less of a sense of what a super-hero comic would be like.   And Stumptown did deliver on what I was thinking it would be.  The art, the writing and the story really delivered on what I was expecting.

I thought the characters - especially the women - were really strong, and well-drawn, and the writing overall was good.  I also really liked the interior art.  It was kind of sketchy and really fit the tone of the writing.  It felt very masculine, in a sense, like the detective story that was being told, but featured strong female characters and I liked that combination a lot.  The story was good, although, like I said earlier, coming in for the last quarter of a story is tough, especially a detective story, but on the second read I really appreciated how well the story seemed to come together.

I work for a publishing company and do a lot of reading for work, so don't end up buying many books for pleasure, so keeping that in mind, I'm not sure I would search this out and buy it; but I admit that I did consider looking for the rest of the issues so I could read the first part of the story.  But even though I'm not sure I would go out searching for this or other comics on my own, if they were recommended to me, or lent to me, I would definitely read more.

I really liked the format - the combination of art and writing together, but the fact that it was so short put me off a bit.  It felt like just reading a chapter from something larger and I wanted to have the rest of the story to read right away.  Waiting for the next issue to come out would probably drive me nuts.  (editors note: Marta doesn't know how long the wait between issues of Stumptown are, so the wait would probably be even more frustrating in this case!).  But from a style (genre?) point of view, yes, I would definitely be more likely to read a comic book after reading Stumptown than I had been before.

I also read the "artist's note" (I don't know what to call it) at the end from Southworth and I found that kind of fascinating...I don't know if that's common practice in comics, but as a writer I really related to it, and I thought it was interesting.  It also seemed really honest and almost naked, which, as a writer myself, I really responded to.  I couldn't help but feel for the guy.

MY (Kelly's) favorite panel?  Check it:

Name Brooke Gardner

Book: The New Avengers #4

Age: 38

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Occupation: Interior Designer

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: My husband was an avid comic book reader and collector back in the day – he still watches the superhero cartoons (which I loved as a kid and still find fun to watch).

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: I like the Avengers and the art looked interesting (oh, and I, Zombie was already taken).

I chose to read The New Avengers because Spider-Man was on the cover (and I typically like Spider-Man), the art looked cool and I figured I would enjoy it.  I did, but it was not what I was expecting and Spider-Man was hardly a character in the story.

I at first had a hard time reading it, I wasn’t sure what bubbles to read first and was confused when a story box ran into the next page on a double spread – was I supposed to go to the next page and then back to the first page?  Obviously, I figured it out and I appreciated that after the initial pages there was a short summary explaining what had happened and what was going on.  Being that I enjoy all types of crazy mystical stuff I naturally enjoyed the Dr. Strange storyline and was not expecting any of it.  I thought the Daimon character was a little over dramatic (yes, I know the world was in crisis) and Ms. Marvel was a little foolish (“see if I can close this puppy – stop it at it’s source”???? what!?)  Daimon did redeem himself with the line “tell me she is not that stupid”.  I also liked the married superhero couple (ed. note: Luke Cage & Jessica Jones) and their lines were kind of playful and funny.

It was a quick read and I was surprised that it was over so soon. I was glad I picked it and am tempted to find out what the deal is with this all-seeing “Eye of Agametto”.

Brooke and I did a few follow up questions as well:

KELLY: Did you prefer the words to the pictures or vice versa?

BROOKE:  I would have to say I liked the art better than the words.

KELLY:  Are you surprised by how much you liked it?

BROOKE:  I'm not surprised – I usually can get easily sucked into things like this

KELLY: Do you find anything offensive in it?

BROOKE:  No – although Ms. Marvel was kind of bugging me

KELLY:  What's your favorite thing about it?

BROOKE:  Doctor Voodoos’s Sanctum Sanctorum – I like the dark mysticism

KELLY:  What's your least favorite thing about it?

BROOKE:  I hated all the advertisements in it  - they were distracting and stupid.  Story-wise it would have to be the overdramatic characters.

KELLY:  Has reading this comic opened your eyes at all to comics?

BROOKE:  I think I am pretty open minded to comics in general – although the art is definitely important to me

KELLY:  Would you ever have considered buying a comic book before this experiment?

BROOKE:  Well, I probably still won’t buy them, but if it was lying around I would probably read it.

KELLY:  If anyone could make a comic you'd be interested in...what would it be about - what would it look like?

BROOKE:  I like stories with a supernatural bent – kind of dark but not evil – a little Harry Potterish – I like the color saturation of this comic and the style of art was good, but I also like more stylized almost cartoony art.

KELLY:  Thanks Brooke!  I'm probably going to try to send you more comics in secret to try to get you "sucked in"...

MY favorite panel? Check it:

Name Shelti Thompson

Book: Scarlet #2

Age: 30

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Occupation: High School Dance Teacher

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: I have not had much exposure. The only comic I have read is The Walking Dead - about 57 issues.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: The character on the cover looks peaceful to me, yet has a big gun on her shoulder. I just wonder what she is thinking, getting ready to do, or maybe what she just did.

First off the reason I picked this one to read was because of the cover. It intrigued me and I wanted to know what was going through her mind. The story grabbed my attention right away. I liked how it felt as if she was talking to the reader, even though I think it was to herself maybe. I really like her character. She is very straightforward and knows what she wants. I kind of like that I don't know much about her back-story or what really happened to her in the first issue. This issue mentions a few things about what happened and why she is so angry and wants to get revenge. I feel like it makes the story more interesting when not everything is given away at the beginning. The story moved quickly, which I liked.  It's always a good thing when you reach the end and you want there to be more, which I did.

I enjoyed the main character Scarlet. While I can't really relate to her I liked her attitude and no bullshit style. I want to root for her and hope she can do what she has set out to accomplish. I want to know what really happened to her and Gabriel. I am not sure though if Gabriel is her brother, friend, boyfriend, cousin, etc. I would have liked to know a little more about their relationship. (ed. note: If Shelti had been allowed to read issue #1, she would know that Gabriel was her boyfriend).

I liked the art and the style it was drawn in, as well as the colors. Sometimes it looked like a real picture that was drawn over (ed note: nice catch Shelti - we call that photo-realistic art, some people love it, some people hate it). Overall it was easy to read and follow. There were a few times I was not sure if I was going in the right order but the second time around it was better.

Before reading this comic the only other comic I have read is The Walking Dead, which I really got into. My view of comics before I read The Walking Dead was that they were just cartoons and superhero stories. I never thought I would like them and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Walking Dead. I still am not sure if I would like the superhero ones as much as the "real life" ones (yeah yeah zombies aren't real, I know).

Overall I really enjoyed reading Scarlet and would definitely consider buying it to see what happens next. It is a great story of payback and exposing dirty cops. I am very happy with the comic I picked.

MY favorite panel?  Check it:

Name: Holly

Book: American Vampire #6

Link: www.browndogcommunication.com

Age: 34

Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Occupation: Corporate Public Relations Manager, which some might refer to as “Media Whore” or “Press Slut”.  One day I’ll go back to being a Disc Jockey rather than a desk jockey.

Previous exposure: As cheesy as it sounds I’m still kind of crushing on Archie, even though the guys who usually like me are more Jughead.  One day I was rehearsing for a play when someone introduced me to The Punisher, and I decided he was way more my speed.  I was pretty hooked, but I haven’t stayed hooked regularly.

Why cover: Vampire obsession.  I’m talking cool, real vampires and not some of this sparkle in the sun bullshit.  For me it began with wearing puffy shirts, velvet, and smoking the occasional clove cigarette…it’s never ended…

[ed. note: Spoilers]

Aaaaaah, American Vampire, I had such lofty hopes for you. Being a Dracophile I am a fan of all things fang-ish: from Anne Rice to Barnabas Collins, Salem’s Lot to Bunnicula, my fascination is vast. Needless to say, I’m usually pretty open to different approaches to vampire lore. But American Vampire, in a word, sucked (ha ha? bad vampire reference?) and not in a kitschy, F.W. Murnau kind of way.

The story opens up toward the end of the Great Depression in a Colorado mining town where we are quickly introduced to something scary being transported in a satchel carried by a mysterious out-of-towner (damn tourists!) Flash back to six months earlier in a gritty Las Vegas motel where we see a hooker’s round buttocks riding high atop a rich, dirty, fat man. Okay, interesting transition, and anytime you’ve got some good sex within the first three pages of... anything... it might just be worth at least a few page turns.

Clear until the end though there’s really nothing new to this seemingly sub-par vampire yarn/detective adventure. We’ve got the main story told through the actions of a young Irish cop who should be much more heroic since he’s trying to figure out how his police chief father was killed, but instead ends up looking like an unwashed Indiana Jones (ed. note: haha!). He gets in a bar fight, tells his pregnant wife he’s not going to be home for awhile and then hauls the baddies down to the clink where we get introduced to the Feds who are investigating strange “goings on” in the town. It’s like George Lucas meets Steinbeck meets Lethal Weapon meets The X-Files. Surprise, surprise, as we find out that Old Man Withers who lets hookers ride him like a party pony in seedy motels has been sucked dry of his bodily fluids. (His blood, all you pervs reading this. He was sucked dry of his blood.) By, we are led to believe, a vampinhooker.

The final scene (oh last page, why didn’t I just skip to the end for thee?) depicts a pretty good cliffhanger which is this issue’s only real redemption for me.

Still, vampires in Las Vegas? I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough to have the vampires and geography make any sense (ed note: this would probably make more sense if Holly had been able to read the first five issues, where the American Vampire theme/lore/whatever is more believably set up). Give me a comic about vampires in a Voodoo-influenced Louisiana, turn-of-the-century New England, or even “goin’ to Hollywood” with the soul-sucking American Idol audition process. But don’t mess with my oasis in the desert. Where else would we get a slushy, street-legal margarita served in a large plastic glass commonly referred to as a “whale boner”?

Anyhow, now I’ve got to wait for future issues of American Vampire to see what’s going to happen to our friend the Irish Las Vegas cop. But even then I fear disappointment. Sure there may be more hot illustrated boning or even a few gory neck-biting scenes, but I do like to have a good storyline too and I’m hoping this expository issue was just that: boring exposition to get our of the way before we get onto the really good stuff. And more comic nudity. Bring on the comic nudity. With fangs. And biting. Is that too much to ask?

MY favorite panel?  Check it:

Name: Kell

Book: The Black Cat #3

Age: 18

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. So now I'm not as opposed to comics as I used to be.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? I picked Morning Glories as my first choice pretty much because I thought the cover looked cool.  The kids in the picture look to be around my age, and to be completely honest, I liked that it didn't have what I think of as the "typical comic book" look.  But since Morning Glories was already taken I went with my second choice, Black Cat -which was actually the first cover that grabbed my attention. I think the toughness that Black Cat seems to evoke got me interested in what the story might be about.  Even though Black Cat wasn't my first choice, I do love love LOVE reading, so I'm probably going to really enjoy this project!

The very first thought I had about the comic was that the Black Cat wears a very strange costume (long, white hair on the arms and legs? Really? And of course, in my outsider opinion, she just had to have big boobs like most other female comic book characters). To be completely honest, I didn't really like the comic at first. I found it strange that so many words were italicized…almost to the point of being unnecessary.

While I'm on the topic of things I didn't really enjoy... The story bounced around so much! It moved from one scene to the other, and sometimes I would have to re-read sections to figure out what was going on (ed note: this was a pretty complicated issue, even I found myself re-reading to keep up). It wasn't a huge deal to look over things again, but I feel like others beside myself would find that to be annoying after reading a few pages. But I found that as I got deeper into the plot, I didn't really care or think about the jumping around, because it didn't matter anymore. The story, the actions, and the characters were what mattered.

Now on to happy things!

Seriously, mixing Marvel characters? Amazing. When I turned to the page where Spider-Man suddenly appeared, I was shocked. I mean, I did read the "story to this point" section but I didn't think that I would actually see a character from a completely separate comic thrown into this one. I've seen that done on TV, but never actually in a book (not that I'm very experienced with comic books anyway). I was disappointed that Spider-Man only interacted with Black Cat for one page.. I want to know what's going on between them!

[Ed. Note: Mild Spoilers]

Also, the plot gets so intense!  I was not expecting that at all.  I really didn't think I would enjoy reading the comic, to be honest. Like I said already, the only other comic I've read was Watchmen and I didn't finish it, but when Holopkov knocks Black Cat out and stuffs her in his trunk, I literally gasped. Out loud. And then I rushed through the last 3 pages to find out what happened after that.

And then, low and behold, another gasp! Out loud, again! When "Black Cat" in the trunk turns out to be one of her assistants? And the sword ends up being a fake? Absolute craziness! My thoughts pretty much played out like this:


I know, really. I'm pretty much the definition of an anti-comic book girl. But here I was, sitting at my desk in my dorm, eyes wide and mouth open in shock. That's how much I got into this story.

I definitely plan to find and purchase copies of the first 2 issues, then find out when the 4th one comes out so I can figure out what happens to Black Cat, her mom, and the sword. Thank you, Black Cat, for turning me into a comic book reader.

MY favorite panel?  Check it:

Name: Alexa

Book: Morning Glories #2

Age: 28

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/issue you picked?: The girls in Morning Glories look badass! I definitely wanted something with a female lead character(s).  And I liked the style of the illustrations. Plus, the cover wasn't super violent, which appealed to me.

I really liked this cover - I thought the illustration was great and the boarding school aspect seemed really cool, but I was immediately put off to find that the interior art wasn't how the exterior looked.  I didn't really like the interior art, although some parts were better than others, it was mostly really inconsistent...and just not what I was expecting.  And I noticed then that the cover was drawn by someone different than the insides.  Although, I don't want to be too hard on it, there were some pages I really liked, like the part where the girl is almost drowning reminded me of Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl...which I thought was really cool...I think it was just the expectation kind of ruined the art for me a little.

I think the dialogue was kind of weak, but it was hard to tell if it was deliberate in some places.  Like it seemed really stilted in the scene where the advisor (or whatever she is) comes upon the girls and finds them fighting...her dialogue seemed really bad...but maybe it was on purpose because she's like...in on it?  It was hard to tell, maybe because I didn't read the first issue, but overall I wasn't that impressed with the dialogue, it just didn't seem very smart or sharp.  I thought the end was kind of hokey instead of shocking, which I think it was supposed to be...but maybe I'm just not "getting it"...?

I thought it was nice that the girls definitely seemed like the stars of the book and their characters definitely seemed more explored than the boys, which was also good because part of the reason I picked the book was because the girls were featured on the cover...so it was nice that that at least was representative and accurate, even if the cover art versus interior art wasn't representative.

I loved Betty and Veronica when I was little and think that them being "pretty" was part of the draw back then, and while I'll admit that I was seduced by these girls on the cover looking "pretty" as well and that was likely part of the initial draw, I did find that their kind of unbelievable looks and bodies got in the way for me a little bit while I was reading the story.  If the book had felt smarter or more compelling maybe it would have helped me look past the visuals and the fact that they were sometimes distracting, but overall it was a bit frustrating.  And even though the girls were more well developed than the boys, they were still fairly obvious stereotypes (as were the boys, in fairness) - like the "bitchy/bad" girl, the "hero/good" girl, and the "emo/alternative" girl.  But it wasn't offensive or anything, just kind of uninspired.

Overall, though I came into this project kind of excited and intrigued by comics in general, based on this one issue, I wasn't so impressed.  Reading this book made me feel like maybe I haven't been missing anything and that mainstream comics probably just aren't for me.  Even though I have great memories of old Betty and Veronica books and totally feel like I'd still enjoy reading them today.  However, I'm not turned off by the form, which I really like, so much as the content and quality level that I found here.  After reading this I suppose I do still have some curiosity as to whether other mainstream comics are this kind of...average...and wonder if there are comics that I might love and if this one just wasn't one of those.

MY favorite panel?  Check it:

So that's it for this week's installment!

I find it interesting and kind of exciting that two of the six ladies that reviewed comics (33%!) are actively going to seek out the rest of the storyline they read, and who knows, maybe will expand to other books from there - one can hope!  I also think that, judging from the reviews, another three of the six (50%) would read comics if they were around them more - if the books were more easily available to them (and possibly free - i.e. borrowed from a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.).  Really only one lady of the six that reviewed for Part One was not more interested in comics after being exposed to this experiment (83% are more interested!) - and even she is not put off the form at all, but just thinks this book wasn't for her, which is fair, I read plenty of books a month that make me feel like "comics aren't for me"...so it's going to happen.  Regardless I feel like those stats are pretty encouraging overall.  Let's see what happens next week!

A huge thanks to all the ladies who participated in Part One and especially to Tara O'Connor who provided me with the custom illustration for the post.  I hope you readers enjoyed phase one of this experiment and will come back next week for Part 2 in which True Blood #4, Fables #98, The Last Unicorn #3, Black Widow #6,  I, Zombie #5, and Super Hero Squad #9 are read and reviewed.  Until next week!

Update: Part 2, Part 3.

*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.*

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