Growing up as a comic book lover, I had been plagued by one question through my childhood. One, I was obviously not entirely comfortable asking – why did most women in comic books have to be confined to the panels, waiting to be rescued, breasts heaving?
Sure, there were a fair share of young women like Modesty Blaise and Nancy who failed to get lost in the crowd, but where was someone I could be inspired by in the world of Asterix?
I distinctly remember a young boy wail “Girlth can’t play!” in Asterix and the Secret Weapon, hoping to chase a young girl away from what he perceived as something exclusively for boys. Yes, the book went on to let a legion of women replace the familiar Gaulish and Roman men, but it definitely gave rise to more questions.
The most important of which being, why were we girls almost absent in the world of comics?
Over the years, I thankfully discovered women I had overlooked during my early years with graphic novels. Wonderful, beautiful women who not only helped me dream, but inspired me to begin creating as well.
Given how wonderfully the world of comics is being shaped by women across the world, it would be unfair if someone was discovering her love for comic books now and not knowing about these wonderful stories that can be wonderful companions while growing up… stories that will never make a young girl question whether she truly belongs to this wonderful realm of comics.
And for creators, these books will give you enough and more reason to make some more. Stories hold the power to inspire the birth of even more stories in almost miraculous ways.
Skim from Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Growing up for most can be terribly confusing. It is no different for Skim. With the immense pressure to find her own niche in the crowd, come to terms with her sexuality, and deal with losses and sorrow, Skim is a “not slim” Japanese-American goth who doesn’t particularly want to fit in. The Tamaki twins create a character who not only manoeuvres through the alleys of high-school life, but is also painfully vulnerable when she is writing in her diary.
Skim talks about depression, isolation, friendship, homosexual relationships and bullying. She is the friend who teaches you that it is okay to be different and to even defy cliches – even when everyone around you can think of doing nothing but fit in.
Nimona from Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
With Lord Ballister Blackheart, a knight-gone-bad starts wreaking havoc on an unnamed kingdom, Nimona, a young shape-shifting girl comes to help him – of course, you can’t deny the appeal of the evil. But as luck would have it, things start going wrong. Horribly wrong. For one, they have to deal with Blackheart’s archnemesis Goldenloin who reports to the shady Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics.
What is absolutely amazing about Nimona is the fact that Stevenson does not create a world that is entirely magical. As she creates fantastical beasts, she also creates rocket launchers and telecommunication devices. And in Blackheart’s hand is a glowing device that will bridge the divide between science and magic.
As Nimona shifts through her forms, human at times and inhuman at others, she grows. And readers realise that like all young girls with immense power, she too must be controlled. But not to the point where her freedom is stripped and her fate chosen for her. After all, it isn’t fair to never be able to discover your true destiny.
Ivy from Ivy, by Sarah Oleksyk
Living with her single mother in the small town of Maine, Ivy is a young teenager who has great dreams – mostly to get out of her sleepy little town and study art. The glorious dream of being an artist is quite the seductive one, and the prospect of following your mother’s dream to major in business, not quite so.
Where most writers try their best to create a character who is universally loved, Oleksyk chooses to do something quite different. By making Ivy a selfish, insecure regular teenager, she makes her go through a series of inane adventures that include her suspension from school, dramatic fights with friends, and even a lukewarm attempt to run away with a young boy.
But unlike in a story with a “happily ever after”, Ivy is soon left behind to realise that people rarely match up to what they project themselves to be. Ivy is an eye opener. A read that takes you through the workings of a punk teenage mind, one that helps you explore important issues like safe sex, drug use and the shortsightedness of the rebellious teenage years.
Anya from Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol
Anya Borzakovskaya does not like being the “odd one out”. Though she isn’t your regular, bullied weirdo, she is a foreigner in the world she lives in, and by her own admission, we realise that she does try very hard to hide her identity. So terrified is she of the very thought of people finding out her country of origin that she dons a new, more acceptable accent, distances herself from her foreign markings and even chooses to abandon someone whose behaviour might give her away.
Like every story goes, Anya does have her fair share of adolescent woes to ponder over. And as she gets lost in her thoughts, ranging from the boy she is secretly crushing over and her rapid weight-gain thanks to her Russian home food, she manages to fall down a well.
In there she discovers an ancient skeleton and the 100-year-old ghost Emily, who eventually grows to become Anya’s best friend. As the two team up to cheat on exams and woo Sean – the object of Anya’s affections – you can’t not love the duo.
However, Anya soon realises that Emily is perhaps not who she appears to be, and begins discovering a dark side to the once lovable ghost. And thus she initiates her own process of growing up.
Shuichi Nitori from Wandering Son, by Shimura Takako
The story of two young fifth graders uncomfortable with their biological genders, Shimura Takako's manga is an exploration of gender identity. Shuichi Nitori longs to be a girl and Yoshino Takatsuki, a boy. And as the two get entangled in a web of complex relationships and decisions, I was amazed by the tenderness with which Takako has crafted the story.
Discovering gender identity through the eyes of Nitori is beautiful at times, and heartbreaking at others. Amazingly, as young as she is, she is prepared to deal with bullies. But in all her innocence, she is clueless about how to deal with intolerant or even ignorant family members. And when she dons her wig and embraces herself for who she truly is, you will be glad that you were a part of the amazing journey.
Takako’s stroke of brilliance with this story lies in the fact that she familiarises you with the characters and eases them into your life. It sensitises young readers towards choices, acceptance, tolerance and love.