Back in July, Smalerie shared a recipe for a hamburger. What it lacked in deliciousness it made up for in creativity and in its physical resemblance to the product that inspired it – the Cthulhu burger in Kristen Gudsnuk’s Henchgirl. At the time, she mentioned she wasn’t going to review the book; the focus of the post was the horrifying delicacy she’d created. Since then, we’ve discussed the book at Comicazi Book Club, and hosted Kristen as one of our guests of honor at LadiesCon.
So it seems like a good time to review the book and let you know that if you haven’t jumped on this bandwagon, you should.
Henchgirl is the story of Mary Posa, a somewhat aimless twenty-something. She’s a pretty typical young adult on the surface – she lives with roommates, has a bit of insecurity about her looks, and is stuck in a job that she’s not sure her heart is really into. On the other hand, one of her roommates has started manifesting weird powers, her sister is one of the hottest up and coming superheroes, and her dead-end job is working as a goon for Monsieur Butterfly, a supervillain. Even Scott Pilgrim’s life wasn’t quite this weird and complicated.
One of the real strengths of Henchgirl is that it handles some pretty heavy themes – identity, parental expectations, and free will – with a playful sense of humor. There are background jokes aplenty, as the Cthulhu burger attests. Mary’s roommate Tina develops a strange power that is at once humorous, disturbing, and ultimately world-threatening. There’s a scene where Mary is delighted to be mistaken for someone named Consuelo…until she realizes the person in question shares a name with her grandmother. Even some of the very darkest moments, such as this world’s mightiest hero and Superman analog, Mr. Great Guy, losing his beloved in a tragic accident, have humorous results.
This approach can be cynical and overdone (I’m looking at you, Garth Ennis’ The Boys), but in Gudsnuk’s hands it never teeters over that line. Instead, the humor serves as both a relief from the potential angst and also serves to underscore how deeply weird it is to be human, especially a young adult. Your problems in your twenties certainly feel momentous and world-ending – Gudsnuk just makes that literal for poor Mary. One of my favorite running gags is Mary’s fervent desire to be a taxpayer – a symbol of a “normal” life.
The other thing I love about this book is its unapologetic girlyness. A major plot point revolves around a magical girl in the style of Sailor Moon, Lovely Celestial Angel Amelia. Mary herself has a fondness for pink glitter, and of course, she works for a supervillain whose shtick is butterflies. Mary’s doesn’t worry about being tough or hard – she just does her job and if she can look good while doing it, she will. At the same time, no one in the cast is limited by their gender roles. Men love butterflies and women heft heavy objects with ease, and it’s never a big deal – it’s just how things are.
So, if you’re looking to read a complete story about the pains of growing up, complete with family drama, romance, and carrots, pick up Henchgirl. If you’ve already read it, tell me what you thought in the comments!
LadiesCon 2017 is just days away and we hope you’re as excited as we are for our second ever convention celebrating women of kinds in comics and pop culture. Although you can just walk on in on Saturday and start looking around, there are a few things you can do to prepare for LadiesCon to help make you experience even better. Continue reading
As you saw in last week’s post, we’re all super excited about everything we have planned for you at LadiesCon 2017. Our panels at the last LadiesCon were very popular and this year’s panels promise to be bigger and better than ever. And thanks to our new location at the Armory, you can check them out in the very same building as the vendor floor.
Want a preview of a few of the panels we’re presenting? Read on!
Friends, I’m going to be honest – this isn’t the post I want to write this week. I was planning to tell you all about the delightful manga series I’ve been reading lately, but it will have to wait, because once again, Twitter went insane over women in the comics industry, and it feels necessary to unpack that a bit.
If you haven’t been following the story, you can read all about it here, but the gist is that Marvel editor Heather Antos posted a selfie with a bunch of her fellow Marvel lady friends, holding milkshakes. The caption was “The Marvel Milkshake Crew #fabulousflo.” (More on that hashtag in a minute.) What she got in return were a bunch of nasty tweets and direct messages, complaining that the women were fake geek girls (yawn), who are responsible for Marvel’s flagging sales because of their “SJW agenda.”
Now, there were plenty of folks who jumped to Antos’s defense, creating the #makeminemilkshake tag to show solidarity with Antos and women in comics in general. I think the supporters vastly outnumber the haters, and that’s a wonderful thing. What troubles me with this whole foolish business is that it keeps happening, and I can’t help but ponder the series of bizarre conclusions the haters need to have drawn in order to make the comments they did; the crazy leaps of logic that lead someone to speak with abject cruelty to strangers. It does no good to attempt to understand internet trolls, but I can’t help it – I strive for understanding.
What it seems like is that there are three major issues at play here:
1. These people believe that women making comics is a recent phenomenon.
2. They equate these “new” women with story lines that promote a social justice agenda at the expense of storytelling, art, and the beliefs of the readers.
3. They believe that Marvel as a company is complicit in actively promoting said agenda.
So let’s break these down in order.
1. Women in comics is a new thing: Remember that hashtag, #fabulousflo? It’s a reference to Flo Steinberg, who passed away at the end of July from an aneurysm. Flo was one of the earliest members of the Marvel bullpen, hired by Stan Lee as a secretary, but taking on so much more in running the Marvel fan club, wrangling temperamental artists, and sending artwork to be approved by the Comics Code authority. After she left Marvel, she published Big Apple Comix, one of the earliest examples of “indie comics” – a bridge between the underground work that preceded it and the glossy mainstream work. She returned to Marvel in the 1990s, and worked as a proofreader until this year. Flo was truly a comics industry legend – and she was there from the beginning of the publisher that these trolls are lamenting is being ruined by women. And she’s just one example – women at Marvel and DC are not a new thing, even if they’ve been more behind the scenes than they are today.
Which leads us to:
2. The trolls believe women (and pretty much everyone who isn’t a white man) are promoting a liberal agenda. Spiderman’s a black kid sometimes! Iceman is gay! They made Thor a lady! What’s weird about these accusations is that writers on all of the stories are white men. Perhaps the women in the milkshake picture are manipulating everything behind the scenes! Hmm, that doesn’t seem super likely, does it? What makes more sense is the fact that you have characters who are, on average, 50-100 years old, with whom you’ve been telling stories continuously for most of that time. It seems inevitable that changing up who wears the mantle will happen sometimes, and if that change is a dud, they’ll either change back or into something entirely different yet again. Yes, you can make NEW characters who are women or Muslim or gay or trans, but that doesn’t entirely give you a new direction for your old characters. So it goes.
And here we come to:
3. They think Marvel will ruin the company in order to promote a liberal agenda.
Publishing is a business. The trolls point to these character changes, and point to Marvel’s dropping direct market sales, and then lament that if only the publisher saw the error of its terrible liberal ways, they could FIX this! But because Marvel is so dedicated to this SJW message, they say, the company just won’t do it.
There are two main problems with this thought-train. One simple one is that it doesn’t really take into account how comic sales have changed. While direct market sales are still really important, they don’t track digital sales on things like Comixology. So a book might not be doing well physically, but we don’t really know its total reach.
But the part that puzzles me even more than that is the idea that people believe that a corporation would ever put beliefs over profit. For me, a liberal who IS invested in social justice, that’s a really nice thought. It’s also utter horseshit. Marvel cancels books with flagging sales all the time, without ceremony. They don’t exist to promote an agenda, they’re here to sell you comics, and if the troll-dollars matter as much as they seem to think they do, then the stories will change again in due time. We shall see.
In the meantime, this makes me feel that projects like LadiesCon are more important than ever, not because women, non-binary folks, people of color, and LGBT folks are a new thing, but because we’ve all always been here. We make comics. We read comics. We buy comics. And we drink milkshakes and take selfies, and we don’t need to apologize for it.
When I discovered that Gail Simone was writing a series for Vertigo, I was annoyed with myself for not knowing about it sooner. I mean, seriously Smalerie? Gail Simone. Original horror series. Get on it, girl.
So I did.
Then I wrote a review.
After Chloe Pierce loses her fiance to suicide, she embarks on a mission find out what could have driven him to take his own life. When all signs point towards self-help guru Astrid Mueller, Chloe will stop at nothing to find the truth behind Astrid and her mysterious organization.
When writing a mystery/horror story, the author has the difficult task of providing enough intrigue to keep the reader interested without making them frustrated. Clues need to be left behind like breadcrumbs or shiny pebbles leading you out of the dark forest. Clean Room handles this so well that I simply could not stop reading the first trade. At one point I was forced to put the book down, and it almost felt like the story followed me, hiding in a dark part of my mind and forcing me to think about it when I should have been concentrating on dinner conversation or watching an action flick with my family. I think reading this one as the issues came out might have driven me crazy.
From the description alone, I’m sure that most of you have figured out this book is for mature audiences. There are some VERY disturbing things that both happen and are referenced in this book. And while there were a few times when I felt that certain language and nudity might have been used more for the shock value rather than because it added to the story or said something about a character’s true nature, this story intends to strip characters down to their emotional cores and that is rarely pretty. But regardless of how ugly it gets, it still remains an engrossing read.
Mueller’s organization is an extremely secretive and organized one, providing more access and information as you go up the ranks. While this structure is common among many organizations, there is a lot here that reminds me of Scientology. It’s still early in the story for me to say if Mueller and her followers are dealing with their reality in the best way, but this book makes you really wonder what’s happening behind closed doors. This is true both in the story and in the outside world. What’s being kept from us? What do we have the right to know? And how high do the stakes need to be for you to give someone complete power over you? It makes you question authority and feel uneasy. And it’s very possible these questions might never really be answered in the story, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth asking.
Jon Davis-Hunt’s artwork is slick and detailed. His art and Quinton Winter’s colors match the writing well and create a really creepy and stark environment. This is especially true when we get the contrast between the Clean Room itself and the outside world. I will admit that there were a few times I felt that the characters seemed too stiff, but it still kinda works once you start to understand what’s really happening in the story. Without giving any spoilers, I think it’s safe enough to say that what you see on the surface is not always a reliable tool for truly understanding the world of this book.
As for the monster factor, I found them to be suitably creepy. You know when you run across something that’s just spooky or gross enough that you need to share it with someone? To either validate your feelings or just to make someone else shudder? Well, let’s just say there were a few times I found myself showing a page to whoever was unfortunate enough to be in the room with me.
It’s great to see Gail Simone writing, well, pretty much anything.
The story builds, feels satisfying enough to keep you reading, and I defy you not to run out and get Vol. 2 immediately.
Way back in October, I attended MICE – the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo. Started in 2010 to provide area artists with a place to exhibit their work away from the noise and expense of larger conventions, MICE has gotten bigger each year, attracting independent comics folks from all over the country. That’s a lucky thing for those of us excited to find new stories and art.
March is Women’s History Month in the US – a time that various government institutions “commemorate and encourage the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” Here at the Ladies we encourage you to study, observe and celebrate women’s contributions every day – particularly their contributions to comics and pop culture. One of the things I like about doing your periodic webcomics round ups is that not only is it a chance to share the sheer talent of so many lady artists and writers (of whom there are still fewer than I would prefer getting work in mainstream comics publishing), but it’s also an opportunity to embrace a much wider scope of what storytelling in comics can be. Even though your average shop is offering far more than just superhero tales these days (and there’s nothing wrong with superhero tales), it still feels like the web has some weirder, wilder offerings. Here are three I’m digging right now.
Monsterkind by Taylor C.
Updates: T, Fr
Monsterkind is one of the first comics about social work I’ve ever seen. (Feel free to tell me if there are more in the comments!) It’s the story of Wallace Foster, a young social worker who’s recently been relocated to District C – a place where the inhabitants are mostly monsters. Wallace is human, and some of the residents of District C clearly don’t trust him and his intentions. Somehow he’s got to figure out a way to win over his clients – and figure out some of the deeper mysteries surrounding him, District C, and his new neighbors. What I really like about Monsterkind is that, even though it deals with some pretty deep and potentially sensitive topics – racism, segregation, and identity – it does so in a lighthearted and upbeat way that counterbalances the darkness of its subject matter while still taking it very seriously. It’s also got some pretty great and innovative character designs for the monster residents of District C – some look human but have powers and abilities that seem supernatural, while others sport everything from tentacles to detachable eyes. The underlying mysteries unfold slowly, but steadily, and promise a worthwhile payoff. Content-wise, this is appropriate for all-ages, but many of the interactions will go over the heads of young kids – I think early teens up would be the most interested.
Bonus: Another comic! Taylor C.’s significant other, one Zack Morrison, also does a weird comic I love called Paranatural. Maybe one day I’ll give it a whole review, because it’s awesome, but as Zack’s not a lady, it didn’t fit here. It’s fine as a bonus, right?
Not Drunk Enough by Tessa Stone
Updates: T, Th
Logan Ibarra is a young repairman with a pretty normal life – until he’s called out to do a nighttime service call at the local laboratory. When he gets there, it quickly becomes clear that the problem here is a lot worse than a faulty AC system. Reality itself has become warped, along with most of the lab’s employees. Now Logan’s got to figure out how to escaped before he’s transformed, eaten, or his flask runs dry.
I’ve been a fan of Tessa Stone’s work since her one of her earliest efforts, the dearly departed Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name. That was a comedy about a paranormal investigator, full of whimsy, jokes, and sweet-hearted humor. Not Drunk Enough has a sense of humor, but it’s a much more macabre one – the jokes of terrified people who know they’re unlikely to survive the night. The art, in turn is dark and jagged, befitting the paranoia permeating the doomed lab. Like Monsterkind, there are deeper mysteries to be solved that Stone teases out slowly, and real human heartbreak driving the choices the characters make. The creature designs are killer, literally and figuratively – this is a great read for older teens, but a bit too mature for the younger crowd.
Bonus: Stone also collaborates with Ananth Hirsh of Johnny Wander and Sarah Stone (yes, related) of Monster Boys and Robots on Is This What You Wanted, a comic that is just starting about romance and illness and demons. So if you dig her character design here, check that out too.
Ava’s Demon by Michelle Czajkowski
Plot: Ava Ire is a total outcast at school – all of the other kids and even the teachers think she’s totally crazy. Of course, since she’s often talking to herself and prone to emotional outbursts, it’s hard to blame them. What they don’t know is that Ava is plagued by a very real demon – Wrathia Bellarmina, the ghost of a former warrior queen who wants to bond with Ava in order to get revenge on the person responsible for her demise. That person happens to be the ruler of the entire universe, Titan; part corporate overlord, part god. When a series of strange events cause Ava to flee her home, a deal is struck – but will either Ava or Wrathia really get what they want?
Ava’s Demon combines fantasy and sci-fi elements into a powerful combination unlike anything I’ve quite seen before. The world-building is thorough but unforced – you learn about what’s going on as the characters do. The art is complete gorgeous, with fully saturated color and light effects that give everything a dreamy quality. Czajkowski takes advantage of her storytelling medium completely as well – each weekly installment consists of several pages that the reader flips through, introducing an almost animated quality to the story. At the close of each chapter is an actually animated sequence, complete with music. It’s frankly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to see where the story is headed. This is another one I’d pitch more towards teens – there’s nothing too crazy but some of the violence might be a little much for a sensitive younger reader.
Bonus: If you follow the Ava’s Demon Tumblr, Czajkowski shares the beautiful fanart folks do for the comic.
Are there any other comics by ladies I should check out? Let me know in the comments!
Talking about feminism can be a complex issue. Over the years, there have been different definitions and movements, but put most simply it can be distilled down to the belief in equality between men and women and the rights that go along with it. It’s not a new concept, and it serves as a backbone for the very blog you are reading right now. So when an author is harassed off Twitter for writing a character who wears an “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” t-shirt on the cover, I made it a point to not only read Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird comic, but to also review it for you guys.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time focusing on the Twitter incident, except to take pleasure in the amount of support Cain received from the comics community. It brought a lot of attention to a book that in many ways had been under the radar. As a result, it shot to number one on Amazon and I got to discover one of the most unusual books I have read in a long time.
In my last update, I outlined the many reasons I think you should be watching the CW’s iZombie series. Since he knows how much I like the show, for Christmas Mr. Menace decided to give me the iZombie omnibus – all 28 issues of Chris Roberson and Mike Allred’s series packed into one (admittedly pretty hefty) volume. He’d read the entire series as it came out, and was curious to hear my take on it as a fan of the show. So after the holidays, I dove on in.
We usually highlight comics characters you might want to know more about when a new movie or TV series puts a little known character in the spotlight. Disney is currently ramping up promotion for a new DuckTales series due out next year, making this the perfect time to get to know the richest duck in the world.