A Celebration of Women in Comics

It is April, which means it is the end of Women’s History Month. While I think it’s important to celebrate the contributions of women all the time, it’s really important to me to share some of my favorite women in comics, be they creators or characters, and women led initiatives. Women, be they cis, gay, bi, trans, or non-binary, contribute to so many aspects of the comic book industry that I wanted to celebrate a few with you to take you into April.

Artists Chrissie Zullo and Jenny Frison

Cover artists are one of the most important aspects of comic books are the covers. While the artist doing interiors are very important, to a casual reader in a store will be attracted to a book based on its cover. I first discovered Chrissie Zullo when she did the covers for Fables and Cinderella: Form Fabletown with Love. Her Mucha inspired style won me over almost instantly, our main female character surrounded by a framed background. You can check out her work on  Vampirella, Josie and the Pussycats, and Archie among others. Jenny Frison is also a well known cover artist noted for her work on Xena, Revival, Wonder Woman, Clean Room, and Red Sojna. Now, I don’t know if you picked it up, but these women artist do a lot of covers with female led comics and they do their job really, really well. I would describe both their art styles as dewy, yet strong, the characters are often surround by a halo of soft light, but their body language and intensity in their eyes always convey something deeper.

Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Visible Women” campaign
kelly sueKelly Sue DeConnick, author of Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly, and Bitch Planet, is one of my favorite comic book writers because she uses her celebrity to help others. She is an expert at leveraging technology in her goal to help others. Using text messaging services, her Bitches Get Shit Done service (you might see it on twitter as #bgsh) is a sporadic motivational service, with reflections, inspirational quotes, or a stern talking to. Her new technological campaign seeks to elevate the visibility of all those who identify as women or non-binary in the comics industry. Using #VisibleWomen to showcase their work on social media via self nomination, then someone in the industry will repost your original post for a signal boost, and finally a spreadsheet with all those using the hashtag will be compiled and set out to publishers looking for creators. What an amazing way for a successful woman to help other women. What can you do to help others trying to make it in your profession?

Femme Fantasy
Over the last few years, female led fantasy and science fiction comic books have taken over a larger market share in comic book stores. I have a pretty broad definition of Fantasy, though the Library of Congress has it defined as, “fiction with magic and extraordinary characters are integral to the story”. Below are some of my favorite female lead fantasy comics from the last five years.

Women Getting the Hollywood Treatment
I know I can be critical of Marvel for not releasing a female led comic book movie and can’t wait for a Wonder Woman movie which follows Diana’s exploits at the Louvre, but I am hopeful that the success of Wonder Woman will be a stepping off point for more powerful women of comics to make their mark on the big screen. While I’m under no delusion that the majority of these films are going to be superhero movies, like Captain Marvel and Dark Phoenix, a trend of adapting independent comics is also on the horizon. The adaptation of I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, out this week, is a book I’ve written about in the past and one that I cannot wait to see adapted on the big screen. Female characters from every genre are starting to see more predominance, from Anniliation to Under the Skin and Mad Max, we are seeing women leading in new and innovative roles. Some comics I’d like to see adapted to feature films are Lumberjanes, Cursed Pirate Girl, and Clean Room.

What women in


Marriage Issues Podcast

Last year my husband, Aaron, and I started a podcast called Marriage Issues: A Couple’s Conversation about Comics. We discuss our weekly comic book pull list, other books we are reading, current comic events and news, and end every episode with a newlywed style question to see how well we truly know each other.

If you are interested in checking it out, you can visit us at www.marriageissuespodcast.com, download directly from the Apple Podcast App, Google Play and other places you get your podcasts. You can also follow us on Twitter @mrandmrscomics where we post our current comic reading list and other fun nerdiness.



Banned & Challenged Graphic Novels; or sometimes it’s ok to judge a book by its cover

It’s Banned Books Week, which always makes me think of S. R. Ranganathan’s Five laws of library science.

Books are for use – Every reader his/her book – Every book its reader – Save the time of the reader – The library is a growing organism.

2017.39 Banned logoThe first three laws deal with censorship directly; books should be for use, not hidden away; librarians do not judge what people choose to read; and items will be collected no matter how small a group may elect to read them.

These first three laws can often become unbalanced because items are misshelved (in the youth collection when they should be in the adult collection, for instance) or because libraries allow patrons to check out any materials, unrestricted by age. I discovered V.C. Andrews when I was in the sixth grade because she was in the paperback shelving area by the cozy, cat-centered mystery paperbacks I  enjoyed reading. If my mom knew how young I was when I started hiding V. C. Andrews books between my mattress and box spring I’m sure she would have disapproved of my choices, not the library’s choice to collect the books themselves. Many times, challenged and banned book issues can be resolved with a little common sense and reflection on what the freedom to read really means.

In browsing the top banned and challenged graphic novels, I found three main themes for why they are challenged.

Mis-Leveled / Notion all comics are for kids

2017.39 Sex CriminalsLibrarians do not have time to read every item they add to a collection before deciding where it goes (contrary to many librarian stereotypes). They rely on reviews, recommendations from the publisher, and other librarians to determine where to shelve a book. However, IF A COMIC IS CALLED BIG, HARD, SEX CRIMINALS, DO YOU REALLY THINK IT’S APPROPRIATE FOR KIDS? The cover has a naked lady with a whip and a gun on the cover. Maybe flipping through the pages you notice naked men and women engaging in adult situations and realize that not all comics are for kids. In this situation, I am all for judging a book by its cover. As a reader of Sex Criminals from the very beginning, this books deals with relationships, adulthood, and self discovery in a unique way, conveying deep commentary in a bizarre premise.

Sometimes, certain authors who write novels and comics, and for adult and youth, can be extremely difficult to level. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is often shelved in youth graphic novels even though it was published by Vertigo, DC Comics’ mature imprint, and has many adult themes.  The association of Gaiman and comics implies a youthful tone. With a little research, librarians can empower themselves to make thoughtful choices based on information about publishers and authors.

Books about people….who are considered different/deviant by some

2017.39 This one summerUnfortunately, some people believe that if a viewpoint which is not their own or contradicts what they view as morally right and good, is expressed, no one should have access to that information. Graphic novels such as PersepolisThis One Summer, and Fun Home  are challenged and banned because people do not like or agree with the characters portrayed solely for being who they are. They believe the books inappropriately promote Islam, portray LGBTQA+ characters, yes simply having an LGBTQA+ character is enough to warrant a challenge in many cases. While it is ok to self regulate your reading habits or those of your children, it is not ok to limit access to the items which another person can see themselves reflected in the page. It is the goals of libraries to make all types of information available to the public and leave it up to them to decide what they like to read, what they don’t, discover the truth, or consider something new.

Mis-appropriation of historical context

2017.39 tintinComics have been around for a very long time in many countries and have promoted terrible stereotypes. It is something that has been acknowledged and studied in popular culture studies for decades. Tintin in America was recently challenged due to the portrayal of Native American and similarly, Tintin in the Congo uses horrific stereotypical depictions of Africans. Herge was writing Tintin in the 1930 and a lot has changed in society which makes images like these difficult to address. Many people will liken it to the contemporary debates of the use of stereotypes, like the Redskins and the Braves, as sports team logos; however, this debate runs deeper than multi-million dollar sports teams trying to stick with tradition. Comics like Tintin are a time capsule of popular culture and a powerful tool to start a discussion about racism, stereotypes, and colonialism. What is most important with books like Tintin is the context in which they are presented. This is an old book with old views and must be read as such, what was believed and felt then is not what is believed and felt now. Should it be shelved in the adult collection, allowing adult to decide when to share the book with their children? Does shelving things in the adult collection really prevent fans from seeking out all the books by an author. These are all question which must be addressed while balancing the need for a censorship free library experience.

Dealing with a request to ban or challenge a book is always difficult to handle, but there are many great resources available to librarians. Check ’em out!

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund http://cbldf.org/ 

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom http://www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/oif

ALA Banned Books Week http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks


California Dreamin’


California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before the Mamas & the Papas
By: Penelope Bagieu
Published by: First Second
Pages: 266 pages
Genres: Biographic comic

Music is the nexus of culture, it can summarize an entire generation, give you a taste of what life was like. From the flapper Charleston dancing, fast pace jazz of the 1920s, illustrates it’s decadent lifestyle; Rock’n’Roll of the 1950s, ushering in a new generation of consumers, the teenagers and all the delinquency that comes with it; and folk-rock music, beat poetry inspired songs of the 1960s, where Ellen Cohen, better known as Mama Cass, gained her time in the spotlight.

In Penelope Bagieu’s California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before the Mamas and the Papas, the French graphic novelist takes a brief look at the life of Ellen Cohen, a young woman from Baltimore with a voice unmatched by any other; but, in the early 1960’s, many were unwilling to see anything besides an overweight woman. Inspired by the underdog tale of Florence Foster Jenkins, though with a truly beautiful voice, Ellen left home determined to be a singer, not letting anything get in her way, stating in the dark to her siblings after bedtime, “I’ll be the most famous fatty in the world”. Traveling from musical group to musical group, Cass never finds a group willing to accept her 100%, her creative talent, carefree lifestyle and rocky emotional relationships where in continuous tension with her bandmates, including those in the Mamas and the Papas.

Each chapter of California Dreamin’ is told from a different person in Cass’ life, providing a different perspective and gives Bagieu the ability to use different storytelling techniques, keeping the reader engaged. Chapters told from her family’s perspectives are personal, tending to deal with her psychological state and how she ended up as a woman with a stiff upper lip. Bandmates and managers offer details about her wild creative side, writing songs off the cuff and harmonizing instantly with any sound.

california-dreamin-first-secondIt is difficult to use one art form to describe another. Writing a story about the songwriting process is akin to a choreographer planning a ballet, you must listen and see something. Bagieu brings the songwriting process to life in a four page spread depicting how California Dreamin’ was first conceived. For the most part, Bagieu follows a standard comic format, using a two by three grid as fits the book size. However, on a trip back to Baltimore, Cass and her bandmates do drugs in her parent’s basement, with dilated pupils, frantic singing, and mustard paintings on the wall, the book transforms from a biography to an exercise in creative explosion. The constraining lines of everyday life disappear from the page and what remains is creative energy. California Dreamin’ comes naturally to Cass, but other members fight her musical intuition, but in the end, a beautiful song is born.

Yes, the book may be a biography, a snap shot of Cass Elliot’s life, but at its heart, it is about a woman who was never taken seriously because of how she looked. You can have the rawest, natural talent, but if you don’t look the way society wants you to look, you’ll have a hard time being taken seriously. Bagieu’s artistry and unique storytelling techniques makes this a compelling and quick read, a book that will leave you wanted to find more inspiration women who stood up to society to pursue their dreams.

Eisner Awards Breakdown

eisner_award_sealLast week at San Diego Comic Con, the Eisner Award winners were announced. I have some pretty general thoughts about the winners. I’m super excited for Jill Thompson for her three Eisner wins, including her work on Wonder Woman: the True Amazon, which honestly, if you left the Wonder Woman film and said, “I want a whole film set on Themyscira”, this is the book for you. Image’s hit book Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples came away with four Eisners, winning best series four of the last five years, only being ousted by Southern Bastards in 2016. There was also a split of one category into two this year. One of my favorite comics Bandette was has won best digital comic for the past three years; however, this year, the award was split into two separate categories, Best Digital Comics and Best Webcomic, which means more digital artists will be recognized for their work while skipping the publishing gatekeepers.

I did a little back of the envelope calculations because I was curious about representation in a few different categories. What makes the Eisners difficult to analyze is the frequency of duplicate nominees, so, I took a look at both the statistics with and without duplicate winners. While the numbers below are in no way statistically sound, they give a general sense of trends in the comic book industry.

The first broad category I was interested in is the representation of male and female creators at the Eisners. With the #MakeMyAMilkshake storm this weekend after a female Marvel editor posted a selfie of her and her female coworkers enjoying a milkshake, only to be contacted with comments about how women are “ruining” comics, I really wanted to see how women are represented.

According to a March article from Vice.com, 16% of Marvels creators were female. This underrepresented the number of women who won Eisners in 2017. With duplicates, 71% of the winners were male, 29% female and without duplicates, 77% were males and 23% were females. So we can see that few women are nominated overall because they tend to win multiple awards. This is not intended to take away from their accomplishments, both Fiona Staples and Jill Thompson are exceptional artists and creators and serial multiple Eisner Award winners; however, as more women enter the comic book field, I hope we see more, and different women, nominated and winner prestigious comic awards.

saga-coverIn line with the gender of the creators, I was also interested in the representation of the characters in Eisner nominated books. Including duplicate winners, primarily male lead comics was 44% of the winners, female lead comics 32% and ensemble casts at 24%. When removing duplicate winners, males were 46%, females 36% and ensembles 18%. So, male centered books are still in the lead, but not by much. What else is interesting is looking at the breakdown of the ensembles. Saga is about a family seen by the world around them as an abomination, The Wicked + the Divine is about a pantheon of gods, Beasts of Burden follows a clan of dogs and cats as they protect the world from evil, all these ensembles have the distinct theme of family.

Did any of your favorite comics or creators win at the Eisner’s this year? Anyone you think really should have been nominated, but was looked over? Let me know on Twitter @librnwithissues

Three Ways to Catalog Graphic Novel Series

Cataloging graphic novel series is difficult. With title changes, re-numbering, cross over events, and the whole gambit of inconsistencies, settling on a way to catalog series, and sticking to it, brings stress to many catalogers and collection development librarians. A perfect example is the current trade paperback of Hulk, or is it She-Hulk? All the single issues had the title Hulk, but now the trade is being released with the title She-Hulk. Antics like this are one of the many reasons why catalogers dislike working with comic book series.

There are three types of cataloging records for comic book series; multipart monograph, monographic with series in the 245, and a straight monograph record. Each type has their advantages and disadvantages, but the most important aspect is consistency. If you are consistent with which type of record you use, you will find cataloging comic book series a less painful experience. You’ll want to take an inventory before you begin. How does your ILS and OPAC handle multi-volume items? How large is your graphic novel collection? How do your patrons search for graphic novels?

Let’s use The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, as an examples for the three different ways to catalog comics. This book is a multi-volume series and was part of the Marvel Now!,  event, which re-launched and re-numbered many of their titles at #1.

Squirrel girl #1

I’m going to present only snippets of MARC records, the parts which pertain to the uniqueness of cataloging comic book series.

Multipart Monograph 

Think of how you usually catalog a set of encyclopedias; you don’t catalog each volume individually, you create a multipart monograph record and add a 505 contents note for each individual volume. Then, you can add the volume number to the call number so all the items are on the same record.

020 ## $a 9780785197027 $q (vol. 1 ; $q paperback)
020 ## $a 9780785197034 $q (vol. 2 ; $q paperback)
100 10 $a North, Ryan, $e author.
245 14 $a The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl / $c Ryan North, Erica Henderson [and others].
300 ## volumes : $b color illustrations ; $c 28 cm
490 1# Marvel now
505 00 $g Volume 1. $t Squirrel Power — $g Volume 2. $t Squirrel you know it’s true.
650 #0 Women superheroes $v Comic books, strips, etc.
650 #0 Good and evil $v Comic books, strips, etc.
655 #7 $a Comics (Graphic works) $2 lcgft
655 #7 $a Graphic novels $2 lcgft
700 1# $a Henderson, Erica, $e illustrator.
830 #0 Marvel now!

There are many benefits to having individual volumes of a graphic novel on the same record. Patrons can see every volume you have in stock at once because every volume will be attached to the same bibliographic record. Depending on how your ILS generates circulation statistics, this can be an easy way to see waning interest in a series due to declining circulation throughout the individual items. Before you select this option, you’ll want to make sure your OPAC can place holds based on an individual item. If that isn’t possible, this is not a good choice for you.

As a comic book fan, one of my problems with this type of cataloging record is when authors or artists change between trades, they very often don’t make it into the record as a 700 added access point and/or are not added to the 245. Every once in awhile, you’ll see a proactive cataloger who creates a 500 note for each individual trade stating the name of the trade and the creators. Also, because you are including several trades on the same record, you can’t have specific subject headings, they have to be broad enough to describe the series as a whole. So if in one trade Squirrel Girl is battling aliens, and the next panda , you can’t really include Extraterrestrials and Pandas on the series record. It doesn’t give you the granularity available in some of the other options (although I’d LOVE for a patron to ask for a comic book featuring pandas!).

Series in the Title

020 ## $a 9780785197027 $q (paperback)
100 10 $a North, Ryan, $e author.
245 14 $a The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. $n Volume 1, $p Squirrel power / $c Ryan North, Erica Henderson [and others].
246 30 $a Squirrel power
300 ## 1 volume : $b color illustrations ; $ 28 cm
490 1# Marvel now
500 ## Collects issues 1-5.
650 #0 Women superheroes $v Comic books, strips, etc.
650 #0 Good and evil $v Comic books, strips, etc.
650 #0 College students $v Comic books, strips, etc.
655 #7 $a Comics (Graphic works) $2 lcgft
655 #7 $a Graphic novels $2 lcgft
700 1# $a Henderson, Erica, $e illustrator.
830 #0 Marvel now!

You’ll notice how all the series information is in the 245 field. Most OPACS display all the information before the subfield c as the main source of information, so patrons will be able to see the series, volume, and trade title from a hit list. This is great for browsers but can be problematic with titles, like Green Arrow, which has been re-numbered several times with the same series title. In those situations, you have to rely on other information, such as publication year or author to find the next volume in that iteration of the series. Using this method, you’ll have many more records in your system and run the risk of duplicates.


If you chose to catalog your comics as monographs, you are treating them each as an individual book.

020 ## $a 9780785197027 $q (paperback)
100 10 $a North, Ryan, $e author.
245 14 $a Squirrel power / $c Ryan North, Erica Henderson [and others].
246 30 $a Squirrel power
300 ## 1 volume : $b color illustrations ; $ 28 cm
490 1# Marvel now
[Optional] 490 0# Unbeatable Squirrel Girl ; $v Volume 1
500 ## Collects issues 1-5.
650 #0 Women superheroes $v Comic books, strips, etc.
650 #0 Good and evil $v Comic books, strips, etc.
650 #0 College students $v Comic books, strips, etc.
655 #7 $a Comics (Graphic works) $2 lcgft
655 #7 $a Graphic novels $2 lcgft
700 1# $a Henderson, Erica, $e illustrator.
830 #0 Marvel now!

One thing to note about my above example. I included an untraced 490 series statement. You somehow want your monographic records to be connected, and the 490 0# is a great place to do that. If you choose to go this route, see if your ILS indexes this field and makes sure you are using the same spelling for each trade.

Whichever type of record you choose to use, remember that consistency is key. Which way do you catalog your graphic novels?

Comic Book Club – DC Comics Bombshells

There’s a fever in the air, a fever that can only be satiated by a gal named Gal, nay, a woman, a wonder woman. The interest in Wonder Woman has skyrocketed since the release of Wonder Woman which, in its three plus weeks, has grossed nearly $318 million, surpassing Logan and Fate of the Furious for 2017 domestic box office gross (from boxofficemojo.com). And if the number of tickets purchase doesn’t have you convinced, just check out how excited Felicia Day was about all this Wonder Woman swag:

While I didn’t want it to be, Wonder Woman was, at its heart, a well-told origin story. We learn about Diana’s spoiled childhood on Themyscira. We see her reactions when she learns that good is not as black and white as she thought. We watch her respond to a world which pushes against her convictions. The blend of the strong female warriors of Themyscira and the pure chaos men have caused in the outside world creating an engaging story even without the gender politics. This is a great film and for people new to these characters, they will be looking for comics featuring them to read.

The DC Comics Bombshells got their start back in 2011 when artist Ant Lucia was commissioned for a series of sketches and figurines of the women of DC Comics as 1940s inspired, plane nose cone, WWII pin-ups, first featuring Wonder Woman, Stargirl, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. People started cosplaying as these characters even though they never had a story written about them. Their popularity soared so much that in 2015, Marguerite Bennett and various artists released the DC Comics Bombshells which we know and love today. In an interview with DC Comics News from SDCC16, Bennett stated how she wanted to give each of these characters their own agency. She also points out that each character’s story arc mimics a specific media genre from the era. Batwoman’s story is an old-time radio drama, Supergirl’s is a propaganda film, Zatanna’s a dark horror film. When you think of the characters and stories in context of genres, it adds another rich layer to the storytelling.

2017.25 Bombshells

I love stories that bend our familiar cast of characters into unfamiliar situations, which is exactly what DC Comics Bombshells does. The base premise is that none of the characters are derivative of their male equivalents; Batwoman saves the Waynes in the alley, therefore there is no Batman. Supergirl is an alien from outer space being raised in the country by Russian peasants. Zatanna, performing in a German cabaret where she unwilling releases a great evil. How will these and other DC Comics superheroines and supervillains come together to defeat the unnatural evils fanning the flames of World War II? You learn about their adventures and the lives of many more Bombshells along the way.

For you book club, here are some questions to get the conversation going:

What is it about the Bombshells lines do you think many female fans gravitated towards?

What do you think of all the Bombshell’s foes? Who do you think the main villain is?

Do the villains and other supplemental characters take the story too far away from the WWII origins?

Were you exposed to any new DC Comics female characters who you weren’t aware of before reading this book? What do you think of their place in the DC Universe?

Who is your favorite character design?

Is there another time you’d like to see the Bombshells explore?

Do you like DC Comics Bombshells? Tell me your favorite part on Twitter @librnwithissues or in the comments below.