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CSBG Archive

She Has No Head! – Ladies Comics Project, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of The Ladies Comics Project in which a handful of my colleagues, family, and friends (both those familiar with comics and not) read and reviewed one of the comics I purchased in September 2010.  For more details about this project and more ladies reviews and feedback, go here to read Part 1.

A week later and with emails now totaling 374 plus a handful of gchats, texts, phone calls, and youtube videos later and here were are: The Ladies Comics Project: Part 2

Ladies Comics Project Part Two by artist Tara O'Connor

Name Rebecca Hahn

Book: Fables #98

Age: 37

Location: for the next 18 months – Portland, Oregon

Occupation: Artist / Momma

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: Lots of exposure to zines/comic books and graphic novels until about seven years ago. Since then I have read a few comic books and graphic novels a year. Most recently I have been reading The Walking Dead. It’s like an addiction. I get five new issues from our friend at a time and I read them all in thirty minutes back to back. It’s so depressing but I can’t help it!

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: I had a hard time deciding between a few covers. The Walking Dead and True Blood called to me but I didn’t want to read out of order and I’m behind on those books/shows. Then there was the cover with school girls and rising water (ed. note: Morning Glories #2). I really wanted to know what was going on there. The cover next to that one (ed. note: Last Unicorn #3) was very intriguing also but in the end I thought the cover for Fables was too pretty to pass up plus it had animals – I love animals. It also looked like it might be easier to jump into than some of the other stories.

Becky, mother of an adorable small child knew she would have little time to read a comic let alone write a review, so she live texted me while she was reading…

BECKY: Let the live feed begin!

BECKY: Opening package.  Wondering if Kelly has read this before sending.  Brian [ed. note: Becky’s husband] and I speculate and investigate by looking at the back of the  wrapper.  I say no.  Brian says yes [ed. note: Brian is correct, I did read it].

BECKY: Cover is lovely.

BECKY: The ad on the front inside cover is hugely distracting.  Have they always placed ads here?  I don’t remember this from my Strangers in Paradise and Ghost World days.  I may have to cover the inside cover up.  Ahhhhh.  That IS better.

BECKY: I see that this is an already ongoing story…I’ll try my best to hop into the story.

BECKY: Inside art is very different than the cover.  I knew it could be a possibility but it is disappointing because I love the cover art so much.

BECKY: Strange place for credits.

BECKY: Hmm. just reminiscing about these amazing storybook comic books I had growing up.  Maybe that’s why this one called out for me to pick it.

BECKY: Ok.  I get that this first story line has Snow White in it, but who is this dog character?  He doesn’t look like he deserves her.  Hehe. [ed. note: Bigby/Big Bad Wolf].

BECKY: Interesting way the crow is shown to talk looks like he is spitting.  Not sure if I like that or not.  I mean, the other characters don’t have this detonating their speech.  The crow does have his own word bubbles as well.  makes me feel like his speech is static-y.  [ed. note: this crow used to be a dragon, hence the spitting fire and strange word balloons].

BECKY: I like how each story line is marked by different pretty side borders.

BECKY: Ooh, a big group scene with lots of story land characters – I like trying to figure out who everyone is.  I do think I see Yoda.  That can’t be possible.  [ed. note:  HAHA!]

BECKY: Few pages in and another full page ad?!  Wow.

BECKY: Oh no.  A threat to slap Geppetto.

BECKY: Dude these ads are getting distracting.

BECKY: Who is this Blue they keep talking about?  [ed. note: Boy Blue, deceased]

BECKY: Ahhhhh.  The crow has “dragon fire”.  It’s clear now.

BECKY: OK.  All done.  I am intrigued to know more of the story of course – seems like a big exciting battle is brewing.  Combine that with a few sexual innuendos and hints of past squabbles and you have the makings of an exciting storyline there.

BECKY: While reading it I was very curious to know more but I’m not hooked or NEEDING to know more – like I feel when I’m reading The Walking Dead.

BECKY: It almost feels like a filler episode to me but that could be because I’m coming into the story on “Episode 98”.

BECKY: Brian is now reading the comic and pointing out the nipples.  SIGH.

BECKY: Moving on! The artwork is more of a traditional comic book style not stylized like the cover but I found the coloring to be beautiful.

BECKY: Thanks for letting me participate Kelly!  It was really fun to read a comic again – makes me miss them!

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

I'm not a fan of Frau Totenkinder's young makeover, and think it could have been pretty revolutionary to see a story of "regular" Totenkinder kicking ass, but this is still a great panel.

Name:  DeAnne Millais

Blog: Dandee XD

Book: Black Widow #6

Age:  37

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Occupation: Event Planner and currently studying Experience Design

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: Sadly, the only exposure to comics I’ve had were the times my parents took me to Bob’s Big Boy when I was little and I would pick up The Adventures of Big Boy comic books to enjoy with my chili on spaghetti (don’t judge me).  Other than my novice stature in the comic book world, I’m a die-hard Lost-o-holic, which I think makes me somewhat of a kindred spirit to comic book geeks (maybe?).

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: I picked Black Widow because she kinda reminds me of you (Kelly) – very badass yet super gorgeous [ed. note:  I WISH!].  I’m always drawn to female characters in lead roles, and I like redheads.  Plus the cover art is pretty striking – it only features Black Widow with nothing else to distract my attention, so she must be a great character!

When Kelly sent the selection of covers for perusal, this was one of the few that really stood out to me:  The bold black and white palette with hits of color, the strong, active stance of the single figure, the hero’s edgy but beautiful style, and the fact that she was a she.  The book went right to the top of my list.

I didn’t know much about Black Widow, other than she’s had several iterations, and that she was played by Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man II (which is a plus, if you ask me).  I got the sense that her story would be filled with mystery and spy intrigue, which is right up my alley, so I was really looking forward to getting the book!

When the package arrived in the mail I was so excited – I immediately unwrapped it from the plastic and opened the book to a random page…only to have a WTF moment.  Where was the crisp, edgy imagery I was expecting?  At first glance it actually looked really muddled.  I flipped to the next page, and the next, and had to come to terms with the fact that the entire book would be this way.  I remembered that Kelly said the creative team had just changed, but I honestly thought they would have had to keep the pre-established look.  I suppose that was probably naïve – I can see how in the comic book world the illustrator’s vision is what sets each product apart – but I was bummed nonetheless.

The colors in this book are dark and muddy with lots of browns and blues, and before reading it I had a strong negative reaction to the illustrations, which have a plethora of extra hash marks and shadows combined with moments that lack detail. I don’t know how this compares to other comic books, but there was too much distortion for my taste.  And I was most disappointed that Black Widow wouldn’t be the cool, kick-ass, sexy-not-slutty hero that I was hoping for.  Instead, she (and every other woman in the book) was tarted up while the zipper on her outfit was pulled way down.  How does she fight with all of that silicone in the way?

But, when I finally read the book, I could see the effectiveness of the illustrations, which became very cinematic in the context of the story.  The team created a fun “pre-credits” segment, followed by “title card” and then into the story.  Again, I don’t know if this is a comic book standard, but I liked it!  The illustrations and their layout then supported the story well, though I kept wondering what the book would have been like if the illustrations matched the cover (much better, I still think).

The story was entertaining.  Mixed in with the spy drama, there were some surprises, a back story that reveals itself along the way, and lots of action.  I could see myself caring about the characters, and when the book ended, I started to think about ordering Part 2.  Though, I still can’t say I know what Black Widow’s super powers are.  Is she like Batman – an avenger type that relies on strength, wits and lots of highly concealed technology?  Seems that way from this book.  So I suppose I would say that I’d like to know more, which is a success.

The next paragraph may be controversial…I apologize in advance.  While reading the book, I had flashbacks to my younger days picking up the Bob’s Big Boy comics on our family outings (scoff if you must).  I remember hoping I would go to the restaurant and find a new installment of the comic rather than one I may have seen already.  There is nostalgia in that, to be sure, but the memory highlighted for me the feeling that the comic book industry (like the magazine industry) may be having significant trouble using their old model, which requires people to wait to receive something, and something that is in an older form like illustrations on print.  I don’t know that this is any sort of issue for the comic book industry – perhaps this model fits perfectly with what comic fans crave – but for me as a newbie, I started to wonder what other models might work:  The same story/illustration format but in a version that can be viewed online?  Or on digital devices?  For what it’s worth, I can see myself checking out the stories online (where I can get them at the touch of my fingers and whenever I want) rather than waiting for each book to come out one by one and wondering where to store them once I have them.  If I have blasphemed, forgive me. [ed. note: DeAnne, you have no idea how much you have hit the nail on the head here – this is exactly the number one problem comics currently face – and many of your suggested solutions are the direction things are a heading – and a way I hope WILL open up comics to a much broader reading base].

All in all, it was a fun experience, and I thank Kelly for asking me to participate.  I feel like I’ve found a new superhero to love – and one with red hair, too!  And if I happen by Golden Apple sometime in the near future, I may even go in and see if there are a few issues of Black Widow I can pick up.

[ed. note: Golden Apple is great DeAnne, but if you find yourself on Sunset in Hollywood a bit west of Amoeba I suggest checking out Meltdown Comics as well, which is my favorite shop of all time.  Also, I’ll shoot you an email when the first Black Widow trade comes out so you’ll know what to look for if you’re ever in the neighborhood!]

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Honestly? I couldn't find a single panel in this issue that I could say I loved. So I just decided to go with an image that summed up nicely what I really disliked about this book. Any questions?

Name: Shiv

Link: Facebook

Book: I, Zombie #5

Age: 27

Location: New York, NY

Occupation: Publishing Account Manager

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: I’ve been reading comic books ever since I was a kid (there was no shortage of them in the house, since I have two older brothers).  Also, working in publishing, I deal with a lot of hardcover comic book compilations and reissues, and I do a lot of graphic novels for Random House, Vertigo, and some graphic novel versions of some popular book releases like Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies and the graphic novel version of Zombie Survival Guide (Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks).

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: I really liked the cover art for this issue, and I had heard a bit about this series through some of my other work with Vertigo, and had yet to read it, so I thought this was as good a reason as any to give it a shot.

KELLY: So Shiv, your book (I, Zombie #5) was by far the most highly coveted…so what did you think?  Loved it?  Hated it?  Somewhere in between?

SHIV: I mostly really liked it!  I think if I had read the first four it would have definitely snagged me more. But since my first reading I’ve found a friend who has the first four.

KELLY: That’s great.

SHIV: I think the art was amazing.

KELLY: Mike Allred is one of the best around (edited to add: and Laura Allred is also wonderful) I’m glad you responded to it.

SHIV: Yeah, I especially enjoyed the way the art pulled out – the way Gwen and Horatio had that whole walk around while they were falling for each other type thing.  That definitely got me interested.

KELLY: Right the page(s) with no panels but many version of Gwen and Horatio?  I liked that effect as well – it could have been cheesy in the wrong hands but Allred made it work.

SHIV: Yeah, it was done so well.  Overall I really loved it.  It’s the first time I’ve read a comic in a while that really made me FEEL it.

KELLY: That’s great!  So overall would it be fair to say that you found yourself drawn more to the art then the story?

SHIV: Yeah, more to the art definitely.  The story wasn’t bad, but it’s like picking up a new book and reading it from the middle.  At the very least though, it made me want to pick up from the start and then read more after – which says a lot.

KELLY: I think that says a ton.  Did you pick this book solely because of the great cover or was it also kind of the title/concept/etc.?

SHIV: A combo of both probably.  The cover art really grabbed me, (as you could tell since I was emailing you back with my cover choice within five seconds of your initial email), but the title/concept made me even more interested.  So I suppose the art piqued my interest and the concept just kinda finished the hook.

KELLY: That’s good.  I think a book like I, Zombie, unlike many comics, is really clear both about what it looks like and will be (inside and out).  It’s nice for things to be clear like that – a lot of other ladies really got burned by getting attached to their cover art and then having their expectations blown once they got inside…which happens to me too. No amount of experience gets you over that really.  You may expect it, but you’re never pleased about it.

SHIV: Yeah, I actually almost got burnt out on comics because of that. Just that constant letdown.  Very much like a bad boyfriend feeling, where you think… “oh maybe this time it will be better/ different”... and then its the same old douchey bait and switch.  Awful analogy, but that’s’ always how I felt when that happened.

KELLY: Haha.  So would you actively seek out this artist, or this writer, or did this book just kind of reinvigorate you period for comics?  Have we brought you back to the fold?

SHIV: Yeah, I would definitely seek out this artist at the very least, and possibly the writer too. You’ve totally dragged me back in as I was really pleased with this book.  Possibly the best decision I made in the last month or so was getting involved with this.

KELLY: Wow, that’s awesome of you to say.  I really appreciate you doing it.

SHIV: And I’m so glad I saw the email first and stole this comic!

KELLY: And I’m glad I, Zombie delivered for you.  It’s a pretty new book, and despite a great creative team, small new books need all the help they can get…so a positive review here from someone that doesn’t read regularly is awesome.

SHIV: No problem.

KELLY:  So thanks again, and let me know if you want some recommendations, I’d be happy to pass them along.

SHIV: Definitely.  Thanks for letting me be a part of this.

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

So I cheated and it's two panels...you wanna make something of it? Look how great they are! Awesome!

Name: Grace (with a guest appearance by sister, Cate)

Book: Set To Sea by Drew Weing

Age: 7

Location: South Carolina

Occupation: 2nd Grader

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels? Watch the video for the answer!

Grace of 5 Minute Marvels (with the help of her dad Tim) graciously offered to review a comic for our experiment as well.  Grace did pick outside the selected books, but since she came late to the game (and since she picked such a great book) I bent the rules.

Apologies, but we’ve had to take down Grace’s video, I’ll try to replace it with a transcript of her review in the near future.

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Oh, I so feel your pain you big lug. To be among the beautiful published books!

Name: Sarah

Book: True Blood #3

Age:  33

Location: New York, NY

Occupation: Student

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?:  I read It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken, Parker, and Ghostworld.  I also read Archie comics when I was younger and recently, a Spider-Man 9/11 tribute comic.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: I was familiar with the storyline and knew I wouldn’t feel at-sea about the characters or the story.

KELLY: So Sarah, you had True Blood #3…overall what did you think?

SARAH: Well, before I start, I just want to preface all my comments with this disclaimer: I’m in the middle of getting my MFA in fiction writing and we’re required to read 1-3 novels a week, in addition to workshop submissions and we analyze all of it, sometimes down to the word choice.  So, I’m coming from that place and may be overly critical.  All right, with that out of the way, I really loved the artwork but I wasn’t so taken with the writing.   

KELLY: So the art was successful for you, but the writing didn’t work so well. Was that in general because you weren’t a fan of the writing, or because it didn’t mesh with what you were expecting considering your familiarity with the True Blood characters?

SARAH: I think both. I really like the True Blood TV show and the dialogue there is a lot of fun.  Here it felt a little exaggerated.  Some of the actual dialogue was a little confusing to me.

KELLY: Do you think, in part, that the dialogue confused you because you’re coming into it as in issue #3…the same way it might not make sense if you showed up 30 or 40 minutes into an episode, or no?

SARAH: I think some of that might be due to the catch-up. For instance, the “Up To This Point” section did not say anything about what happened to Bill, why he was so weak and in need of blood on the first page. And there is strange line that Rachel says about “you can do more harm to those vile hypocrites than a million Jews”. I didn’t get that at all.

KELLY: I don’t remember that line…and I gave you my copy so I can’t check! [ed. note: I remembered! I think she was suggesting that Eric could exact better vengeance as a Vampire than she/her Jewish people could/would on their own].

SARAH: The numerous attempts at onomatopoeia (the ones around Bill’s mouth as he bares his fangs) were really distracting and I couldn’t always (as in the fang-baring case) tell what sound I’m supposed to be hearing.

KELLY: Haha. By onomatopoeia…do you mean sound effects?  Wow, your Columbia education is showing!  Sound effects are a mixed bag, I prefer them used sparingly so that they’re more effective when used, but they’re a long-standing fixture of comics.

SARAH: Well, it was a weird thing,  I thought as the story went on the sounds I was supposed to be hearing got more clear – the inclusion of vowels helped a lot!  But the words around Bill’s mouth when he bare’s his fangs really confused me! What does ‘stngkh’ sound like?

KELLY: ‘Stngkh’? Honestly, I have no idea.

SARAH: I so think that not reading the first two books and just going of the “the story thus far” bit tripped me up because seeing it in the last book would have been a different experience than reading it in the so-far section.  I took it as fact.  ‘Tell the story or face a gruesome death’.   But, I’m probably over-analyzing it!  I wish I hadn’t picked something I knew about for that reason.

KELLY: Maybe, but…without bashing all comics everywhere (I LOVE YOU COMICS) I think that with your literary background and education…it’s a rare ongoing/monthly comic that could stand up to that critique and expectation level.  In fairness to monthly comics we have to keep in mind that this is a short form medium, where people crank out ongoing stories every month…and it’s generally not a great literary work (I STILL LOVE YOU COMICS) that writers spend a year revising and perfecting, you know?  You have to give it a little leeway.  All that said, YOU specifically don’t have to give it leeway, you know?  It can just not be for you.

SARAH: God, I’m really sounding like a literary snob here.  I don’t know why I was so hard on the text.  It’s like I’ve forgotten how to read just for fun!

KELLY: No, not at all.  You’re sounding like you come from a different place with it.  We all do.  And it’s valuable information to have as comics tries to expand its base.

SARAH: Well, I did read the Spiderman 9/11 tribute and for the record I really loved it and the writing made me cry!

KELLY: Good!  Well, I mean, not good that you cried, but perhaps that just means this specific comic wasn’t for you then…and there are certainly tons more out there to try.  I think you’re right that choosing something you’re familiar with, in the end, may have been a mistake.  With something you already know there is so much expectation.  And especially when you jump mediums it doesn’t always deliver as expected/hoped in a new medium.  I know you’ve enjoyed other books – like Seth’s It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, and I know you have my copy of Persepolis, which I expect you’ll enjoy – and those are closer to “literary works” and more in your wheelhouse.

SARAH: I thought the writers tried to be true to the show, but Jason and Lafayette are the funniest characters on that show and here their dialogue was…well, it felt like a caricature of the TV show dialogue, if that makes sense.   But I did think Sookie’s voice was dead-on and I appreciated Layfayette’s line about how the guys would do anything if they thought “Miss Perky” was in trouble. That’s something I don’t like about the show: all the boys are Sookie-obsessed.   I also thought the “Shut up, Jason” line shared by Sookie and Tara was right on too.  I really did like the art a lot.  The use of shadows in particular I liked.  And I loved the main panel on page 14, where we see Merlotte’s from the outside in the rain.  It was really beautifully rendered, like an impressionistic painting almost.  The character’s expressions were also detailed and revealing.  The artists seemed to take so much care in their work.

KELLY: The art is very nice, I agree.  Messina does a great job of rendering characters so that they aren’t too slavishly devoted to the actors they’re based on, but they’re instantly recognizable, I think it’s a good blend.

SARAH: You’re right.  They’re not slavishly devoted to the actors but recognizable, that’s a good way of putting it.  I think overall, I just had too much trouble with the text to like it.

KELLY: So, we’ve decided that this particular comic is probably not for you…but did I throw you off comics entirely?  How do you feel about them after this project?

SARAH: Not at all.  I just really wish I didn’t pick this one.  I don’t think it’s affected how I feel about comics at all, just, like you said, maybe this one wasn’t for me.

KELLY: Maybe next time for the “graphic novel project” we’ll have more luck – if you’re still interested that is.  Thanks for doing this.  I really appreciate it.

SARAH: No problem, thanks for including me!

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

In addition to being lovely, I feel like this panel kind of nicely boils down and sums up what True Blood is all about...

Name: Erin Foley

Book: Super Hero Squad #9

Age: 16

Location: Troy, Michigan

Occupation: I’m a senior in high school

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: I don’t have much experience at all with comic books.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: The cover looks fun and like something I might read.

I enjoyed reading this. I was surprised that I liked it considering I don’t really enjoy reading comics or ever reading at all!  But it was easy to read and fairly interesting.

My favorite thing about the book was the art and the female leads. It was nice to see female superhero’s taking over for once.  It has definitely opened my eyes to the style of comics, and helped me realize that I might enjoy reading more comics, however I believe I probably won’t go out to the store and pick one up to read as I’m just not a big reader.

Overall, it was interesting, fun, not offensive in any way, and very enjoyable.

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Freaking adorable. I love the surly look on She-Hulk's face.

Name: Karen

Book: The Last Unicorn #3

Age: 32

Location: Long Island

Occupation: Printing

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: Sunday comic strips and the rare comic as a kid – no graphic novel experience.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: Well, my first picks were taken and I like the way this one looked, it had a bit of a British comedy look to it plus it was one of the comics that didn’t have a superhero on it and I thought that would be interesting since the first thing I usually associate with comics is superheroes – which isn’t a bad thing but I guess I’m drawn to non-action comics.

KELLY: So Karen, you picked The Last Unicorn #3…overall what did you think?  Did you love it or hate it…somewhere in between?

KAREN: I was kind of ambivalent about it. I didn’t hate it or like it.  I haven’t read many comics so for me it was weird to have the pictures there instead of using my imagination, like when you read a book and you develop what the characters look like and what the environment those characters are in is like.

KELLY: Interesting. So having the extra information – i.e. the drawing – you felt actually held back your imagination a bit?

KAREN: It was like a subtitled movie, but with motionless pictures.  Like reading a storyboard that was more elaborate. I don’t think I felt held back but like I wanted more, maybe more dialogue or instead just art.

KELLY: I find that really interesting…I’ve never heard that take before but it does make some sense to me.  For what was there – art wise – did you like the art?  Did you respond to it?

KAREN: I actually did like the art and it emoted what the captions were about well. I like the style is was in although the unicorn bordered on Anime and I’m not too into that style, other that that I think all the art was cohesive to me.

KELLY: Hmm…it’s funny.  I think this is a place where having seen the movie would have cleared that issue up, as the unicorn is rendered almost identically to the way she is seen in the movie and I think it was a good decision for “brand recognition” but I can see not responding to the stylized look of the unicorn if you’ve never seen the film.

KAREN: Yeah, I think that’s true.  Although, I do have to say I would have never picked this comic with the alternate cover.  The original [ed. note: the cover she picked is above] was much better.

KELLY: Yes, you got a bit screwed on cover.  I too much preferred the cover you picked to the alternative cover that you got saddled with.  Alternative covers on comics actually drive me a bit batty.  What about the writing…did you think it was good, bad, middle of the road?

KAREN:  It was ok, I don’t know if it’s written as if you’re supposed to be familiar with the story but I felt like I was supposed to know the characters but I didn’t grasp them, more so toward the end of the comic I could, but maybe that’s just because this is issue #3.

KELLY: So nothing that blew you away.  But perhaps part of that was picking something up in the middle…which is always hard.  In fairness to The Last Unicorn series thus far, when I read this issue I was really disappointed to be sending it to you as I felt the first two were very strong and this one from a story/writing/ plotting standpoint was the least interesting of the three issues…I nearly sent you issue #2 instead, but I didn’t want to cheat.  Did you have any moments where you thought “wow” or alternatively, “ugh”?

KAREN: It didn’t blow me away, but I’m thinking it’s more because I wasn’t connected to the story and also jumping into it felt awkward.  I did have an “oooh” moment at the end when the girl had a connection to the unicorn, I was intrigued and was ready for the next issue to see what happens next!   So I think a comic is successful if it keeps its readers wanting the next issue.

KELLY: I think that’s a huge accomplishment –  if even though you didn’t love the comic and in fact felt kind of ambivalent about it – if by the end you were interested and would have read more, say, if it was sitting there in front of you?

KAREN: Yeah, I would pick it up and read it.  But I don’t know how consistent the desire would be to do so.  A good novel keeps you involved for a few days, more or less depending on how fast you read, but this is a super quick read and I don’t know if I would have the patience to wait for the next issue.

KELLY: Yeah, a lot of ladies have expressed some frustration by how short the stories were, and that the wait would frustrate them…that they’d lose interest by the time the next issue was out.  I think reading something that releases monthly is a very learned experience…and it’s hard to learn for a lot of people if you didn’t grow up with it.

KAREN:  I could see that, but on the other hand it’s exciting to have something to look forward to.  I know for myself I have television shows (ahem, HBO owns me) that we watch and if we all followed that theory of we would lose interest if it wasn’t immediately available we would be a society of people with zero capacity for patience. I think about when I was younger and we would go to the hobby store, see all those comics were neat and the idea of it was something special that came out every month was cool. I didn’t know anyone as a kid that read comics so I didn’t really get influenced to pick any up, for me I didn’t know where to start so it wasn’t something I got interested in.

KELLY: No, I think that’s a really good point.  And you’re right…although I wonder if there was a 4 week drag time between episodes of True Blood (or whatever) how much easier it would be to let some shows go.  Also, I feel like you get a lot more out of an hour of TV (which is generally free…and even HBO which is paid for still kind of just feels free since you don’t have to shell out every time you turn it on) than in a 22 page comic…so I think a combination of a very short form of entertainment (for a high price) with a considerable drag time between installments, is part of what makes comics a tough medium to commit to for people.  Also it’s not like you’re peppered with comics advertisements to remind you that the next episode/issue is coming the way we are with TV and film.

KAREN: Yeah, I did notice it was $3.99, seems kind of steep for a kid or an adult.

KELLY: Your “not knowing where to start” as a kid is also interesting.  I think a lot of people (adults and kids) suffer from that.   So I think my last question for you is…after reading The Last Unicorn do you think it has changed your mind – for good OR ill – about comics?  And would you be more or less likely to pick up and read a comic after this experience?

KAREN:  I think I still feel the same way as I did as a kid, a little curious but still not sure which to pick up. Yes, I would pick up another comic and I would probably appreciate it more especially with more knowledge of art and printing from my job and that I can appreciate it on many more levels now.  If there was a comic printed on some really nice paper, that would sell me and throw in a nice cover and I’m in.

KELLY: Well those kinds of books definitely exist.  I’ll bring some over for you sometime.

KAREN: Thanks!

KELLY: Sure.  So thanks for doing this, being part of my little experiment, I really appreciate it.

KAREN: Thanks for having me be a part of it, I can’t wait to read some of the other responses!

MY favorite panel?  Check it:

So that’s it for this week’s installment.  I find it fascinating that so far all the same issues – are what seem to be keeping these ladies from becoming “comics readers” – price point, availability/access, continuity issues, drag time between issues, disappointment between cover art and interior art.  So far they’ve all  pretty much mentioned the same concerns and frustrations.  Frustrations that comic fans are all used to and accepting of, but something that I can easily see is odd and hard to adjust to if you’re not already used to it.

As a kid going to the comic book store was something I looked forward to all week, something I shaped my whole life around, and there was great ritual and almost fetish in going to the store, buying the books, reading the books, storing the books.  That nostalgia is still there for me and I covet the memories, but I don’t feel that way now.  I’ve got too much going on (and way too little space and too little money) to be able to make comics the ritual they once were.  Going to the comic store weekly is something I have to jam into my week, often inconveniently, and depending on the quality of the books, something I resent when I look at my meager bank balance…I frequently catch myself wishing I hadn’t bought such and such and had those four dollars back.

I do wonder if there’s a way to expand us into digital and therefore expand our reading base considerably (I feel like most the women we’ve talked to so far would at least occasionally buy comics if they could get them easily on a digital device) but to also keep the ritual for the people who still love it, or the kids who are just discovering it, I’d hate to take that experience (if it still exists) away from anyone, not to mention I certainly don’t want to kill LCS’s everywhere.  We’re in an interesting and scary time for comics, and their survival depends a lot on what happens over the next few years.  If I had to guess I’d say that change is the only way to go, even if it’s painful.

Things that refuse to change don’t have an awesome history of flourishing.

Anyway, make sure to come back next week for our final installment and wrap up which will include reviews of Wonder Woman #604, Madame Xanadu #27, Angel #30, Casanova #3, Star Spangled War Stories #1, and if we’re lucky, a review of Valkyrie #1 by my mom, as well as some thoughts on how this experiment worked and what I’d like to do differently when I try it again in the future.

A huge thanks to all of our ladies that participated in Part Two, as well as Tara O’Connor for the excellent Ladies Comics Project illustration, and also, to you readers who have been SO incredibly supportive.  It’s been a wonderfully pleasant surprise to see the voracious positive feedback for this project, so thanks to all of you!

Update: Part 1, Part 3.

*FYI – She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female positive comics and graphic novels” for future columns.  Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.*

35 Comments

[...] Part 2 of the Ladies Comics Project is up on She Has No Head!  Please head over and check it out – it’s really interesting stuff and the post is getting some great traction on twitter, and with comic insiders.  Heidi MacDonald from The Beat also did a nice piece on part one last week. [...]

“Stngkh” sounds like “Snikt” has a cold. Like, sneezing out razors. That is what it sounds like.

Two things: I wouldn’t worry too much about digital replacing the print experience. There’s nothing written in stone that print has to be abandoned for digital to be embraced. Both can co-exist and, contrary to popular opinion, the comics companies are smart enough to recognize this.

Second, I find it very, very interesting that someone not drowning in forty-years plus of continuity and preconceptions unreservedly enjoyed the Spidey 9/11 issue.

Great work.

Again, it jumps out at me that reading the middle (or later) issue of a short arc did not put any of your readers off from picking up another issue. It seems to me that the online desire for self-contained single-issue comics is primarily nostalgia fueled and/or a reaction to prices. It does nothing to induce new readership.

Also, the lone pure superhero title drew an objection to the sexualization of the female protagonist. It is also worth noting that the titles with the most adult (in both senses of the word) treatment of sexuality (nipples!) and relationships (“… who is this dog character?”) drew the best notices. Clearly, a broader female audience would not necessitate content censorship, or puritanism.

Finally, I think that you are right that comics are on the verge of a major change in their economic model. As a long-time fan of both superhero universes, I hope that they adapt.

One thing I find interesting is the sixteen year old who didn’t necessarily dislike it, but probably won’t read more. Not because she doesn’t like reading comics, but because she doesn’t like reading period.

As someone who’s all of 22 and still very close to that age group/generation/whatev. I’ve definitely noticed a kind of dearth in pleasure reading among younger people which I find worrisome not just for comics, but books in general.

Another fascinating column. This has been a really fantastic project and I thank you for doing it. As both a reader and a retailer, I find this all really interesting and helpful.

I’m really shocked to see someone who thinks of themselves as critical complimenting the dialogue on True Blood. That show is the worst thing on TV, in my opinion. I wonder how much of a difference it made in her impression of the dialogue to have it printed, instead of spoken. Because, to me, the dialogue on the show is a caricature on its own.

It doesn’t help that they have the completely lifeless Anna Paquin as a lead, either.

A couple of things:

I would like to see the credits on these issues. It might not make any difference to the people who are reviewing these, but unless we’ve bought the issues, it’s kind of hard to envision what they’re talking about if we don’t have an idea who’s writing it and drawing it. Maybe we still won’t if we’ve never heard of the creators, but at least we’d have the chance to find out!

Have you explained to any of the ladies the way cover art has evolved? Back in the olden days they were advertisements for the interior contents, so very often they reflected what was going on and they were drawn by the interior artist or at least by an artist who shared the “house style” of the interior artist. These days, they’re not used as advertisements as much, and are used much more as works of art in and of themselves. Therefore you get more stylized pictures by different artists. If you warn people of this beforehand, they might not be as grumpy with the disconnect between cover art and interior art. And cover artists often put far more work into their pin-up cover art than they do interior stuff anyway. Travel Foreman did that Black Widow cover, and it’s much better than his new experimental style that he did on Iron Fist, for instance.

Interesting stuff, as usual.

@ Greg Burgas:

Doesn’t the negative reaction suggest that maybe the evolution of the comic cover was not the greatest idea?

I mean … it is a reasonable assumption that the art and story teased on the cover will have some relationship to the contents. I wonder how many casual readers (male and female) pick up a title based on the appeal of the cover, are disappointed by the bait & switch and never pick up that title again. Wouldn’t the proliferation of variants make that syndrome worse?

When you think about factors that changed as comics mutated from a mass medium into a hobby, isn’t the transformation of the cover from an advertisement into a collectible near the top of the list?

I do not have a firm position, but it is an interesting question.

I think Dean is completely right about the covers. I used to occasionally buy books I wouldn’t normally get, just because the covers were interesting. I never really do that anymore. A cover that reflects the story is a big selling point for occasional readers of a series.

Dean and Mary: I almost completely agree, actually. I love old-school covers that basically advertise what’s on the inside, and I wish more interior artists did their own covers and I really don’t like the fact that several artists can now make as much money doing covers and commissions as they could doing interior work, so they don’t (not that I blame them, it’s just annoying). As regular comics readers, however, we know that things have changed, for good or bad. If she had told the ladies that you actually can’t judge the book by its cover, perhaps that would have mitigated some of their bad feelings.

Great post. I love this project and I look forward to different iterations of it in the future.

Also, how adorable is it when the little girl in the video says “He has big hands”. Hilarious.

I’m with Dean, Mary and Greg on this — a comic with a cover that reflects the interior story will nine times out of ten make me more interested in the issue. That’s one of the reasons I’m so hardcore into back issues nowadays. I can pick up an older comic (for often, half the price or less), and have an idea of where the story’s going without having to flip to the start, middle, and end.

AND I think the cover art style should almost always match the interiors. Granted, I love gorgeous cover/pinup art… but it’s annoying to have the mood for the story set by a cover and then have the interiors completely do a 180 to that mood. To me, it’s like false marketing. IMO, use a different artist if you want — just make sure that the cover match the art inside tonally, and I don’t mean tonally like “they’re both moody.” I need a bit more of a connection than that. If I’m in the comic shop on Wednesday and browsing the new issues, I don’t want to have to do an exhaustive flip-thru for a single issue!!!

Plus, how awesome are those old school covers where there’s some really overwrought drama happening right there? It’s like getting a little piece of the story before the story actually begins! Nowadays, I get a new book and the cover is a totally different style, then there’s a recap page, and then I get story. It’s like they’re showing me the trailer AND the recap of the previous movie before they actually start playing the damn movie. JUST GET ON WITH IT!

Oh, and another good column. THX, Kelly!

best part is whenever Cate shows up in Grace’s video. “i like the part where they knocked his eyeball out!” ah, a child after my own heart.

“PEACE OUT, SUCKERS!!!”

@Sarah who reviewed True Blood…I believe you’d know better than I, being a writing major and all, but I sincerely thought that the word was affected, not effected, as in “I don’t think it’s Affected how I feel…”
Am I wrong?
And regarding “stngkh”: I thought exactly the same thing! I assume that they wanted to use SNIKT, but since for various reasons could not, they instead made up this incomprehensible onomatopoeia.

@ross…that’s my favorite part too!!! The part that Grace wasn’t allowed to read, Cate went ahead and read ANYWAY!!!

@Bill: Sneezing razors? Yikes. Not an image I’ll soon forget! What are you, a writer or something?!

@Greg. You’re probably right. If I have the time I’ll go back in sometime and add the credits to this post and the last…even though I hate doing it and find it mind numbingly tedious. :)

Because the ladies had to pick based on cover/title/issue number and release date alone, there wasn’t much point in emphasizing that interiors often don’t look like exteriors since they didn’t have much choice. I did mention it, and there was further discussion about it via email sometimes, but overall, no, I didn’t emphasize it as I didn’t think it would help them in their choices since cover was mostly what they had to go on.

@acespot: It should be “affected” it’s just a typo on my part, one I’ve corrected. If that’s the only typo I’ve got in a 6k article and with no editor than I am WAY pleased. ;)

@ross/adam/acespot: Those girls are freaking adorable…and totally stole the show.

Kelly, I think you were right to NOT offer any explanations about cover art vs. interior contents (sorry, Greg). The point of this exercise, as I understand it, is to gauge the reactions of female readers to a specific product (a comic book) WITHOUT preconceptions. Setting expectations is counter to the spirit of the endeavor.

Frankly, if I buy a frozen turkey dinner, I have every expectation of opening the package and finding turkey. If I find corned beef hash, that’s a legitimate issue that deserves to be raised. If I see a movie trailer, I would probably expect to see most if not all of the contents of that trailer as part of the movie. If I read a book jacket synopsis, I would expect it to relate information about the book it’s wrapped around.

Your methodology provided valuable information (if only publishers listened). Explaining the covers up front wouldn’t have given any information — it’s just us justifying one of the odd conventions of our little hobby.

I seriously really love this column, I share the same love and concerns for comic books and the industry as a whole. Seeing them reflected by women of varying experiences, who may give it a chance, was fascinating and heartening.

I’d like to see future iterations introduce people to number 1 issues, rather than jumping in the middle of stories. I think you’d see them loving most of the titles.

However I think this was the best and most interesting way to go about the experiment, honest and the most reflective of the Local Comic Shop experience.

It would be interesting to ask women to go and visit LCSs and see how much choice is on offer, their impressions of the environs and service and especially how much they are willing to shell out for from their own money.

Bryan: I get that, sure, but I would argue with your analogy. Comic book covers have become more like movie poster art – and very often, you don’t get much about the contents of a movie from the poster art, and occasionally, you get painted posters that look nothing like the actual movie. A comic book cover isn’t necessarily a trailer or a book jacket synopsis – it’s a piece of art. Because they’re so prevalent, nobody comments on the lack of information on movie posters, even though they often fail at conveying what the movie is about. Book covers often don’t give any information, leaving that to the dust jackets, which comics, ahem, don’t have. Nobody gets bent out of shape if a book cover is a work of art with no relation to the actual contents. Again, I want to point out that I love old-school covers and think comics need to do a better job matching cover art with interior art, but to dismiss a comic because you’re judging it by the fact that its cover doesn’t match the interior art is a bit short-sighted. I certainly get that Kelly was letting the women pick their books based on the cover art and that, as she pointed out, that’s the only methodology she used, but if we’re clamoring for publishers to look at her research, we also need to assume that anyone who isn’t a comic book reader will actually flip through one before buying it and will be able to see that the interior art might not match the cover art. So saying that it’s disappointing that Manuel Garcia’s art doesn’t look like Travel Foreman’s is totally irrelevant, because DeAnne would have been able to see that before she bought it. And if she’s buying it on-line, most places have sample pages.

Greg– The only comic-book stores I’ve been in (and I realise they’re not all like this) have all the books in bags, and you can’t flip through them.

Mary: Wow. That sucks. Although I imagine if you ask, they’ll let you look at them. Unless they’re dicks. In every store I’ve ever been in where I thought to ask, they’ll let you check out comics in bags, as long as you’re not eating Doritos and drooling.

Well, I know one store will let you look if you ask. (I haven’t asked in any others.) But still, it doesn’t feel right to ask very often, and I would think a lot of people would be too intimidated to ask.

I’ve been finding this series very interesting. I hope it goes for a while more.

I’d love to see a comparison series with men just to see if there is a gap in what appeals between the two potential audiences. Are Black Widow’s boobs able to bring in male readers who aren’t already fans, or are the creators doing nothing but alienating potential female readers? Stuff like that.

I think figuring out what may appeal to non fans is vital to the long term health of the medium. In turn, it’s vital to the long term health of the publishers as well.

I’d love to see this repeated with some #1 issues (or at least story arc openers) too. I’m a seasoned comics reader (sans Y chromosome) and I think I’d still be mystified by Fables if I jumped in at #98.

Project continues interesting…and in a sense it is interesting to get “normals” exposed to strange idiosyncrasies of the genre, industry and medium without warning…like the cover art difference (I do agree on the movie poster analogy, and also as I have read a fair deal of anthology books I am quite used to the idea of having cover art as separate piece), onomatopoeia (“stngkh” is not the best sound effect ever, no) and continuity (yes, jumping in on Fables at #98 means coming across loads of details you just can’t figure out).
But indeed it was nice to see that most of the readers don’t seem to have had too much trouble jumping in at the middle.

But for many problems readers here were having, I give a solution: trades. Stories available at one go, no ads, better availability…

Oh, and are any of the participants reading these columns? And care to chime in on the conversation?

Greg, I do see your point, but you’re still talking in terms of what comics have become. Just because cover art IS more like a movie poster doesn’t mean that’s what it SHOULD be. What you want to focus on is “Should comics be the way they are?” If a number of unbiased consumers raises an issue, then it’s an issue, regardless of what the explanation is.

In marketing terms, you would be conducting an “aided” survey, where consumers are slightly “coached,” or reminded about things, or receive explanations. Kelly’s doing an unaided survey, which means she’s not providing any input, one way or another. Both have their place in marketing, but in my opinion (and I do this for a living), Kelly’s taking the right tack on this project.

Now there’s still issues that can be raised with Kelly’s methodology. It’s not a true random sampling group, it’s not a large enough sampling group for true statistical accuracy, etc., etc. So there are some questions as to true validity. But the more coaching she provides, the less accurate the results are.

To put it another way, the cover issue is one of the more fascinating issues raised so far (at least to me), and we wouldn’t necessarily have gotten it if Kelly primed the readers beforehand. Honestly, I find it interesting primarily because it NEVER occurred to me — I’ve simply accepted the conventions that have arisen over the last 40 years I’ve been reading comics without questioning the covers’ functionality or lack thereof.

Bryan: Yeah, good point that it wouldn’t have come up if Kelly had mentioned it beforehand. I think what frustrates me is that because comics are a niche entertainment product, certain things about other entertainment products (movie posters, book covers) are accepted in those because they’re far more prevalent in society than something like a comic book cover that are essentially the same thing. To me, it’s counted against comics when it shouldn’t be. Of course, I’ve been of the opinion for years that comics don’t do enough advertising, so if the cover is the only thing advertising the book, maybe companies should rethink their cover functionality.

Another great installment.

“stngkh” is a horrible sound effect.

There seems to be a stronger reaction to the difference in artists between cover and interior when there’s a quality shift (Black Widow) rather than just a stylistic shift (Fables).

Don’t discount “done-in-ones” – for one thing, not having any examples in the sampling, we can’t make any comparisons between “I might read” or “I’d be interested in reading” the next issue and a possible “I want to read” or “I will read” the next issue. (I’m not saying that this is a likely reaction to a complete stoy in a single issue, just that there’s no data regarding a newbie’s response.)

As for an old-timer’s response, never-ending stories is one thing that got me out of regular comics reading. The soap-opera continuity doesn’t allow for a break if one has to do so (or simply doesn’t like the current storyline/creators), because when you come back, you’re in the middle of a story or the story keeps referencing storylines that you weren’t interested in. It certainly makes me reluctant to pick up the latest super-hero offering.

So when I pick something up, it’s either a done-in-one graphic novel or a book collection of a storyline. The best ones are designed to actually end with each volume (rather than trading a 150-issue “event” for a 10-volume collection of the same horribly written “event”) – like Fables, for instance. Not that I mind ongoing storylines, but there needs to be a periodic point where you can say “this is the end of this period, and a new era begins”. For super-heroes in particular, that would give me a good place to jump back in. It happens, you can find these transitions, but they still tend to be very wrapped up in discussing what’s gone before rather than moving on.

Of course, trades are so much more economical than the outrageously expensive monthlies (do they have to be printed on finger-print-magnet paper?) which are chock-full of annoying ads. (Oh for the good old days when you could read a Marvel comic without ever seeing an ad and they rarely fell opposite a story page. Advertisers wised up. Sigh. Over at DC they were printed on the same sheet of paper and if you were so inclined you could – gasp! – tear out the ads and leave the story intact. Guess the advertisers got wise to that, too – though how many kids actually tore out the ads and ruined the collectibility of the book?)

Whoa, I got into some serious digressions here. Sorry about that. Still, even your friends’ reviews have made me interested in some of the books – especially Set to Sea!

Watch out for your eyeballs!

@ Keith Bowden:

I think that it is important to draw a distinction between what I, as a reader, prefer and my takeaways from the work Kelly has done.

On a personal level, I burned out on the monthly grind of company wide continuity comics 15 years ago. My preferred type of story is one that can be read in a single TPB over one or two evenings. I avoid titles that cross-over into anything. For example, I avoided James Robinson’s Superman stuff entirely (in spite of liking both the creator and the character) precisely because it was tied up in the WORLD OF NEW KRYPTON stuff. Moreover, I have a lot of personal nostalgia for the Haney-Aparo BRAVE AND THE BOLD, ’90s Elseworlds tales and other stuff that was so self-contained it was essentially off in its own little world.

However, none of Kelly’s readers seemed to be put off by jumping into arcs past the mid-point. In a couple cases, it motivated them to seek out earlier parts of the story. Now, reading issue 3-of-6 in a limited series is not equivalent to jumping onto X-MEN, or GREEN LANTERN, or another one of the more continuity heavy superhero books.

Absolutely – I’m in total agreement with you. (And that’s about the same point I got out of the habit of reading mainstream books. Hahaha!)

Ooops! Forgot to plug in my info. “Anonymous” was me again.

Alan Moore’s ABC work really set the bar for me for arcs. You can pick up any issue of Tom Strong, as long as he’s writing it, and get into it – done-in-one stories or parts of arcs, they always work as individual comics. I started reading the comic with a handful of hand-me-downs scattered across #1-22 and was eager to get the rest.

[...] and HERE‘s my original review for Black Widow #6, for your reading pleasure. [...]

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