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She Has No Head! – Ladies Comics Project: Phase II, Part Three

Welcome to Part Three of The Ladies Comics Project Phase II in which a handful of my colleagues, family, and friends – both new and old – and both those familiar with comics and not – read and reviewed a graphic novel or trade from my own personal library.  For more details about this project and more ladies reviews and feedback, go here to read Part One and Part Two.  You can also read about the original Ladies Comics Project here, here, and here.

So a week later and with emails now totaling 670 plus a handful of gchats, texts, and phone calls later, here were are: The Ladies Comics Project, Phase II: Part Three

Illustration For Ladies Comics Project Phase II by Tara Abbamondi

Name: Sarah W.

Book: The Lagoon by Lilli Carre (Fantagraphics)

Age: 31

Location: Sacramento, California

Occupation: Bank Manager

Previous exposure to Comics/Graphic novels? Very little. I have read the comic books Y-The Last Man which was entertaining. Other than that, had a little dabble in comics when I was about ten years old. Read a few Batman and Robin series. So my knowledge of comic books is very minimal. Aside from the current box office movie hits, I know very little of who is who in comics.

Why you picked the book you picked? The list that was sent was massive, and really for the sake of time and lack of knowledge, I chose The Lagoon By Lilli Carre because the artwork was simple, and the title was intriguing. My thought was, “What happens in the Lagoon?”. That really was the motivating factor, which was simple and that the book caught my eye.

KELLY: Hi Sarah, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me about comics. So you read The Lagoon by Lilli Carre – was it what you expected?

SARAH: Actually, in the sense of intrigue, yes. I decided to start reading the book one night, to get a head start, and realized that I had to finish the book to see how “Plank”, aka “The Creature” manipulated his followers with his tune. Also, the way the comic book was written with illustrations made the experience of the story flow with ease.

KELLY:  So you enjoyed it, can you talk about what you enjoyed or why?

SARAH: Yes, I would say that I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the story. Really, the story was very mysterious and captivating, even though the nature of it was simple. The story kept the reader guessing – why does Plank sings his tune? Where do the followers disappear to? Where did Zoey’s parents go to? These are questions that kept me reading.

KELLY: Did you find you responded more to the words than the pictures or vice versa?  Or both equally?

SARAH: Really the words and the pictures were both stimulating. The pictures played on the words and vice versa. The pictures are what ultimately pull you into the story and the depth of the story.

KELLY: Did you find it rewarding in the way other reading material like novels are?  If not, can you pinpoint why?

SARAH: This experience was definitely different than a novel, because you don’t have your own imagination to create the scene in your mind with the detailed descriptions. Instead, you are given the visuals of the scene, and have to fill in the blanks of what happened in the story. A little flip flop to the usual novels.

KELLY: Did the fact that The Lagoon appeared to have a female lead affect your decision to pick it?

SARAH: No, the female lead was not a deciding factor in the choice of the comic.

KELLY: Did reading The Lagoon change your opinion for better or worse about comics and graphic novels?

SARAH: I do have a new appreciation for comics. Would I seek out a comic for the next book to read? Probably not. I enjoy reading and picturing what is happening in a novel in my mind. Putting the book to life in my mind as I read along. Comic books are interesting and fun to read on occasion, however I do not see myself becoming an avid comic book reader.

KELLY: And what was your favorite thing about the book?

SARAH: I really enjoyed the characterization of Plank, and how he has two personas. One, he is a mystical, mysterious creature and the other where he tries to fit in to be human.

KELLY: Your least favorite thing?

SARAH: I wanted an end to the story. Although, I understand why there was not completion or a definite end to the story.

KELLY: Are you glad you picked this book specifically?  Was there anything else that you wished you’d had the opportunity to read?

SARAH: Yes, I did surprisingly enjoy my selection. From a referral aspect, I was also interested in Persepolis.

KELLY: Do you think you’re more or less likely to buy or read comics after reading this book?  If so, will you be looking for something similar to this, or something new and different?

SARAH: Most likely I will not seek out another comic book to read. However, if someone were to recommend a comic book to read, I would probably be more inclined to take that person up on their suggestion. Really, there is no preference for which comic book I would read next.

KELLY: Would having easier/more access to comics and graphic novels in bookstores (and beyond) make you more likely to buy comics and graphic novels?

SARAH: It’s hard to say. When I choose a book to read, which I haven’t done as much since I have been a mother, it really depends on what I am interested in at that time. So, if there were more comic books scattered around bookstores, I may be more likely to pick one up on a whim.

KELLY: What about a digital platform?  Would being able to browse, read a preview, and download a book the way you can download a song from iTunes make you more likely to buy comics and graphic novels?  How affordable would they have to be to make you willing to give new books a try?

SARAH: No, I prefer to read book in hard copy format. There is something about feeling the book between your hands and a sense of accomplishment as to how much you have read thus far. As silly as it may sound, that is what I prefer.

KELLY: And lastly, if anyone could make a comic you’d be interested in…what would it be about? What would it look like?

SARAH: Hmmm, that is an interesting question. My favorite comic book story is Batman. Why, well he is sexy and mysterious. Also, the saving of people is a bonus. Can there be any better comic than that? Not sure. A comic book that I would be interested in would be one that would have someone be extraordinary, someone to overcome the forces of evil (i.e any challenges that were extenuating) to become one of the unique persons out there today. A story that would give a sense of security and imagination. Now, I think I just described the top ten movies for 2009, but that is what I would like to read about.

KELLY: Thanks again for participating Sarah – it was great to have you involved – I hope you’ll come back for future Ladies Comics Project installments!

SARAH: Thank you for having me as a part of your research project. Also, thank you for your promptness and professionalism. I enjoyed being a part of your project and would like to participate in any future projects.

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Name:  DeAnne

Link(s): Dandee XD and on twitter!

Book: Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)

Age:  38

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? When Kelly sent over the array of book covers, I specifically wanted to select a book that was the total opposite of what my stereotype would be for a graphic novel (whatever that is, I thought).  Since I had reviewed Black Widow the last time around in the hopes of checking out a new (to me) heroine, I now wanted to see how the comic world would tackle “real life”.  I narrowed my selection down to four books based solely on cover, length and “adult” designation, and then looked up the descriptions for each and decided that Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine was a winner.  Yay Shortcomings!

First, I want to thank Kelly – the next best thing to a real life super hero [ed. note: *BLUSH*] – for asking me to participate again.  I’m really enjoying myself!

As I mentioned above, I really had no idea what a graphic novel was (very sad, I know).  Was it a novel with a picture every few pages to highlight a key image, like the books I read when I was younger?  I assumed so.  What a surprise when I opened up the envelope and pulled the book out.  When I cracked it open I realized it was truly a long-form comic book in fancy bookbinding.  Hmm… Interesting.  Before I started to read it, though, I immediately took note of the beautiful design of the book.  The jacket was sort of a celebration of paper and print: a “kraft paper” background supporting white paper “cut outs” of the characters and other design elements from the story within.  I noticed that the top edge of the hard cover peaking out from the jacket was a pretty pale blue, which added a nice contrast, but even more charming was the bottom edge of the cover, which had a sort of handsome ticking stripe.  For kicks, I removed the jacket and had a laugh as it turned out the ticking stripe was actually a graphic ruler running along the bottom of the hardcover.  Pretty fun detail for a story about someone with “size issues”.

The title page inside was also very well done.  A bold title was accompanied by illustrated profiles and stats for the six main characters.  Very helpful considering I had no idea what the story was about or who the characters would be (Were they part of an ongoing story that others know and love?  Hell if I know!).

Now, for the story and the artwork.  I gotta say I loved them both.  Adrian Tomine took me right into the story, and each frame was so well executed that it was really like reading a movie.  I could see each panel morphing into the next.  And the emotions of the characters were captured so effortlessly in the simple lines of their facial expressions that I really believed them as people.  A particular favorite of mine was when the title character, the Japanese-American GenX-er Ben, is having an argument with his girlfriend, Miko.  He uses air quotes in one panel, followed by the next panel in which he drops his head back in frustration.  If that’s not a real argument, I don’t know what is. The only bummer is that Ben reminded me far too much of my ex-boyfriend, who could be a real ass sometimes.  Whatever.  But that made the book all the more relatable.  It was a realistic situation revolving around a person’s insecurities and how those insecurities can push those that are most important away. We’ve all been there to one extent or another.

My only complaint, I suppose, is that it ended too soon!  I would say it was more like a graphic short story than what I would consider a novel.  If I were to buy a graphic novel in the future, I would probably look for something with more content – either a longer version of a single story, or two to three stories packaged in one book.  It was fun to breeze through the book in short order, but if I were to buy a hardcover I’d want more for the money, I think.  Just being honest.

So, if I were to compare my experience with a comic book to that of a graphic novel, I think the graphic novel wins hands down.  The comic book is a very short read, and I would probably only take the time to buy one if I happened to be near a comic book store and had some time to kill (If so, I’d ask for the Black Widow section…Aisle 8?  ba-dum-dum).  Or, I might check out a comic book in some sort of fun, easily accessible online format, as mentioned in my previous review.  But a graphic novel – especially like Shortcomings, which has some well-crafted characters and a solid story – would be far more enticing to me.  It’s almost like a book experience for the movie lover.  I like that.

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Name: Lindsay B.

Book: The Walking Dead Volume 1 by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (Image)

Age: 33

Location: Seattle, WA

Occupation: Stage Manager

Exposure to comics/graphic novels if any? I read Watchmen about eight years ago and since then I read a few graphic novels a year- the last one I read, and one of my all time favorites, was Maus.

Why did you pick the book you picked? I have been hearing about how the TV series The Walking Dead is amazing – therefore I figured the graphic novel must be REALLY amazing.

KELLY: Do you like what you read or hate it?  Why?

LINDSAY: I like what I read very much. I found The Walking Dead series to have well-written and compelling characters, a very exciting story, and fantastic artwork.  I’m also a big fan of horror movies and horror comics, so I had high hopes for this book and it has delivered. It is a very interesting take on zombie mythology and it is a great meditation on human nature.

KELLY: Do you like the words and not the pictures or vice versa? Both equally?

LINDSAY: I think the writing and the artwork are all first rate. The book managed to make me feel squeamish – and definitely delivered some gross out moments. For someone who is pretty desensitized to graphic images, this is an accomplishment.

KELLY: Are you surprised by how much you like it or dislike it?

LINDSAY: I am not surprised I liked it – I have heard good things about the book for some time and was interested in reading it.

KELLY: Could you follow the story easily?

LINDSAY: Yes – the book follows the typical zombie story template – guy in a coma, everyone dies, he wakes up, finds some survivors – the thing that stands out about the book however is the attention to detail in the development of the characters.

KELLY: Was it rewarding in the way other reading material, like novels are?  If not, why?

LINDSAY: I enjoy reading graphic novels just as much as regular novels.  In fact some of my favorite books of all time are graphic novels.  Maus by Art Spiegelman – for instance – is one of the most powerful works of documentary I have ever seen.  I make documentary films from time to time, and Maus has been a huge inspiration for me.  The fact that Mr. Spiegelman combined his artwork with the story of his father’s life, and did it so beautifully and delicately – blew me away.

KELLY: Did you pick something with a female lead?  Why?

LINDSAY: The main character of the book is a man, but many of the characters in the book are women.  The gender of the characters in the books I read is not consequential to me – I just like good stories.

KELLY: What’s your favorite thing about it?

LINDSAY: As I said earlier, I think all the aspects of the book are strong.  It has a great story and great characters, and zombies…what’s not to like?

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

LINDSAY: Can’t really think of anything at the moment!

KELLY: Do you wish you’d picked a different book?

LINDSAY: No way! I plan to read as many books in this series as possible!

KELLY: Has reading this book opened your eyes at all to comics and graphic novels?

LINDSAY: I already enjoyed comics and graphic novels, but I don’t read as many as I would like. I usually get them from the library, so I like getting recommendations from friends who know my tastes.

KELLY: If you had access to them digitally, from the comfort of your home and could read previews and buy (not unlike buying a song in iTunes) would you be more likely to try out more comics?

LINDSAY: I am kind of a technophobe, and I have not gotten on board with the whole kindle phenomenon. I enjoy reading books the old fashioned way. I like to hold the book in my hand, dog-ear the pages, and I just love the smell of books. A kindle could never recreate that smell.

KELLY: Thanks so much for participating Lindsay – I hope you’ll come back for future iterations of Ladies Comics Project – and I’m glad you’re going to read more of The Walking Dead!

LINDSAY: I had a great time doing this project, and I am glad I got to read a book I was interested in! I had heard good things about the book, and had seen the television show (I wasn’t super impressed…). Thanks for including me in this project!

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Name: Karen

Book: Beast by Marian Churchland (Image)

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? I liked the art, the cover drew me in with the dark undertones and title.

KELLY: Okay, so first and foremost, thanks for doing this again Karen, I really appreciate it.

KAREN: Thanks again for having me.

KELLY: So you read Marian Churchland’s Beast.  Overall would you say you liked it or disliked it…and why?

KAREN: I was in the middle. So probably more on the dislike side.  I didn’t like it probably mostly for subject matter.  It was an interesting storyline but I don’t think it was fleshed out enough and it was lacking strength in the storytelling overall.  Also it started off feeling like a hipster kid trying to make it as an artist and maybe that was my take but it just put me off the way it was handled.

KELLY: So it felt like it was reaching for something that it didn’t have the ability to handle?

KAREN: Yeah and weird things like she lived like a ten minute walk away but needed a ride to the place and couldn’t walk home to get her belongings, she had to phone a friend to get it?  Weak.

KELLY: I think that, for me, the reasoning for the main character not to leave was just because she didn’t feel like she wanted to break the strange spell of being there.  The fairy tale quality for me was very strong in that way…like she felt like she’d stepped into some strange world and since she hadn’t decided (fully) if she wanted to stay or not yet…I think she worried that if she left she might not be able to find her way back…almost like the place would vanish…?

KAREN: It needed more character background to me, it picks up with very little back-story and left you with some unanswered questions.  Like poor lyrics that use the same cliché phrases.

KELLY: Interesting.  The unanswered-ness of some of it didn’t bother me so much, but I can see why the sketchiness might have been frustrating.  So would you say that the writing and art were equally weak for you overall, or was one better than the other?

KAREN: I didn’t mind the art so much, I thought it actually went with the personality of the character. It was sparse and whimsical in a way, kind of soft and aloof.  I purposely didn’t read the introduction so I could make my assessment without any influence. I read it after I finished the book. The author’s friend kept referencing Beauty and the Beast and I didn’t get that from this story at all!

KELLY: Hmm…I did get that, mostly through the magical quality I mentioned before of her being at the house and not leaving, plus the mysterious frightening shadow man that she’s doing the portrait of is actually named Beast…also the fact that he’s rarely seen but that there’s a strange woman that runs the house for him…plus the father that gets her into the situation in the first place…so yeah, it all felt like a loose or new take on Beauty and the Beast to me.  So you told me why you picked this book, but since you didn’t love it, do you wish that you’d picked something else?  Did you have your eye on anything else?

KAREN: As I was reading it I did wish I picked something else, but it’s been so long I don’t remember the other choices.  And I was engrossed with this, I read it during lunch at work over a day or two.  The story was interesting when Beast would talk about the past but overall the story for me was too weak to say I really liked it.  This was her first graphic novel, maybe she needs more time to develop as a writer as she has as an artist.  From the afterword it seems her forte is art, not writing.  But this was my first experience with a graphic novel, so maybe it’s supposed to be more art heavy than storyline?

KELLY: Well, I think there are definitely cases where graphic novelists are doing both writing and art, where one is much stronger than the other, but ideally, and in most of my favorite graphic novels they balance each other nicely.  Was part of the problem with the story that it felt like it was forced to be something that wasn’t natural or believable?  Some of your complaints – like about the phone and the living not so far away – seem like you thought she was trying to force the story to be something it wasn’t…like she didn’t have the skills to make it feel natural.  For me it did sometimes feel inconsistent, but it seems to bother you more…

KAREN: Yeah, the story when it was about her it just felt contrived.  The struggling artist, the distant ex-boyfriend, the nudity scene, it just seemed like it was so not needed in the way she wrote it. The other side of the story was more interesting but it could have been fleshed out more, more interaction with Beast or maybe just a soliloquy from Beast to get more of who that character was.

KELLY: I agree that I wanted more of the Beast’s back-story, or at least more clarity there.  I think the ending would have been more satisfying for me if I’d better understood the Beast and what happened to Cecilia.  So what was your favorite thing about it?

KAREN: I guess it was when they revealed how Beast got the piece of marble. The story of the girl, Cecilia, who couldn’t express herself the way she wanted to and just took over the marble and “ruined” it for her brother and wrecked his career, that was pretty profound.

KELLY: Yeah, I liked that as well.  Well, I’m so sorry that this wasn’t a great experience for you.  Have I ruined comics and graphic novels for you forever?!

KAREN: No, not at all.  Like anything you have to try it and see if you like it.  I would give this author another chance if she came out with another book if only just to compare her work.  And I would pick up another graphic novel given the right criteria.  Although it’s still so different from anything I’ve been exposed to, it’s just a different medium than a regular novel.

KELLY: Well I’m glad you’re still open to it.  I know the comic you read in September [ed. note: The Last Unicorn #3] wasn’t your favorite – although it seemed like it turned you around a bit toward the end.  But I’m glad you mention medium.  You still feel interested in the medium as a whole even though these two books weren’t right in your sweet spot?

KAREN: Yes, I do. It’s like finding music you like.  When you hit the right band it’s the best thing ever.  I feel like it’s the same thing with authors or artists.

KELLY: I agree! So I’m glad you’re still open to it.  So if someone could make the perfect comic for you…what would it be about?  What would it look like?

KAREN: Oh, man. This is tough. It would have to be drawn really well. Like something from the artist Scott Altmann or Jeff Soto. Subject matter would be hard; I’m the worst storyteller but love to hear stories, so to make something up would be really hard. My four year-old nephew asked me to tell a story once, it ended up being me driving to work and looking over to see a tiger driving next to me…yeah, that bad. So I can criticize people for weak writing but I couldn’t write to save my life.

KELLY: Haha!  I love your tiger story.  I bet your nephew thinks you’re awesome.  Regardless, you don’t have to be a good storyteller, writer, artist, filmmaker, actor, musician, etc., to recognize good things, or bad.  So high-end art. Check!  Do you think if you could look at covers and read small previews online and download books like you do music, would it make you more likely to try out comics? You know, from the convenience of your home and with a big selection?

KAREN: Maybe. I’m super indecisive, picking out anything is super hard for me…but it would help to have the cover and a description.

KELLY: What about a free preview – first five pages or so?

KAREN: It could help. I guess in a graphic novel sense it’s probably like reading an entire 1st chapter of a book, so yeah, it could give you a good idea whether you would like something or not.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think that’s about it…thank you so much for coming back and doing this again…I hope if there’s a Ladies Comics Project Phase III I’ll be able to finally find a great book for you!

KAREN: Ok. Sounds good.  Thanks again, this is always fun

KELLY: It’s fun for me too.  I have so few friends that read comics, that it’s been really interesting to share something I love (and sometimes hate) with my friends and see their reactions to it.

KAREN: Glad I can help and thanks for exposing me to comics.

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Name: Mer [ed note: our fearless leader’s better half!]

Book: Token by Alisa Kwitney and Joelle Jones (Minx/DC Comics)

Age: 33

Location: New York, NY

Occupation: Deal Coordinator/Paralegal

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels, if any? I started reading comics at age 14, but there was a long hiatus from the end of my high school years until about six years ago when I started pretty randomly picking-up comics again.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? I recognized it as a being one of DC’s Minx titles.  I’ve read a couple of  Minx books and was highly impressed with their quality, so I’ve always meant to seek out their other (sadly, very few) graphic novels from their ill-fated line of books.

As I mentioned, I’ve read a couple of the dozen or so graphic novels that Minx published.  Minx was a short-lived DC imprint that in 2007-2008 published graphic novels aimed at a tween/teenage girl audience in hopes of tapping into this demographic.  The first of the Minx (a ridiculous name, in my opinion) titles,  P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg, left quite a positive impression on me, as it’s something that I would have loved at age 12.  The story was original and compelling, and the art was attractive.  And best of all, it was about girls who celebrated and used their collective individuality to their advantage.  I read it back when Minx first launched and I had high hopes that it would succeed all the while knowing that despite the talent involved it most likely wouldn’t.  The reasons for Minx’s demise and for having little chance of succeeding from the get-go has been discussed right here in Kelly’s She Has No Head column. [ed. note: a couple times!]

So, it was P.L.A.I.N. Janes that persuaded me to choose Token; another Minx title from Kelly’s graphic novel offerings.   It also appealed to me because it’s a coming of age story.  Coming of age stories are amongst my favorite because they so often contain the dichotomy of turmoil, angst and heartbreak paired with discovery, adventure and personal growth.   As a teen and going into my twenties, I relished the melodrama of those highly emotive coming of age stories.  But beyond entertainment, I also found them therapeutic – they helped put my own turbulent teen years into perspective.

So, it was no surprise that I dove right into Token – a story set in Miami Beach in late eighties about Shira, a teenage girl experiencing love/lust and rebellion for the first time in the face of, and partially in reaction to, major upheaval in her family life.  It had all the markers of classic coming of age story: Awkwardness and self-esteem issues? Check.  Mean girls? Check.  Sudden trouble relating to parent(s)? Check.  To the protagonist’s disbelief, a boy is interested in her? Check. And for the extra empathy bonus, death of the protagonist’s parent (i.e. mother) at a young age? Check.

I found Alisa Kwitney’s story straight-forward and entertaining, but surprisingly, what really stood out to me was its location and the area’s unique culture, and not the emotionally fueled plot of our protagonist.  Shira is a Jewish teenager going to a Jewish high school and lives in a funky apartment in a hotel in the equally funky and diverse Miami South Beach.   This allowed for an interesting cast of characters and there were times where I wished the plot ditched Shira and followed the supporting characters instead.  It became apparent to me that it probably wasn’t the fault of Kwitney’s writing but more a sign of my age.  The things that captivated me when I was younger, like Shira’s angst, self-doubt and her acting-out by way of shop-lifting just elicit more of a bored annoyance than empathy from me.   But luckily, the pace of the action moves quickly, almost too quickly, so I couldn’t be annoyed long before two forms of heart-break come and spurs a rude awakening, and thus whipping Shira back into shape while ushering her closer to adulthood. Unfortunately, that quick pace also led to a sort of slap-dash ending.   This disappointed me the most.  By way of a three page epilogue, we see Shira’s post Miami Beach life in quick snapshots. With all Shira went through, I hoped for more information about how she adjusted to the major changes in her life.

As a relatively seasoned comic book reader, the art is something that I’ve come to “read” the same was as I would prose.  In fact, it has become so natural that my brain translates the art into a descriptive narrative.  However, at the same time, I am acutely aware of the art and actively critique while I read.  Although, I don’t quite have the expertise or language to succinctly articulate what I think is or isn’t good about the art, I can say that it is a crucial part of comic book reading experience and I find it hard to get through a book if I’m not attracted to the art.  Luckily, Joëlle Jones’s art is clean and concise, and, being black and white art, does wonderful things with all those shades and gray.  Above all else, I think she excels at conveying just the right emotions through clear and expressive linework.

It’s really a shame Minx failed because it would be nice to have a larger source of Western comics for tween/teenage girls.  We do know there is a ready made audience out there due to the popularity of shojo manga (Japanese comics with a wide range of genres marketed to girls ages 10 – 18), so perhaps there is hope that it’s just a matter of time before a Minx-like publisher will launch and succeed.  Until then, I will continue to read the remaining Minx titles and store away my favorites until I can give them to the tweens and teens in my life.

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Name: Caitlin (with a small assist by her father Scott)

Book: Scratch 9 (#1 – 4) by Rob M. Worley and Jason T. Kruse (Ape Entertainment)

Age: 9

Location: Midwest

Occupation: Grade School

Previous exposure to comics if any? Muppet Show, Simpsons, Tiny Titans, Supergirl: Adventures In Eighth Grade, Thor The Mighty Avenger, Ororo, Lockjaw And The Pet Avengers, Age Of Reptiles, Stuff Of Legend

Reason she picked this book: Cats!

KELLY: Did you like your book, Scratch 9?

CAITLIN: I LOVED it! [ed. note: repeated a few times!]

KELLY: What did you like about it?

CAITLIN: I like how Scratch had nine lives and he almost gave his life to save his owner named Penelope and that it’s just like Bolt only with a cat [ed. note: Please note that while she was being asked these questions, she was running around the living room karate kicking the air].

KELLY: What’s your absolute favorite thing about it?

CAITLIN: My favorite character had to be the ghost cat. I’ll check for his name. It doesn’t say it. Ghost cat, meow. It’s a ghost cat, meow, meow.  Wait, that … what’s that say … that Pollo is a chicken. It’s not Scratch 9, it’s Scratch 9’s friend. It’s a ghost cat, meow, meow.

KELLY: And your least favorite thing?

CAITLIN: Nothing! [ed. note: ah how I wish for the days when I could honestly say that!]

KELLY: Do you want to read more of the series?

CAITLIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. [ed. note: she shouted for a couple of minutes as she ran around the living room throwing cat toys into the air].

KELLY: Why?

CAITLIN: It’s awesome because it’s about a cat with nine lives and I liked it because of the ghost cat and Scratch 9.

KELLY: What would be the perfect comic for you Caitlin?

CAITLIN/SCOTT: I would probably base it off of the Warriors books by Erin Hunter. I know she already has some Manga, but I’d really like a paperback comic book with sketchy pictures. I’d like it smaller so I can hold it easier and read a whole story at a time.  [Additional note: this comment sparked additional conversation about forms, etc. What it boiled down to is that she wants a Marvel digest-sized book containing a story arc that she can read at once instead of having to wait for single issues.  See Thor And The Warriors Four for exact sizing preferences!  Also see photo to see what other size formats were less appealing to her!]

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Name: Holly

Book: Ghost World by Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

Link: Radio Free Holly and Brown Dog Communication

Age: 34

Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Occupation: Corporate Public Relations Manager.  One day I’ll go back to being a Disc Jockey rather than a desk jockey.

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

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? I picked this book because I wanted to understand why the movie Ghost World was such a cult sleeper. You always hear “the book is better than the film” so I wanted to see if that worked for comics as well.

I like to think of myself as a purist, so I always try to read a book before I see the movie. Seriously, I’m not just being a pretentious jerk when I say that. But that was a rule that I broke when I first saw the movie Ghost World; mostly because I never knew it started out as a book, much less a comic.

I was actually entertained while reading Ghost World, and enjoyed reliving quite a few pieces of my high school world. I was about the same age as the characters (Enid and Rebecca) in the 90s when this book was written, and I appreciated its dark hilarity. The tone of the tome ranges from Clueless in combat boots to Daria on downers. Still, I thought there were parts that were snarky just for snarky’s sake, and I never quite got over the male interpretation of how high school girls act. (No, we didn’t all sit around and read “Sassy” magazine in the early 90s.) Peppered with cynicism at its finest, Ghost World did excellently portray two girls growing distant from each other, and finally part ways to as they head toward adulthood.

I like to think that they will eventually find each other again fifteen years later on Facebook when it’s invented.

Even though I liked this graphic novel, especially a humorous section that features a cameo of the illustrator David Clowes, I was more intrigued to read a bit about how this comic became a cult classic on its journey to a cult sleeper film. Mostly, I saw this book as the Green Day of comics, paving the way for acceptance for future artists to make comics that are not just superhero-related. While less story-driven than perhaps something with Superman or Punisher, Ghost World simply painted a clear picture of society at the time and took a more introspective look at growing up.

Ghost World is a book about two friends, Enid and Rebecca, who we follow throughout their normal days just after they graduate from high school in the early 90s. They spend their summer after graduation not really doing anything particularly special, mostly frequenting a number of diners around their town. They pass judgment on everyone they encounter (which I never did when I was that age – note the sarcasm there) and even find themselves trying to have romantic relationships until they eventually grow apart. That’s basically it: classic “coming of age” with urban sprawl. When Ghost World first came out in 1997, The Guardian reviewed the book saying, “it is beautifully drawn, with subtle and convincing storylines. A classic portrait of teenage life.” I wholeheartedly agree with that review.

I am a purist when it comes to books being made into film, and so after reading Ghost World, I went back and re-watched it. Know what? I can honestly say I prefer the book to the film! There are more characters, their development is richer, and I saw the reality of crafting a screenplay to give actors more screen time. (If you’ve not read the book, but have seen the film, you’ll be surprised to note that the Steve Buschemi character of Bob Skeetes is a mashup of several characters who make small appearances in print.) I appreciate Clowes’ guts in creating a comic outside of what one might deem as the norm, with a “smart” comic that heralds pop culture as king. I will likely read more of this author’s work, particularly the Eightball series. Even if Clowes doesn’t get everything right about being a teenage girl growing up, he comes pretty damn close, and does it all in beautifully melancholy fashion.

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So that’s it for part three!

What strikes me this week is just how honestly universal comics are, and how they really can reach out and appeal to so many different people.  Comics often feels like a ghetto…one I’m quite comfortable and happy in…and in fact feel confident and ballsy inside, since I’ve spent so much time there and so few people I encounter know anything about it (making me an expert!), but when reading all these great ladies reviews, it just upsets me that we’re in this ghetto…however it is we got here.  More people deserve to know about all these great books…but I just don’t know the best way to help them find the books, or to help them know that they might find something they love more than anything in the form of a medium they barely even know exists, or worse perceives has nothing to offer them.  By the very nature of this project the women I’m dealing with quickly learn how many options are out there as far as variety and what the medium has to offer, and yet still many of them are surprised by what they encounter.

The keys, as far as I’m concerned, to getting more new readers – especially women –  is in continuing to modify and update distribution, spending more money on advertising, publicity and legitimate tie-ins (where was a great new reader friendly Wonder Woman book to go with the Mac cosmetics line?!), and to a lesser degree, slightly modifying some of the material so it has less of a boys clubhouse/no girls allowed feel when we do get new readers – both male and female – to hold the books in their hands?

Unfortunately, I did not ask the digital question of the women who read floppies last fall – where I think it was more relevant – but with graphic novels the response has been fairly split – some women seem to think the easy access would be worth the price of reading digitally, but others (and like many current readers) despite some interest in digital feel passionate and nostalgic about holding an actual book in their hands.

Make sure to come back next week for the final installment which will include reviews of Astonishing X-Men, Aya, French Milk, The War At Ellsmere, Moving Pictures, and if we’re lucky, my mother’s review of How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less as well as some thoughts on how this experiment worked and what I’d like to do differently if (when?) I try it again in the future.

A huge thanks to all of our ladies that participated in Part Three, as well as Tara Abbamondi for the excellent Ladies Comics Project illustrations, and also, to you readers who have been so thoughtful, encouraging, and responsive – like Phase I of LCP, this has been a great experience overall.

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

11 Comments

[…] Ladies Comics Project Phase II, Part Three is up – check it out! […]

Off the bat, in Holly’s review of Ghost World, she mentions the cameo by “David” Clowes. It’s been a while since I’ve read that book, but isn’t there a bit in there where the name of the writer is mixed up? Otherwise, it’s just a typo. Sorry, just something I picked up on first.

I haven’t been able to read all of these posts yet, but I did pick up on the bit about some of the women not liking comics due to having the images right there and what that might indicate. You suggested last week that it’s an exposure to the medium issue, which seems partially correct, but I think there’s more to it, and perhaps it would affect how to reach women to become comics readers (or show why there’s such a large barrier to getting women as comics readers).

I’d heard this notion before, that women don’t like comics because they can’t use their imaginations as much with the images right there in front of them. Where I first heard this, it was suggested that it’s because women are reading to picture themselves as the protagonist, so that they have a disconnect with comics that they don’t with prose. Given that I know the source is biased, I took the notion with a grain of salt. It sounds like it could be an answer, but I wouldn’t claim that to be THE answer.

But here are actual women reading comics, and they are saying that the images impede their enjoyment of the work. That’s interesting. What I’m wondering is if there is a gender divide on this. In the Burgas article you linked to, that was an inspiration for the project, men and women reviewed the comics, but neither gender seemed to discuss this issue. I’m wondering if it is an issue with men, or if it’s an issue that just doesn’t come to the forefront in discussions with new male readers.

It doesn’t seem to me that men aren’t identifying with the characters they read about. See Brian’s post on Tim Drake a bit back. While there was plenty of disagreement about who the reader might identify with (Batman or Robin), there seemed to be little disagreement that male readers (presumably the majority of those commenters) ARE identifying with the characters (that whole “power fantasy” angle to superheroes that gets talked about, for example).

It comes to mind about video games, and how third person shooters, for example, ask the player to identify with the character on screen, for the player to say, yes, that’s me. Not sure where it fits into what I’m saying, though.

Also, as was brought up in the first week, TV and movies provide the images, and people of both genders pick up on that rather easily. But perhaps that indicates that the issue of exposure to the medium that you discussed last week is a large part of it. Perhaps it has more to do with the act of reading, and what men and women wish to “get” from reading.

So what I’m getting to, very slowly, is the question of “is there a gender divide on reading, and reading comics in particular, and if so, is this aspect, regardless of other issues (genre, depiction of the female form, other issues you discuss regularly), a major, maybe THE major stumbling block for women to read comics?”

I really don’t have an answer, I just am wondering about the question. Perhaps it’s an avenue to pursue further in depth in the future, or could influence the line of questioning in future LCPs.

Which, hint hint, would be easier to link to if Brian had a Ladies Comics Project category on the side. C’mon, his mom and his better half are featured in these posts, he’s GOT TO make it easier to get to them!
:)

Which, hint hint, would be easier to link to if Brian had a Ladies Comics Project category on the side.

Okay.

This is a fascinating series of posts. Thanks for doing that.

I kind of wish the judges for Canada Reads could have read all this. Maybe they wouldn’t have voted Essex County off the panel based on the false premise that graphic novels “don’t promote literacy.” (Ugh!) Seeing this evidence of the (potentially) universal appeal of comics is refreshing.

I do love these posts. So many interesting things to say about a variety of books. Also, I can’t get over how good the banner looks. Well done.

@Brian: You’re going to make Pelkie drunk on power!!!

[…] Project, which seeks to suss out women’s impressions of comics and the comic industry.   HERE is her latest column, which includes my review of the graphic novel Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. […]

Loved this. Want more.

Re: Sarah W. and the Lagoon: “I wanted an end to the story.”

ME #$%^ING TOO! Oh my GOD that made me mad.

” Although, I understand why there was not completion or a definite end to the story.”

Oh.

This is such an interesting series of posts, thanks for taking the time to do all of this. One thing I’m curious of is if you considered giving your participants more info on the books before they select them. While I think it is interesting to see what they chose based only on title and cover art, I wonder if it would also be valuable to provide some sort of solicitation text that gives them some idea of genre and plot. It just always seemed like a huge information gap when introducing some of these ladies to comics and it was something I was wondering if you had considered at all.

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