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

Welcome to Part Four, and the final installment of this iteration of The Ladies Comics Project in which a handful of my family, friends, colleagues, and a few new friends (both those familiar with comics and not) read and reviewed something from my personal library of graphic novels and trades.  For more details about this project and more ladies reviews and feedback, go here to read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.  You can also read about the original Ladies Comics Project, here, here, and here.

So after about three months working on this project, here we are, the final installment – 682 emails, a handful of gchats, phone calls, interviews, texts, and a you tube video later – all to bring you: The Ladies Comics Project, Phase II: Part Four

Illustrations For Ladies Comics Project Phase II by Tara Abbamondi

Name:  Keegan Xaví

Book: Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly)

Age: 34

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Occupation: Artist/ Youth Program Manager/ Community Organizer

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: My exposure to comic books is limited although Batman Arkham Asylum will always be one of my favorite books in general and I have used some of the illustrations from it as inspiration for collage work.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? I chose this graphic novel because I was interested in knowing more about the main character who appears on the cover.  Other than ”Storm” as played by Halle Berry (I’m so unimpressed), I don’t know of any other Black female comic book/graphic novel protagonists.  I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I have no idea who they might be as I was not very hip to comics until Kelly asked me to participate in the project.

As a whole, I really enjoyed this graphic novel.  The story takes place in the Ivory Coast in 1978.  As a product of mainstream media, I have to admit that I expected this book to be about war and strife since those are most of the images we get about Africa these days, and particularly since Civil War did break out in the Ivory Coast from approximately 2002 – 2007.  But this book is set in the Ivory Coast’s economic heyday in the 70’s.  In Aya it was refreshing to see African people depicted – teenagers especially- as everyday, ordinary people with the same universal trials and tribulations as everyone else in addition to the political climate hanging overhead.

Although by the world’s standards we are both Black, by Aya being a 19-year-old girl in the Ivory Coast in 1978 and me way over here in Midwest America in 2011, we are culturally, worlds apart.  However, I identified with the main character Aya quite a bit. Unlike her two drama-queen friends Adjoua and Bintou, Aya keeps her nose in her books as she quietly studies to be a doctor and repeatedly turns down their invitations to hang out with boys and party.  On a personal note, I encounter this issue a lot even now as a 30-something year-old woman.  I’d rather focus on my artistic career than be out partying and my friends have called me “boring” because of it.  My heart was with Aya as soon as I knew more about her character.  This book touches on the age-old story of being different even amongst your own kind.

I really had no idea what was going to happen in this book, but was held captive by the ominous frame at the very beginning of the story showing a hand reaching for the phone as the caption says “…and that’s when things started to go wrong”.

The tension in the book is maintained by all of the love triangles and teenage drama:  Bintou only dates Moussa because he has a car, but she really likes Mamadou.  Adjoua truly likes Moussa and gets pregnant by him (major part of the novel), but once Bintou realizes that Moussa is rich, she goes after him (having no idea Moussa had been seeing Adjoua).  Moussa’s parents want him to be with Aya because they see she’s so driven, but Aya’s dad thinks she’s crazy for wanting to be a doctor.

What I got the most from this story is that, at heart, teenagers are the same no matter where or when.  Aya’s friends liked to sneak out of the house at night to ride with boys in cars, go dancing, dream of who they would one day marry, wear pretty clothes, get their hair done, etc.  I was very impressed with seeing how family and community worked together during that time.  The scariest parts of the book were when the parents and elders got pissed off!  When Adjoua becomes pregnant it is a VERY BIG DEAL and the elders become involved to figure out what to do.  There’s a part when a strange man chases Aya and two elders who don’t even know Aya step in to take care of it, berating the man for acting that way to a woman.  “You were about to hit a girl and you don’t even know who her father is?!”, asks the elder incredulously, and the strange man tucks his tail between his legs and skulks off.  It’s sad that our communities no longer function this way, at least not where I live, but as a community organizer I am working hard to revive this cultural aspect in my neighborhood.

Even though I enjoyed reading about what the teenagers were up to, I also appreciated how the politics of that time were incorporated into the plot.  Aya’s dad works for a beer company called Solibra (love the Solibra commercial on the first page of the novel!).  His boss is this big self-important guy who casually name-drops that he is a close friend of Felix Houphet-Boigny (the first President of the Ivory Coast who held the position for 33 years), so Aya’s dad sucks up to his boss to get a promotion.  Even though you know the boss is a big jerk, he and his wife are the only ones who support Aya’s dreams of being a doctor and their (albeit stuck-up) lives are windows into the politics at that time.

Visually, the illustrations are fabulous.  I love the color schemes (deep, rich and earthy), and also how color is used to convey emotion.  When Adjoua tells Moussa that she’s pregnant the blue skies turn RED!  We know what he was feeling as this was coupled with his facial expression like he got punched in the stomach.  The facial expressions are superbly emotive and lend to the story in several “show don’t tell” moments.  Like you totally know Mamadou has a thing for Aya, but it’s only by his expressions, never by anything he says.  I also liked the hand-drawn borders around each frame.

“Aya” was a light-hearted, pleasant read and I am excited to see what happens in the subsequent books.  If I were Aya, I would totally go for Mamadou (he’s the cutest), but at the end of this book there’s a slight cliffhanger that suggests Adjoua’s baby may not have been fathered by Moussa…a fact that is only implied by facial expressions, nothing else.  I learned a lot from this book and at the end it gets even better as the author has an “Ivorian Bonus” section which includes recipes, how to tie your “pagne” to avoid sending out the wrong signals and a glossary for some of the vernacular that appears in the book.

Thanks again, Kelly.  Without you, I would not have known Aya even existed.  Now I’m off to order Part Two.

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Name: Amoke

Book: Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly)

Age: 60

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Occupation: Writer/Teacher

Exposure to comics and graphic novels, if any: I have limited experience with comics. In the 60′s my meager weekly allowance of twenty-five cents got me 2 comics and some sunflower seeds. (Sometimes I chose paper and crayons.) My choice of comics were Archie, Veronica and Jughead or Superman and Wonder Woman. I can’t recall if these were preferences or limited choices. With the British invasion 16 Magazine soon became my favorite and comics were abandoned.

Why did you pick the book you picked? [ed. note: Amoke became interested in Aya when she saw it lying around the house while Keegan was reading it for Ladies Comics Project – she was interested enough to read it and participate as well – much to my joy!]

Over the years, few comics interested me, I saw few positive images of black characters and I didn’t know there were black superheroes. Years, decades later, like four or five, I learn there is a whole new world of comics. My daughter introduced me to Aya.

I had never seen a comic with an African female, set in Africa. I was intrigued to read a story written by a woman who was indeed African. The storyline would have been an American Urban young girl. Aya wasn’t an exciting or different story. She could  have been a Northside (North Minneapolis) teenager. A young girl living her life as well as she could amidst the restraint of Americanized social determinants that basically cramped her style. Aya observed her girlfriends unsuccessful attempts to navigate through the landmine of becoming herself as so many poor urban females do.

I think this comic could be used in middle schools and high schools – it gives an interesting slice of Africa from a young person’s perspective. Some history meeting continuous contemporary teenage angst. Too much out of Africa is so racist and stereotypical. Youth could see the struggles to come of age is a universal process. We have all had to weigh the internal (our personal learning) and external (what we are taught/socialized as knowledge) wisdom to grow up.

My old eyes have trouble with certain colors but the graphics were rich and well-captured the cultural expressions of facial and body language that I see in myself and my children and children’s children!

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Name Rebecca Hahn

Book: French Milk by Lucy Knisley (Touchstone)

Link: Rebeccahahn.com

Age: 37

Location: for the next 12 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 book you picked? As always it was hard for me to pick, but ultimately I loved the title and was fascinated by the mix of photo and drawing on the cover.

KELLY: Hi Becky!  Thanks for participating in Ladies Comics Project- I’m glad to have you back for Phase II!  So you read French Milk by Lucy Knisley…was it what you expected?

BECKY: Yes and No. We had e-mailed back and forth after I chose French Milk, about the contents being heavy on the “meat” side (all the food she ate in Paris.) Since I’m vegetarian you wondered if it would bother me. It didn’t – but after our discussion I was expecting a memoir. So, yes, it is what I was expecting – a memoir, but still not exactly what I was expecting story wise.

KELLY: So would you say you liked it or disliked it?  And why?

BECKY: I’m at an Eh, for this one. I hate to say it, I know I’m so picky. I hate to come down hard on this book, but actually there were a few things that really had me cranky while reading it. The art style was fine, I loved seeing what she ate depicted in detail, I love stuff like that. It’s like seeing a drawn chart of what someone has in their pocket, or a drawer…. I liked seeing the photos mixed in. The story drove me batty and for funny reasons I guess. I could see my youth in this book. My whiny, worried, not enjoying life youth in this book and it bothered me. A lot. I would say it’s good that she got such an emotional response from me, the reader, but I doubt that my response is what she was going for. I read this novel being frustrated by the author’s inability to truly enjoy her time in Paris, her disbelief in herself as an artist. I know I went through the same phases. Maybe that’s why it bothered me so. It’s truly wasteful. Sigh. After all her self doubt, here her story is, printed in my hands…. I also wish there had been more to her story. That’s just my own problem though, not hers. That’s it.

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

BECKY: Yes, I love Graphic Novels and Prose Novels equally.

KELLY: Did the fact that French Milk has a female lead character affect your decision to pick it?

BECKY: No

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

BECKY: No, these projects have left me wishing I had more time to read more Graphic Novels though.

KELLY: What was your favorite thing about the book?

BECKY: I loved reading about French Life and I did really enjoy the fact that she was so obsessed with drinking French Milk.

KELLY: Are you glad you picked this book specifically?  Was there anything else that you wished you’d read instead?

BECKY: I’m glad I picked it after all is said and done, I would have wanted to read it anyway because I was fascinated by the title and cover, there were lots of other books I would love to read from your list, but any of them could be good or bad so I can’t say I wish that I had read something else instead. Maybe it was just what I needed at this time in my life to strengthen my beliefs that life is short, time is fast and we need to get over our insecurities and just live and keep working towards our dreams. It did make me think a lot about youth and how different time seemed back then….

KELLY: Do you think having comics available to purchase digitally – the ability to preview and shop at home would make you more or less likely to buy comics?  And why?

BECKY: I do a lot of shopping online these days, but I still don’t have time to buy and read books right now. I would say in the future yes. And I don’t know if I would have picked this book over others if I had been able to peek inside… it would be nice to peek inside.

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

BECKY:  Thank you Kelly, it’s been fun, sorry to have taken so long!!! Love you Kelly!

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Name: Lisa

Book: Moving Pictures by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen (Top Shelf)

Age: 35

Location: NYC

Occupation: Education non-profit

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels, if any? Three of my friends are big comics/graphic novel nerds who have extolled the virtues of them to me for years.  I read part of “Y The Last Man” at one friend’s urging and enjoyed it.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? The cover caught my eye because it was stylistic and mysterious.  I liked the grayscale shadows with the bold red type and dress.  The lanterns in the setting reminded me of one of my favorite spots in Central Park, and since I’m into photography, the title appealed to me as well.

KELLY: Hi Lisa, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me about comics. So you read the graphic novel Moving Pictures by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen…and was it what you expected after reading?

LISA: I guess technically the story was about an independent young woman, but no, the story was not what I expected at all.

KELLY: So would you say you liked it or disliked it?  And why?

LISA: Unfortunately, I disliked it.  I was not engaged in the story, and the pictures did not do anything to pull me in.  I found the overall story confusing and hard to follow.

KELLY: Did you find you responded more to the words than the pictures or vice versa?  Or both equally?  Or perhaps neither equally?

LISA: Definitely the words.  Initially, I liked the pictures because they were stylistic and simple.  But, over time, I found them to be redundant and vague.  So, I found myself reading the words and not really focusing on the pictures at all.

KELLY:  Could you follow the story easily?

LISA: Not at all.  In fact, I felt kind of stupid because I was having so much trouble following the story.  It was difficult to tell what was ‘present’ versus a ‘flashback’ and in the cells themselves I had to pause to understand the timing of the dialogue.

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

LISA: I did not, though that is probably because of this particular story and not the genre of graphic novels in general.

KELLY: Did the fact that Moving Pictures has a female lead character affect your decision to pick it?

LISA: Yes, that is a big part of what drew me in.

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

LISA:  Slightly to the worse, but I know there are many many types and styles of graphic novels out there, so I still have an open mind.

KELLY: What was your favorite thing about the book?

LISA: Some of the pictures were quite beautiful.

KELLY: Your least favorite thing?

LISA: The redundancy of the pictures over time.

KELLY: Are you glad you picked this book specifically?  Was there anything else that you wished you’d read instead?

LISA: Sadly no, I wish I had picked something else (though I’m not sure what… clearly, you can’t judge a book by its cover!).

KELLY: Do you think you’re more or less likely to buy or read comics after reading this book?

LISA: Less likely, though I still have an open mind and would take recommendations from friends who know me and what I like.

KELLY: If you read another comic in the future would you pick something like this…or something very different?

LISA: Something very different, probably something more action-oriented.

KELLY: Do you think having comics available to purchase digitally – the ability to preview and shop at home would make you more or less likely to buy comics?  And why?

LISA: More likely because I could skim through more than the cover to see if it draws me in.

KELLY: Thanks again for participating Lisa – it was great to have you involved – despite not enjoying your book I hope you’ll keep your mind open to other comics and maybe even come back for future Ladies Comics Project installments!

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Name Brooke Gardner

Link(s): Brooke Gardner.com, and Brooke Gardner Blogspot

Book: The War At Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks (SLG Publishing)

Age: 38

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Occupation: Interior Designer

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels? Husband was an avid comic book reader and collector back in the day – he still watches the superhero cartoons (which I loved as a kid and still find fun to watch).

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?

Let’s start off by saying I am not a comic book / graphic novel virgin, nor am I a slut.  If one is sitting around I may read it, but I won’t go out of my way to purchase one. I’m not really sure why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that they are over in like 2 seconds and I always end up feeling over stimulated. It is a little like watching a foreign film – having to read and look at the visuals takes away from both.  Nonetheless, when a story is good a story is good and it is worth watching and/or reading.

Our fine moderator, Kelly, warned me that this graphic novel (no idea the genre even existed until a few years ago – I just thought they were long comic books) would read a little young for me.  I knew it was young adult and took the warning into consideration, but decided that a part of me wanted to relieve my Sweet Valley High days.  Let’s just say she should have said it was written for a second grader.  I enjoyed it overall, but – SPOILER ALERT – a unicorn?  REALLY, a unicorn? WTF?? Here I am waiting for a really good, juicy explanation and it turns out to be my favorite magical animal from when I was in second grade? You would think this would make me happy, but no, not so much. Overall it was a cute story and I liked the art, but the ending killed it.

The title and cover art definitely drew me in.  It looked dark and ominous, but in a hip and cool way.   I love the whole, it used to be a castle and now it’s totally haunted theme, and I have a fascination with boarding schools as I secretly harbor a wish that I was sent to one when I was young, which is hilarious because I probably wouldn’t have lasted a minute.  Hence, I found myself relating to the main character – except I would not characterize myself as an overachiever – I’m too much of a procrastinator.  The characters don’t disappoint in fulfilling the typical dynamic of “mean girls” versus the “really cool when you get to know her, but misunderstood new girl” with the “geeky, but nice and really rich sidekick”.   One of my favorite parts of this book was the geeky sidekicks hair – it is pulled tightly back and surrounds her like a Pig Pen cloud throughout the day and then she gets back to the room and takes it down and she’s a supermodel (I exaggerate a bit, but you get the point).

I am totally into the dark (but not evil) murder mysteries – a la Scooby Doo and this seems to fit the bill, but I just can’t get past the unicorn.  You have a pretty decent antebellum legend complete with the big scary house, the rich inhabitants and the young brothers who go missing in the big scary woods.  All good stuff, but a swamp monster would have been better than a unicorn.  And why did the unicorn kill the good brother too?  I thought unicorns were fair creatures – unless the bad brother killed the good brother and then the unicorn killed him??  Is that what happened???  And then, as soon as the unicorn appears it’s gone….come on…if you’re going to go there give me something more. Nothing was ever said about the legend again – who does not love a good legend???  So many questions.

Like I said before, overall I did enjoy it and it did remind me of something I would have liked when I was younger.  The characters were cute – even the nasty bitches – and the art was totally complementary to the prose.  I may have preferred the art if it was in color, but the black and white was effective. The story was not that original, but the telling of it was believable (at least the interpersonal relationships, I’m not mentioning the unicorn again).  I would probably read another story by the author and would be interested in seeing her art again.  I didn’t set out to pick a “female” graphic novel, but I was drawn to the main characters’ independence and pluck.  I think the story is very positive for young readers (I think it is aimed at junior high level – but I think elementary school is more like it) and the protagonist and her sidekick are good role models for young women.  They are smart and fun and cute and nice and loyal and all around good people who don’t let the bad stuff get them down for too long and in the end their goodness wins the day.  Not bad all in all….

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Name: Christine

Book: Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday (Marvel)

Age:  22

Location: Nashville TN

Occupation: Research Analyst

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels, if any? Very little, only from my younger brother reading them and watching TV shows/movies based off of comics

Why did you pick the book you picked? I asked for a recommendation, because that’s how I pick books usually (ed. note: I asked Christine if she was drawn to anything and she mentioned that the superhero stuff that she already sort of knew about – like X-Men – intrigued her – so I suggested she go with that).

KELLY: Hi Christine, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me about comics. So you read the Astonishing X-Men trade Gifted by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.  Can you tell me what prompted you to pick that book over others?

CHRISTINE: I chose this comic because of its familiarity to me.  I know very little about comics, but have been exposed to the major comic series through TV shows and movies.  I used to enjoy the X-Men cartoons as a kid, and found the movies that came out very entertaining.  I thought this would be a good first step into comics as I would be familiar with some of the characters and their story lines.

KELLY: And was it what you expected after reading?

CHRISTINE: In as few words possible: no.  After speaking to a friend of mine who was more familiar with the X-Men lore, I found out that this comic was much later in the series.  It involved things that I wasn’t aware had been a part of X-Men (namely aliens/other planets) and many of the characters that I knew best were not featured (Professor Xavier, Storm, Jean Grey, Gambit).

KELLY: So would you say you enjoyed it?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

CHRISTINE: Not as much as I thought I was going to.  There were much fewer words and I wasn’t accustomed to having to both look at the pictures and the words in order to understand what was going on in the story.  Sometimes I read the speech bubbles in the wrong order as well, which led to confusion.  And frankly, the dialogue between the characters was a bit cliché and melodramatic.

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

CHRISTINE: Definitely words.  As mentioned above, this affected my enjoyment of the comic

KELLY: Could you follow the story easily?

CHRISTINE: I could follow it easily enough.  However, having already had some familiarity with X-Men, I found it frustrating jumping so far ahead.  I wanted to know what had happened to lead up to this point and who the new characters were and their back stories/powers.  Who is Miss Frost and when did she come into the picture?  When did she switch sides, how much can we trust her?  What kind of past do Kitty and Peter have?  Where are Professor Xavier, Storm, etc – did they die or just not in this comic?

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

CHRISTINE: No.  I didn’t feel like there was much substance to what I was reading.  I felt like I was missing a big piece of the puzzle from not having read any of the comics before, and I didn’t feel like many (if not any) of the story lines were resolved at the end of the comic — what does Miss Frost mean about Kitty being a problem?  What happens to Wing?  What about Tildie?  What does the future hold for Peter?  What happens with the Breakworld? Jean seems to still be lingering in the lives of the X-Men, does this bode for something in the future?

KELLY: Did the fact that Astonishing X-Men has some female lead characters affect your decision to pick it?

CHRISTINE: No.  I wasn’t aware of who would be the main characters in the book, however, Kitty has always been a favorite of mine so I enjoyed that she was a main lead in the story.

KELLY: Did reading Astonishing X-Men change your opinion for better or worse about comics and graphic novels?

CHRISTINE: Probably for worse, although I’m still open-minded.

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

CHRISTINE: I really liked the controversy regarding “the cure” for the mutant disease.  Although I didn’t feel like the tension was fully fleshed out in the comic, I really liked the questions it raised, particularly for Dr McCoy/Beast.

KELLY: Your least favorite thing?

CHRISTINE: The quality of the dialogue/writing.

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

CHRISTINE: No, not really.  I wish I had picked something different.  After speaking to my cousin and his wife (Brian and Meredith) at Christmas, I think some of the other comics would’ve been much better picks for me , they talked specifically about Smile, which my aunt received.

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?

CHRISTINE: Not any more or less likely.  However, I am a little disappointed that I stuck with something I knew.  I feel that some of the other graphic novels/comics would’ve appealed more to my reading tastes: more text, more realistic dialogue and interactions.  If I were to look again, I’d definitely try to branch out.

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

CHRISTINE: I think it would have to be more like a illustrated book.  It would have more words than Astonishing X-Men… I want to get to know the characters and I feel like that’s hard to do without more elaboration verbally.  I’d want it to be one long piece, with chapters, rather than separate comic books.  I found it really hard jumping into the middle of a storyline and jumping out before any sort of conclusive end.

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

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Name: Tamme Thompson (aka my mom)

Book: How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less by Sarah Glidden (Vertigo)

Age: 61

Location: Salt Lake City, UT (greatest snow on earth)

Occupation: Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels? Since the age of 10 I have been an avid reader and one of my favorite places to go is the library.  My earliest memory of comic books was in the 1950′s, standing in the corner of the Rexall Pharmacy perusing the likes of Little Lotta, Dot and Richie Rich, occasionally buying a book for $.10 per book.  At the time I had no idea what an impact comics would have on my life.  In the 1980′s that impact became evident as my daughter, Kelly indoctrinated the whole family on the subject of comics.  We understood the import of last minute, emergency trips to the comic shop for a latest issue, as well as the critical nature of “bags and boards”.

Why did you pick the book you picked? I first heard of this book when Kelly reviewed it in her She Has No Head! column.  This is a subject I am not very knowledgeable about but was very drawn in by the review and wanted to learn more.  At the time I did not realize that it was a comic book.  And I must say after reading, there is nothing “comic” about it.  That statement makes me wonder how the term “comic book” has withstood the test of time.  When it became one of the Ladies Comics Project selections I grabbed it.

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is a 206 page, hard bound book.  The artwork is very nice and somehow the artist’s style feels like it goes with the subject matter.

This book is a true story of the authors Birthright Trip to Israel.  Sarah, a New Yorker, comes from a Jewish family that is not very religious, but Sarah is very interested in some of the cultural aspects of her religion.

As mentioned previously, I know next to nothing about Israel and the religious and political situations that are a way of life in Israel. I found myself next to Sarah on the bus hungry for any information and/or clarification that might come my way.  Although I agree with Sarah, when she says, “and somehow [I] knew less than when I started”.

Even though I am not a young person I feel like my perspective is rather immature, as I feel that surely in time the Arab and the Jewish people could/would/should come together as members of the human race.  And in fact there was a mention by a Rabbi Hartman in the book that looking forward many generations that might be a possibility.  Throughout the world, there are many instances where that has happened and I am definitely hoping something good can happen for all factions.

Overall, I loved the book.  I believe it opened my eyes to the saga of Israel, and once again I feel very lucky to live in the United States of America.

I am still not convinced that the comic medium is for me.  I find that it actually takes me longer to read a comic than it does a non-illustrated book.  Although the artwork does add to the story I can sometimes get so involved in following the pictures that I  have to go back to read the captioning.   I do love reading an actual book however, I have found as I’ve gotten older that I am more inclined to listen to a book on CD than to sit down and read.   So at this point I do not see myself starting to read comics.

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And that’s it for The Ladies Comics Project Phase II!

Thanks to all the great ladies who participated, to Tara Abbamondi for the beautiful illustration work that defined this project, and to all of you readers that were so positive and encouraging and offered such great feedback – the continued support will hopefully inspire future Ladies Comics Projects in a variety of forms.  As I said last time, I never know with this column what’s going to incite rage and what’s going to incite praise.  However, once again I was pleased by the incredible reception this idea, and these ladies, received as well as the conversations the project has created.  The response has definitely encouraged me to continue working on Ladies Comics Project.  I’m even thinking that a collected print version might be something worth exploring.  We’ll see!

So what did I learn of this latest Ladies Comics Project iteration?

Well, for starters I learned that graphic novels are definitely more accessible than single issues for non-comics readers…which is really no surprise, but it’s nice to have confirmation.  Most of the women seemed to appreciate longer more contained stories, as well as books that felt easy to jump onto the way any prose novel would, rather than the complexities of ongoing continuity.

There also, as I mentioned in my opening paragraph to part one, continues to be a real confusion between genre and medium and a general equation that comics equal superheroes.  I don’t know how we fix this problem other than getting more and more truly good books – both superhero and otherwise – into the hands of non-comics readers.  Great stuff (Scott Pilgrim?) spreads like wildfire…so the more great stuff we produce and promote, the more people are going to find it and love it and talk about it themselves.

Women continued to pick books that did not have superheroes in them.  Unlike Phase I’s list, which was nearly 70% superhero, Phase II’s list was only about 20% superhero, and less than 7% of women picked a superhero title. I continue to believe, perhaps at my peril, that this is more about womens’ perceptions about superheroes, rather than the realities (if you take the continuity aspect out of it).  I don’t know how to circumvent their belief that superheroes are not for them however, and sometimes wonder if I should bother, given that despite my love and devotion to superheroes I frequently feel kicked in the uterus for my troubles…as they likely would as well.  It’s hard to advocate for someone to keep trying something out when there’s a high risk of getting kicking in the uterus…repeatedly.

But I stand by my plea at the end of the last phase of Ladies Comics Project, a plea that goes out especially to publishers but also to creators that there is a massive market of women and girls just waiting to be tapped…but that they’re unlikely to seek out that which they don’t even know exists.  You need more things like inclusive cartoons (and unfortunately Young Justice is not it); more promotional tie-ins to other products – the Wonder Woman Mac cosmetics line is great – but where are the new reader friendly books – or YA friendly books to go with it?; more ads and promotion in places women actually frequent and on things women actually watch; more books in places that aren’t just the local comic shop, which many women don’t frequent regularly, or don’t even know exist.  Is this a herculean effort?  Absolutely, you don’t court (or re-court) an entire readership without investing a serious amount of thought, time, and money…but as I’ve said before, to the company that figures this out first go the spoils…and they are big spoils.  YA prose fiction is EXPLODING in popularity, from books like Twilight to books like The Hunger Games there is a HUGE market of girls and women reading things with great female protagonists…and there’s no reason that comics can’t get a big part of that pie…but they’ve got to want it.  Comics and Graphic Novels are still going through a “cool” phase, thanks in part to rampant movie and television deals, and the rise of YA prose fiction that swings toward the supernatural, the dystopian, and the epic (all things comics trade in regularly).  That “cool” phase makes it pretty easy to get people to try it out – evidenced in part by how easy it was to get these ladies to take time out of their lives to read comics and report back (and to get many of them to do it twice)…but we have to give them something to read…we have to let them know it’s out there!  It’s perhaps naive of me to continue believing this, and maybe I believe it because some part of me has to, but I do believe that if we build it, they will come.  But nobody is going to come if we don’t actually build it…

***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.***

20 Comments

[...] on over to Comics Should Be Good for the final installment of Ladies Comics Project Phase II and some thoughts about what I [...]

This was a really interesting read, as the Ladies Comics Project series has always been. Something which I think has been a recurring theme in a lot of the responses has been that the readers are unfamiliar with the comics medium and have difficulty reading it (ie. knowing which order to read panels and word balloons in) or feel like they can’t engage with comics like they can with prose.

I found Christine’s reaction to Astonishing X-Men Volume 1 especially interesting. It’s interesting that she felt really lost, like she’d missed out on a lot of the set up for the story considering that Astonishing was meant to be new reader friendly, especially with Whedon as writer. What was also interesting is that she picked up on all the story threads which are still hanging at the end of Gifted, but rather than seeing them as an enticement to read the next volume in the series, she saw the dangling story threads as a sign that the story was incomplete and unfulfilling to her.

My first major take-away is covers, Covers, COVERS.

It is the best (and often only) ad for the contents. That is going to be more true as digital grows in share. Using a big name to draw a cover that has no connection to the plot, or style, of the interiors is the worst possible thing that you could do to attract new readers. It might get you one (and only one) sale, but at the cost of future potential sales.

My second major take-away is that Marvel is in the process of blowing their big pop culture moment.

I love Silver Age superhero stuff, but the odds of a new reader tracking down an often very expensive bound-edition of the early adventure of Marvel superheroes is around 0%. The Ultimate line was supposed to fill that void, but really doesn’t. Even though the Thor and Captain America trailers look good, you have to figure that this moment is closer to its end than beginning.

@Kevin: I was really struck by that as well in Christine’s review and had a subsequent conversation with her via email, telling her that I was sorry that she was ultimately disappointed, but that judging by her reaction (i.e. interest in and ability to follow with the parts of the story that had been open to be resolved later) that she should try to read the rest of the arc (all collected in trade), because all the threads for this story DO get tied up quite satisfactorily…just not in this volume. Almost the same way that reading a trilogy of prose novels would leave one feeling incomplete, even though there are some resolutions in the first book. But I think, not being a regular comics reader, it didn’t make sense to her that she would or should have to read more and there was a disconnect between reading the first volume of a trade and the first volume of a series of novels…?

There really is a disconnect between those largely unfamiliar with comics and “how it all works”…I think that’s a surprisingly significant stumbling block for new readers who haven’t been “raised on it”. Very interesting.

Please don’t use “literally” incorrectly. It makes me insane. You wouldn’t want me to go insane, would you? Or is that part of your insidious plot?!?!?!?!?

I’ve heard the complaint about not being able to read a comic before, and it surprises me. Most comics are extremely easy to read – left to right, up to down – and it doesn’t appear that any of the books you offered featured those crazy “Image-y” layouts that were so popular 15-20 years ago. Even word balloons inside panels are often easy to figure out. Weird.

I wonder if you could do something like this with people who are more primarily art-oriented (if you know any, that is) but don’t read comics. The major complaint seems to be that the art gets in the way of the story, but most of these women, it seems, approach comics as a book with pictures, not as an integration of the two. I wonder if someone who is more concerned with art might complain about all the words cluttering up the pretty pictures!

As always, this has been a very interesting read. And, of course, marketing people at the Big Two (do they even have any?) will ignore it. Confound them!!!!

@ Kevin:

But doesn’t Christine have a reasonable expectation?

“Gifted” runs 152 pages. That really should be enough space to introduce the major characters, set up the premise and tell your story. The only reason Wheedon and Cassady chose not to do that is that ASTONISHING X-MEN was trying to serve, like, three masters:

1. They were trying to create something for new readers, who were intrigued by the premise in other media.
2. They were doing a nostalgia trip for old school X-Men readers that might have drifted away.
3. They were trying to provide bridge back to a more traditional status quo for current X-fans after Grant Morrison.

My sense is that it probably works best for folks in Group 2 who had read at least some of Morrison. I was in that camp and enjoyed it. However, it did not bring me back into reading X-Men comics on a regular basis and I get why a new reader would find it off-putting.

jeez, what a depressing installment to end on. i like how these ladies poke holes in the tapestry of the comics medium and field, stuff that feels kind of invisible to people on the inside, like we’re blind to it but it’s clear as day to everyone else. word balloons really do suck.

how come comics have this much trouble regarding the technical aspects? is it only because they aren’t as widespread in American culture and people simply aren’t accustomed to the techniques and merging of words and pictures? nobody seems confused by prose or film or illustrated picture books, but when the text and artwork collides like it does in comics, people can’t figure it out. maybe that really does say something about how comics are put together, and maybe there’s a better way, or maybe comics are just a “bad,” cobbled-together, jury-rigged medium.

all the stuff about the continuity, coming in and missing earlier installments, is pretty understandable though. i’m in comics and even i hate that stuff. XD. it’s such a hurdle and when people are faced by hurdles for entertainment, they understandably are affected and often turn elsewhere.

wasn’t Shadoweyes going to be in this? i thought that got picked eventually. actually i’m kind of glad it didn’t, too much stress. i would have skipped reading the reaction to it, anyway, hehheh.

anyways, great work, Kelly.

Hehe, yeah, when Christine told me she picked Astonishing X-Men, I thought, “Yikes.”

It’s too bad, as there were plenty of books on the list that I think she really would have enjoyed. Fun Home, for instance, would have been right up her alley. Then again, whose alley is Fun Home NOT right up?

To continue from your conclusions, we also need fans who remember that not all who enjoy comics should enjoy superheroes or that acceptance or rejection of one genre does not necessarily carry gender tags or is not necessarily just a preconceived notion without foundation. It’s not even necessarily a matter of content, some of the forms typical to the genre (“dynamic” art, panel and page layout, heavy continuity) can be big draws for some but equally repelling for others.

But still a pleasure to read these comments, and lots of small things I could comment on…I recently read Aya too, and enjoyed it. In many ways it is quite unexpectional, the main story could be an episode or two of any teen drama show anywhere, but the very universalness of it mixed with an unusual setting (Ivory Coast in 1978) makes it a winner. It is Simply Very Well Done Comic Album.

@ Ross:

It is interesting that WATCHMEN was almost exclusively on a 9 panel grid, which is the easiest page arrangement to follow. Dave Gibbons gave it a strong visual style that starts on the cover and carries into the book itself. It also takes time to introduce each its major characters and tells a complete story.

Maybe it is not an accident that WATCHMEN sells big numbers every single year.

I suppose it takes a certain disposition to read a comic where plotlines are continued into the next installment, and immediately want to read more. I’m of that disposition, so I loved the heck out of Astonishing (and I read it in singles), but I can see how others might not dig it.

Food for thought for my own projects, I guess.

Yeah, I tend to prefer stories which are resolved in the same volume. In a longer series some subplots can go on longer but having everything just hanging in the air at the end of the book…no thanks. This was also the reason I have effectively stopped reading floppies and read only trades and OGNs.
I also don’t watch regular TV shows anymore. If I want to see a series, I get it on DVD.

This does not mean that I don’t want to see any continuing subplots or growth from book to book, or even an occasional cliffhanger, but the not-even-attempting-any-resolution bugs me. Actually, that Aya book did it nicely; Keegan called the ending cliffhanger, I’d say it was more a twist ending, though since I know there are more books coming after that, I assume it will be addressed later. But I don’t need to read those later books to get what the hell happened in this one.

Yeah, this is one of my peeves which keeps my superhero reading limited if existent.

Aw man, I was looking forward to seeing who of the ladies picked Nextwave. Looks like no one did after all. Would have been interesting to see someone who hasn’t read many comics react to something that is deliberately COMICS! (yes, with the exclamation points).

Still, very interesting to read, and I look forward to the eventual Phase III.

I think you’ve done a bang up job proving once and for all that, generally speaking, women just don’t get comics and never will. Time to face the facts and stop wasting time and energy in some ill conceived attempt to push them into a market they really don’t want to be in. Thanks for showing the outsiders what most of us already knew.

@killjoy: i guess by that logic generally speaking men don’t “get” comics either, considering how small and shrunken the readership is compared audiences for other media. women seem to get comics just fine in some countries other than America like Japan or Korea, or what about when lots of people read comics in America decades ago? did subsequent generations of women de-understand comics? i think this series shows more that people not accustomed to comics have trouble with them, i’d bet if you did this with a bunch of guys not used to reading comics that a similar percentage would be equally baffled or unimpressed.

@Dean:

Yeah, I wondered if the nostalgic element of Astonishing X-Men might have been part of what turned Christine off. Also from her responses to which characters she wanted to see, it seems to me that she was looking for something more like the 90s animated series than Astonishing is. Astonishing felt pretty complete to me when I read it, but to be fair I’m a seasoned comics reader and I read it in omnibus form in one sitting.

Astonishing felt pretty complete to me when I read it, but to be fair I’m a seasoned comics reader and I read it in omnibus form in one sitting.

Those are some pretty significant qualifiers there.

@Brian:

They are indeed, so it’s understandable that someone with less experience with comics and the X-Men might have had trouble with the first volume of Astonishing.

It’s funny how it worked out that some of the negative experiences came in the final installment. I think that some obvious pitfalls in the negative reviews suffered from a universal problem; picking the wrong thing. If Brooke was going to pick a book to read, or a movie to watch, she might pick by the poster but probably she would do more research or get a recommendation from a friend. In some of these it seems like the Lady picked without any further research and I wonder if people still do this today? Do people go to their local book store and buy a book with an appealing cover? Don’t you at least read the back cover?
It is no fault of the project, and it wouldn’t erase all negative reactions (Lisa’s would probably still be there because Moving Pictures looks like a fantastic book and it let her down), but you would get better reactions.

I also find, as many of the readers of these posts, the problems with the medium fascinating. It isn’t because I think reading a comic is so intuitive or easy, but because it is easy for me to forget that it is a learned skill, especially when it comes to balloon placement and complex panel layouts. This isn’t to say that an artist should be restricted in what they can do, but it is something that doesn’t get thought about much by the artists that I know (I know a few). I think that often cartoonists don’t think about clarity and readability so much as they emphasize visual impact and making the image look as good a possible in the illustrative sense. These choices effect readability and can deter a prospective reader from adopting the medium like you or I.

In all I love the project and I’m glad that you started it. I think anything that helps us learn about the medium and art of comics and how we can grow its readership is a good thing. Looking at comics with a fresh eye is always positive and this project has been an aid into doing that. Thanks Kelly.

Hard to say if there had been different reactions with more information available, e.g. Astonishing X-Men was apparently picked based on “I remember the cartoon” where the back cover probably wouldn’t help anyway.
Generally the problems I noticed were more about the actual medium and storytelling and the reader’s ability to process those (which indeed is at least for the most part a learned skill), though there were some “oh, you did pick a wrong book then” cases.

There are some artists who think about the readability, who, when constructing a panel or page layout, think how to guide what reader looks at, and the best of them manage to make the reader to look at exactly the right things at right order and right speed, without reader noticing he is being led by the nose.
And most good comics artists have at least some basic idea how to do this but yes, there are also artists who might do great job at illustrations but are not good at this, the end result usually being confusing or boring.
But yeah, paying attention to this can be crucial especially with readers who haven’t read that much comics before…

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