Thank you Thursday: Graphic Novelists

Since Courtney is on vacation, I’m stepping in this week to do my first Thank You Thursday post!
This week I want to dedicate to graphic novels, and particularly the bad-ass women who write them. In the pretty male dominated world of comics and graphic novels, these women rock their content. I love the way reading a graphic novel makes my brain work differently, giving visual context for the words and characters on the page. Two women in particular stand out for me: Alison Bechdel and Ariel Schrag.
I’ve written about Alison Bechdel’s stellar book, Fun Home, before. It’s gotten TONS of well deserved attention, and I’ve read it at least five times. She has such a witty and thoughtful style and tells the story of her own coming of age and coming out, as well as her dad’s own struggle with his sexuality. She’s also the author of the favorite comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which is coming out in a collected edition this fall.
Ariel Schrag is a newer find of mine, but she’s also a fantastic contributor to the lesbian graphic novel world. She wrote a series of graphic novels while in high school in Berkeley, one about each year. It’s really cool to watch her skill and style develop and really fun to delve back into the world of high school through Schrag’s eyes.
Both these women write with such honesty and humor it makes my life feel just a little less foreign.
Who are your favorite female graphic novelists?

Join the Conversation

  • babzie

    Check out Kris Dresen. Her drawing is amazing in its detail, and her women look real, and find that realness sexy in each other. Also, if you were in college in the ’80s, “Max & Lily” is essential.

  • Kerry

    I haven’t read many graphic novels, but one of my favourite authors when I was in my early teens was Tamora Pierce, who always wrote about strong female heroines, and who has written about a heroine called “White Tiger” for Marvel. My favourite is when she comes up with a practical explanation for all the figure-hugging costumes:
    “I can’t wear anything this tight!”
    “Trust me. They look at the outfit. It makes it easier to hit them.”
    On a more serious note, “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi is one of my favourite books ever – its artistic style is simple but the content is devastating.

  • dykelawyer

    Other than Bechdel, Schrag and Satrapi:
    Jessica Abel, author/artist of the Artbabe series and the recent graphic novel Le Perdida.
    Pia Guerra, co-creator and artist of Y: The Last Man.

  • alexlynn

    I LOVE Ariel Shrag and Alison Bechdel. I’m so glad you mentioned them. Fun Home is an amazing book. I’m teaching it in my gay and lesbian lit class this fall. Another brilliant graphic novelist is Lynda Barry. She writes comics that are published in a lot of alternative weeklies, but she also writes graphic novels and stories. My favorite is One Hundred Demons. And if you like disturbing things, the very dark, twisted Cruddy.

  • alexlynn

    Oh and one more recommendation. Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez aren’t women, but they have been writing fascinating, complex female characters for years. The heroines of their long running Love and Rockets comics Maggie and Hopey are off and on girlfriends and the series talks about race, class, sexuality, superheroes, wrestling, mechanics, and punk rock. It is very worth checking out.

  • Kate

    I really love Colleen Coover. Not a graphic novelist exactly, but her stuff is awesome- particularly Small Favors, the “girly porno comic.” If you’re gay, bi, or just like looking at naked girls in comics, check it out. The story line and art is really cute, not scary. Porn comics rule!

  • AndersH

    I have a very dignified crush on Gail Simone, writer of various superhero comics, and the one who made Birds of Prey truly great during an amazingly long run.

  • davenj

    Kaja Foglio of Girl Genius, and a second to Pia Guerra, who illustrated every issue of Y: The Last Man. Can’t wait to see what she does next.

  • SarahS

    oooh, see this is a dangerous question to ask a librarian and former comic book store employee *rubs hands together in glee*
    I just finished “Emma” by Kaoru Mori, a sweet historical fiction manga series. A complex look at social class and love set in Victorian England.
    And C.L.A.M.P. is an amazing group of female manga writers that write collectively. I loved “Chobits” – it starts out as being a very odd mix of romance and humor at the expense of a skinny and usually naked female robot, but it evolves into asking questions about what makes consciousness and personality in robots that I felt like could also be read as a metaphor for the othering of women.
    I love Misako Rocks! (yes the exclamation point is part of her name). Anything she does rules and makes being a badass chick (like in “Bikegirl”) very accessible to teens.
    Gail Simone is a dynamo in the male-dominated field of superhero comics. I love her run on “Birds of Prey” because she elevates them to more then just hot chicks that fight crime. She gained prominence in the genre for writing a website detailing the ways that women in comics are often used (murdered/raped/attacked/etc) as a plot device. You can still see the original Women in Refrigerators site at
    Marjane Satrapi is amazing. Her memoirs are so moving, so soaked in feminist interests, so beautiful. “Persepolis” is required reading, as is “Embroideries”.
    My favorite Ariel Schrag is actually the anthology she edited, “Stuck in the Middle”. It is all stories about how much our teen years sucked, the mistakes we made, where we fell down, and how horrid it really was. I really dig that shit :-)
    Becky Cloonan is also one of my fan-gods. I loved her work on “Demo” – just run out an buy the collection right now. Right now!
    Too many comics, not enough time! I might add more tomorrow :-D

  • ChapstickAddict

    In addition to the books already mentioned, I also love the graphic novel “The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom” by Katherine Arnoldi.
    I am looking forward to hearing everyone else’s favorite graphic novels though. It’s so hard to find good ones. Inevitably, I end up buying one that turns out to be more dude-oriented than I anticipated.

  • M0xieHart

    I have to agree with the recs for Allison Bechdel, Marjanne Satrapi and Pia Guerra.
    I’ve just gotten into Lynda Barry, this awesome comic/collage artist who does these insane multilayared comics. I recomend “One Hundred Demons” and “What Is It?”
    M. Alice LeGraw of the awesome, supernatural loligoth series Bizenghast.
    Kauru Mori of the lovely maid series Emma.

  • ely

    Not to sound a little too mainstream, but Marjane Satrapi, definitely.

  • Sparkles

    MoxieHart: I didn’t like Emma, personally. For someone who did so much research, how could Mori still name a character “Mrs. Trollop”? I don’t care if it’s not the woman’s actual name. It’s like no one was aware that her pseudonym was a synonym for prostitute. I could overlook every historical inaccuracy but that one(it might sound kind of asshole-y, but it still bugs me).
    Marjane Sartrapi is fantastic. But discussing titles rather than single authors, Y the Last Man is pretty feminist, especially for a popular (though alternative) comic. But don’t forget about Runaways, the popular Marvel comic that even has a chubby but still awesome main character–the first non-perfect body I’ve seen in comics that isn’t drawn eating a sandwich or acting retarded. Gert from Runaways is one of my favorite comic book characters.
    Some obnoxious male comic book nerds rant about how “them uppity feminists will be sooooo pissed about how useless Silk Spectre is” but I found a critique on how women are portrayed in comics written by Alan Moore many, many years ago and he isn’t the anti-feminist that lots of neckbeards think he is.

  • davenj

    SarahS, have you seen Becky Cloonan’s work on American Virgin? Give it a try, she’s terrific, and thanks for bringing her up.
    Cloonan and Guerra are two of Vertigo’s big up-and-comers, and I can’t wait to pick up Demo soon. Cloonan and Brian Wood are terrific individually, and I can’t wait to see their tandem work.
    Oh and Sparkles, Runaways just started up its newest run with Terry Moore and Humberto Ramos. And yeah, Brian K. Vaughan created some great characters for the series. Gert’s terrific, but Nico’s pretty great as well, especially in the unwanted leadership position.
    I could go on and on about graphic novels and comics. One of the few mediums where truly groundbreaking work can get done early on, and there are a ton of terrific men and women who are really helping comics rebound through the use of alternative publishers and internet media.

  • saira

    In addition to most of the women mentioned above, I have to admit, I do like Paige Braddock, as well, who created Jane’s World.
    And Gail Simone and Alison Bechdel rock my world. (I second that “dignified crush”).

  • AudryT

    I’ve GOT to recommend Wendy Pini. She was revolutionary when she wrote ElfQuest in a male-dominated field thirty years ago — and she’s still revolutionary today, as she is currently writing a gorgeous, sophisticated, boldly erotic graphic novel for grown women, in the form of an animated, full color webcomic, no less! (It can be read at

  • AudryT

    I’ve GOT to recommend Wendy Pini. She was revolutionary when she wrote ElfQuest in a male-dominated field thirty years ago — and she’s still revolutionary today, as she is currently writing a gorgeous, sophisticated, boldly erotic graphic novel for grown women, in the form of an animated, full color webcomic, no less! (It can be read at

  • AudryT

    Sorry about the double-posting about Masque. I’m not sure how to delete the duplicate…

  • geniuslevels

    Lynda Barry!
    Phoebe Gloeckner!

  • politiclit

    I grew up in Vermont and always LOVED Alison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For! I read it in the alt newspaper, 7 Days, which I reccomend to feministing readers! Does anyone know of a female graphic novelist that has a style similar to Adrian Tomine? I love old-school realism and subtle storytelling.

  • Wendell

    Glad others have mentioned CLAMP and Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis was spellbinding, and I’m not usually a graphic novel reader.
    I love Bechdel’s storytelling. Combine that with her drawing style, and you’ve got a winning combination!
    Maria Schneider’s Pathetic Geek Stories is also truly awesome, and she was the writer behind some of the funniest and memorable characters when she was with The Onion: Herbert Kornfeld, Jean Teasdale, T. Herman Zweibel.

  • Danyell

    I LOOOOVE Alison Bechdel! I miss her strip, but she’s busy working on her next book. It’s sure to be equally amazing as Fun Home.
    I also love Danielle Corsetto. She’s not a graphic novelist, though. She does a web daily called Girls With Slingshots.

  • M0xieHart

    Sparkles, I could honestly overlook that just because I’m a huge history buff and the exquisite renderings and portrayals overrule that for me. But that’s just me.
    Omg, Maria Schneider wrote Herbert Kornfeld? I loved him for rizzle!

  • Mina

    Sparkles commented at August 28, 2008 9:38 PM: “For someone who did so much research, how could Mori still name a character ‘Mrs. Trollop’? I don’t care if it’s not the woman’s actual name. It’s like no one was aware that her pseudonym was a synonym for prostitute”
    …and not even if they knew about the author Trollope.
    Anyway, my guess is that the person translating it was transliterating all the names from scratch instead of realizing Mori had originally transliterated some names from English to Japanese in the first place. I’ve seen other mistakes like that, hence:
    Trollope -> [Japanese text] -> Trollop
    Jones -> [Japanese text] -> Jounes
    drama -> [Japanese text] -> dorama
    Maldives -> [Japanese text] -> Maidves
    (and I bet a ton of other ones exist too like in Japanese -> English -> Japanese and other combinations)
    Why do they do this? Do they not recgnize words like “Jones” when they’re in kana instead of Roman letters? Do they not know about Anthony Trollope, the Maldives Islands, etc. and think “we don’t have a word for that in English so we have to transliterate”? Do they think “Trollope,” “Jones,” etc. aren’t authentic enough (kinda like this Wikipedia edit war: )?

  • ShifterCat

    I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned Jill Thompson. She has her own series (Scary Godmother), but her art is distinctive anywhere.
    Colleen Doran is another one who deserves a mention. Her series A Distant Soil sprouted from mainstream comic book fanfiction (Liana was originally supposed to be Aquaman’s girlfriend!) and morphed into a rich tale of lost galactic dynasty.
    Also? Ms. Doran, along with Wendy Pini, has the distinction of drawing some of the most beautiful men outside of manga.
    Speaking of manga, although the handling of female characters is a decidedly mixed bag, I do think credit should go to writer Tsugumi Ohba for Death Note, because the story is so nuanced and well-told.
    Even though the main characters of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist are male, virtually all of her female characters are noticeably strong and capable.
    Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket stands head and shoulders above most romance manga for both its layered characterization and regular injections of slapstick comedy. And despite the fact that much of the action revolves around the males who are for one reason or another fascinated with our heroine, it is always emphasized that the most important relationships in Tohru’s life are with her mother and her two best girl friends.
    Returning to the west, urban fantasist Holly Black has recently branched out into comics writing. I got ahold of an advance copy of The Good Neighbors book one, and am eagerly awaiting book two.
    Huh, I’ve gone on longer than I thought.

  • Sparkles

    Mina: Man, I feel like an illiterate douchebag now. Thanks for clearing that up for me. (no sarcasm–that was really the only thing I didn’t like about Emma).

  • Mina

    Sparkles commented at August 30, 2008 10:40 PM: “Mina: Man, I feel like an illiterate douchebag now. Thanks for clearing that up for me. (no sarcasm–that was really the only thing I didn’t like about Emma).”
    Please don’t feel like an illiterate douchebag! If there’s any bit of illiteracy involved, it’s on the part of whomever does these bad transliterations (and on my part for leaving the o out of recognize in that post).