I could start off with some kind of joke here about how whenever I went into the local comic book shop, I was the only girl there. The good news is, that was not explicitly true. Were the ladies outnumbered? Of course, sometimes substantially so, but I never let myself buy into the premise that comics were a hobby reserved exclusively “for guys”. Furthermore, I never got the sense that I was unwelcome in the store (some guys were a little more openly surprised to see me than others were, but never hostile). It is easy to see why one might feel that way, however. To browse through any given comic shop, is to enter a decidedly masculine environment. There are guys browsing the shelves, guys working the counter, and guys playing tabletop games around the back. If you didn’t know any better, you might walk into such an environment as a female, and feel the same way you might feel having accidentally walked into the men’s bathroom.
Comics are not a 50/50 split when it comes to gender. Ask anyone to rattle off 10 comic book characters or superheroes, and they will probably be male. If they do mention a female, I’ll bet dollars to donuts, it’s Wonder Woman. There is nothing wrong with Wonder Woman – she’s awesome! It’s just that there are many, many other female characters who deserve a little recognition too. For me, these characters meant something important. Pacing the store, waiting for something to catch my eye, these images of strong, fearless and capable females almost seemed to say “Hey, kid. It’s cool that you’re here, because I’m here too.” I followed a career path in writing largely thanks to comic books and other genre related materials, and I have no doubt that there are hundreds of female artists who got their start doodling Death from “The Sandman” series, or Storm from “X-Men”. Now it’s time to meet some of the other characters that inspired us.
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Ms. Marvel (Kamala Kahn)
While Kamala Kahn is one of many characters to be called Ms. Marvel over the years, something especially cool about this version of the superhero is that she is Muslim, and the first Pakistani American superhero to be given her own comic series. If women are somewhat underrepresented in the comic universe, then minority women are even more scarce. She gives a voice to a portion of the American population that has not been explored before in this medium. Her series was launched in 2013, and she has gained a lot of popularity. Critics and fans alike have many good things to say about the series, both for the fantastic, classic comic artwork, and the really compelling story line.
Vixen (Mari Jiwe McCabe)
Vixen’s story begins as an African tribal legend surrounding a magical totem granted by Anansi, the spider god. This totem supposedly gives the wearer powers from the animal kingdom. Mari is familiar with these legends, because she heard them as she was growing up in Zambesi. After her parents are killed, she winds up in America where she works as a model. When she later decides to travel back to Africa, she discovers that the totem she had heard about is real, and she is able to claim it for herself. This is how she becomes the hero “Vixen”.
Her story is popular enough for it to have popped up in a few mainstream TV shows. Her character has made appearances on Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, Go, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Sherri (from The Crow)
If you saw the movie version of The Crow, this character was renamed “Sarah”. She is the young street kid who ends up becoming very close with the main character, Eric Draven. The Crow’s artwork is so iconic, some might even say it launched an entire fashion movement in the early 90s. Sherri’s artwork makes her look like a real kid, and she is very easy to connect to if you are a young female reading this graphic novel. She struggles with growing up, with her absentee mother, with the loss of her friends, and living in conditions ultimately too harsh for her. She seems like just a “regular kid”, yet she has a strong connection with an undead vigilante. The way she navigates the story is both natural and supernatural, making her an especially cool character for readers to follow.
Death (from The Sandman)
Death is always pictured in movies as either an old man, or as a skeletal figure in black robes. Silent, menacing, immovable and terrifying. Imagine then, my surprise when I discovered that “Death” in The Sandman series is a perky, and kind of punk rock girl, noticeably lacking a chip on her shoulder. She is utterly neutral in her job of guiding people to the afterlife. Young and old, good and evil, strangers and loved ones all follow her through to the great unknown, and she takes them there with total nonchalance.
She is not your average superhero, and one could argue that she is not a hero at all. She is an elemental force, unimaginably powerful, yet she would sit next to you on a park bench, and talk to you like a friend. The writing in The Sandman series is part of what inspired me to become a writer myself. The narrative is so elegant, and so meaningful – it is a great argument for why comics ought to be considered literature.
The Question (Renee Montoya)
This character is actually the successor to a male character of the same title. Renee Montoya was created to be part of the wildly successful Batman: The Animated Series. She originally showed up as a police officer in the Gotham City P.D. (therefore frequently running into Batman), but left after getting fed up with the corrupt mess we all know it to be. She is trained by the original “Question”, and takes on that character herself.
Part of the reason Renee is so noteworthy is that she is outed as a lesbian during her story arc, making her one of the few LGBTQ characters in the comics universe. Her character has resonated with many people, and is also a nice indication that the industry is trying to become more inclusive.
Yes, it’s true that you could probably boil this character down to just “the girl version of the Incredible Hulk”. Her character is Bruce Banner’s cousin, and also suffers the same Jekyll and Hyde syndrome as her more famous male counterpart. The cool thing about her is that she is smart, cool and composed while she is in her human form (she is a successful lawyer, after all), but while in her Hulk form, she is free to express herself more fully. So she stays in that state longer because she wants to. Go girl!
Mina Murray (Wilhelmina Harker)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a work of art all its own. Mina Harker (or Murray) is the character you may remember from the novel Dracula. In this story she is tasked with assembling a group of experts, who also happen to be characters from classic literature. Among them are Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Hawley Griffin (The Invisible Man) and Dr. Jekyll (and by extension, Mr. Hyde). Together they are tasked with stopping a war between Fu Manchu and Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty.
That story is cool enough on its own, but what makes Mina so awesome in this story is that no matter how crazy things are getting around her, she remains the picture of composure and manners. She calmly handles fights, falls and confrontations without resorting to anger. She is simply confident in her own power, and does not question it. There are not too many characters like her.
Michonne (from The Walking Dead)
I don’t know if it is still fair to call this character “little known”, thanks to the amazingly popular AMC adaptation of the Walking Dead. What I am going with here is that not enough people have read the graphic novels, and you get a much better feel for the character of Michonne there. Where Mina Murray would never appear filthy or disheveled, Michonne is constantly so. Not only that, but she does not really care much what you or anyone thinks about that. She is a fantastically strong female comic book character.
She has been through the worst of the worst. Besides the fact that the entire world appears to be ending, she has also endured the loss of her children, betrayal, torture and worse. She comes out of it all swinging a sword, and fighting to protect those close to her. She is not a character who needs to be rescued – instead, she will rescue you.
Are you a comic book fan like me who feels inspired? If you are interested in getting into the world of comic book art, check out Udemy’s course “Learn to Draw and Paint Comics” as a great place to start.