Girls are Clever

Originally published on Comics Bulletin

This is not about a velociraptor’s ability to learn how to open doors; this article is about celebrating the brilliance and ingenuity of girls in some of our favorite comics this week. There are a lot of perspectives on what characterizes a “strong female protagonist,” and many of them are focused on physical strength, but there’s a depth and range of available characters in comics today that go beyond a simple trope. We talk a lot about how representation matters, and when we have that conversation it’s important to remember that it’s not just about demographic boxes, about physical appearance, but about having characters that are relatable and that speak personally to as many types of people as there are comic fans.

STK669468

Lumberjanes Vol 1
Published by BOOM! Box
Written by Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Illustrated by Brooke Allen
Colors by Maarta Laiho
Letters by Aubrey Aise

If you’ve paid any attention to Lumberjanes, you’ve heard what makes it a fan favorite. It’s a sweet, powerful, touching story about 5 young Hardcore Lady Types at summer camp, frequently employing oddball humor and supernatural conflicts but staying focused on the dynamic that this cabinful of astonishing and unique personalities bring to the book. The character designs are great and important, but beyond just their design, in every panel Brooke Allen has drawn them to embody themselves with such dynamic expression that these characters are living and breathing on the paper.

After nearly a year of ongoing monthly issues, the first trade is finally– FINALLY– collected, so you can stop going through back issue bins trying to find the 108th printing of issue #1 to share with all of your friends who ABSOLUTELY MUST be reading this great book. And even though it only collects up to issue #4 (of the 12 issues that have been printed so far), this collected-trade-turned-field-manual is well worth the wait. With important life advice about how to be a Lumberjane at the beginning of each issue (“Drowning is a scary way to go”), and descriptions and qualifications for the various badges you– YES, YOU!– could be earning (Pungeon Master, anyone?), even if you haven’t been digging through back issue bins for months this trade is a fun and exciting read.

STK669384

No Mercy #1
Published by Image Comics
Written by Alex de Campi
Drawn by Carla Speed McNeil
Colors by Jenn Manley Lee

Teenaged girls have had a lot of negative portrayals over the years, as vapid and self-centered, fashion-obsessed and shallow, empty-headed and treacherous. Many of these portrayals have drawn criticism for relying on tropes and harmful stereotypes to denigrate these young women as a default scapegoat without critically examining why or how society discounts the voices of characters like this. As we collectively move toward better representation, though, important narratives like Mean Girls and No Mercy #1 remind us that better representation doesn’t have to mean more positive; it can just as easily mean more realistic, and it can be used to discuss why these tropes have been used, where these stereotypes come from, and how young women are socialized by a society that has grown up with these portrayals. Teenagers, regardless of their gender, are awful. They are awful to each other, they are awful to themselves, and 9 out of 10 doctors agree that 97% of teenagers hate 100% of teenagers. The growing pains of becoming a real person can take a decade or more to get anywhere near okay, and really normal and developmentally-important behaviors like trying on new personalities or experimenting with self-expression can get to intolerable proportions, especially when coupled with the self-assured infallibility, invincibility, and righteousness common in this age group.

The creative team on No Mercy #1 has done some really exciting and brilliant experimentation with incredibly unlikable teen character studies. They are examining these tropes and using them (and their accepted role as dislikable) as a lens to look at both how we view upcoming generations and how those generations are being formed. Taking on themes that speak from a place of post-colonial discourse, this book discusses voluntourism, American exceptionalism, white savior tropes, first world privilege, the inherent harmfulness of phrases like “first world privilege,” the list goes on. If you thought you were reading a book about a group of American teens in a bus crash, look again: this book is just so much. This team is writing this, too, from a place that clearly indicates understanding; there are a lot of unlikable things about a lot of the characters, but it’s not done with a broad brush to condemn teenagerdom. It’s sympathetic in its portrayals, with a clear understanding of the inside perspective of a generation mocked for its selfie-obsession and social media “addiction.” That sympathy is the greatest part of what distinguishes this book from its trope-heavy predecessors, and why this book is so exceptional.

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