When I wrote about the black comic book creators whose work I’ve enjoyed, it got me thinking about the other minority creators in the comic book industry: women. Nowadays, there are a lot of women working in various areas of comic books, such that some are now big names; however, this hasn’t always been the case, and the industry still feels like the domain of white men. For example, when doing some internet searches on the topic before writing this, I came across the CBR Master List of top comic book artists, admittedly from 2010: of the 125 on the list, only four are women. Therefore, I thought I should talk about some of the female comic book creators whose work I’ve enjoyed in my time reading comic books as a counterpoint.
Some notes: this isn’t a history of female comic book creators, so I won’t be talking about the likes of Jackie Ormes or Trina Robbins or Tove ‘Moomins’ Jannson. I have mostly read Anglophone comic books in the mainstream, which will affect what I write about here, so no manga or bande dessinée. There will be some crossover with some of the creators in my post about black creators, as well as my post about diversity in mainstream comic books. This will also not be exhaustive.
Although I read a lot of Marvel comic books starting out and so probably came across the work of Marie Severin, the first female comic book creator whose work would have an impact was a colourist: Glynis Oliver’s work on The Uncanny X-Men maintained a consistency throughout the various excellent artists who worked on the book. Behind the scenes, Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti were editors on The Uncanny X-Men (and Nocenti on later X-books), helping keep control of the increasing number of mutants (and Chris Claremont plotlines), before they both went on to become writers. Chronologically, I would have read Simonson’s work on X-Factor (particularly the run with her husband, Walter) before discovering the wonderful Power Pack series that she co-created with June Brigman, whose delicate artwork fused children’s adventure stories with Marvel superheroes grittiness perfectly. I also read Simonson’s New Mutants, but she killed Cypher and introduced Bird Boy, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as her X-Factor, but that’s not the reason why I didn’t follow her when she went on to write Superman – I’m just not a big fan of Kal-El.
I hadn’t read Frank Miller’s Daredevil before reading Nocenti’s work on the title, not realising the huge shadow under which she was working, which probably helped me enjoy her markedly different approach to the character, and the wonderfully different and socially aware storylines she created with John Romita Jr. I loved the Longshot graphic novel she wrote, with early art from Art Adams; I still remember the Colossus serial from Marvel Comics Presents, with art by Rick Leonardi; I look forward to reading her current work, The Seeds, with David Aja.
Because I was a fan of the X-Men and a completist, I would read other X-books, such as Jo Duffy’s Fallen Angels mini-series, a strange side-project in the mutant annals, as well as various annuals she wrote. However, the positions that women had in comic books at the time were not writing or drawing. Marie Javins (now Editor-in-Chief of DC Comics) was a colourist and editor, bringing Warren Ellis to Marvel by getting him to write Hellstrom. Bobbie Chase was editor of Peter David’s run on The Incredible Hulk, a book I love, as well as a host of other comic books at the company, eventually becoming a Group Editor-in-Chief at Marvel in the chaotic mid-1990s. Over at DC, Jenette Kahn was president of DC Comics from 1981, as well as assuming the title of Editor-in-Chief in 1989, overseeing many positive developments at DC Comics. One of these significant developments was Vertigo comics, the brainchild of Karen Berger, arguably one of the most significant editors in recent history with her bringing Alan Moore to DC Comics, followed by the British explosion (Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Neil Gaiman, etc.) that led to Vertigo and the sea change in literate and diversity comics books in the industry (as well as my development as a fan of wider range of comic books). Among her Vertigo editors were Shelly Bond and Alisa Kwitney, who edited a variety of books that I love. Another female editor who had a significant impact on the industry and my reading experience was Diana Shutz, at Dark Horse Comics, where she edited practically everything: Grendel, various Deadface comic books, Sin City, Usagi Yojimbo were the ones that affected me, but the list is too large and she deservedly was made Editor-in-Chief during her 25 years at the company.
There weren’t that many comic book artists or writers in the mainstream around that time whose work I saw. Jill Thompson did beautiful work with various Sandman stories, Colleen Doran did some Sandman work, and later the Orbiter OGN with Warren Ellis. Barbara Kesel was active as a writer and editor in the 1980s/1990s, and I fondly remember her Elseworld’s Finest: Supergirl and Batgirl and the Ultragirl mini-series. Kim Yale co-wrote many issues of Suicide Squad with her husband in the late 1980s/early 1990s, a book that has a special place in my heart; she died far too young of cancer in 1997. In the late 1990s, Devin Grayson wrote various comic books for DC, including The Titans, an Arsenal mini-series and a JLA/Titans mini-series that I particularly loved, a huge story with beautiful art from Phil Jimenez. Pia Guerra did a great job on the wonderful Y: The Last Man written by Brian K Vaughan, which started in 2002. Amanda Conner’s art was first published in 1988 but it took a while before her work became really known – I probably saw it first on Soulsearchers and Company in 1993, but it would be The Pro in 2002 (written by Garth Ennis) and Two-Step in 2003 (written by Warren Ellis) that cemented her position in my mind as a great comic book artist, which the rest of the industry has gathered in the past decade with her work at DC, particularly the reinvention of Harley Quinn (the inspiration for the version currently popular in the movies).
I first became aware of Gail Simone, like anyone who was a fan of comic books and who read the internet in the late 1990s/early 2000s, through her column and Comic Book Resources, You’ll All Be Sorry, which was hilarious. She was also responsible for the Women in Refrigerators website, named after the death (and stuffing into a fridge) of the girlfriend of the Green Lantern at the time, highlighting the horrific way that women were treated in comic books in the service of their male counterparts. She would soon go onto write most characters for the big two companies and hold a position of prestige in the industry for her excellent writing.
Carla Speed McNeill started self-publishing her excellent science-fiction comic book, Finder, in 1996, although I wouldn’t get to enjoy it until the 2010s when I was able to get the omnibus editions from the library. I would see her art in Ellis’ Frank Ironwine book and in Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country before that. Laura Martin is an award-winning colourist, who has worked on many comic books, the ones that stuck out from the beginning of her career include Planetary, The Authority and The Astonishing X-Men written by Joss Whedon. The beautiful covers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 and the first two series of Runaways by Jo Chen still stick with me to this day, more than a decade later. Emanuela Lupacchino is a big name at DC these days, but I remember her early work in the US (she is Italian and had worked in the industry over there first) on Peter David’s second run on X-Factor; she was good then and has only got better. Rachel Dodson has been inking comic book art, most notably that of her husband, Terry, since the mid-1990s; similarly Laura Allred has been the colourist of the work of her husband, Mike, for as long, although I didn’t see her work until X-Statix and iZombie. Kathryn Immonen has written a variety of books for Marvel, including writing Journey into Mystery where she made Sif the lead character, but Moving Pictures (with art by her husband, Stuart) was a wonderfully complex non-superhero work.
Kelly Sue DeConnick had been writing comic books since the mid-2000s, but it was her great work on Captain Marvel, levelling up Carol Danvers and setting the basis for the recent film, that cemented her position in the industry. Her creator-owned series at Image, Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly, the latter with beautiful art by Emma Rios, whose work first came to my attention on the Strange mini-series written by Mark Waid, are real standouts. Talking of writers of Captain Marvel segues into the work of Kelly Thompson, who is doing great work currently on the character; I didn’t realise that she was a staff writer at CBR for six years from 2009 onwards. I probably first read her work on A-Force, but she’s had a stellar rise in the past few years, with the excellent Hawkeye focusing on Kate Bishop, Rogue & Gambit, Jessica Jones, Mr & Mrs X, and West Coast Avengers (I’m still gutted that WCA was cancelled so quickly). The other writer of a Marvel-named character leads to G Willow Wilson; I was aware of her work at Vertigo in the late 2010s, but it wasn’t until the release of the Kamala Khan Ms Marvel title that I would read her work with regular devotion. Kamala Khan is the best thing to come out of the debacle of Marvel trying to make the Inhumans relevant as a replacement for the X-Men (due to the head of Marvel not wanting to promote the Fox Studios X-Men films); Wilson wrote a wonderful new character who is thoroughly deserving of the Disney+ TV show that is being made.
The recent past has fortunately seen the rise of so many female comic book artists, which is a welcome change. Sara Pichelli’s fluid, dynamic, detailed art helped launch the Miles Morales Spider-Man book, and has been part of Runaways and Guardians of the Galaxy among others. Nicola Scott came to prominence working with Gail Simone on Birds of Prey and then Secret Six, before moving her vibrant art onto other work at DC, including Teen Titans, Earth 2 and Wonder Woman; she is also the artist of Black Magick, the creator-owned series with Greg Rucka at Image. I first saw the amazing artwork of Fiona Staples on North 40 and Mystery Society, but it would be the multiple award-winning work on Saga, with Brian K Vaughan that would deservingly launch her into the stratosphere. I cannot wait for the series to resume after the cliffhanger of the midway comic book.
I think that a sign of the rise of the female comic book artist is the number who are seemingly mostly known as cover artists, always a prestigious assignment. I run a Tumblr, Variant Comic Book Covers, and it is populated with fantastic artwork from the likes of Elizabeth Torque, Jenny Frison, Yasmine Putri, Jen Bartel, Stephanie Hans, Tula Lotay (although I’ve seen her work on Supreme: Blue Rose), and it’s always a thrill to see new artwork from them. The field of superhero comic books is getting better generally: I loved Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams and the Mockingbird series by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk; Nnedi Okorafor, Roxanne Gay and Afua Richardson on assorted Black Panther books; Joelle Jones on Catwoman, Becky Cloonan on Gotham Academy, Babs Tarr on Batgirl, Erica Henderson on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – and that’s not taking into account new writers I haven’t sampled yet: Karla Pacheco, Eve Ewing, Margaret Stohl. The future is bright.
Of course, superheroes are not all comic books, and I’ve enjoyed the work of female comic book creators outside the narrow parameters of the genre. Posy Simmonds’ work such as Tamara Drewe, the colours of Elizabeth Breitweiser on various books by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, the art of Leila del Luca on Shutter, the work of Colleen Coover and Kate Beaton, the wonderful Anya’s Ghost and Be Prepared! by Vera Brosgol, and the fantastic art of Max Sarin and then Lissa Treiman on the wonderful series Giant Days. I really enjoyed Molly Ostertag’s Witch Boy, and only realised while researching this that she drew the excellent webcomic Strong Female Protagonist; her wife, Noelle Stevenson, wrote and drew the excellent Nimona, was part of the creative team that created the wonderful Lumberjanes, and was developer/showrunner of the fabulous reboot of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix. I know that I’m missing many others (I’ve yet to read any Raina Telgemeier or Alison Bechdel, for example), but that only means I’ve got many more great comic books to read.