Graphic novel newbie seeks reads
July 25, 2018 12:49 PM   Subscribe

I want to start reading women centered, women authored, graphic novels and need recs.

I'm looking for sci fi, fantasy, fairy tale-esque graphic novels written and illustrated by women, centering on female protagonists.

Species (human, animal, alien, monster...) not important.

Story/writing and art very Important.

Explicitly feminist would be great. Queer, trans, people of color authored or as characters most welcome.

Available in the U.S. please.
posted by Archipelago to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
posted by lizifer at 12:50 PM on July 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:01 PM on July 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

These are all ones I have read and enjoyed. There are a few other graphic novels by male authors that are nonetheless centered in a feminist space that I would suggest (Bagge's book about Sanger for example) but these hit your specific requirements.

Most things by Raina Telgemeier, specifically Ghosts.
El Deafo by Cece Bell.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. If you really like that, try Are You My Mother which is a little heavier.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Novel by Isabel Greenberg (UK book but distributed inthe US). Unspeakably lovely.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is great for foodies.
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
posted by jessamyn at 1:01 PM on July 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Digger, by the wonderful Ursula Vernon (Hugo-nominated for this and other excellent works)
Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson (also of Lumberjanes, also currently leading the She-Ra reboot)
Anything by Emily Carroll (Through The Woods is amazing; this is readable online and a great place to start)
posted by ourobouros at 1:02 PM on July 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

If you're up for fairy tale-esque horror Emily Carroll's Through the Woods is FANTASTIC. Every fall when it starts to get spooky out, I wish I could read it for the first time again.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:05 PM on July 25, 2018

Fun Home (Bechdel) and The Witch Boy (Ostertag) come immediately to mind as stories that were developed as Graphic Novels. Ostertag also illustrated The Shattered Warrior written by Shinn. I think Lumberjanes and Papergirls were developed as serials, which is slightly different.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:07 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

My Favorite Thing is Monsters. It's winning all the awards, and rightfully so.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:08 PM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Bitch Planet
My Pretty Vampire

Sophie Goldstein does some strongly feminist SF, and her work deserves more attention:
House of Women
The Oven
posted by 1970s Antihero at 1:09 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

The difference being that a trade paperback for a serial may or may not have a solid story structure, and a publisher may split a serial "arc" over multiple trade paperback volumes. A graphic novel is designed from the start to be compiled as a complete volume. Your mileage will vary of course.

I highly recommend Lynda Barry as well.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:15 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Paper Girls is AMAZING - one of my favorite current projects - but it's wholly male created and made. Another great woman centered comic that is written by a man but co-created and drawn (gorgeously) by a woman is Snotgirl. But, they don't really fit the brief because it is men telling stories of women.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 1:17 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also there are technical distinctions between trade paperbacks and graphic novels but most people use them interchangeably. If you specifically want non-collected issues and instead full books written to be that way, you'll have to make that clear.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 1:21 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takada's Monstress. Just wrapped its third arc. All charactered are presumed female unless declared otherwise, art is amazing, storytelling is stunning.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 1:26 PM on July 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Strong Female Protagonist (link to first page) (you can also buy the books)
posted by jillithd at 1:28 PM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thanks, I'm Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today! I got so excited AS YOU DO about Papergirls taking place in Cleveland (where I live) and having a woman of color as the central character that I forgot it isn't actually authored by a woman.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:29 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Please trust, chesty_a_arthur I nearly beat you to it!! I have purchased ever single issue since #1 and have considered buying the trades too lol.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 1:32 PM on July 25, 2018

Persepolis 1 & 2 by Marjane Satrapi.
posted by rachaelfaith at 1:48 PM on July 25, 2018 [10 favorites]

Castle Waiting is what you are looking for. Fairy tale setting, woman creator, beautiful artwork, and feminist in ways that permanently expanded my mind and heart.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a super cute, super queer book about femininity and identity.

Seconding Nimona.

Anything by Mariko and / or Jillian Tamaki.

Finder is adjacent to what you're asking for, but I can't not rec it - the protagonist is male, but the female characters are central to the story and deals with themes of gender, gender identity, and race / cultural identity.
posted by toastedcheese at 1:51 PM on July 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

I read ElfQuest at a fairly young age, a bit over 25 years ago, and still regard it as the best comic book I have read. I have been reading comics continuously since, but the singular vision of its creator, Wendy Pini, still shines through amongst other books I have read. There are multiple different stories in the total output of the saga, but the original quest stands among the great fantasy literature. The publisher Dark Horse has collected most of the series in three large volumes. The "Final Quest" just wrapped up this past Spring. I haven't read it yet, because I don't know that I can think of the story as ending. My very most treasured comics are my Donning/Starblaze full-color editions of the original quest.

BoingBoing seems to give some well-deserved attention to Mrs. Pini, but I think she is extraordinarily, criminally underrated in histories of comics. Just today, I noticed they have a lengthy essay about her that I haven't finished reading yet. The link is here.

My daughter just discovered Lumberjanes and loves it (as do her mother and I). I have read most of the recommendations folks have made so far and concur with them. Some authors/creators you might seek out, that I haven't seen mentioned yet, are Gail Simone, Colleen Doran, Phoebe Gloeckner, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel and others) Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Marguerite Abouet (the Aya series). I also just noticed Marvel's Hellcat on my graphic novel shelf, which was done by Kate Leth and Brittany Williams.
posted by Slothrop at 1:53 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another Marvel recc: Okorafor has been writing some Black Panther stories.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:21 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lumberjanes, as many have already mentioned, is Amazing. Definitely worth picking up for the writing, the artwork, the stories. Five stars, full marks, A+. Definitely always read this series.

Moonstruck, written by Grace Ellis and illustrated by Shae Beagle and Kate Leth, would also fit the bill. It’s fantasy in genre, and takes a lot of care to be inclusive. The art is beautiful and the story is whimsical. I would recommend it to anyone looking for something light, it never strays too heavy or serious.

Heavy Vinyl is another great option, it’s lightly scifi but heavily grounded in 90s nostalgia. The writing is strong, and it’s easy to root for the characters to succeed. It is written by Carly Usdin and illustrated by Nina Vakueva.

If you’re willing to try something less fantastical, Kabi Nagata has written two autobiographical graphic novels that are deeply personal, and explore her relationship to anxiety and her family in very human ways.
posted by suri at 2:30 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

This one is sweet, funny, very moving (I cried when I read it) and written by a queer feminist woman: Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole Georges.

When Nicole Georges was two years old, her mother told her that her father was dead. When she was twenty-three, a psychic told her he was alive. Her half-sister, saddled with guilt, admits that the psychic is right and that the whole family has conspired to keep him a secret. Sent into a tailspin about her identity, Nicole turns to radio talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger for advice.

I highly recommend it!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:36 PM on July 25, 2018

In addition to The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Isabel Greenberg wrote One Hundred Nights of Hero, which is also glorious.
posted by gideonfrog at 2:54 PM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding Persepolis!
posted by snorkmaiden at 3:55 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I loved Calling Dr. Laura!

Marjane Satrapi also wrote
The Sigh,
and Chicken With Plums.

Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich

There is a graphic novel version of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series (the first three books)

Mimi Pond has a fictionalized account of her early years!

Hope Larson did a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time.

And Lucy Knisley has a bunch of autobiographical stories.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:05 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am gobsmacked there are not more recommendations for Bitch Planet on this list.
posted by itesser at 5:37 PM on July 25, 2018

O Human Star - I'm not sure about the gender of the author, and one of the main characters is a man, but there are some trans characters as the story develops.
posted by bunderful at 6:15 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

So many great recommendations here. I'd add Eartha to the list - the idea of a female protagonist who is kind of large and homely but is appreciated for her strength and kindness blew my mind when I first started reading it.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:16 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Strangers in Paradise is written by a man but almost all the major characters are women - including the main villain - and there are some queer characters.
posted by bunderful at 6:21 PM on July 25, 2018

Revolutionary Girl Utena
posted by J.K. Seazer at 6:35 PM on July 25, 2018

Came here to recommend A Wrinle In Time and all of Terry Moore’s work, starting with Strangers In Paradise...yes, he’s a he, but I’ve never heard a woman call that a reason not to read his stuff.
posted by lhauser at 8:17 PM on July 25, 2018

I've heard good things about the books of Tillie Walden.
posted by yesbut at 4:23 AM on July 26, 2018

Not fantasy - but Posy Simmonds' novels are amazing and very, very women-centric. Try Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:55 AM on July 26, 2018

I looooooved Aline Kominsky Crumb's Need More Love - she's so hilarious and this was such a delightful read/memoir. Kominsky-Crumb is the wife of underground comic artist (and misogynist) R. Crumb. Her work is always an antidote to his, for me.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:35 AM on July 26, 2018

aimed at adult audiences:

How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis (vignettes--I've only read the first two stories yet, but my graphic novel book club chose this as our next book!). I read You & a Bike & a Road by her (nonfiction journal of her bike trip) and adored it.

Moonstruck by Grace Ellis

Spell on Wheels by Kate Leth

ya/middle grade/any age audiences:

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol - lovely story & art. If you don't mind reading a picture book by her, I liked Leave Me Alone! even more. Her latest is a realistic fictional(ish) account of a young girl going to summer camp for Russian-American kids.

Taproot by Keezy Young is *sigh* wonderful; 2 main characters, 1 trans and 1 cis male.

Katie O'Neill's The Tea Dragon Society. I wish I had a tea dragon.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Hope Larson writes a mix of realistic fiction and fantasy/horror. Mercury might fit the bill. She also did the graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.

Faith Erin Hicks also has a mix of realistic and fantasy books. What I've read of the Nameless City Trilogy so far is great. I started with the War at Ellsmere.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:37 AM on July 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky and Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia are worth a look for you.

I will second Emily Carroll's work and Sophie Goldstein's work.

If you're interested in anthologies, you may want to check out the Power & Magic anthologies (link to shop) and Beyond Press's anthologies. The creators in these aren't all women, but definitely very women-driven and absolutely inclusive.
posted by darksong at 8:19 AM on July 26, 2018

Here to support everything Slothrop says about Elfquest! I read the whole series again a couple of years ago and it did not disappoint.
posted by missmobtown at 8:24 AM on July 26, 2018

Ahhh all my faves are here already! Can't rec How to Be Happy, Persepolis, Through the Woods, and the Hope Larson adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time strongly enough. I also love the Hyperbole and a Half book (and blog) and LITERALLY ANYTHING by Kate Beaton.

Also: This would not meet the women-written or drawn part of the ask, and I know Joss Whedon has been very disappointing lately; however, this does not diminish my love of Fray in the slightest.

Edit: OMG don't read that Wikipedia article about Fray too closely if you don't want any major spoilers, jeez.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:26 AM on July 26, 2018

A ton of great recommendations here. In spite of there lack of women writers, I encourage you to look at Papergirls, Wayward, and Copperhead. Very strong female characters and female involvement in the comics, although the lead writer for all three is male.
posted by BDoyon at 12:04 PM on July 26, 2018

A Distant Soil by Colleen Doran ticks all these boxes.
posted by culfinglin at 11:09 AM on July 30, 2018

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