What This Chick Looks For In A Comic

When I look for a comic, I’m most often attracted to the things published with girls in mind. When I was younger, it was Archie. I read so many digests and individual comics (which are still in my parents basement in a large box) that I could tell you what era a story came from based on what Betty and Veronica were wearing.

And man, did I love the pin-ups in the Betty and Veronica comics.

I even had this Crayola fashion designer kit with a stencil of three female figures in different poses. It had drawings of clothes you used to trace onto the figures. I loved that thing, even after I ran out of tissue paper. Then I started drawing my own clothes.

I never did send anything to Archie, though. And I didn’t go into fashion design either.

I’m still into comics marketed for girls – luckily, though, my tastes have grown up. Lately, I’ve been reading Courtney Crumrin, Three Days in Europe, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hopeless Savages and Strangers in Paradise. Say what you will about Strangers in Paradise, but it’s the ultimate girl comic. Terry Moore does a brilliant job of capturing Katchoo and Francine and making both of them identifiable not only as female but as human beings, with motives obvious and subtle, just as in real life.

Reading Strangers in Paradise is like reading someones diary – except its much more interesting than most diaries (there are plenty of dull ones online – I used to keep one myself). I was a snooper as a kid – mostly in my moms stuff, which was not particularly interesting – and the idea of reading the intimate details of someones life still intrigues me. Nothing is more intimate than the ins and outs of a relationship. Why else would girls spend so much time gossiping about their friends relationships?

Strangers in Paradise is something I discuss with my friends who are readers. It’s something with which we can go, ohmigod, can you believe so-and-so did this? It’s the same reason why Buffy works so well – the endless discussions about Buffy and Spike getting together, how they treat each other, if that subtle look Buffy gave him here means anything – it’s a safe kind of gossip, sometimes more interesting than anything your real life friends are doing.

I’m not so much looking for escape in my comics. I know that’s a common theme – and a good reason why superheroes and gag strips are so popular. I want another reality, separate than my own, but more interesting, but still identifiable as one I could live in. My imagination is a little worn out from a childhood of pretending to be a princess-Olympic figure skater-rock star-scientist. I don’t mind reality so much that something mirroring becomes boring or distasteful for me. As long I can relate to it as a potential reality, it works for me. It could even have an anthropomorphic animal – I loved Craig Thompson’s Goodbye, Chunky Rice, which focuses on a turtle – but I have to be able to relate. Dont get me wrong: I can relate to superheroes too, not just real people. I’ve been reading Mecanix, the Marvel mini-series about Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat), mutant and university student extraordinaire. I’m also a huge Buffy fan. I just have a harder time relating to Superman, despite his love trials with Lois Lane. My greatest conflict isn’t my secret identity.

Luckily, there’s plenty that does interest me. There’s Andi Watson’s Geisha series, and his graphic novels Slow News Day, Breakfast Afternoon and Dumped all of which are incredible looks at relationships. I just finished reading Adrian Tomine’s Sleepwalk (Drawn & Quarterly). Not so much a girls’ comic, it still has the ironic look at real people that I like (and the clean art). Of course, I couldn’t forget Love and Rockets. It’s the gossipy nature of the stories within that always strikes me as being the girliest thing about it – even girlier than the lesbians and housewives. Leela Corman’s Subway Series, about a teenage girl’s relationships, would have made my sixteen-year-old self cringe at its reality. As would Pheobe Gloeckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl.

On the internet, I haven’t found quite as much bounty. Pete Abrams’ ability to accurately capture and depict realistic relationships in Sluggy Freelance has, at times, struck me. The "Fire and Rain" storyline (oft-cited as one of the best in the comic) captures the motives and the characters themselves (very familiar to long time readers) so honestly and aptly that it was a heartbreaking read especially for a strip known just as much for its satires. My friends discuss Sluggy (so do the other readers) and College Roomies from Hell all the time.

Look What I Brought Home has become stronger over the years going from being just about the gags to using the subtleties of the relationships of the characters to be the gags (which brings to mind For Better or for Worse, despite the subject matter). It’s Walky and Exploitation Now both are apt in using relationships to create the gags, rather than just being about the gags. Because of the nature of comics on the web – often starting as hobbies, or as experiments – it takes time for things to develop fully, like a relationship. There are things Im looking forward to reading in full – True Loves on Serializer, being one. Its shaping up to be exactly what I like in comics: a story about a girl having real conflicts with good art to back it up.

If I found more like that on the web, I’d be a happy girl. And maybe I could spend a little less on comics!

Leah Fitzgerald


  1. I agree about “Look What I Brought Home”. While the crude humor VERY often crosses my line, it is the relationships between the characters that makes me keep going back. In my own webcomic I have lately been experimenting with relationships more and more as a source for not only humor but good storylines. I’ve always done simple dating humor but I’ve been creating more and more “serious” relationships in my strip, and it seems to be working.

  2. Okay, I now officially LOVE Comixpedia with all of my heart.

    Rock on, Leah.

  3. My comic isn’t FOR women per se, but it definitely has women IN it.

  4. We often sit down and look through Previews one after the other, and mark the things that we might be interested in ordering, and I can usually predict what Leah will be interested in. What she doesn’t mention in her column though, is that I wind up reading more than half of what she orders.

    Some books, like Strangers in Paradise, have blown me away with their rich, well-developed characters, and beautiful illustrations. They not only cross genres, but appeal to both genders as well.

    One of the reasons I think we see less of what she likes online is that there hasn’t been much of a market for long-form comics on the web until recently, and I don’t think that it’s very easy to tell thoes kinds of stories unless you can go beyond those three or four panels that most webcomics are restricted to. It can be done, but those comics that manage to develop their characters and engage the reader in the way that comics like “For Better or For Worse” might, are few and far between.

    Maybe now that there appear to be a few more outlets for long-form comics, perhaps we’ll see more comics online that Leah and others that like the kinds of things she does can dig.

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