I was pretty excited when I found out that Fantagraphics was publishing an anthology of “The Best American Comics Criticism.” When I picked it up from my local comics shop (shout out to the fabulous staff at G-Mart!), I popped over to the bar around the corner, settled in with a cocktail, and began to peruse. My immediate response is pretty mixed.
First, the good news: Editor Ben Schwartz did a great job selecting pieces that comprise a vibrant narrative of the industry. From graphic novels with literary aspirations to comics about capes, the breadth of content in here is really fantastic. Schwartz should also be commended for featuring high-brow criticism of/interviews with industry greats like Phoebe Gloeckner, Alison Bechdel, Lynda Barry and Marjane Satrapi. The book is also chock full of meta-conversations about comics—there’s a comic about comic critics by Seth, and even selected Amazon user reviews of Joe Matt’s Spent.
But of all the essays in the book, only one is written by a woman. That’s a big let down. While Sarah Boxer’s piece about George Herriman’s Creole heritage–and how it played into his comics—is brilliant, it’s incredibly disappointing that it’s the only work of critical thinking by a lady in the entire book. (Note: Schwartz does mention troubles getting The New York Times to release content for the book, which could have had some impact on author diversity.) This oversight is unfortunate, and unfortunately representative of a larger, very problematic relationship between women and the comics industry.
I figured I would take this opportunity to point out the work of a few great women who are thinking about, writing about, and creating comics as an alternative to this dudely book.
- Check out this thoughtful interview with Aline Kominsky-Crumb (wife of R. Crumb and a comics genius in her own right) from the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of The Believer.
- Of course, I’ve mentioned this on Attackerman before, but if you’re interested in Superhero comics and gender, you should definitely read Gail Simone’s thoughts about violence against women in mainstream comic books.
- Heidi MacDonald has run The Beat since 2004. While she’s primarily concerned with breaking news and industry trends, The Beat has published some great interviews and short essays. If you’re interested in manga, you should take a look at their ongoing coverage of the bust of the manga bubble.
- Kelly Thompson writes a column for Comic Book Resources called She Has No Head. Her reviews and interviews are very insightful, and I especially recommend her recent interview with Hope Larson regarding Larson’s survey of women readers.
- This list would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention Sequential Tart, a webzine about comics that is edited and compiled by women.
- UPDATE: I realized earlier today that this list isn’t very culturally diverse. That said, I’d like to point folks to Latoya Peterson‘s great writing about race and gender in comics, and for awesome, stream-of-consciousness musings check out Spike‘s twitter feed (or read her comic, Templar, AZ. It’s seriously fun).