So you thought comic books were dominated by muscle-bound men? There Irish artists will make you think again, writes Don O’Mahony
THE most recent comic book movie to arrive at cinemas is The Diary of a Teenage Girl, an adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi autobiographical hybrid graphic novel. A subplot to the tale of teenage sexual awakening concerns the protagonist Minnie Goetze’s aspiration to make comics like her underground comic hero Aline Kominsky. In one entry Minnie relates how she received a postcard from Kominsky.
“She said she never got a letter from a girl before, just from greasy fan-boys who think she’s cute. Now I feel even more inspired to draw,” she gushes.
The film is another in a recent wave of comic adaptations whose source texts are stories created by women that depict fresh takes on female experiences.
Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Colour and Coco Moodysson’s semi autobiographical Never Goodnight, adapted for film by her husband Lukas as We Are The Best, represent the tip of the iceberg of a female driven comics industry that has for so long remained hidden beneath a male dominated sea of musclebound male superheroes. Women often appear in this world as an adornment.
When Dublin-based comic creator Anthea West was growing up, she had an appetite for the type of television shows and films that were traditionally seen as for the boys. But while she watched them something puzzled her deeply.
“I’d always be sitting there thinking why can’t there be someone like me in these shows? Why can’t a female character go through the same story arcs these guys are going through? Why can’t they do the big epic fights or the big epic character arcs? And there was always that hunger for that growing up,” says West.
“And I think that a huge reason why I write is to make these female characters that I always wanted to see. And to make female characters who would be unconventional, both physical and personality wise.”
Going through her teenage years this feeling of exclusion became heightened and her self-esteem suffered.
“I gained a lot of weight and that really bothered me,” she recalls. “Not because I thought no guys would like me. It was because I knew I could never have my own story because only thin girls got to be in stories. And that would always really hit me.”
West wanted to draw girls like herself and all the other females who would also be feeling this.
“So tall girls, fat girls, girls of different race, gay girls… all of them who wouldn’t get as much representation in these stories. So that’s a huge reason why I write.”
If ever there was a starkly eloquent reminder of the power of story, the pain of being excluded from it serves as an illustration. But more and more women like West are becoming empowered to tell their stories in graphic form.
West’s novel, The Earthbound God, may glory in the realm of dark fantasy but at it’s heart is the friendship of two women. This image of solidarity is mirrored throughout Ireland’s comics community.
“The Irish scene is thriving and very supportive,” says Maura McHugh, a Galway-based writer who is developing a formidable reputation comics and whose latest project, Witchfinder, sees her collaborate with horror writer Kim Newman on a comic book that links into Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe.
“In the past few years a strong network has developed as well as a wider variety of comic book storytelling styles. Diversity encourages original stories, so we should embrace it,” she advises.
Meath-based artist Leeann Hamilton is also an advocate of diversity in comics. “I do believe in broadening the perspective, but because comics have had this kind of oversaturated idea that it’s just superheroes and superhero stories that it’s really booting out a lot of people especially with independent artists,” she says.
Hamilton is a strong believer in the underground and self-publishing comics scene but laments the lack of support for edgier stories by mainstream publishers. She wishes Irish publishers would take more risks and broaden their remit to support more Irish comic creators.
Currently, Hamilton’s own take on Irish myth, Finn & Fish, would be too rambunctious for mainstream publishers here.
“How many stories do we get to see with a female lead character written by a female creator?” she asks. “This is why I think it’s important for representing and finding the sisters in the industry and supporting them. Don’t shite on them, because we’re still in a male dominated industry.”
Cork-based artist and character designer Eva Widermann finds the scene in Ireland a supportive one. Having founded Cork Drink & Draw, an informal artist meet-up, she has seen a lot of local talent emerge.
“Many women here are very interested in creative fields, I’ve met writers, animators, fine artists, illustrators and graphic designers as well as countless, incredibly talented hobbyists,” she observes.
One of these Cork talents is Hayley Mulcahy. Having contributed to the recent Cork Sci-Fi Comic, she is also working on a humorous project titled Space Officer Triggs.
Inspired by the talented women she has met in the industry she says she was disappointed to note the gender imbalance in television coverage of the Cork Comic Expo earlier this year. The event featured as many women as men but the interviews in the segment were all with male creators.
“Perhaps there’s still a view here in Ireland that comics are mainly a men thing, at least in certain media coverage anyways,” she bemoans.
The current wave of female creators will be sure to change these assumptions.
Ruth Redmond, who has been a colourist with Marvel comics for two years now feels this time will soon be upon us.
She declares: “I feel like in five or 10 years there won’t even be the question women in comics, it will just be people in comics, which would just be ideal.”
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Opinions differ on the subject of the great female characters but Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon character, pictured, from the Japanese manga series exerts a strong hold over many female comics readers.
A tale of an ordinary girl who discovers magic powers, it inspired, amongst others, Hayley Mulcahy to create art.
For Ruth Redmond it’s Captain Marvel, “a phenomenal role model, she is strong and capable and knows her own mind.”
Leeann Hamilton favours Maetel from Galaxy Express 999.
“She’s mysterious, wise, beautiful and will stand her ground viciously once confronted.”
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