18th Apr 2012
Chicks Dig Comics edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis
Chicks Dig Comics includes plenty of nerd culture for those in the know, and enough explanation to encourage the readers who aren’t already embroiled in the comic world to immerse themselves, fast.
It is a compilation of witty essays and interviews extolling the role of women who read, write, illustrate, buy, and critique comics. Now, they are legion but, as the book explains, this was not always the case.
Both Mark Waid and Gail Simone chart the changing landscape of the genre and note that comics started off with strong, funny, talented women before taking multiple steps backwards and allowing frames and pages to become engulfed by muscled superheroes and their busty babes.
Then, as Waid puts it ‘Neil Gaiman came along and saved our collective ass’. The Sandman was not the only turning point, but it did mark a sea change in the types of comics available, and since then, the industry has seen a surge in female readership.
The ascendancy of women within the genre has thus far occurred with little public acknowledgement. Chicks Dig Comics rectifies this as it records the demise and rise of strong women as characters and contributors.
These women fell into obscurity or spandex when comics were first televised but now they soar once more, like the Phoenix Jean Grey, to be celebrated and adored anew.
Each chapter reiterates this jubilant message but celebrates a different storyline, character or part of comic culture. Erica McGillivray describes the life of a cosplayer, and how her life changed the day she went to a comic con dressed as Alice.
Seanan McGuire gives an in-depth account of the Jean Grey vs. Emma Frost debate: the perfect, heroic almost-all-powerful woman is contrasted with her conflicted, pragmatic, diamond-hard counterpart who freely admits to maintaining her comic book body with plastic surgery and hair dye.
Gail Simone gestures to the multitude of ‘headcanons’ – ‘[t]he mythology you make in your head when the real one doesn’t quite include you’ – as the first step in women’s comic writing.
My favourite essay was Kitty Queer by Sigrid Ellis, who opens with a confession: ‘I was sitting on the top bunk when I told Rogue I was gay.’ Kitty Queer uncovers the secret sexualities that were smuggled into stories when the Comics Code Authority guidelines bore a ‘perversion’ clause that rendered lesbian relations obsolete.
As someone who came to comics so late in the day that I read Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For before X-Men, it was a wonderful education to discover the comic world of invisible gays at a time when they still needed to hide.
Chicks Dig Comics guarantees to enlist many more female fans as it gathers a grand chorus of voices to sing the praises of all the former ‘unicorns’ and applauds the fact that women in comics are no longer mythical creatures but real life heroines, Wolverine t-shirts and all.
Recommended for: All comic and graphic novel fans.
Other recommended reading: Women in Refrigerators.