Comics Read by Women

by Sigrid

This isn’t a post about how to get your girlfriend to care about your hobby. This isn’t even, really, a post about how to get women to read comics. You get women to read comics the same way you get anyone to read anything — you ask them what they like, ponder what you know about the material at hand, and offer a couple of suggestions as to what you think they might enjoy.

That said.

Here are the comics the women I know are actually reading, or have read.

Queen & Country. Available in nice, easy to find, easy to read Absolute collections. By Greg Rucka, Q&C tells the story of being a British spy. It features well-rounded and well-thought-out characters doing tough things. One of those characters — though not the lead in all the stories — is a woman, Tara Chace.

Secret Six. By Gail Simone, this twisted DCU title tells of the adventures of a group of C-List villains. Features strong characters, great dialog, a deeply twisted sense of humor, and canonical GLBT characters in both hero and villain roles. Also hot amazing art by Nicola Scott (usually) who draws extremely attractive men. Mostly available in trades.

Classic X-Factor. Easier, by far, to read than trying to figure out how the hell to read ongoing X-Men titles. Available in Essential editions. Hilariously soap-opera-esque, yet featuring long-standing X-characters all in one easy-to-acquire title.

Birds of Prey. Also by Gail Simone, this mainstream DCU title has kickass women kicking ass. Also getting the tar beat out of them by villains who are nearly their match. High superhero stakes, lots of character-driven plots, lots of fun dialog. Excellent cheesecake art over the course of the title makes the women look hot and sexy and most of the men equally so. Only somewhat available in trades, as DC is weird about this.

Alias. By Brian Michael Bendis, introduces us to the foul-mouthed P.I. Jessica Jones and her former superhero career. Centered in the Marvel Universe. Alias is a classic gumshoe P.I. story with the nearly-deadbeat detective who is just getting by. Amazing character development, plus some great cameos. A good introduction to the the whole Avengers side of Marvel. Available in trades.

Whiteout. By Greg Rucka, again. The story of Agent Carrie Stetko and a murder in Antarctica. With great art by Steve Leiber, who always draws people that really look like people. Another mystery/crime comic that feels intimate. Stetko is a great, flawed, strong character. Available in trade.

Runaways. Part of the Marvel U, but not initially immersed in it, Brian K. Vaughn’s story is a classic — what if your parents really are supervillains? This title has more people of color, a better gender balance, and more GLBT than almost any other Marvel title. Available in trades and manga-sized editions.

Astonishing X-Men. The Joss Whedon run. Great, great writing, snappy dialog, excellent characterization, tightly wound plots. Joss kinda sorta almost based Buffy on Kitty Pryde, so it works well to have him write her. Amazing art by John Cassaday. Available in trades and absolute editions.

New Avengers. Bendis, again. An easy introduction to who the Avengers are. Decent racial and gender mix. EXCELLENT snappy dialog, if you like an Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk. Available in trades.

The Order. By Matt Fraction with art by Barry Kitson. Most of the women I know have read this because I have made them read it, but none have regretted that. Some of the best writing of original characters in the Marvel U in a long damn time. Extremely character-driven storytelling, with decent character diversity and a wry self-awareness. Available in trades, I think.

X-Men First Class. A look at the early days of the X-Men, adding depth and character moments to those long-ago adventures. Written by Jeff Parker, the series was light and easy and fun, while not avoiding some decent foreshadowing of future events. Available in trades and manga-sized editions.

Gotham Central. A cop/crime series set in the DCU’s Gotham City. Excellent, excellent character writing, good art depicting real people. This series is perfect for whoever likes Law & Order or its ilk.

Invincible Iron Man. Available in trades, this series by Matt Fraction has some of the best ensemble writing out there — and almost all the main characters are women. Besides Tony. The series featured the debut of Pepper Potts as the hero Rescue, which is immensely popular with the women I know.

A few names, you’ll note, recur. Rucka. Simone. Fraction. Bendis. That’s because these writers consistently treat male and female characters as equally important, equally valuable to the story. These writers all write character-driven plots with witty dialog that sounds real to the ear — though, goodness knows, I pine to sound that witty. If the circle of my acquaintances is any indication — and they are my acquaintances, so it’s a small and self-selecting group — this is the kind of story women want.

Of course, we all each have our own titles. I don’t read any Captain American titles, for instance, and I know a lot of women who do. And I love Strangers in Paradise, but that’s not a universal preference among ALL women by any means.

So, women who read comics, what comics are you reading? Guys, what comics are your female friends reading? Women, why do you like the comics you are reading? Is it loyalty to a title you read when you were younger? You like crime fiction? The protagonists are attractive? You enjoy the wish-fulfillment fantasies of power and competence?

Email: sigrid @ fantasticfangirls.org
Twitter: sigridellis

  • Margot

    BATGIRL.

  • xenokattz

    Uncanny X-Men, Insert-adjective X-Men = the very first comics I ever collected. I read them because they’re family. *L* And I have a ridiculous attachment for Gambit, Rogue & Cyclops in whatever permutation their current creative team puts them through.
    Astonishing X-Men: Because Joss is a god & Ellis is continuing the good job.
    X-Factor: Great storylines & art. I also love the fact that Peter David FINALLY took the sub out of Rictor & Shatterstar’s subtextual relationship
    Red Robin: Tim Drake being Batman 2.0: the early years is all sorts of awesome.
    Birds of Prey: Because I will read anything written by Gail Simone
    Action Comics, Superman; any Elseworlds/AUs with Lois Lane: I will read anything that has Lois Lane in it.
    Superboy: I love Kon-el
    Runaways:Again, the storytelling & the premise of the whole series is great.
    Fables: Good story telling & I love retold fairytales

    TPBs/Issues I’ve bought for certain storylines
    Adventure Comics: Kon-el + Geoff Johns + Francis Manapul = joygasm
    Superman: Secret Identity = I have nealry worn this TPB to shreds. Stuart Immonen’s art + Kurt Busiek’s story are just my favourite.
    Welcome to Tranquility: My first exposure to Gail Simone. I never looked back
    District X, Gotham Central:I love real people in metahuman circumstances stories
    Almost anything that has Cyclops, Gambit, Rogue, Lois Lane: Because I love them so very much.
    Sandman: My friends’ sister introduced me to this in high school & thus began my Neil Gaiman obsession. I also collected Mike Carey’s “Lucifer” series because of this & the whole retold fairy-tales thing
    Arrowsmith: Kurt Busiek + Alternative Earths = heaven
    The Truth: Red, White & Black; Secret Identities = The starting points of my pro-POC readings in comics
    At some point or another, I’ve sampled all of the X-titles
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Come on, what kid in the late 80’s/early 90’s didn’t follow TMNT?!
    Detective Comics: The run with J.H. Williams’ art in Batwoman
    Alias: My comicbook dealer slipped the trade in my pull-out because he is MEAN and RIGHT ALL THE TIME. Jessica Jones rocks my socks off.

    There must be more but I’m blanking out at the moment. And this is why I’m broke all the time. ;)

  • Emmzzi

    Nothing current grabbing me but Preacher, Love & Rockets, American Splendour, Sandman, Middleman

    Less fighting, more plot, snappy dialogue.

  • http://cemurphy.net/ CE Murphy

    It’s old hat by now, of course, but ELFQUEST is what got me into comics when I was eleven or twelve. I also think NYX is one of the best things Marvel’s put out this past decade.

  • Anika

    I find it necessary to include THIS version of X-Factor because it is my personal favourite:

    And, of course MS. MARVEL. I made a list for Amazon for that one (it includes ALIAS and NEW AVENGERS off your list, too).

    And especially for young women, my Spider-women trio, all available in manga-sized trades: SPIDER-GIRL, MARY JANE, and ARANA are all excellent YA superhero stories.

    Edit: I would add YOUNG JUSTICE, but that’s not available in trades.

  • Kymmethy

    Well intentioned, but ultimately pointless article. Women read whatever the hell they please, same as men. Nothing more to it. Comics featuring or written by women are an enjoyable factor, but they’re not -essential- in order to get us to pick up a comic.

  • Kim

    Farscape, from BOOM Studios. It’s written by some of the same people who wrote for the TV series, and it shows in the stories.

    Also, I’m a big fan of voting with my dollars, and I’m hoping that if the comic books draw enough attention, we’ll finally get our damned webisodes.

    Plus, MORE FARSCAPE. It’s never a bad thing.

  • Caroline

    Great list! I’d throw on Joe Kelly’s ‘I Kill Giants’ (a story with a young heroine who doesn’t ‘need’ to be female for the story to work, which is just an awesome blending of reality and fantasy) and (for a particular set of preferences that include a high tolerance for gore and blasphemy) ‘Preacher.’ The latter I make a point of mentioning because I would never have known from any of the reviews I read before picking it up that there were any female characters in it, much less that the tough smart-mouthed Tulip is one of the central characters.

    Another of my favorite current reads is the manga series ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ — which is considered a shonen ‘boys” manga, and has a pair of brothers as the protagonists. But the writer/artist Hiromu Arakawa is female and she’s made sure to populate the story with with interesting, well-rounded women (including most of the teacher/mentor figures, and the genius mechanic Winry Rockbell, who is my favorite character). Arakawa makes an effort to be sure that the female characters have personal relationships with each other, not just the guys, and in one of her author’s notes she mentions that she is from a rural area in Japan where there are a lot of working women (still, I think, more of an issue in Japanese society than in ours) and because of that makes sure to include them in her stories.

  • http://untilfurther.blogspot.com/ Allen

    @Kymmethy

    I see your point, but I don’t think this article is pointless. For the longest time I never even thought of the idea that girls read comics. Why? Not sure. Maybe because in media it’s often guys who are seen reading or talking about comics. The “Female Nerd,” if you will, is constantly painted (or not painted) as an invisible identity. I like this article because it tells *me* what my fellow female comic fans are reading. And you’re right, women do read whatever the hell they please, and this article shows that. There is a great diversity among the titles that Sigrid and the other commenters have listed. Besides, I’m gay; I know less than 5 (seriously) other gay comic fans. I’d LOVE to see an article on what gay comic fans are into. Just because we aren’t white male comic fans doesn’t mean we don’t read comics, but that’s often how society paints it (as well as many other issues).

  • handyhunter

    <3

    I've read and liked all of those, aside from X-Factor, which I haven't read, and I've only read parts of New Avengers. I'd add Spider-Woman, SWORD, Cable & Deadpool, Batwoman: Elegy, Ex Machina, Preacher, Nextwave: Agents of Hate, the very little I've read so far of Heroes for Hire.

    (I'm planning on reading Marjorie Liu's Black Widow, but my comic store guy told me it was $25 for the HC, which I find to be quite steep for 5 issues. So I'm waiting for the trade.)

  • http://throughthebrush.wordpress.com/ Jennifer

    I’ve read and enjoyed every Marvel item on your initial list, as well as Whiteout. Other items: Peter David’s X-Factor, old and new, which have more concern for characterization than almost any other superhero comic I can think of, in addition to plenty of women, POC, and LGBT characters. Captain America, in all eras. She-Hulk, particularly the Dan Slott run, which is, as I’ve said before, the female equivalent of Spider-Man. Humorous books like Cable/Deadpool and Great Lakes Avengers. Agents of Atlas, more Jeff Parker awesomeness with some kick-ass women who pass the Bechdel test constantly. Dark Wolverine, which mixes hypermasculine violence and gore with ambiguous sexuality. Jen Van Meter’s Hopeless Savages. Everything by Brian Wood, including New York Four (about four very different college-age women coming of age) and Local (about one woman growing up as she hops around the country), but also DMZ, which is a “male”-coded book but features some strong female characters and an awesome dystopian political landscape. Batgirl and Batwoman — and Tiny Titans, the only three DC books I follow regularly. And much, much more.

  • sigrid

    @Kymmethry You are free to not read anything you find pointless, including this post. Enjoy your day elsewhere!

  • Mel

    Currently, Girl Genius.

    At various other times: Elfquest (the first!), Sandman, Astro City, Generation X, Digger, Strangers in Paradise, Kabuki.

  • sigrid

    Thanks, everyone, for the answers! I especially appreciate all of the explanation as to WHY we read the comics we read —

    That is, after all, a huge part to getting more of what you want — being able to identify it. Instead of being talked about, as a mysterious other-ly object — “what on EARTH will get WOMEN to read COMICS, my goodness!” — we can speak for ourselves, with our own voices, and answer what we like. Moreover, this emphasizes that women are not a lumpen category, but individuals with tastes and preferences in comics as in every other thing.

    I appreciate all of your replies, and hope to see more. This is the kind of speaking out, the kind of conversation, that is the real reply to The Girlfriend Lists and those endlessly asinine articles wondering about the great mystery of women and comics.

  • genaverse

    My intro was technically Transformers, but the first comic I bought regularly was Batman (sucked in by the ’89 Tim Burton movie). Ironically today I buy no DC comics at all.

    Right now I read almost nothing but capes (and Marvel at that). There was about a decade when I turned my nose up at anything with a Marvel logo. I read X-Men in the early 90s, stopped reading comics altogether by the mid-90s for the same reasons as everyone else. I read lots of Indie stuff in between, mostly Oni Press. Then I saw that there was a Ms. Marvel comic. I guess that was the gateway drug, haha. A few months later I started reading Iron Man because I liked the tech and the character’s origin story, though the writing wasn’t always what I liked. I started reading Avengers and Captain America a couple of years ago and am still catching up on various Ultimates titles, though now budgetary restrictions are shutting me down again. There are more comics to read than I will ever have time for. God Bless Marvel Digital. If only DC had something similar. It’s the only way I could ever get up to speed on anything I’d ever want to read.

  • Ana

    My first comics, were my cousin’s (possibly my uncle’s) collection of Richie Rich and Betty and Veronica back issues from the earl 80’s and 70’s. I didn’t really pay attention to them again till college when a serious bout of procrastination led me to read all of my fiancĂ©e’s Excalibur back issues. I adored Kitty Pryde, curly haired Chicago Cubs fan, like myself. I read zillions of X-men, Wonder Woman, BoP comics after that. 15 years later, my to-read list is smaller, but I always a make time for Buffy, Fables and B.P.R.D and follow artist and writers less than characters.

    Currently I have been enjoying the launches of the Mystery Society and The Shield.

  • http://www.kirabug.com kirabug

    I grew up on newspaper comic strips and Warner Brothers cartoons, and really didn’t discover comics until college. By then an issue cost $2.99 – the same as lunch – so I read them on break at Waldenbooks or not at all.

    Then I discovered webcomics. Specifically, Sluggy Freelance. And a whole host of others that have died since — although I still read roughly 40 (down from 200+) during any given week. My favorites include Sheldon, Digger, Questionable Content, Schlock Mercenary, Sinfest, Penny Arcade, and Something Positive. Like many webcomic fans, I draw my own, but unlike the successful webcomic artists up there, I do so with underdeveloped art and a hapazard schedule.

    I’m also trying to catch up on some of the printcomics — have read some Uncanny X-Men, The Crow, V for Vendetta, and just started the Absolute Sandman collection. I’m a big fan of the Flight graphic novels. Plus I’m a sucker for buying webcomic compilation books.

  • http://ryorins-ramblings.blogspot.com/ Ryorin

    I grew up with Astrix, Tintin, syndicated newspaper strips (Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County), Archie comics, Simpsons comics, and a ton of manga (mainly shounen, which is the “for boys” variety) and only started reading American “mainstream” comics relatively recently.

    That said, I now read several of the series you mentioned, as well as Cable and Deadpool, Batgirl, Spider-girl, Captain America, Red Robin, Blue Beetle, Excalibur, Captain Britain and MI13, the current New Avengers, the current Secret Avengers, Zatanna, Buffy Season Eight (which is totally mainstream), and several titles that Monday is making me forget.

    Oh, and then there’s web comics, of which I read many. Like Girl Genius… and several others I can’t think of because I’m tired and there are so many.

  • http://ryorins-ramblings.blogspot.com/ Ryorin

    …right, I forgot to mention why I read those comics. Most (though not all) of them are fun and have some humor mixed in along with whatever drama or plot craziness comes along. Not very many are dark and gritty (I will read such titles, but I’m not motivated to keep something that depresses me). All of them have interesting characters that I enjoy watching interact. Caroline mentioned Fullmetal Alchemist earlier and how the Hiromu Arakawa filled it with interesting women who have dynamic relationships with each other (like Winry, who’s my favorite too). I’m usually too unobservant to notice how often which gender interacts with itself and in what way (try figuring out that clause!), but basically I enjoy stories with interesting characters interacting with each other in dynamic and interesting ways. I love Cable and Deadpool because I enjoy watching the title characters interact with each other and other characters and establish a variety of relationships. The Deadpool solo title, on the other hand, I don’t enjoy nearly as much because I find Deadpool only mildly amusing without the interaction with other characters. Beyond, you know “hey, the deliveryman’s a scumbag, you mind if I kill him in your living room?”

    If I don’t like any of the characters or if the character interaction bores or depresses me, I won’t care enough to follow the title for long.

    I apologize if this is incomprehensible; I’m still really tired. There are probably (definitely) other factors contributing to my enjoyment of a title that I can’t think of, but this works for now.

  • http://fantasticfangirls.org Caroline

    @Ryorin I didn’t think to mention it but I have noticed that a lot of my female friends like ‘Cable & Deadpool’ too. I don’t know if it’s just a situation like Sigrid said with ‘The Order’, where I talked about it so much my friends ended up getting it, or if there’s something else about the title or the type of humor. I also like how (as with Runaways) it intersects with a lot of things in the Marvel universe but doesn’t require you to know about them or even take them seriously. Of course, it’s a book a lot of guys like too, but I do think it’s one that doesn’t tend to make the ‘girlfriend’ lists but that a lot of female readers like.

    Re: Fullmetal — an example is a scene where Winry and Hawkeye run into each other and have a chat, even though they are basically in ‘different’ storylines and there’s no plot expediency for them to interact with each other. Even though Hawkeye is usually there to back up Roy, and Winry is functionally a sidekick for the Elrics, the women still have scenes that aren’t about the guys they work with — and also that they’re all primarily working relationships, with any romances growing out of that. It partly has to do with the length of the story Arakawa is working with and the freedom that gives her to go on side stories and tangents, but I think it also says something about the way she values the characters, and I enjoy that a lot.

  • http://ryorins-ramblings.blogspot.com/ Ryorin

    @Caroline Oh, I totally agree. Arakawa definitely values her characters. I think one of the reasons I don’t notice how often her female characters interact is simply because they do so naturally; I can’t imagine a scene where Winry and Hawkeye sit around and talk about their love lives without it seeming forced and out of character, and that’s okay. They’re both interesting and dynamic enough in their own rights to just interact and be their interesting dynamic selves. It also says a lot that it wouldn’t be a natural sort of interaction for them, seeing how many series there are out there without so much diversity in the personalities of the female characters for it to be unnatural for any two to talk about their love lives (I once again plead “tired” for the rambling-ness of that sentence).

  • erin

    I didn’t really read comics as a kid, except for occasionally borrowing Best Friend E’s _Archie_ and _Betty and Veronica_ comics.

    My introduction to Comics for Grownups was in college, when I was friends with 2 girls who were roommates and really into comics–one of them worked at pretty much the only comic shop in our town. They introduced me to Sandman and Strangers and Paradise, which I loved.

    My introduction to Big 2 Superhero comics was the Joss Whedon run on Astonishing X-Men; I’d read some indie superhero stuff before, like Astro City.

    I haven’t been reading comics much lately, for some reason, but I just bought the first Marvel Divas trade and I _love_ it! It’s witty and fun and I keep picking up and reading it again.

  • http://www.rhiannonrevolts.com PK

    Let’s see, along with some of the ones mentioned in the post…
    – I love Sam Kieth’s work, particularly the first arc of The Maxx and Zero Girl.
    – Y: the Last Man is, of course, utterly brilliant even when it rips your heart out and stomps on it.
    – I go back and forth on Strangers in Paradise, but I really loved it when I first read it.
    – Hopeless Savages
    – Marvel 1602

    Lately I’ve tended to pick up some of the things my partner has on hand, but some of those have been quite ace as well.
    – Preacher. As Caroline mentions above, there’s a woman main character who does stuff and is more than The Girlfriend she’s made out to be in blurbs.
    – Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, which is a reworking of an Astro Boy serial as a murder mystery.
    – Global Frequency. It’s led by two women, and they Save The World A Lot in awesome ways.

    Obviously, everything has problematic bits, and many may have triggers, but there are some great stories in there.

  • handyhunter

    @Caroline I started reading Cable & Deadpool (and The Order) on your recommendation. :) I like the humour – and recap pages! – in it a lot because I don’t find it offensive or humiliating. It’s just kind of ridiculous. And by ‘it’, I mean Wade. I haven’t bothered with his solo titles, though. Nextwave comes kind of close to the irreverence and humour of C&D. Not having to know much about the other on-goings of the Marvel universe is also a plus.

    I should also mention that I really liked Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston (who also drew some of Rucka’s Queen & Country). These aren’t comical or superpowered like C&D, but more coming-of-age with some identity issues stories.

  • http://prismcomics.org Zan

    @Allen

    If you’re interested in the intersection of “gay” and “comics”, PrismComics.org is required reading.

  • http://millicentandcarlafran.wordpress.com/ Carla Fran

    I’ve been reading a lot of Army@Love lately and enjoying it. Also just found Amy Martin’s splendid “The Girls Are Mighty Fine”