There are so many great comics and graphic novels starring girls! I wish there were more diversity of various kinds, but I’m hopeful that we’re moving that direction. I’ll definitely bring you news as I find more diverse books to recommend. In the meantime, please enjoy my newest finds for outstanding graphic novels and comics for older kids, teens, and even adults, starring amazing girls and young women.
El Deafo by Cece Bell.
I’ve recommended that adults read this but it’s also perfect for older kids and teens! Bell does a stellar job showing the emotional process she went through as a kid, trying to fit in and find friendship. It can be tough when you have a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest during the school day! Anyone who felt or feels out of place while growing up will appreciate kid Cece’s struggles. Also, the people are drawn as bunnies, which is a plus in my book. C-Man was afraid this would be an after-school special about a Very Important Topic but after only a few pages, he was hooked. I might recommend it for even younger elementary kids if they’re okay with what Boy Detective calls “crush stuff” (i.e. schoolyard romance.) I saw a girl of about 8-10 in the library with it the other day, and her dad said she’d read it three times already.
Lumberjanes, written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, illustrated by Brooke Allen, colors by Maarta Laiho, and letters by Aubrey Aiese.
I don’t want to call Lumberjanes a cult hit, because its appeal is wider than that. Indie smash? Darling of all who love strong girls in comics? Whatever you want to call it, it’s great, and you should read it. It’s about five friends who go to summer camp, their counselor, and their many supernatural and mystical adventures. My favorite thing about this comic is the complete lack of drama among the friends. They are just good friends. The story focuses on what they do instead of rivalries, confusions, or romantic jealousy over boys. So rare in stories about girls!
I read the first volume with my son when he was seven, actually, hoping he wouldn’t be in over his head. He wasn’t, and he loved it, so we got the second book when it came out. That’s the volume that sold me. I felt like they’d taken all the good parts of the first book and built on those quite well. Bonus: diversity of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity, yay!
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale.
The world clearly needs more fantasy westerns about ass-kicking female teenagers! I thoroughly enjoyed this re-visioning of Rapunzel and her friend Jack (he had a beanstalk incident a while back). They’re outlaws for hire in the Wild West, bent on taking down the Big Bad who’s destroying the land and keeping good folks in poverty. The Hales who co-wrote it do a good job pacing the story and keeping the romance light until the end. The Hale who drew it (no relation to the authors) spent over a year on the artwork, and I don’t doubt it given the detail he puts into the panels! It’s a feel-good girl power tale, recommended.
Raven: The Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley, with art by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt.
The Raven series is a spinoff of Princeless, which I’ve raved about before, but you don’t need to read Princeless to jump into Raven! It’s the story of the Pirate King’s daughter, Raven Xingtao. Raven should have been the next leader of the pirates, but instead her father and brothers locked her in a tower to wait for a prince. Not cool! (And Raven likes gals anyway.) Now she’s looking for a crew to help take back her inheritance.
My favorite part of this book is the series of job interviews Raven holds with men who want to join her crew. Whitley took every stupid thing guys say to women on Twitter and turned it into a scene that had me crying with laughter. My tired feminist heart healed up a little bit reading it, I swear. Lucky for Raven, she finds some more suitable crew members. A diverse group of gals who are ready to follow her into battle! The only problem with this series is that Whitley probably can’t write it fast enough to keep my household happy.
Peanut by Ayun Halliday, with art by Paul Hoppe.
Peanut is about a girl who makes a very bad decision. Sadie is the girl. The bad decision? Lying about having a peanut allergy. Switching schools between freshman and sophomore year of high school is hard, after all. You’re lost in a sea of people who all already know each other. Unless you find a way to stand out, like a potentially life-threatening allergy. Clearly, that’ll help break the ice and make friends, right?
Sadie’s deception goes about as well as you’d expect. What I didn’t expect was my feeling bad for Sadie even while she’s working so hard to lie to her new friends. I didn’t quite get her reasoning behind the lie, intellectually or emotionally, but I do know (from my own past) that kids sometimes just do stupid things. Halliday just has a way of bonding you with Sadie once she’s living with the consequences of her choice. I was definitely hoping she could find a way to end the lie and move forward without being totally humiliated. Hoppe’s friendly, clean drawing style gives each character plenty of life. I’ll be looking out for more of his work.
Pix: One Weirdest Weekend by Gregg Schigiel, with color assistance by Paul Tutrone and Chris Dickey.
What’s a teen superhero to do in the face of school bus crashes, dragon attacks, mystical enchantments, and kidnapped neighbors? Help, of course! It’s been a while since I’ve read a superhero book with so much heart and so little angst. Pix is just a nice kid with good friends and parents, who happens to have superpowers and uses them for good. It was so refreshing!
Schiegiel’s art is crisp, and the action and emotions are clear. The writing seemed slow to come together in this volume, but by the end I was sold and hoping for follow-up books. There’s clearly a lot going on in Pix’s world aside from Magic 8-Balls with tentacles attacking her in the bathroom sink drain. (Yes, really.) Is Pix really not entirely human? What do her mom and stepfather know that they aren’t telling? Will Seth ever ask Pix out? I need to know!
Valor, an anthology edited by by Isabelle Melançon and Megan Lavey-Heaton.
Valor is a collection of 23 short stories – most comics, a few prose – that “pays homage to the strength, resourcefulness, and cunning of female heroines in fairy tales.” Some of the stories are re-creations of existing fairy tales, while some are new. It’s an extremely diverse collection that includes women and girls of color, queer and trans characters, and stories rooted in a variety of cultures. The editors did a great job including a mix of atmospheres as well, from cute to scary to sad. I’d recommend this to anyone who loves fantasy, strong female characters, illustration, or just plain good comics. You can order it as an ebook or in print, and it’s well worth the purchase price.
Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher, with art by Karl Kerschl, additional art and colors by Minjue Helen Chen, letters by Steve Wands, and additional colors by Geyser, Dave McCaig, John Rauch, Msassyk, and Serge LaPointe. (I have no idea why it took so many people to color this book.)
Gotham Academy begins when Olive Silverlock returns to boarding school after her first summer break. Something really bad happened that summer, though we don’t know what. She doesn’t exactly know either. She didn’t see her boyfriend Kyle all summer, though they haven’t (officially) broken up. That makes it somewhat awkward when Olive is assigned as a school guide to Kyle’s little sister, Mia “Maps” Mizoguchi. Olive is in trouble. She’s in pain, clearly. Skipping meals, pushing everyone away. As the book progresses, you can see how she might end up going down a dark road. Maps, though, is almost irrepressible, and clearly wants to be Olive’s friend. Kyle, when Olive finally has contact with him, is almost supernaturally emotionally competent and generous. Can Olive turn towards them, instead of the dark place?
There are also rumors of ghosts on campus. Something happened in the North Hall to shut it down. Combine that with unwanted attention from the class bully and Olive’s in for a much more adventurous year than she might have expected. Gotham Academy is set in the Batman-verse, but at least in the first volume, it’s almost irrelevant. What I loved about this book was its delicate sensitivity to the emotional lives of the characters, even with all the mystery-investigating going on. I fear this book will get canceled, which would be a shame. It’s compelling.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.
I thought it likely that Nimona was over-hyped. I was wrong. This isn’t just some silly internet-funny fantasy/sci-fi romp about a supervillain and his new shapeshifter sidekick. This is deeply emotional, though not so much that it drags down the adventure story. My son read this at age 8 and loves it, but I’d guess he probably doesn’t feel the depth of what’s going on with these characters. He’s there for the battles and the science. I alternated between having fun, and being heartbroken over how all three of the main characters were hurting. (Note to self: maybe don’t make the dramatic reading to your kid quite so dramatic, if acting the characters’ feelings makes you get choked up. Or at least have a glass of water on your nightstand.) It ends well, though, I promise! The right (queer) people get back together, friendships are healed, and new science labs are built.
BUT here’s the very sad thing about Nimona: this book should have been printed in a larger format, or with better lettering, for better accessibility. My husband couldn’t read it at all. I wore my reading glasses and still struggled at times. If you think you can read it, I advise you to. If you physically can’t read the words, I totally get it.
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll.
Masha’s father hasn’t been there for her, not since the death of Masha’s mother long ago, or the recent loss of the grandmother who raised her. Now he’s marrying a woman he hasn’t even introduced to Masha previously. Not okay! So Masha answers an ad to become Baba Yaga’s assistant. Armed with the stories her grandmother told her about the witch, she sets out to pass the tests she’s given as part of the job… without betraying her own conscience. Masha is smart and capable, which makes sense given she’s been basically alone for quite some time. (I really don’t like her dad, can you tell?)
The book blends Masha’s current trials with memories of her past. She’s trying to find her own place in the world, since her old one is gone. Some of the flashbacks are profoundly sad, but the overall feeling of the book is of Masha getting her feet under her. Carroll’s cartooning is skilled, handling the changes from past to present well. There is no happy reunion here, though Masha does talk to her father once more. But it’s her time to move forward. Really enjoyed this one.
My Boyfriend is a Monster: I Love Him to Pieces by Evonne Tsang, illustrated by Janina Görrissen with additional inks by Maria Viccar. Letters by Eldon Cowgur.
If this were a movie, I’d own it and watch it repeatedly. Nerdy-cute smart high school kid Jack Chen is paired with exuberant, athletic Dicey Bell on the classic “parent an egg” project. Mutual crush ensues, which is adorable, but trouble in paradise arises on their first date. A disease outbreak, during which Jack is supposed to be taken to his scientist parents by special agents. Nothing could go wrong there, eh? The page size of this hardback means that Görrissen packs a lot of action and detail into a small space, and she pulls it off. And anyone who can resist the gal in a sundress with a baseball bat, backed up by her geeky boy-crush holding a crowbar… well, you and I just aren’t the same kind of people.
Sadly, I have tried reading all but one of the remaining My Boyfriend is a Monster series, and I could not bond with any of them. I just want the continuing adventures of Jack and Dicey! Which don’t exist. Alas!
Bad Machinery by John Allison.
I’ve read four of the Bad Machinery books so far, starting with The Case of the Team Spirit, and they’re all so fun! I’ve pre-ordered the fifth. Apparently if you mix preposterous and supernatural events, mysteries, and British humor with real-world teen friendships and social struggles, you can just take my money. The girls in this ensemble cast are never sidekicks or less-than. They’re real people, sometimes smart and funny, sometimes daffy and awkward. In The Case of the Lonely One, the focus narrows in on a girl named Shauna who has to rely on her own strength and smarts when Bad Things start to happen. I’m hopeful that future volumes keep going with a large, strong cast but also allow a spotlight on an individual character now and again. Loved seeing Shauna thrive! Allison’s cartooning style is fresh, clean, and not overly cute despite the general adorableness of his cast. You can try out Bad Machinery as a webcomic first if you prefer.
Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash.
This book’s strength is its storytelling. Maggie, 15, falls for female camp counselor Erin, 19. What follows is pain and confusion, as Maggie struggles with this development and what it means for her identity and future. Thrash doesn’t wrap things up with a pretty bow, and that’s okay. It’s real. I’m sure this book is going to find a lot of young people in a place where they desperately need it. For the rest of us, it’s an invitation into someone else’s life, narrated by a skillful writer. This book stood out to me because of the depth of emotion conveyed, and the story allowing teen Maggie to have all those feelings, without needing to put them into adult perspective. Powerful stuff. I also enjoyed the cast of teenage girls with various personalities, who aren’t always perfect and aren’t always horrible. Teens are stereotyped in media far too often, so that was refreshing.
I do wish that Thrash had gotten someone else to draw the book. She has a good sense of how she wants the panels to flow, but the careful attention Thrash gives to the characters’ interactions and emotional states isn’t mirrored in her drawing ability. A different artist would have better complemented the excellent story.
Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, breakdown art by Stewart, art by Babs Tarr, color by Maris Wicks, and letters by Jared K. Fletcher.
This isn’t the Batgirl that I first met in Batgirl: Year One (see my post about superhero comics for older kids and teens). That’s okay! Different universe, same character elements, new stories. This Batgirl, a.k.a. Barbara Gordon, is a supergenius with computers who’s starting a new life in a new neighborhood. A rash of electronic device thefts is the mystery that starts all the action. The ensuing mix of Babs as both detective and superhero stays true to the classic aspects of her character. The plot has plenty of momentum, complemented by the vibrant colors and great movement in the art. Her friends and colleagues are a diverse, very real group of people you’d want to hang out with. This is a great young adult female superhero book!
And that’s the list of our latest favorite comics and graphic novels starring girls, for older kids up through teens! If you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, please do leave me a comment. It’s always fun to hear from a fellow fan. If you have any suggestions, also please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!