While the comics industry has traditionally been a male-dominated one, there have also been a number of women creators who have made their mark throughout the years. This week, in conjunction with The Star’s month-long WOW-Women Do Wonders campaign, we pay tribute to eight of our favourite female comic-book creators.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of women in comics, though – there are many more out there who deserve recognition as well, like Ramona Fradon (veteran artist who worked on Aquaman and Brenda Starr), Sana Takeda (co-creator of Monstress), Sara Pichelli (artist and co-creator of the Miles Morales Spider-Man), Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (creators of graphic novel This One Summer), Ming Doyle (Constantine: The Hellblazer, Quantum & Woody), Noelle Stevenson (creator of Nimona and Lumberjanes), and many more.
While this list largely comprises women working in Western comics, we do acknowledge that there are also a good number of women working in the Japanese manga industry. In fact, some of their creations are among the most popular manga of all time, including Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist, Stray Dog, Silver Spoon), Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha) and Naoko Takeuchi (Sailor Moon).
Known for: Saga, Archie, North 40, DV8: Gods And Monsters, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents
Ask any comic-book critic what the current best comics are, and Saga will probably be one of the titles on the list. While Brian K. Vaughan’s space opera story deservedly gets most of the praise, the series wouldn’t be the same without the gorgeous artwork of Canadian artist Fiona Staples. A co-owner of the title, Staples came up with the designs for all of Saga’s characters, ships and alien races.
In 2015, she was hired to work alongside Mark Waid on the first three issues of the relaunched Archie comic, with her art giving the new series a distinctly mature and grown-up look, compared to the usual cartoony Archie house style.
Thanks to her work on Saga, Staples is currently considered one of the best artists in the industry, and was named as the No. 1 female comic-book artist in a list published by Comic Book Resources (CBR).
Known for: Harley Quinn, The Pro, Vampirella, JSA Classified
No.2 on that CBR list is Amanda Conner who, surprisingly, is currently known for writing, not drawing, the ongoing Harley Quinn series for DC Comics with her husband, Jimmy Palmiotti. Together, they have successfully made that title one of DC Comics’ best-selling titles.
Conner began her career as an artist for Archie Comics and Marvel Comics. Some of her best-known works are: The Pro, a graphic novel written by Garth Ennis about a prostitute who gains superpowers; JSA Classified with Geoff Johns, which reimagined the origins of DC superheroine Power Girl; and Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre, which she illustrated, and wrote together with late comics legend Darwyn Cooke.
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Known for: Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet
Carol Danvers is currently one of the most celebrated characters in the Marvel Comics stable, and much of it is thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work on the Captain Marvel title beginning in 2012 in which Carol assumed the mantle of Captain Marvel for the first time. Under DeConnick’s pen, Captain Marvel grew into one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful, respected and important female characters.
She is currently working on her creator-owned Image Comics series Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly (for which she was nominated for a Best Writer Eisner in 2014).
Known for: Demo, Batman, Gotham Academy, The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys, East Coast Rising: Volume 1
Becky Cloonan began her mainstream comics career by working with Brian Wood on Channel Zero: Jennie One in 2003, and worked with him again on the critically-acclaimed Demo (2004), which was nominated for two Eisner Awards in 2005, for Best Limited Series and Best Single Issue or One-Shot (for Demo #7: One Shot, Don’t Miss).
Cloonan released her first solo graphic novel, East Coast Rising Volume 1, in 2006, under independent publisher Tokyopop, which got her another Eisner nomination, for Best New Series. In 2012, she became the first woman to draw the main Batman title when she worked with writer Scott Snyder on Batman #12.
While she is best known as an artist, Cloonan is also making a name for herself as a comics writer. She is currently writing ongoing series for both DC and Marvel – Gotham Academy (which she co-created), and The Punisher.
G. Willow Wilson
Known for: Ms Marvel, Cairo, Air
G. Willow Wilson (full name Gwendolyn Willow Wilson) may not be a household name just yet, but one of the Marvel Comics characters she helped create – Kamala Khan a.k.a. Ms Marvel – is certainly getting there. Wilson co-created the 16-year-old shapeshifter superhero together with Marvel editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, and artist Adrian Alphona, Wilson’s partner on the current Ms Marvel ongoing series.
The 35-year-old Muslim-American comic creator lived in Egypt during her early 20s, which led to her first graphic novel, Cairo, in 2007 under DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. She then went on to write the Eisner-nominated Vertigo comic Air, as well as Alif the Unseen, a fantasy novel that won the World Fantasy Award in 2013.
Known for: Persepolis, Embroideries, Chicken With Plums
Candid, moving, enlightening and ultimately inspiring, Marjane Satrapi’a autobiographical Persepolis graphic novel is considered one of the best graphic novels of all time. Written and illustrated entirely by Satrapi, the two-book story is an account of her childhood growing up in Iran, and her adolesence in Europe.
Persepolis was named one of the best comics of 2003 by Time magazine and won the prestigious Angouleme Coup de Coeur Award at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in 2002. It was also adapted into an animated feature film, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2007 Academy Awards.
Her later releases were equally well-received – Embroideries was nominated for the Angouleme Best Comic Book award in 2003, and Chicken With Plums went one further by winning that award in 2005.
Marjorie M. Liu
Known for: X-23, Monstress, Han Solo
Marjorie Liu started out as a novelist, writing the best-selling The Hunter Kiss and Dirk & Steele fantasy series before branching out to writing tie-in novels to Marvel’s X-Men movies. From there, it was a quick hop and skip to writing comics, her first being the mutant series NYX: No Way Home, and subsequently X-23, Dark Wolverine and Astonishing X-Men. She also wrote the recent Star Wars: Han Solo series for Marvel. She currently writes the Image Comics fantasy series Monstress with artist Sana Takeda, which was nominated for the Best New Series Eisner in 2015. Liu was also nominated for Best Writer in the 2016 Eisners for Monstress.
Known for: Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Birds Of Prey
After reading a particularly controversial and shocking scene in Green Lantern #54, in which Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, was murdered and her body stuffed inside a refrigerator for him to find, Gail Simone realised it’s “not that healthy to be a female character in comics”.
She then came up with a list of female characters that had been “killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, tortured, contracted a disease or had other life-derailing tragedies befall her” – in other words, every time a woman suffered a traumatic event so she can be used as a plot device for a male character. The list, posted on a website called Women In Refrigerators, went viral and shone a light on the prevailing sexism in mainstream comics,
The publicity surrounding the posting also inadvertently helped kick-start Simone’s career as a comics writer – she began on Bongo Comics’ The Simpsons, before moving on to mainstream comics by penning Marvel’s Deadpool, and subsequently DC Comics’ Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Birds Of Prey. She is currently writing Red Sonja for Dynamite Entertainment.