Womanthology: Gender Is the Least Interesting Thing About This All-Female Comics Anthology
Last summer, Womanthology was big news across the comic book scene, back when the mega-anthology featuring an all-female team of creators was only a concept, the brainchild of comic book artist Renae De Liz, inspired by a tweet from Jessica Hickman, who became one of the book's editors. The Kickstarter campaign had immediate support. reaching the initial $25,000 goal in less than a day. Famed comic book creators pitched in to help the cause. Neil Gaiman, Kevin Smith and Steve Niles are just a few who offered rewards for donations.
Others in the industry criticized the project, openly wondering where the money was going. Bloggers weighed the pros and cons of the fundraiser for a book that was donating its proceeds to charity, with Comic Book Alliance offering one of the most thorough analyses. Still, by the time the Kickstarter campaign closed in early August, Womanthology drew more than $100,000 in donations.
Womanthology's successes haven't gone unnoticed. IDW, which published the book, recently picked up a five-issue run of a new Womanthology series, Space.
In March, Womanthology hit the streets with contributions from about 150 artists and writers, ranging from first-time creators to established names like Gail Simone, Fiona Staples and Camilla d'Errico. At $50, it's a comic book shop splurge, but it's a necessary one. I finally picked up a copy last week and devoured it in two days. The coffee table-sized, hardcover tome undoubtedly will become one of the most influential testaments to comic book art for the decade. But not for the obvious reasons.
Much has been made of Womanthology's all-female cast of contributors. This is important for the very specific reason that women are frequently underrepresented within the industry, as creators, characters and readers. Womanthology bulldozes the myth that girls simply aren't interested in comics. There are far too many women of all ages involved in the project, and supporting the effort, for that fallacy to hold water. But gender is the least interesting aspect of the project.
What's astounding about Womanthology isn't that it gave women a voice, it's that it gave creators of varying, and often non-mainstream, styles a pulpit to tell their stories their way. With "Heroes" as the subtitle for the book, it would have been incredibly easy to follow the line, "Let's show everybody that we can do what the boys do" and stick to the same traditional superhero comics that tend to dominate the geek scene. With Womanthology, though, the theme is taken loosely. There are stories about everyday heroes teaching young people important lessons about body image and dealing with bullies. There are science fiction and supernatural tales. And, yes, there are superhero stories, but they aren't necessarily what you would expect from the genre.
Part of the project involved pairing writers with artists, which allowed for women who didn't always know each other, who often weren't from the same part of the country (or the world), to collaborate. The results are always stunning, always fluid. The mix of artistic styles is commendable as well. The influence of everything from manga to French comics, Sunday funny pages to web comics, is evident in Womanthology.
All that would have made Womanthology a winner, but the team stepped up the project by making the book a learning tool as well. Sprinkled throughout the comics are "pro tips" from the contributors, dealing with everything from preparing a portfolio to structuring your workday. There is an entire section of the book dedicated to how-to articles that explain the basics of writing, drawing and coloring comics. There are also interviews with several of the creators featured in the book and profiles of a handful of pioneering women in the industry. Every contributor has a small bio and photo included, which helps give an identity to people who often maintain a level of anonymity.
Womanthology isn't just a comics anthology. It's a call to action. You'll read it and, hopefully, will become inspired to finally take on the big project that has been in your head for months or years. You'll be compelled to make your art your way. It takes an impressive book to accomplish that.