For years I avoided comic books, practically my entire life to date in fact. I assumed that comic books were solely devoted to superheroes and action sequences, and that I would be unlikely to find any female characters that weren’t hyper sexualized. I got the sense that the world of comic book readers wouldn’t be a particularly welcoming one either. One only had to look at the world of gaming to feel that perhaps women wouldn’t be wanted.
But then I was introduced to the work of the talented Noelle Stevenson, and while I initially I fell in love with her illustration style, I quickly realized this was also a writer who wasn’t okay with the status quo.
If you feel the urge to sigh and roll your eyes, asking “Really? A comic book?” I hear you. But for all of us who grew up not quite seeing ourselves as the girls we wanted to be allowed to be, let this be a special trip for your inner child.
Better yet, know that if you want a young girl in your life to see a variety of girls have adventures without short shorts and lycra tops, who never talk about their weight or each other’s appearances, you can hand them these books.
The series takes place at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiquil Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types where the camp motto is “friendship to the max” Here the girls are not given activities limited by gender, no one is bullied, and if a set of lady campers start a romance it’s not commented on because it’s a non-event, non-issue, people are people regardless of sexual orientation.
Admittedly, there is a lot of (super fun) weirdness and mythology happening throughout the camp and the series, but it’s the girls’ positive friendship and support that is the true backbone. This series also passes the Bechdel test to the max, another refreshing way to portray girls in the media. How often do we get a truly female-driven narrative?
Later in the series one of the characters helps another character from the boy’s camp feel comfortable when she shares that she is transgender and again it is no big deal within the context of the story. But seeing characters like this, girls who wear baseball tees and shave their heads along side girls who like pink hair bows, girls who like girls, girls who find their correct identity are a big deal for readers who need to see themselves in the media.
As a white female I took for granted that I could easily see aspects of myself in TV, movies, books, and magazines. Maybe I chaffed under some of the beauty standards and the limits of “the fat best friend” or “sarcastic weirdo”, but I could see lives and identities very similar to my own everywhere I looked.
I attended one of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panels with Cecilia Tan, Sona Charaipotra, and Dhonielle Clayton this past May. Much of the panel was illuminating, but in particular I walked away with the feeling that even when we talk about body positivity and inclusiveness of representation in the media we were still looking at mostly celebrating bodies of all sizes, and too often forgetting about bodies of all colors and abilities.
Image Comics who publishes Lumberjanes also publishes a relatively new series called "Goldie Vance" which centers around a young detective who feels a bit like Nancy Drew meets Eloise and happens to be a person of color with a supporting cast of people who are also POC.
Changing the culture around beauty can come in a variety of formats, including comic books that show that a girls value doesn’t rest in her appearance alone.
I invite you to share, either here in the comments, or on our social media, how you are celebrating diversity in your own media consumption. How can we get more attention for content like this so that instead of the exception it can become the norm?