Tag Archives: janelle asselin

We Live

GlobalComix Announces Resilience: Creators Against COVID, a Charity Anthology

Resilience: Creators Against COVID

GlobalComix has announced Resilience: Creators Against COVID. The anthology is the digital platform’s first original release. GlobalComix has teamed up with creators for original stories about perseverance and hope. 100% of the revenue will go to the creators for them to donate to causes or comic shops of their choosing.

Resilience: Creators Against COVID features 7 chapters which will be released twice a week starting on May 18.

Check out the full creative lineup below:

Released on May 18 2021, made by
Landry Walker (Batman),
Eric Jones (Star Wars),
Taylor Esposito (Daredevil)
are donating to Fantastic Comics in Berkeley, CA

Supposed to Be
Released on May 20 2021, made by
Jamal Igle (Wonder Woman),
Jess Fleming (Outgoing)
are donating to The Trans Women of Color Collective in Bethesda, MD

The Fantastic Flame
Released on May 25 2021, made by
Alex Segura (Archie),
Chantel Acevedo (Muse Squad),
Richard Ortiz (DC Bombshells),
Ellie Wright (Black Ghost),
Taylor Esposito (Daredevil)
are donating to A&M Comics in Miami, Florida

Persian Version of Pop Culture in America
Released on May 27 2021, made by
Sina Grace (Iceman)
is donating to Secret Headquarters Comics in Los Angeles, CA

Surviving Camino Del Diablo
Released on June 1 2021, made by
Henry Barajas (Helm Graycastle),
Nicky Rodriguez (Pulse),
Gabbie Downie (Harleen)
are donating to Palabras Bilingual Bookstore in Phoenix, AZ

7 O’clock
Released on June 3 2021 by
Frank Tieri (Wolverine),
Leisha Riddel (Smooth Criminals),
Christina Rose Chua (Adventure Time)
are donating to The Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses

The Hike
Released on June 8 2021 by
Jeremy Holt (After Houdini, Made in Korea),
Chris Peterson (Dead Beats),
Gab Contreras (Witchblood)
are donating to Vinyl Fantasy in Brooklyn, New York

Janelle Asselin provided editorial management for Resilience: Creators Against COVID, a Charity Anthology while Kat Jackson provided the cover art.

Rosy Press is Closing Indefinitely

fresh-romance-vol-1-exclIn a post on Patreon, Janelle Asselin, founder of Rosy Press announced that she was closing the comics publisher “indefinitely.” It’s best to read what she says in her own words as to the reasons why.

The publisher burst onto the comics scene with a Kickstarter that raised over $50,000 from close to 1,500 backers. The digital comics have been collected in a print copy that debuted this year and is being published by Oni Press.

The comics released featured an impressive amount of talent including Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti, Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, Savanna Ganucheau, Marguerite Bennett, Marcy Cook, Maya Kern, Jen Van Meter, Kyle Latino, Marissa Louise, Spike Trotman, and so many more. It filled the wide gap of romance comics that isn’t currently being filled by any major publisher. Not to mention it’s openness and championing of LGBTQ+ stories.

When it comes to what that means for what’s still waiting to be published, Asselin wrote:

Rosy Press is going to be shuttered indefinitely, with further conversations to be had with individual creative teams about what this means for their stories. I’ll do my best to make sure those stories all see the light of day, because I strongly believe in the creators I’ve worked with and I strongly believe in the work they’ve done. This is a personal decision, absolutely, but it’s also a financial one. The truth is that it’s become impossible to move forward with Rosy Press financially with digital sales where they are. I could do another Kickstarter to try to sustain a few more months at least, but my health couldn’t withstand the stress of that on top of trying to pay my personal bills with a full-time job. The print edition did great, and Oni will continue to offer it. 

She is still working on delivering Kickstarter awards a process so many describe as draining.

It’s an absolute loss as the company had been nominated for numerous awards in the short time it has existed. I know I’m bummed about it and wish Asselin the best in her next endeavours.

Janelle Asselin Chats Fresh Romance, With Cover Reveals and a Preview of Issue 4

Fresh Romance #4 Cover

Fresh Romance #4 Cover

Comics have been getting a dose of fresh romance courtesy of Rosy Press run by Janelle Asselin. Coming off a successful Kickstarter campaign, Asselin and Rosy Press has published four issues of the romance anthology Fresh Romance so far with the fifth right around the corner. You can pick up the first four issues right now.

We also have a preview of some of each of the stories from the fourth issue and a reveal to the cover of issue six by the talented Janet Lee!

We got a chance to ask her questions about where her new venture came from, advice she’d give to women breaking into the industry, and opening up the doors toe comics with the romance genre.

Graphic Policy: Where did the concept for Rosy Press and Fresh Romance come from?

Janelle Asselin: Really, it all goes back to my desire to run my own comics company and put my money where my mouth was in terms of how to get women reading comics. It’s not just that I’m a control freak, I swear—it’s that I want to work outside of the existing structures that comics has relied on for so long.

A coworker who was a few levels above me in terms of title at DC used to say to me “when YOU run this place, don’t do this and this thing that our bosses are doing right now.” And I’d laugh and be like oh right like I could ever be EIC of DC—it was a whole bit we did. But it was through those jokes that I realized I didn’t WANT to run DC. Even if I had spent 20 or so years of my life trying to move up the corporate chain at DC and got to a place where I was Editor in Chief or Executive Editor – what then? Unless there was a massive sea change, I’d still have to work within the same broken systems that I disliked and knew weren’t working. My dad has owned his own business for over 40 years—first as a contractor and then doing antique restoration and sales with my mom. I grew up seeing the challenges and rewards of owning your own business. I think maybe that got under my skin more than I really knew until a few years ago. I knew then that working for other people was just a step along the way to learn everything I could.

From there, I spent a few years thinking about what kind of comics I wanted to make. I like a wide variety of genres in entertainment and I knew I wanted to make comics that I thought were exciting and fun. I also knew I wanted to focus on making comics for women. Given how expensive print is, it was a pretty easy decision to start as a digital-only publisher. And then it all just came together as Fresh Romance.

GP: Romance comics have a long history, but generally fell out of vogue. What got your interest in that particular genre?

JA: About a decade ago, I stopped reading American comics for a few years because I just wasn’t enjoying the same-old super hero stuff I’d always read and I felt bewildered by indie comics. Manga, though, had a lot to offer me. The manga community I found online was welcoming. I worked at a comic shop for a while and was able to read a ton of manga that came highly recommended. The main genre of manga that appealed to me was shoujo—I loved that there was a kind of comic out there that was made for girls and women and was not embarrassed to be girly or feminine or romantic.

It wasn’t until I started researching my grad thesis on selling comics to women, though, that I really understood the role of romance in American comics. I was fascinated by this genre that was basically lost and ignored for decades. I started reading up about romance comics from an historical perspective and also talking to friends who were passionate about the old romance comics. I will never be an expert on American romance comics by any means, but I am fascinated by them.

GP: Are there any particular series of the past you’ve enjoyed?

JA: Since I’m still exploring American romance comics (and most of the ones I’ve enjoyed have been because of the ridiculousness), I’ll have to go with a manga. While not technically a romance, I adore Nana always and forever. In a way, it’s about the various romances of the two main characters, but also their love for each other. It’s mature and smart and beautiful… and sadly trailed off into very little resolution for readers.

Fresh Romance #5 Cover

Fresh Romance #5 Cover

GP: The “romance genre” is huge in the book world, not so much in comics. Why do you think there’s such a disparity between the two when it comes to that?

JA: Well, for so long women haven’t felt welcome in comics, and women are the primary demographic of romance novels. I find it interesting that many people who want to defend objectification and sexism in super hero comics point to romance novels as the other side of the coin. Putting aside some of the most glaring errors in that false equivalency, I think the important distinction in terms of publishing is that while romance is huge in novels, it is not *the* leading kind of novel. When you speak with someone who doesn’t really read novels, do they immediately assume you’re talking about romance novels? Of course not—the prose publishing world is diverse in genre to the point that there’s no one obvious genre in the lead above all others. It makes prose more welcoming, in my opinion. Now switch that around—if you’re speaking with someone who doesn’t really read comics, do they immediately assume you’re talking about super hero comics?

That’s one of the reasons comics needs the super hero genre to be more welcoming to non-comics readers—if we’re ever going to fix the public perception of the comics medium, we need to throw the doors wide open to everyone. And that includes the front doors of super hero comics. Women don’t look at novels and think “oh, this isn’t for me” based on a few covers. But our culture in America has taught people that they can do that with comics. This is why people are critical of super hero comics but generally leave publishers like Zenescope alone—very few of the folks on the side of diversifying comics want there to be any censorship. They just want the primary genre associated with comics, super heroes, to seem welcoming to all.

Part of the reason I wanted to focus solely on romance as a genre is that I wanted to open another door into comics. It may not be the front door and it may not be easily found by everyone. But if I can get a handful of people per year to give comics a try for the first time, I’ll be happy. And I think romance builds an easy bridge between something women already enjoy and something comics can do really well. A person who already reads romance novels but has never tried comics might be more willing when they hear about romance comics—rather than a genre they’re less interested in.

GP: You’ve mentioned your aim is for a “diverse readership.” What types of things have you focused on to make that happen?

JA: The biggest part of attracting a diverse readership, in my mind, is hiring diverse creators and featuring diverse characters. Just by hiring people who are not all the same, I’ve been pitched a lot of creative and fun stories that often happen to feature protagonists that aren’t straight and/or white. There’s nothing wrong with heterosexual love stories between two white people (see: “Ruined”), but that’s not the end-all, be-all of romance in the real world. I never told any of the creators that I wanted to see a certain kind of love story from them beyond a sub-genre suggestion or two, but all of them have pitched stories that are diverse.

For instance, I asked Marcy Cook to pitch me and she offered up a lot of different pitches that were all really great. The one that called to me was a sweet, silent story about a couple at a carnival where they chase a balloon. It seemed cute and fun and different from the other stories I’d commissioned. In the pitch she mentioned that the guy would be in the wheelchair but not with a broken leg – just in a long-term wheelchair. I loved that aspect. But what she didn’t bring up until I got the script from her was that his girlfriend was a trans woman of color. The story isn’t about her being trans or him being in a wheelchair, it’s about their romance. But just by representing people that aren’t the “default,” we open up the comics to a broader readership. It’s important to see yourself in your comics, and everyone deserves that opportunity.

GP: You’ve currently focused on just a digital experience so far. Might we see print down the road?

JA: We might! Stay tuned.

GP: What advantages do you think digital has that have helped you kick off this venture?

JA: It’s far, far more affordable than print. I was able to ask for a smaller amount of money via Kickstarter but still pay the creators a fairly reasonable page rate. It also allowed me to have a little more control over the distribution. As a small publisher, Diamond would be daunting for me to work with, and getting comic shops to carry our stuff as a brand new publisher would’ve been a difficult proposition. Instead, I was able to sell through my own site where all of the money from every sale goes to Rosy Press AND through ComiXology Submit where they gave us lots of support in terms of promotions and whatnot. We also were able to focus on a faster cycle because we didn’t have to worry about printing and shipping and all that.

GP: You launched this with a Kickstarter campaign. What lessons did you learn through that, and in general what have you learned you might not have known before your launch?

JA: Running a Kickstarter campaign is a *lot* of work. I thought I knew how much work it would be, but I wasn’t really prepared. I spent a lot of my prep time working on putting together the teams and getting them working, but I also should’ve spent those months putting together the Kickstarter campaign. The week before we launched the campaign was incredibly hectic, but that could’ve been avoided at least a little! But I will say that having a specific goal and having folks be a part of our success through Kickstarter meant a lot of great exposure for the project that we wouldn’t have gotten without Kickstarter. Our backers are part of the team and we couldn’t have done it without them. That’s not just lip service, either, it’s the truth. I had some money squirreled away to get Rosy Press started, but not nearly as much as the Kickstarter brought in.

I also learned that it can be hard to keep people engaged in your project after the Kickstarter ends. You can’t just coast on Kickstarter success—you have to deliver a quality project. Otherwise, what’s the point? Sure, you made money, but if you’re trying to produce something creative, it had better be something you’d be proud of. Otherwise, all the Kickstarters in the world won’t save you.

GP: What advice would you give women wanting to break into comics or those interested in creating a comic of a genre that might not be currently focused on?

JA: For women wanting to break into comics, I’d say: do it! Study your craft, whether that’s writing, drawing, lettering, coloring, editing, etc., and work hard to get good at it. The way things are in the industry now is that you don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission to make comics. You can do a webcomic or a Kickstarter or an anthology. Build up your profile with smaller projects before you start going for the dream projects. Be responsible and reliable so that people who hire you or publish you want to do so again.

In terms of creating a comic of a genre that isn’t mainstream in comics right now, thankfully the industry is broadening and it may be more possible than you think. It won’t be the easiest thing in the world, but the people reading comics today are interested in reading a wider variety of books than you’d expect.

GP: Any future plans for Rosy Press you might be able to hint at?

JA: SO MANY. First, this week we’ll be tabling for the first time at Long Beach Comic-Con as well as having the first ever Rosy Press panel. We’re also going to start selling art prints, postcards, and greeting cards through our website. And October is going to be huge for us. It marks the first complete story we’ll be selling, with The Ruby Equation going on sale as an ebook early in the month. We also have a panel at NYCC and will be tabling at MICExpo in Cambridge, MA—and Rosy Press creators will be at both events to sign stuff and do sketches and hang out. We’ll be announcing some new creative teams and maaaaaybe even some new projects. PLUS we’ll be doing merch giveaways and offering coupons and free comics at both conventions.

Then I nap for a week before making sure we continue to put out comics!

GP: Thanks so much!

A preview of what you can expect in issue four!

“Ruby Equation”


“School Spirit”

Check out this Janet Lee cover for Fresh Romance #6!

FR 6 cover low res

Fresh Romance Announces New Creative Teams, Stories, and two new Kickstarter Stretch Goals

Fresh RomanceRosy Press publisher Janelle Asselin has announced the new creative teams and stories for upcoming issues of Fresh Romance, the digital romance comics magazine that is currently being funded via a now-live Kickstarter campaign. Upcoming stories will include:

  • A sexy and surprising fantasy tale written by Marguerite Bennett.
  • The first ever collaboration of writer Marcy Cook and Maya Kern, in which a couple wins, then loses, a heart-shaped helium balloon which they follow through the fair.
  • A romantic comedy about one woman’s deep, abiding love… for a Game Master by Jen Van Meter and Kyle Latino with Marissa Louise.
  • A fantasy story from the publisher of the Smut Peddler anthology, Spike Trotman, about a woman in a tower who romanticizes a man she sees from above everyday.

Asselin’s new imprint Rosy Press will debut Fresh Romance in May 2015. The first issue of the monthly anthology features sundry stories ranging from a clandestine, queer high school love affair to an impeccably researched and illustrated Regency-era romance.

Rosy Press has also announced two significant, newsworthy stretch goals:

  • A Kevin Wada cover for issue 5, plus a digital wallpaper pack of all the covers for all backers will be added if the Kickstarter campaign raises $42,500.
  • A 10-page comic written by bestselling writer Gail Simone and illustrated by Rafaela Herrera will be available exclusively for all backers who are one-year subscribers, if the Kickstarter campaign raises $47,500.

Aimed at attracting a diverse readership, Fresh Romance content will be available in a variety of digital formats: via ComiXology or as a PDF, CBR, or ePub file, and will always be DRM-free.

Rosy Press Promises Romance is Coming with Fresh Romance

Fresh RomanceFrom around 1947 to 1977, you could find regular romance comics alongside the spandex superheroes that packed shelves. Post Comics Code, implemented in 1954, the genre died a slow death due to self-censorship, but modern comics is all about diversity in topics, those depicted in the pages, and those behind the scenes. It was nice to wake up to news of the new publisher Rosy Press, launched by former DC Comics editor and Senior Editor of Comics Alliance Janelle Asselin.

The new imprint will kick off with Fresh Romance, a new digital romance comic magazine that’ll begin in May 2015. The series is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. The first issue of the monthly anthology features sundry stories ranging from a clandestine, queer high school love affair to an impeccably researched and illustrated Regency-era romance. In addition to three forward-looking romances, each issue of Fresh Romance delivers a relationship advice column by a quartet of divorced writers, behind-the-scenes art coverage, and a fashion report.

In a release Asselin said:

Rosy Press specializes in publishing romantic fiction and nonfiction aimed at attracting a diverse readership. Fresh Romance forges a new future for romance comics with modern characters, stories and a wide array of genres.

Fresh Romance’s inaugural stories include:

  • A twist on the iconic high school love story by Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, and colorist Amanda Scurti, in which a queer couple keep their relationship under wraps by pretending to compete for the same, equally secretive guy.
  • A Regency-era romance by Sarah Vaughn and Sarah Winifred Searle about a couple headed to the altar despite a mutual lack of enthusiasm for their marriage. (Spoiler: period costumes and culture are consummately researched.)
  • An otherworldly tale by novelist Sarah Kuh, who has a three-book prose book deal with DAW Books and who is penning her first comic with Sally Jane Thompson and colorist Savanna Ganucheau, in which a cynical, supernatural barista is trapped in this world… until she helps enough lonely souls find love.
  • The first cover from Kevin Wada, a former fashion illustrator, who uses his hallmark watercolors to depict Leth and Jovellanos’ high school heroines.

Rewards available exclusively through the Fresh Romance Kickstarter campaign support three-month, six-month, and ongoing subscriptions, including the opportunity to be drawn into a story, an original comic to propose marriage to your loved one, and one-of-a-kind prints and commissions, including: Five commissions by Chris Burnham; a Gene Ha sketch commission; a Dustin Nguyen-drawn original page from the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series; a commission of Harley Quinn by DC and Marvel artist Carmen Carnero; and an original page from the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series drawn by Pere Perez.

The comics will be available in a variety of digital formats including comiXology, PDF, CBR, or ePub, and will be DRM-free.

Review: She Makes Comics

she-makes-comicsAs a literary critic and cultural historian with both feminist and queer-ally persuasions, I am often frustrated by the type of historical revisionism that provides the history of a marginalized group by telling their story as adjunct or incidental to “mainstream” or “normative” history. Such scholarship marginalizes the narratives of oppressed groups in the very attempt to recover their histories.

I was thankfully relieved, then, to enjoy the hour-plus-long documentary She Makes Comics, directed by Marisa Stotter and made by Sequart Organization in association with Respect! Films. This documentary does what very little of comics scholarship (and journalism) has been able to achieve: it narrates the story of women comics creators, editors, and readers through dozens of personal interviews (see a list of interviewees below), incorporating them as central to the history of the comics industry while highlighting individual creators’ push toward greater inclusion and respectability in a medium largely controlled by men.

She Makes Comics begins with an opening montage of interviews in which creators Kelly Sue DeConnick, Chondra Echert, Wendy Pini, Gail Simone, and others speak to the importance of the comics medium for female creators and readers. Particularly powerful is DeConnick’s declaration that “representation in comics is absolutely vital,” followed by the injunction that “we need to celebrate the women who work in comics and who have always worked in comics, and we need to go back and find their stories and bring them to the fore” (00:55-01:07). DeConnick bring an absolute necessity to the project of reclaiming the history of women in comics.

DeConnick’s spirited call drives Stotter’s She Makes Comics as it traverses the editorial bull-pens, creator biographies, convention floors, retail spaces, and four-color universes that make up the world(s) of comics. The documentary begins by establishing the medium’s long history of female readership in comics strips of the late 19th century and the early 20th century, pointing at the same time to the generous number of female comics strip creators, including Jackie Ormes and Nell Brinkley. Trina Robbins reminds us that “nobody at that time thought, ‘Oh how unusual! She draws comics!'” Despite the comparative preponderance of women in comics in the early 20th century, a cultural moment that abounded in strong women heroes and adventurers (and with a 55% female readership!), the “comics crusade” of the early 1950s began by Frederic Wertham resulted in the Comics Code Authority. The CCA significantly reduced the type and quality of comics produced, and the documentary makes the very brief argument that the “sanitization” of comics led to a boom in the masculinity-celebrating superhero genre and a subsequent decline in female readership.

The documentary then tracks the work of Ramona Fradon at DC and of Marie Severin at Marvel in the 1960s, transitioning rather quickly to the misogynist, cliquey underground comix scene of the 1960s and 1970s, where creators such as Trina Robbins and Joyce Farmer carved out a feminist space for comics. As Robbins recalls, “if you wanted to do underground comix [with the male creators] you had to do comics in which women were raped and tortured. You know, horrible things!” But in the pages of feminist comix and zines creators were allowed the freedom to depict women from women’s point of view—points of view that occasionally had legal repercussions.

The remainder of She Makes Comics focuses heavily on the history of women creators in comics from the mid-1970s to the present, owing both to the interviewees’ considerable experiences in the period following the late 1970s and to the growing visibility of female readers and creators. Particular highlights include the description of early comic book conventions and the fan scene, which Paul Levitz describes as 90/10 men/women. Creators and fans like Jill Thompson and Wendy Pini bring their personal fan and creator experiences to bear on this unique moment in comics fandom history. Wendy Pini’s entrance into fandom via her (in)famous Red Sonja cosplaying is historicized and linked directly to her entrance into the comics industry as writer and, later, creator of Elfquest. For those with an interest in cosplay, Pini’s Sonja is marked as the beginning of an opening up of convention competitions to women, and the documentary subsequently details the critical importance of cosplay to fandom, to female fans, and to creators.

The documentary also gives considerable attention to Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men, uniquely noting the considerable influence of Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti as Claremont’s editors on one of the most famous runs in comic book history. Interviews by female fans, creators, editors, and retailers highlight the importance that Claremont’s X-Men saga had to marginalized groups, with a number of interviewees describing the “mutant metaphor” as particularizable to women’s experiences in geek culture.

The documentary also gives attention to particular auteurs such as Kelly Sue DeConnick and Gail Simone, as well as the editor Karen Berger, who founded DC’s Vertigo imprint at a fairly young age in the early 1990s. She Makes Comics points especially to the rise of the independent comics scene in the 1990s and its boom in the contemporary moment, especially in the form of Image’s new-found success, as a meter for the rising prominence of women comics creators and a female (but also queer and non-white) comics readership. Anyone who reads Image comics regularly knows that its creators do not shy away from feminist themes even while Wonder Women is avowedly “not feminist.”

She Makes Comics ultimately signifies that a change in the comics industry has occurred, albeit slowly, in favor of greater inclusion and representation of women and other oppressed minorities. Despite this, the documentary comes dangerously close to assuming that all the good that needs doing, has been done, asserting a stance that suggests a triumphant growth of women in comics (or as readers) as a victory over patriarchy. While I do agree that strides have been made, as my articles on Wonder Woman and Neko Case show, I don’t think we can ever be complacent. She Makes Comics reifies “women” as a singular, almost non-intersectional category and in doing so creates a narrative of emerging possibilities for that monolithic category without discussing the many and complex factors that continue to challenge, harangue, and complicate both women’s participation in comics and women’s representation. There is, in fairness, a brief moment in which Marjorie Liu speaks about using her position to empower women of color, though its importance is overshadowed by its anecdotal treatment.

She Makes Comics has very few shortcomings and is ultimately a treasure trove of information that is otherwise spread across thousands of online or print media articles, books, and interviews. Marissa Stotter and her crew, in collaborations with a riot (isn’t that what mainstream media calls a gathering of political dissenters?) of talented creators and fans, have made a unique contribution to the history of women in comics. I challenge academics and journalist, myself included, to heed Kelly Sue DeConnick’s introductory injunction with a critical eye to the politics of representation. If we could get a few books about gender politics in comics that aren’t solely about masculinity, that’d be a start.

Interviewees listed in the order that I happened to write them down (after I realized it would be good to write them all down): Marjorie Liu, Nancy GoldsteinTrina Robbins, Ramona Fradon, Janelle Asselin, Heidi MacDonald, Paul Levitz, Michelle Nolan, Alan Kistler, Karen Green, Ann Nocenti, Chris Claremont, Colleen Doran, Joyce Farmer, Wendy Pini, Jackie Estrada, Jill Thompson, Lauren Bergman, Team Unicorn, Chondra Echert, Jill Pantozzi, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Colleen Coover, Holly Interlandi, Blair Butler, Louise Simonson, Jenna Busch, Amy Dallen, G. Willow Wilson, Tiffany Smith, Jenette Kahn, Shelly Bond, Karen Berger, Joan of Dark, Brea Grant, Joan Hilty, Lea Hernandez, Christina Blanch, Liz Schiller (former Friends of Lulu Board of Directors member), Andrea Tsurumi, Miss Lasko-Gross, Molly Ostertag, Hope Larson, Amy Chu, Nancy Collins, Ariel Schrag, Raina Telgemeier, Miriam Katin, Felicia Henderson, Carla Speed McNeil, Shannon Watters, Jennifer Cruté, Nicole Perlman, Kate Leth, Portlyn Polston (owner of Brave New World Comics), Autumn Glading (employee of Brave New World Comics), and Zoe Chevat.

You can purchase She Makes Comics on Sequart’s website for as low as $9.99. If you ask me, it’s a fantastic deal.

Sequart Organization provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review.

Diversity in 2014 Comic Books

By Matt Petras

A crowd-funded comic book by the title of Toe Tag Riot featured zombies who attack the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church. Frequent writer for modern Batman comics James Tynion IV wrote a comic with intimate depictions of gay romance. Major publishers DC and Marvel stepped up their game on demographic representation.

The comic book industry in 2014 did not stick to telling stories about carefully chosen, lowest-denominator demographics, but various walks of life.

“Why on Earth wouldn’t we want our work to feel inclusive to more people?” said Toe Tag Riot writer Matt Miner in an email interview. “I mean, don’t we want larger audiences?  Don’t we want as many people reading comics as possible?”

Image from Black Mask

Image from Black Mask

“Toe Tag Riot” is a comic book written by Miner drawn by artist Sean Von Gorman, and now published by Black Mask that sells itself on a diverse cast of characters who attack in action-packed sequences against bigoted antagonists. It was crowd-funded on Kickstarter, raising $510 over its $19,000 goal. Andrew Hurley of the band Fall Out Boy supported this project; because of this, Hurley and the creators of Toe Tag Riot teamed up to give backers who pledged at least $50 a signed variant cover of the first issue with a zombified Hurley on the cover.

“The response to Toe Tag Riot from the LGBT community has been the most incredible and heartwarming,” said Miner.

It’s not just gay characters who make up the cast of Toe Tag Riot, but also people of different walks of life who aren’t always featured in fiction, like people of color and the disabled. “[W]e’ve been thanked by people with disabilities for creating Evie, a visibly disabled woman of color who finds empowerment in her disability,” said Miner.

In another avenue of the comic book industry, Boom! Studios has been publishing a comic book series called The Woods since May 7, 2014; it is a high school drama mixed with light-horror and fantasy. It features a cast of characters of varying ethnicities and sexual orientations. James Tynion IV, known for his work on multiple Batman series for DC Comics, writes this book along with artist Michael Dialynas.

“[The Woods] doesn’t imply stereotypes; it’s just a human story,” said Dialynas in a Skype interview.

In issue #7 of this series, which released in early Nov., the often-hinted upon gay tension between characters Ben and Isaac was finally revealed in a kiss. Ben is a heavy-set black boy who struggles with the common belief that he should play football when he doesn’t want to.

“They’re just two characters in the woods who happen to have a nice moment together,” said Dialynas.

The process Dialynas goes through to craft the characters of The Woods with Tynion is unique. Dialynas asked Tynion for a write-up that supplied him with the media tastes of the characters. When Dialynas was in school, the video game, movie, and music preferences of his classmates tended to say a lot about their character, he explained.

One character, for example, was given a skull on his shirt whenever Dialnyas was told the character likes metal, he further explained.

Telling stories about characters with mental illnesses has also been a part of comic books in 2014. This year saw the return of comic book series Li’l Depressed Boy, relaunched at #1 with the additional subtitle of “Supposed to be There Too.” Li’l Depressed Boy, which began being published by major comics publisher Image Comics in Feb. of 2011, is a comic written by Shaun Steven Struble and drawn by Sine Grace about a character’s struggles with romance and the clinical depression that is intertwined with it.

Image from Image Comics

Image from Image Comics

Struble suffers from clinical depression himself, Struble said in an email interview. The storylines of Li’l Depressed Boy are “thinly-veiled autobiography,” he also said.

The book has a cycle of jumping from different experiences the protagonist as with love interests, along with the symptoms of clinical depression that follow.

“The book is about relationships in general.  One of those is LDB’s relationship with his chemically imballanced brain,” Struble said.

The main character, Li’l Depressed Boy, often referred to as simply LDB by characters in the comic, is a rag doll living amongst regular human beings. Creating a sort of surreal atmosphere, this is never acknowledged in the story.

“I’m lucky that the fact that I write about ragdoll [means] lots of people can see themselves in the main character,” said Struble.

The audience for the book spans greatly across genders, races and locations, according to Struble.

“There are certain aspects of the experience [of depression] that remain the same [despite severity], and we can see each other in ourselves,” said Struble.

Children can also find themselves represented in 2014 comics, both in characters and in demographic targeting. One comic, written by former IGN Comics editor Joey Esposito and Ben Bailey, who still occasionally writes for comic book press/criticism publications, and drawn by Boy Akkerman, is the all-ages Captain Ultimate, published by digital-only Monkeybrain Comics. “All-ages” is a term in the comic book community to refer to books that appeal to every age demographic; the purpose of this term is to rid of any stigma that books that appeal to children are solely for children.

“Kids can tell if they’re being talked down to,” Esposito said in a Skype interview. The only difference between the writing process on an all-ages comic and a more adult focused story for Esposito is checking to be sure there aren’t any bad words in the script, Esposito said with a laugh.

Esposito found himself disappointed in the lack of all-ages comics, which filled him with a passion to do Captain Ultimate, he said. Captain Ultimate is a superhero comic with commentary on the contrast between the morally-wholesome and fun-filled comics of days past and the dark and gritty comics of today.

Esposito has worked on other comic books that aren’t for an “all-ages” audience, such as this year’s Pawn Shop. This comic is about a small store in a big city that unites people of different walks of life, making a statement about the interconnectivity of life. To Esposito, diversity in this cast was essential to getting across the message of the book, he said.

“I started thinking about the kind of people I know,” he said.

The big two in comics, DC and Marvel, have also done things for diversity in the industry this year.

DC Comics put a new creative team on the series Batgirl, featuring a new costume design and a female artist by the name of Babs Tarr. This new direction for the series brought in new gay and female characters.

DC also announced a string of films to release in the coming years, including Justice League films that feature characters like Cyborg, who is black, and Wonder Woman, who is female; both of those characters are also primed to receive films featuring them.

Marvel made mainstream news for shifts in their comic book stories multiple times throughout the year, including their new directions for Captain America and Thor. The person inside the costume for both characters was changed in 2014, Steve Rogers being replaced by black character Sam Wilson (who was previously a superhero named Falcon, a character featured in the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as Captain America, and a new female character taking the title of Thor from the previous hero.

Marvel also started a new series called Ms. Marvel, starring a new character named Kamala Kahn. Kahn is a young, female person of color of the Muslim faith who gains powers and takes the mantle of Ms. Marvel. The book is written by G. Willow Wilson, who is also a Muslim.

Matching DC, Marvel announced movies starring more diverse characters and cast members. Two scheduled films are Black Panther, which stars Chadwick Boseman of 42 fame, and Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel stars a female character that is confirmed to be based off the newest Captain Marvel storylines in the comics, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick.

“A woman creator took a woman character and made fans SO passionate about her that the studio couldn’t help but notice. So wonderful,” said popular feminist comic book critic and former editor for DC Comcis Janelle Asselin.

Despite any kind of progress there are still noteworthy important problems in the industry, according to Asselin.

Among her critiques is a lack of hiring female creators from Marvel and further sexual objectification of women, she said. On Apr. 11, 2014, Asselin penned a guest piece for leading comics site Comic Book Resources harshly critiquing the cover of the first issue of this year’s Teen Titans relaunch, largely for objectifying an underage girl front-and-center.

One big news story in the industry this year was the controversial variant cover for the new Spiderwoman series, featuring the titular character donning an extremely tightly-fitting costume in a sexually suggestive pose with exaggerated body parts.

comicsdiversity manera

Image from Marvel Comics

“[This] cover was a problem, in my opinion, not because it was a sexy cover at all, but because it was an objectifying cover for a book that Marvel had been touting as a book for women and starring a strong female character,” said Asselin.

There were other events this year that casted a negative outlook for diverse representation in comics, including reviews criticizing the new direction of writer Meredith Finch and husband David Finch on art, on the Wonder Woman comic series. Despite being written by female writer Meredith Finch, comic book critics like Jesse Schedeen have criticized the depiction of the protagonist in this new direction. “Diana comes across as weak, whiny, and childish – basically everything she wasn’t under [the previous writer’s] hand,” he said in a review for IGN.

Noting issues with something doesn’t completely demonize it. “Overall, it was a year of positive change,” said Asselin.

Fiction provides creative people with the opportunity to tell stories that represent whatever kinds of people they want to see represented.

“Anything that you want to see that you don’t, make it,” said Esposito.

Around the Tubes

It’s new comic book day, what’s everyone getting?

Around the Blogs:

Comics Alliance – Magnetic ‘Superman’s Underwear’ Advertised as Penis Enlarger and STD Cure in MalaysiaGood to know this is out there.

IGN – More New 52 Change-UpsMore changes…..

Comicvine – Should Creators Have More Rights Over Their Characters?Interesting read.

DC Women Kicking Ass – Former DC Comics editor Janelle Asselin on women, comics and marketingGood article from someone on the inside.

CBLDF – Vietnam Censorship Fuels Interest in Banned Comics – Interesting.

Fantagraphic Books – Paul Hornschemeier Awarded Ohio Residency! – Paul is a great guy, so congrats!

GamePolitics – Angry Birds Maker: Piracy Isn’t a Bad Thing – Gutsy to say and fuels my argument.
Around the Tubes Reviews:

ComicBook.com – One Model Nation

L.A. Weekly – Tina’s Mouth

MTV Geek – Winter Soldier #1