Voices

The rich, international world of comic books by women

By Anamaria Pravicencu

18 May 2017 - 01:59

Anamaria Pravicencu, who curated events at the European Comics Festival Exhibition in Bucharest, talks about the rise of international comic books by women authors.

What is exciting about the latest comic books?

The books are rich, subtle and complex. Their women authors write about life and also about taboo subjects such as sexuality and menstruation – far from the children’s comics that I grew up with.

For example, Maria Stoian is a Canadian author born in Romania author who has already won three big awards in the UK for her book Take it as a compliment. It's a collection of comics in different styles, based on anonymous stories of women who have experienced abuse in some form.

Is there an ‘established’ comics scene that these women are going against?

In France and Belgium, there is a long tradition of social illustration and caricature that goes back centuries. Their comic scene remains incredibly vibrant. France publishes around 4,000 comic books per year. About 80 per cent of those are new books or new translations, as opposed to simply reprints.

However, in France very few authors actually make a living out of writing comics. The really successful ones are usually more commercial, but the titles that sell well are not necessary the award winners.

In Japan, everyone knows about manga – but the recognised women artists can only really be counted on one hand. However, on the alternative and underground scene, it's women who dominate. Japanese female artists have risen to fame in Europe, North America and beyond, through translations made by small creative publishers with a taste for new comics.

Are there any national differences, or is it a totally international scene?

I think comics are like a map of the world, especially in terms of where artists are starting from in each country.

Germany already has a tradition of women’s comics. The Dresden-based artist Anke Feuchtenberger made the medium her own, setting up the first recognised university course in Comic Art in Hamburg. A whole generation of female comic artists in Germany has been influenced by her.

In the former Yugoslavia, comics thrived under Tito’s rule – allegedly because he liked things like Mickey Mouse when he was a kid, and couldn’t see that they could also be subversive. So during communism, there were a lot of Franco-Belgian and American comics translated for the public in countries such as Serbia – meaning the scene there now is quite established.

There are very creative and unusual styles that come out of the north of Europe, such as Latvia and Finland. They are almost expressionist in style, especially compared with the more formal style that used to come out from the Franco-Belgian tradition, called ‘ligne claire’ – sort of like the Hergé Tintin style.

In Romania, when I was growing up, the only thing I really knew were kids' comics or superhero comics for boys. But the new ones I’m seeing are certainly not like that.

Why do you think women are making comics?

Comic book artists can experiment with their drawing style and the stories they write at the same time. There are so many different dimensions that you can play with, and this lends itself to social critique and experimentation.

Many women authors address questions that were once avoided or considered inappropriate for comics, such as intimacy, desire, homosexuality, social inequality and women's lack of representation. Paradoxically, perhaps their freedom of expression came from being considered less important in what was traditionally a male-dominated scene.

But why women? I don’t know the answer; it’s not justified by a trend in publishing or anything. Perhaps it just happened because women have a chance to say something and this is an area where we are able to say it well.

Women comic book authors to look out for

In Romania, Sorina Vazelina represents forgotten members of society, like old people or the poor, with detailed and personal narratives. Andreea Chirică writes about childhood during communism, and the difficulties of adulthood. And a pair of sisters, Maria and Ileana Surducan, have developed personal styles in classical storytelling and fairy tales.

International women comic book authors

In Canada, Julie Doucet pioneered comics about North American women’s lives during the 1980s and '90s.

In Belgium, Dominique Goblet tells subtle and expressive stories through her drawings.

In the US, Alison Bechdel has written about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual (LGBT) communities, her homosexuality and her relation with her parents.

In France and Iran, Marjane Satrapi opened the way for other women authors with her best-selling autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis.

Anamaria Pravicencu is a founding member of Romania’s first comic book shop, Libraria Jumatatea Plina, and curator of events for the European Comics Festival Exhibition in Bucharest.

The fifth edition of the European Comics Festival runs in Bucharest until 22 May 2017, organised and funded by EUNIC Romania with the support of the Representation of the European Commission in Romania.

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