Quick, think of a female superhero or villain!

What does she look like? Tall? Blonde or brunette? Probably a redhead. Is she scantily clad? Does she have large breasts? What era is she from (Golden/Silver Age? New 52? Any one of the Marvel Universes?) Well good for you, you at least have an image in your head.

Okay, now think of a female writer or artist for comic books.

Anyone? A bit harder, isn’t it? And therein lies the problem. In the last six months, the comic book industry has come under a lot of scrutiny for its lack of female creators as well as its treatment of female characters. DC’s New 52, launched in September of 2011, was notable not only for the extreme sexualization of female heroes and villains at the expense of their personalities (see Starfire and Harley Quinn), but also for a lack of diversity amongst female characters (Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, not wheelchair-bound Oracle, and Amanda Waller’s slimmer, sexier figure). But what had many a female reader crying foul was the distinct lack of female creators involved with DC’s relaunch. In fact, only 1% of the creators at DC are female and with the recent departure of Amy Reeder from Batwoman, the number continues to drop. Marvel isn’t without blame either. With the cancellation of X-23, Marvel has no running titles with a female lead character. All other books feature female characters, but only in a team capacity run by a male lead.

Though disappointment abounded, especially amongst female readers and fans, reactions to said disappointment echoed longstanding problems already present within the comic book community towards women and female characters. Any expressed concern over hyper-sexualized characters (especially where younger readers were concerned) were met with responses ranging from “that’s the way it’s always been” to “comic books have ratings so be a responsible parent and keep them away from comics until they’re older.”

Really? Are those the only options?

Not if Renae De Liz had anything to say about it. Starting back in May 2011, De Liz put out a simple tweet asking female creators if they’d want to be part of an anthology made up entirely of female writers and artists. The response was a resounding, “YES!” And thus, Womanthology: Heroic was born! After coordinating with the multitude of creators, agreeing on the theme, and securing IDW as the project’s publisher, De Liz began one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date. Looking to raise $25,000 in one month to publish and distribute Womanthology, the project surpassed its goal and raised $109,301 – and this author is proud to say she contributed as well!

And now, after several months and the collaborative efforts of all those involved, Womanthology: Heroic has finally hit the shelves of comic book stores and found its way into the hands of its backers. The only question is, “Is it any good?”

Well, not to be biased, but, yes, it’s very good! Why? Let’s start with the theme. Composed of long and short form stories as well as pin-ups and interviews, Womanthology asked its creators to define what it means to be “heroic.”

The results are as varied as those involved with the project. What’s especially refreshing is, though the fantastical is involved, being heroic can range from the greatest feats of strength to the smallest of gestures. That many of the protagonists in the stories are young girls or teenagers indicates the importance of empowering them with the confidence to act and feel heroic despite the trappings of the world surrounding them. Flipping through the pages, there are stories that are instantly relatable as characters deal with insecurity, depression, vulnerability, charity, kindness, friendship, strength, childhood, and sacrifice. Peppered throughout the book are nods to heroic women of the past, as well as a section highlighting female artists and their involvement in comics as far back as the late 19th century. And the art? As with the writers, the art ranges from the amateur to the professional. There’s a stylistic freedom to the book that prevents it from being too uniform, showcasing a bevy of talent that has gone unappreciated until now. The inclusion of art from the “next generation” of young girls and teens is especially endearing and inspiring.

Some personal favorites from the book: “Untitled” Renae De Liz and Nei Ruffino (18-22), “Untitled” by Joamette Gil, Katie Shanahan, and Mary Bellamy (40-45), “Lady and Tiger” pinup by Lois Van Baarle (51), “Spoon Bender” by Jennifer V and Sarah Elkins (60-63), “In Every Heart A Masterwork” by Gail Simone and Jean Kang (90-94), “Everwell” by Jody Houser, Adriana Blake, and Fiona Staples (96-101), “The New Adventures of Queen Elizabeth I” by Christine Benedict (139), “Warrior” by Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Melancon (154-157), “Swimming” by Ashley Avard and Dani Jones (180-183), and “Pink Elephants” by Ellen T. Crenshaw (188-192).

What gives this anthology the extra bit of oomph are the “Pro Tips” featured on just about every page from professional female creators in the business. Whether its about art, writing, building connections, or just being a good person, the tips and the entire back section exhibiting how to create comics are helpful tools for girls and women alike interested in getting their foot in the comic book industry door.

The only criticism I can truly give the book is the truncated format for many of the stories. Not that this wouldn’t be expected in an anthology featuring a large portion of amateur creators and collaborations across local and international borders, but some stories have very abrupt endings or distinctly quick resolutions. That being said, the book is well put together and special congratulations should go to the book’s many editors for this achievement.

You then might be wondering how you can contribute further to Womanthology. For starters, if you can, buy the book. At $50 a pop, I know it’s a bit steep for some, but the higher the sales, the more publishers will pay attention. It’s important the bigger named companies (DC and Marvel) understand that female creators and readers have as much of a voice in the industry as their male counterparts. And if the book is out of your range, find the creators and contribute to them directly or send them notes of encouragement. What’s important is the creation of a community with a voice proclaiming, “It doesn’t only have to be this way!”

So, what’s next for Womanthology ? The recent news out of Wondercon last weekend indicates that IDW has no intention of calling quits on the project. Starting in September, Womanthology will be an ongoing series with the first five issues tackling the theme of “Space.” And it does this author’s heart good to know that a project of this nature won’t disappear.

As always, your comments are welcomed and encouraged. You can like Noise Shark Media on Facebook, follow us on twitter @NoiseSharkMedia and you can follow me @darling_sammy.

La Femme Critique: Womanthology
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