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9 Amazing Female Graphic Novelists, Illustrators And Cartoonists You Should Read

03/09/2015 09:31 am ET | Updated Mar 09, 2015
Lucy Knisley

It's been a big couple of years for women in the comic book world, with Marvel Comics unveiling female versions of their previously male-dominated troop of heroes. Last month, a girl-powered Avengers cast was announced, including such superheroes as She-Hulk, Dazzler, and Medusa. It's a bound in the right direction for the industry, but there are scores of comic artists out there who work outside of the world-saving realm.

Illustrators such as Alison Bechdel (a recent MacArthur grant recipient) and Marjane Satrapi are using the medium to tell their own stories -- which, of course, can be as powerful as the action-packed pages of more traditional comics and graphic novels. For further girl-centric graphic reading, we've rounded up a few of our favorites -- focusing on those whose work takes on the form of a clear, engaging narrative. Take a look at nine graphic novelists, cartoonists and illustrators who are making waves in the field:

  • Anya Ulinich
    In the tradition of graphic novelists working to pen stories that are more true-to-life than lost-in-space, Anya Ulinich penned Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel, a graphic novel that explores the difficulties of dating as a single mother. Lena's perusing of OkCupid profiles lends itself well to the paneled form, and is hilarious to boot. But Ulinich's work is more than funny; she's able to show on a single page the range of emotions, from exhaustion to pride, that single mothers feel on a daily basis.

    Read an excerpt from Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel.
  • Jillian Tamaki
    Jillian Tamaki makes illustrations for The New Yorker and The New York Times, but she also writes wonderful webcomics. Her SuperMutant Magic Academy, which is as whimsical as it sounds, will be collected into a book this spring. She's also the co-author of This One Summer, a graphic novel she created with her sister, who's written about the necessity of more female protagonists with less-than-perfect bodies.

    Read a blog by Mariko Tamaki.
  • Leah Hayes
    Leah Hayes's debut graphic novel is innovative not only stylistically (the entire monochromatic book was created using a scratchboard technique), but also in the narrative style it employs. Funeral of the Heart is a short story collection, and each story imbues realistic stories with a touch of the fantastical.
  • Hope Larson
    Hope Larson works in an impressively wide variety of mediums. She's adapted the classic sci-fi book A Wrinkle in Time into a graphic novel, she's written and directed an animated short film, and you can read her serialized web comic SOLO online for free. We recommend starting there -- the series even has its own soundtrack!

    Read a blog by Hope Larson.
  • Yumi Sakugawa
    Yumi Sakugawa's books are meditative practices, both for her to create and for audiences to enjoy. Her first book, I Think I'm n Friend Love With You, is a social commentary on platonic friendships in the social media era. Her more recent work, Your Illustrated Guide to Being One With The Universe, is a self-help book of sorts -- but Sakugawa uses it also as an opportunity to slyly subvert the conventions of self-help. Rather than outlining rigid steps to improvement, she uses fluid lines and a fluid narrative to suggest change isn't always a straightforward quest.

    Read an excerpt from Your Illustrated Guide to Being One with the Universe.
  • Lucy Knisley
    Lucy Knisley's work puts fits neatly into the "realistic graphic novel" realm, but she puts a spin on the sub-genre by mixing in photography for a unique yet simple multimedia reading experience. Her stories are different, too -- they're lighthearted graphic memoirs, and the stories are quietly touching. In French Milk, Lucy recalls a trip to Paris with her mother; in An Age of License she logs her travels to Scandinavia.
  • Roz Chast
    Okay, the term "graphic novelist" may be nebulous -- it's safest to stick with how comic artists label themselves individually, and Roz Chast is a self-described cartoonist. Her work runs often in The New Yorker, but her 2014 memoir, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, won a boatload of nonfiction awards, including a National Book Award nomination. Because of the narrative nature of the story, we're going to include it as one of many great works by graphic storytellers. The book centers on the heart-wrenching topic of aging, adding to the topic the personal touch of losing one's own parents. It's funny, touching, and a must-read if you're interested in the genre of cartoons that tell real, sometimes gritty stories.
  • Fiona Staples
    Fiona Staple's badass comic series Saga is reason enough to get on board with her work. It's a blend of sci-fi and fantasy, starring star-crossed lovers from different worlds. She's also done the illustrations for a number of graphic novels, including 2010's North 40, a Western-style fantasy.
  • Faith Erin Hicks
    Faith Erin Hicks's Adventures of Superhero Girl directly confronts the industry's lack of feminine superheroes, AND it's a refreshingly down-to-earth story. Its heroine must tackle life's annoyances as often as she saves the world. Another of her works -- Friends with Boys -- tackles gender in an entirely different way. Protagonist Maggie's social life centers on her friendships with her three brothers, until she enters the daunting world of public school.

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