10 Comics to Read While You Smash the Patriarchy
Graphic narratives by, for, and about women and nonbinary heroes
Electric Lit relies on contributions from our readers to help make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive. Please support our work by becoming a member today, or making a one-time donation here.
Comics have always been great for illustrating a fight—they are both serial and cinematic, giving us plenty of time to follow a hero on their adventures and plenty of gorgeous visual art to hold our interests. The folks who make comics are always using these formal strengths to punch something—from white nationalists to zombies. The good news: in addition to all those other punchable targets, we’re currently in an era where writers and artists’ heroes punch the patriarchy, in life and art. The bad news is, we’re all tired. And if you are as exhausted as I am, I have a proposition for you. Sometimes you have to do the fighting, sure, but sometimes you can also put on a pot of tea and immerse yourself in comic books about fictional characters delivering a knock-out, super-hero-style kick to systems of oppression. If you’re mad as hell and in the mood for some eye candy, here are ten comic book titles for a weekend of lounging and whispering pow to yourself as you live vicariously through the characters in these comics while pumping yourself up to fight another day. All the comics listed are about women and nonbinary folks kicking ass, because sometimes you just gotta rage.
Lumberjanes is about a camp in the woods for hardcore girls, both cis and trans, and nonbinary kids too, who battle supernatural creatures and expectations of femininity. Originally developed by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn Allen, and Shannon Watters, this comic has everything—a group of five rad pals, holy kittens (no seriously, holy kittens. Kittens that are holy. Kittens with an aura of holy-ness), three-eyed foxes. These scouts often fight authority figures that seek to control their lives and define who they are. It’s kid-friendly to boot, and because it’s been running for years, there are plenty of collected volumes.
If you like Noelle Stevenson’s writing in Lumberjanes, you may also want to pick up Nimona, her webcomic-turned-graphic-novel about a spitfire young shapeshifter and her villainous mentor. These two charming outlaws and their exploits against the crown beg the questions: If someone is the ruler of a nation or a blonde-haired pretty-boy knight, does that automatically mean they are the good guy? What role does toxic masculinity play in competition? And, what if the “supervillains” are actually on the right side of the moral quandary? War is waged against a controlling authority, one that seeks to control the body of a young woman and discards a disabled person—a punch-worthy government indeed! Will the villains stop the heroes in time? Also a kid-friendly pick, Nimona was nominated for the National Book Award in 2015 and is good, complex storytelling that can be enjoyed across age groups.
Kim is a full-time student and a part-time grim reaper, and Becka has a crush on her. Written and drawn by Sarah Graley, Kim kicks ass with her ripped sleeves, undercut, and sense of justice as she butts heads with the oft-traditionalist Board of Grim Reapers, who punish Kim for her ambition as a reaper, and enact revenge on her using—you guessed it!—the life and body of her new friend-crush-person Becka. Fudge those guys! This comic may be appropriate for some younger readers, as long as they’re cool with punching zombies.
Written by Zoë Quinn with Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi rocking the art, Goddess Mode is perfect if you’d like to dismantle some capitalism along with your patriarchy. We follow Cass, a punkish and poverty-stricken employee of the reigning technology company as she’s assigned to check in on a rich person after a mysterious computer glitch endangers the lives of many. As Cass rails against the ruling class with trash-powered spells and the coding knowledge to replace all her served ads with cat videos, Goddess Mode crosses the streams of two genres: cyberpunk and magical girl. This comic is absolutely not appropriate for young readers as it’s got harsh language and some gory violence.
If you’re a fan of Stranger Things but would have liked to follow a group of girls instead, Paper Girls written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson, might be for you. Follow Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ as they set out to deliver newspapers early in the morning after Halloween, November 1st, 1988. Some Very Strange Things happen and, well, let’s just say that readers don’t stick to that date (you bet we’re going to time travel!) for very long as these teens battle masked monsters and the powers that be in the form of an agency that keeps tight control on the timeline and what events are “allowed” to happen. Also, dinosaurs. This comic is very much not appropriate for young readers (much disturbing death!).
“Mother Earth, we used to say, before we understood. Before we came to know the heavens, to live here and to feel her warm embrace. Space is the mother who receives us, you see? Earth is the father. And your father…has cast you out.” Welcome to a prison planet full of women who have been jailed for being “non-compliant.” Due to the patriarchal structure of this (futuristic) world, that can mean…pretty much anything, to no one’s surprise. “Trespasses,” “gluttony,” “pride.” The corporate-government is entirely run by people who support the patriarchal status quo. A true ensemble cast written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Valentine de Landro, this title is perfect if you’re feeling caged and would like to read about a real revolution. Bitch Planet features tons of different kinds of women with all sorts of body types coming together in community…to absolutely crush the oppressive ruling body. Please don’t ever read this to a child, it is very violent and there’s a lot of nakedness.
Enter a perfectly normal coffee shop with cushy seats, great espresso and the warm welcome of a friendly staff—which happens to consist of a queer werewolf named Julie and a nonbinary centaur named Chet. This is the world of Moonstruck, written by Grace Ellis and drawn by Shae Beagle. Julie often has negative feelings about being a werewolf and tries to hide it, even though other folks tell her there’s nothing wrong with her just as she is. But when an outside force tries to dictate what “perfectly normal” actually means, and enforce it upon the bodies of myriad fantasy creatures, things take a turn. Follow our heroes as they navigate villains and crushes and cryptic prophecies from the barista witch behind the bar. This is kid-friendly and is especially good if you’re looking for gender nonconforming representation and loads of diverse bodies.
Let’s head back to the eighties for a teen girl fight club. Heavy Vinyl (formerly Hi-Fi Fight Club), written by Carly Usdin and illustrated by Nina Vakueva, follows Chris as she gets hired by her favorite record store. She thinks all she’ll have to deal with are misogynist customers and a crush on her super cute co-worker, Maggie, but the staff’s collective favorite singer, a front-woman for super cool band Stegosaur, disappears the night before the big show. Chris is inducted into that secret rock and roll band of vigilante detectives to find their singer and dole out some justice. Adults and teens would find this title most interesting.
“Earth sucks, steal a spaceship.” That’s the tagline for Joyride, written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly and drawn by Marcus To. This band of three unlikely teenagers is standing up to the World Government Alliance, which is keeping anyone from leaving Earth and quashing all resistance to their rules with violence. Rather than join the state-trained groups of militarized children, Uma Akkolyte and her two friends decide to take off after they receive a distress signal from outside SafeSky, the protective shell around the planet. This series is complete, so if you’d like something you can read from start to finish, you can get all three volumes and read everything in one shot. Because of the violence, check the content first before you read to any kids in your life.
Safe Sex (forthcoming)
Not a lot is known about this title so far because it’s going to be released later this year, but Safe Sex by Tina Horn, drawn by Mike Dowling, promises to be a big queer masterpiece about freedom fighters in a world where sex and pleasure are surveilled and regulated. Head to your local comic book shop and ask to put it on your pull list, because Horn plans to pack a punch with her merry band of sex rebels. This one? Definitely not for kids.
Bonus webcomic: Cosmoknights
Written and illustrated by Hannah Templer, Cosmoknights just launched earlier this year. Because it’s beginning as a webcomic (updated Tuesdays and Fridays), I included it as a bonus (though the graphic novel will publish in Fall 2019). The tagline is “For this ragtag band of space gays, liberation means beating the patriarchy at its own game.” And based on the first chapter, Templer is beginning the story with a runaway princess fleeing an arranged marriage and saving herself with the help of a friend. It’s also absolutely gorgeous. (And it’s free.)