I am not one of Rush's feminazis. Really. Putting aside that I would never claim to be one of Rush's anythings, I do admit to a little female bias: I browse a list or a bookshelf of graphic novels by first checking out the ones written by women. It's a time-saver. Peruse a list of best, or important, or award-winning graphic novels, and less than 10 percent of the authors are women.
That may be changing. Last summer, at The Center for Cartoon Studies, nearly half of my fellow students were not fellows. On those "Best" lists, most of the women's entries are recent, books published in the last 7 to 8 years. In award nominations, women have been steadily gaining.
That's not to say that all the recent award-nominated graphic novels by women are from younger artists. Last year, three of the Eisner Award nominees were Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey Book by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly), Special Exits: A Graphic Memoir by Joyce Farmer, who we interviewed last February, (Fantagraphics) and You'll Never Know Book 2: Collateral Damage by Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics).
Lynda Barry has been writing and being published for over 30 years. But both Farmer and Tyler took decades-long breaks from their cartooning and came back to a new landscape, one that is maybe more appreciative of the kind of stories they have to tell.
Of upcoming graphic novels, the three that I'm most excited for are:
1. You'll Never Know Book 3: Soldier's Heart by Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics)
2. Are You My Mother?:A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
3. Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons by Flannery O'Connor (Fantagraphics)
The first two installments of Tyler's wonderful trilogy, a memoir about her father's WWII soldiering and its effects on her family, were on best and award lists. I liked Book 1 and loved Book 2, leaving me on tenterhooks for Book 3, which is due out July 17.
There's no way to discuss women-penned graphic novels without mentioning Alison Bechdel. Her Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) is on pretty much every "Best Graphic Novels" list and quite a few "Best Books" (Books. Period. As in serious literature.) lists. Fun Home was a game changer, and its followup, Are You My Mother?, is set to further change where graphic novels and literature intersect.
Out May 1st, it's been reported that Are You My Mother? will have a first printing of 100,000 books. That's a BFD for a hardcover graphic novel; it's a BFD for a second effort by a literary writer. So, I call it a BFD for female graphic novelists.
Lastly, can you imagine Flannery O'Connor as a cartoonist? Can you imagine Wise Blood as a graphic novel? Neither could I, until today. Checking out the Fantagraphics site, I saw Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons. (Whuh???)
According to the publisher, O'Connor "did not set out to be a fiction writer, but a cartoonist." Further, "Her cartoons are a creative threshing floor for experimenting and trying out techniques that are deployed later with such great success in her fiction."
I won't have to wait long to get my hands around this one; it's coming next month. But, as I look at O'Connor's early cartoons, I'm sure I'll be thinking: What if she were working today? What if she'd been able to fully express her literary vision with her first love, comics? What if Flannery O'Connor wrote Wise Blood as a graphic novel? Imagine that.