comic journalism · Queer comics

Monstrous Women in Comics: Early Webcomic Creators

I recently submitted something to the Call For Papers for Monstrous Women in Comics (which you can still submit to until 5 pm tomorrow, September 1!) and it got me thinking a lot about the idea of “monstrous” women–those who deviate, highlight, and live on the boundaries of what is acceptable in comics.

We’re talking queer women and women of color. We’re talking women who aren’t femme, we’re talking trans women who society still ostracize. We’re talking polyamorous women, asexual women, kinky women. We’re talking women who talk about their bodies in a non-sexual way, a gross way, a human way. We’re talking about women who “act masculine” (whatever that means!) and women who dare to criticize the medium of comics.

Who comes most to the forefront of that than webcomic creators?

Webcomic creators are the new generation of underground/alt comix, ignoring the mainstream push for only certain things being allowed in favor of telling their stories, their memoirs, their fiction by their own rules. It’s radical self-publishing, and there are TONS of female webcomic creators.

In doing my female comic creator spotlight it was pretty glaringly apparent that most women agreed the mainstream sector was dismal toward women (or anyone not a heterocis white male, even) no matter how many slow steps we take forward. So many mentioned that they found solace in their own circles–independent local scenes or online. Most of them publish through webcomics, because they can do whatever they want there. It’s not glamorous, it’s not always lucrative–webcomics being picked up for book deals like Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona are still rare, even if they’re getting more popular. But it’s making art on their own terms.

Webcomics started showing up in the mid 1990s, and the first female webcomic creators (or halves of male/female duos) were at first few and far between. Many of these original webcomics have been discontinued, and it’s sadly a little difficult to find some of them online anymore but it isn’t impossible. In addition, many of the original webcomics were just newspaper strips that started running online after a point.

  • Holley Irvine’s Cafe Angst (1995-1998, published through the Denver Post) and Ozone Patrol (1997-1998); sadly both archives seem to have disappeared alongside Holley, who has said she stopped comics because “the pay-to-labor ratio was dismal.”
  • Maritza Campos-Rebolledo’s College Roommates From Hell! (1999-2010, sporatic 2012-present!)
  • Dorothy Gambrell’s Cat and Girl (1999-present!!)
  • Shaenon Garrity’s Narbonic (2000-2006); Shaenon is still very much active in comics and writing.
  • Jen Wang’s Strings of Fate (2000-2002); Jen still draws and makes comics today.
  • Justine Shaw’s Nowhere Girl (2001-2010); this was the first webcomic to be solely online. It also won an Eisner award for “best new series” and was the first webcomic to be nominated. It focused on a girl’s journey of self-discovery, particularly involving her sexuality, and is a pretty big hallmark in my eyes for all of this.
  • Vera Brosgol’s Return to Sender (2002-2004); Vera still draws and makes comics today.
  • Jenn Manley Lee’s Dicebox (2002-present!)
  • Lea Hernandez’s Rumble Girls (2003); Lea moved Rumble Girls online after feeling like distribution was blocking her from selling her comics. She edited the female-centered webcomic subscription Girlamatic and continues to create today. (Though Girlamatic is no longer active, read this article by previously-mentioned webcomic writer Shaenon Garrity about what were some of the best things on it.)
  • Spike Trotman’s Templar, AZ (2005-2014); Spike is still super active and runs Iron Circus, a comics publishing company.
  • Tracy Butler’s Lackadaisy (2006-present!)

There are T O N S of other webcomics by female creators, but these are some of the earlier ones I could scrounge up. Feel free to @ me on twitter with more @Beebidon!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I just throw a massive list of female-created (or co-created) webcomics at you!

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