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REVIEW: She Changed Comics

She Changed Comics is a stirring rebuttal to the notion that comics is historically a man's business, as well as a call to action to support women creators and uncover their contributions.

She Changed Comics
Betsy Gomez, editor
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, 2016
publisher site | WorldCat

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is best known for its First Amendment-related work legal advocacy and education, so She Changed Comics is a bit of of a departure: an overview of contributions made by an under-recognized group of creators. Although censorship is addressed, this book is primarily and introduction to 79 women who have worked in the comics industry since their earliest days. It includes artists, writers, publishers and editors, many performing multiple duties, and with a wide range of artistic styles, stories to tell, and other approaches to the medium.

Most of its subjects are given a two-page bio that covers topics like the basic details of their lives, their often difficult relationships to the industry, their approach to their work, and their influence on contemporaries and successors. The bios generally an image or two, giving us a fuller idea of their contributions. In addition there are a handful of interviews with figures like Raina Telgemeier and Fran├žoise Mouly, adding depth to the overall story of women in comics that the book tels. Readers would be forgiven for feeling shortchanged by its brevity, but I see it as a strength: while a deeper examination of these women would be welcome (and to that end, many bios cite Trina Robbins' Pretty in Ink for further reading), She Changed Comics is more concerned with quantity, embodying the idea that women are neither tokens nor anomalies in the comics field, even if they are a historical minority. What's more, its final "Additional Reading" section includes an incomplete list of more women in the field, raising the hopeful possibility that we'll see additional volumes in the future.

She Changed Comics is a book that every comics librarian should read in order to combat the insidious idea that "comics = men"; not that we all suffer from this affliction, but we should use every tool available to dismantle this dominant false narrative. Public librarians should all add it to their shelves, and school librarian should consider it too (with the caveat that it discusses "objectionable" content like sex and violence) because it's bursting with role-models for young cartoonists of all genders. And finally, it provides a to-do list for all of us: learn more about these women, read their comics, write their stories even more thoroughly (not many have book-length biographies or comics collections out there), and help usher in the next generations of women cartoonists.