The Great Women Cartoonists and the Great Women Superheroes

The Great Women Cartoonists cover

The Great Women Superheroes

The Great Women Superheroes cover

Kitchen Sink Press, 1996

The Great Women Superheroes is pretty much what it sounds like. Trina Robbins’ author’s note provides some useful clarification:

This book is called The Great Women Superheroes, rather than An Encyclopedia of Women Superheroes, so that I could include only those whom I felt to be the best, the worst, the silliest, or the most interesting. … I had to define superheroines as those comic book heroines who fit in at least one of the following categories: they wore costumes, had special powers, and/or had secret identities. Sorry, but this leaves out jungle queens, girl reporters, vampires, and elves.

Early chapters cover Wonder Woman, animal-themed heroines (mostly catwomen), patriotic and wartime heroes, sidekick heroines (mostly Mary Marvel), and the supernatural. The latter half of the book traces Marvel and DC characters from the Silver Age to the then-modern day. It’s a more targeted history that will speak to the interests of most traditional comic fans — but if this is the only book you read on women and comics, then you’re buying into the fallacy that comics = superheroes.

From Girls to Grrrlz

From Girls to Grrrlz cover

Chronicle Books, 1999

From Girls to Grrrlz is Robbins’ first book in color, which is much appreciated, and first by a “real” publisher. Unfortunately, based on the cover copy, that necessitated making this more of a “colorful and hilarious tribute” than a history. It’s very welcoming, asking to be picked up and flipped through, but that (and the pink polka-dot cover) also make it seem a little more frivolous. The varying typefaces in the middle of paragraphs don’t help.

There are only four chapters, and the groupings seem selected for convenience instead of accuracy: Girls’ Comics 1941-1957; Women’s Comics 1947-1977; Womyn’s Comix 1970-1989; Grrrlz’ Comix 1990s. The attempt to group together a wide diversity of comics and zines that happen to be by or about women in the last chapter falls flat. Another difference here is that the emphasis is on comics for females, whether or not they were created by women, instead of female cartoonists.

The Great Women Cartoonists cover

I’m probably judging it too harshly. I don’t think I’m part of the target audience; I think this is intended as a general introduction, not something for those already familiar with much of the material. It would make a terrific gift.

The Great Women Cartoonists

Watson-Guptill Publications, 2001

The last (so far) of Robbins’ targeted books, The Great Women Cartoonists, is the best. It’s a reworking of A Century of Women Cartoonists (although not credited as such), but in color and a much more welcoming, browsable layout. And because it’s more recent, it might be easier to find.

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