smile, get girls reading comics

Over the past year I’ve increased the amount of comic books/graphic novels I’m reading. Partly because I’m writing coming books now, and also because it’s such a fun, diverse medium. There are so many great titles being published to suit all tastes.

When I was a girl I was not encouraged to read comics – I wasn’t discouraged either, but I didn’t know another girl my age who loved them the way I did. I’ve no idea where I got the notion that ‘comic books were for boys’, but it was something I understood. I didn’t agree, but I knew that my liking comic books was not the norm. It was pre-Internet so you had to buy comics in newsagents, and in Ireland there wasn’t much in the way of choice outside of Dublin.

Thankfully, a great deal has changed now, but I’m always looking for ways to induct girls into reading comics. There are oodles of Manga titles of course, but I have only read lightly in that field.

I’d heard a great deal of positive buzz about Raina Telgemeier‘s graphic novel Smile, so I ordered and read it recently. It’s a terrific book, and perfect for a young teenage girl. It’s based on Raina’s own traumatic experiences involving dental surgery and braces as a teenager. It’s mostly about those difficult years when you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you like, from the perspective of a girl who also has to deal with on-going problems with her teeth.

I had braces as a teen so I empathised with Raina and her dental dilemmas (the pain, the elastics, the nervousness about smiling, kissing, etc.), but what I found particularly interesting in her story is how Raina begins to resolve what she wants to do with her life and her realisation that she needs friends who will accept and support her.

Raina has a couple of crushes on boys in the book, but they don’t shape her destiny. She tries a sport that one of the boys loves, so he’ll notice her, but in the end Raina realises that she needs to be true to her interests. This is all accomplished in an easy-going, narrative which suits Telgemeier’s cartoon style.

If you know any 11-13 year-old-girls you’d like to get interested in reading comics this would be an excellent title to get them started in the medium.

I’ve been having some interesting discussions about the issue I raised in my last blog post, and via that I was pointed to a blog post (only a few weeks old) by Gail Simone titled Girls Do Too Read Comics, Goddammit.

The point Gail raises is one I’ve made myself a number of times: the only way to bring about change is to speak up. There are a lot of women in the world. We deserve to see books/films/comic books that reflect our lives (in all its diversity).

That means we need to keep striving to write/edit/draw/direct our unique stories too, especially if they don’t conform to the norm.

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