Tamara Drewe

British women in comics

After blogging about the absence of women in the line-up of the Kapow! comic book convention I had a number of lively discussions about it.

I also discovered that Mark Millar twittered about this issue back on the 7th of December 2010, when someone else pointed out there were no female guests. His response, over two tweets:

You realise this is being put together by 5 women, don’t you? The reason the comic guests are mostly male is because the biggest names in UK comics are male. Who is the big british female pro they’re missing here?

I’m amused by ‘the comic guests are mostly male’ bit, when the guests are all male.

This kind of response is quite familiar. First off, there’s a variation on the ‘my best friend is a woman’ card. Women are capable of overlooking other women, however disappointing it is when it happens. Just because women make up the Kapow team doesn’t mean that their omission of women from the convention guest list is acceptable.

The next part of the argument is the ‘Well, where are all the women?” gambit.

Millar indicates that there were several criteria for guests of the convention: they had to be pros that were a “big name” in comics and “British”.

A cursory examination of the current Kapow guest list proves that several of them are not British. At least one of them has not written/drawn for comic books at all. So, the stated criteria is only being applied selectively to the line-up.

On the other hand there is a perceived dearth of women working professionally in British comics at the moment. This was the first thing people pointed out to me when I raised this issue initially. Women writing/drawing graphic stories in the USA seem to have more visibility than those working in the UK.

This is a depressing fact. The industry on this side of the Atlantic needs to take a serious look as to why it is happening (even taking into account the difference in the size of the markets). Not having women as part of the guest list at a major convention is certainly not helping matters, however.

Women are not entirely absent from British comics. One of the things I like do to in a situation like this is raise the profile of the women who are involved in the industry, so I did some digging and have come up with names of women who are working in the field. Some I already knew (and need no promotional work from me) and some are discoveries.

Tamara DreweFirst is Posy Simmonds, who has been working in graphic storytelling for over forty years. In fact, due to her work on Tamara Drewe for The Guardian (recently made into a film), her name is probably more familiar to the British public than many of the guests attending Kapow.

There’s also Carol Swain, who has been writing/drawing comic books since the 1980s. Leah Moore has been writing comic books both on her own and with her husband John Reppion for nearly ten years (including my personal favourite, their fine adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula).

Emma Vieceli has been making a name for herself in the emerging British Manga field, and is slated to do The Thrill Electric next with Moore and Reppion. Computer games writer Rhianna Pratchett has written a 6-part mini-series with DC Comics based on the Mirror’s Edge world.

After becoming familiar with Vieceli’s work I discovered Sweatdrop a British Manga studio that is a hotbed of British (and International) female talent such as Vieceli, Sonia Leong, Laura Watton, Morag Lewis, Rebecca Burgess and Kate Keattch.

Other artists/writers working in England are: Nana Li and Kate Brown.

I feel I should also give a shout-out to Annie Parkhouse and Ellie de Ville who have been lettering for 2000AD and other publications for a considerable time.

Take a ChanceAnd if Millar and his team were willing to invite a guest from Ireland, he could do no wrong with Catie Murphy, a novelist who put together her own creator-owned 5-issue comic book, Take a Chance, which was published by Dabel Brothers Publishing. I think it’s fair to say that Catie helped launch the career of her artist Ardian Syf, and her experience in writing, pitching and organising everything with the comic book would make her an informative guest.

Assembling this list didn’t take me very long and it’s incomplete.

If you know women who are working in a professional capacity in the comics books industry in the UK/Ireland please drop me a comment on this blog post with their names and a link to their work.

I’d be happy to write another blog entry adding more names to this list in the future.

Since Kapow is inviting both non-comic book guests and non-British writers/artists to the convention they should have been able to spring for at least one of the many brilliant women working in the USA, or even did a little bit of research and asked one of their local creators – as listed above. Hey, there are British actresses and female screenwriters who could fit the bill since Kapow is touting itself as a version of San Diego’s Comic-Con, which features cross-media guests.

There is no need for tokenism when there are women working in the field who deserve the recognition.

I’d much prefer if those involved in events like this would explain how the situation came about rather than state that they had no one to choose from. I used to run conventions so I know the tough realities involved. Oversights occur, people back out, budgets don’t cover your guest wish list, etc.

I don’t believe there is any conspiracy to keep women off the Kapow guest list, but there doesn’t appear to be a will to have women part of the bill either.

I notice last year’s British International Comics Show had women guests, so this is not a unique or impossible expectation.

Visibility of women creators at events like this is very important. Otherwise, where are the role models for the women who aspire to enter the industry?

Update: I’ve created an extensive list of female comic book creators in these islands in this post: women in comics in UK/Ireland – redux, and I’ve written an overview on my research.


  • David Bishop

    Hmm, there’s always been a shortage of female creators in British comics – at least on publications you find at the local newsagent. Angie Kincaid co-created Slaine and drew the first episode for 2000AD in the early 80s. Artist Maya Gavin drew Dredd and other strips for 2000AD and the Megazine in the mid-90s, before going into TV work on shows like Time Team. Myra Hancock wrote and drew a self-published comic Myra in the 80s before creating a strip in short-lived House of Tharg mature readers title Revolver, and then writing for Crisis [Sticky Fingers] and 2000AD [Tao De Moto]. Women letters as noted above, plus several great female colourists who tend to get forgotten and several female editors as well [e.g. Debbie Tate]. Jan Shepherd was art editor on 2000AD in its early days, as well.

    But there’s not a great list of women on so-called mainstream titles, which have tended to be male readership genres [war, superheroes, football] since the death of Bunty, et al.

    You need to go beyond the newsagents and you’ll be plenty of women creating interesting comics for the web, for self-publication or as manga. It just won’t tend to involve men in tights hitting each other.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve just started teaching a module on Writing for Graphic Fiction as part of the Creative Writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland. I believe this is the first postgrad course ever offered on writing comics and graphic novels. There are seven in the class, and the gender split gives me hope for the future – four women and three men.

    • Maura

      Thanks David – I’m familiar with Angela’s work with Sláine now that you mention it. It’s good to hear about Maya Gavin. I’m not surprised to hear there were female editors too.

      Women are writing and drawing superhero titles in the USA. I hate getting into this dichotomy that implies women like indie low-budget titles and can’t be bothered with the mainstream comics while men like to play with the superheroes with its implied exclusive male readership. I know loads of hard-core comic book fans who are women and love their superheroes.

      There are some superheroes I wouldn’t care to write, but there are plenty I would.

      The trend in Britain seems to be that women are more interested in Manga titles – or, they are going where they can get work. It’s probably a combination of both.

      These issues aren’t clear cut after all. Women should work in areas where they want to work, but equally I would hope if a woman wanted to draw and/or write a superhero title then she would be able to work her way to that goal eventually and not be put off by perceptions that it’s for men only.

      I’m delighted to hear that your course is attracting so many women. It’s a great sign.

    • Sam

      I tried inquiring about that MA and heard nothing from the univeristy, despite chasing them (although I got a number of marketing emails). You might have had another woman there, David.

  • Selina Lock

    I think the major issue around the Kapow convention is that it’s mainly a Superhero convention, which just isn’t appealing to a lot of the female comic creators and readers out there. There are lots of female comic creators in the UK, as can be seen from looking around the dealers room of any of small press friendly convention. As David said it’s just that most female creators are not working in the traditional mainstream of comics. They are being published by the likes of Self Made Hero, Myriad Press, the DFC, Blank Slate or Jonathan Cape/Random House.

    Cons with a wider remit often have women guests, for example Comica or Thought Bubble, which also hosted the 2nd Women in Comics conference in 2010. There’s also things like the Laydeez Do Comics events: http://www.laydeezdocomics.com/

    Editor: The Girly Comic (small press & webcomic)

    • Maura

      Selina, could you list some of the women who are working in the field with links to their work, or point me where they are listed? I’d like to get concrete examples of what British women are doing in comic books: indie, Manga, etc.

      Thanks for mentioning the other events, which look great.

      I read a wide range of comics from independent comics to the big superhero titles. I know a lot of women who adore superhero comics. I’m leery about this segregation of women into indie titles and men into superhero titles. That doesn’t seem to be the case in the USA, for instance.

      Sure, Kapow is tending towards superhero comics , but again, no excuse for not getting women on board, especially if they got an American over such as Gail Simone, Jill Thompson, Amanda Conner, Nicola Scott, etc. I’d also like to see the likes of G Willow Wilson, Pia Guerra (Canadian) or Marjane Satrapi (French/Iranian) who are not superhero writers/artists but whose comics have gained critical and/or financial success.

      If women don’t get visibility at the big events then we will be hearing ‘but there are no women in comics’ for decades to come. I had this exact same issue crop up with women working in horror, which started with being told there ‘weren’t that many women in horror’ – until I dug in and found there was a good representation in the field (which is also considered a ‘male interest’ industry).

      Thanks for commenting, and I’ll be looking up The Girly Comic!

      • Selina Lock

        Part of this is obviously my own bias, as I only read a handful of Superhero titles myself & don’t tend to hear female comic readers/creators I know discussing them either.

        Okay, some of the creators I know or know of… many do comics alongside being illustrators or animators, or have day jobs and self-publish their work, but that’s also true of many of the male comic creators I know (some you have already mentioned or have been mentioned by others on your LJ):

        Emma Vieceli: as well as being a manga creator, Emma also oversaw the comics village section of the MCM Expo cons for the last few years before stepping down. http://www.emmavieceli.com/

        Kate Brown: http://danse-macabre.nu/ – latest book Spider Moon from The DFC and recipient of the award for the 2010 Arts Foundation Fellowship Graphic Novels category.

        Sarah McIntyre: children’s book illustrator and creator of Vern & Lettuce for the DFC: http://www.jabberworks.co.uk/index.php

        Ellen Lindner: cartoonist and illustrator, latest self-published book Undertow http://www.littlewhitebird.com/

        Cliodhna Lyons: illustrator, animator and cartoonist. http://www.ztoical.com/

        Laura Howell: first female artist in the history of The Beano, has also worked for Toxic and The DFC.

        Leonie O’Moore: illustrator, designer and comic book creator http://www.angelfire.com/wizard/portfolios/map.html

        Karen Rubins: comics creator and  just finished a Residency at the V&A museum, South Kensington, London http://www.karenrubins.com/index.htm

        Karrie Fransman: comic creator who has a graphic novel coming out from Random House and has been in The Times and The Guardian http://www.karriefransman.com/

        Jeremy Day: well known indie comic creator http://jeremyday.org.uk/

        Lee Kennedy: long established autobiographical cartoonist http://crazycrone.livejournal.com/profile

        Asia Alfasi: manga creator with a deal with Bloomsbury (though her website seems to be down!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asia_Alfasi

        Kate Evans: books published by Myriad Edtiions http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/

        Phillipa Rice: well known web comic creator http://mycardboardlife.com/

        Lizz Lunney: another well known web comic creator: http://www.lizzlizz.com/

        Josceline Fenton: has self-published several comic books while still at art college http://www.mildtarantula.com/

        Simone Lia: illustrator and comic creator, self-publishes, books published by Jonathan Cape and has appeared in The DFC http://www.simonelia.com/

        Melinda Gebbie: long time alternative comic creator and artist on Lost Girls

        Sydney Padua: animator and creator of the Lovelace and Babbage webcomic http://sydneypadua.com/

        These are just ones off the top of my head that I know/have met (know live in the UK) and have seen at conventions. I’m sure there are many more and some I’ve forgotten to add!

        In fact many of the above have been guests or appeared on panels at the Caption comic convention, which I was on the organising committee of for the last five years. http://caption.org/

        I think the other thing I’ve noticed with regards to Kapow! Is that it is being largely ignored by the indie and small press here in the UK because the dealers tables are too expensive for most creators to afford. Plus it’s seen as a superhero only con and therefore assume that most of the punters won’t be interested in other types of comics. In the last few years we have had lots of comic conventions going on (Bristol Expo, British International Comics Show, Thought Bubble, Comica & Comiket, High Ex, MCM Expo, London Comics & Small Press Expo, etc) so for many of us Kapow! Is just one con!

  • Andy Luke

    Selina’s right on with this.

    It’s a Mark Millar superhero convention of ‘real’ aesthetic’ !

    And a look at The Girly Comics list of contributors is a great place to start: http://www.factorfictionpress.co.uk/girly/gcontents.html

    To my mind there is probably not that much difference in numbers of male cartoonists and female cartoonists at the sort of convention Selina mentions. Which seems kinda surprising and nice.

  • Danielle Lavigne

    Vicky Stonebridge, from Scotland, does a lot of good comics work in my opinion. http://www.balnacra.com/

    But it’s a con about Mark Millar’s friends, rather than about comics. Comics still cling on to nepotism like a spoiled child, and it’s gonna take some kicking and screaming before that changes…

    • Maura

      Thanks Danielle!

      Vicky is certainly a damn fine professional artist, and I know she does colouring for some titles, but I wasn’t sure if she would identify as a comic book artist (I seem to remember her not being so keen on accepting that hat when we discussed it at Octocon.) Best thing is to ask her, which I will do.

      Oh, as frustrating as this is, I know that the first thing that happens if you kick and scream about a subject is that people focus on the hysterics and not the issue. So, as difficult as it is I always try to dissect the argument, rather than making it personal.

  • Danielle Lavigne

    Vicky draws comics, too, but maybe it’s rude to call her a comic book artist or something. 😉 http://irishcomics.wikia.com/wiki/Wild_West_Wendy

    And, yes, I agree about dissecting the argument. I love that you address issues and then give simple ways to change things. A+ blogging, if I do say so myself. What I mean by kicking and screaming is more that it’s going to take a concerted effort before things change.

    • Maura

      Ah now Danielle, I didn’t mean that at all! Don’t get me in trouble here. 😀

      Comic book artists are awesome, no one in this circle thinks otherwise! I thought Vicky was being too modest about her talents when we were chatting about her work, actually. I’ve queried Vicky about this, because she was on my mind when I was writing the above piece.

      Concerted efforts are definitely important, as is saying something on topics like this every time they arise even when one is struck with that awful déjà vu feeling.

    • Maura

      Lisa, thanks so much for the extra names!

      I’m going to get the promised blog post up listing women working in comics in the UK/Ireland eventually – soon I hope – so this is helpful! 😀

  • Fez

    Hi Maura- great blog! Really great to read about some of the female side of UK comics! 🙂

    Can I just make a quick correction? Emma Vieceli is indeed working on the Thrill Electric with Leah and John- however, she’s been producing the wonderful character designs for the project, whereas the actual comic production is being done by WindFlower Studio- another all-female comic studio who’ve just got up and running, but we’re very honoured to be working with such great names in the industry!

    Studio link is here: http://www.windflowerstudio.com/

    Looking forward to having a nose through the other great artists mentioned in the comments!

    • Maura

      Hi Fez,

      Thanks so much for dropping by – and yes Windflower Studio is very much on my radar and when I get around to my much-promised listing you’ll be getting a mention. 🙂

  • Cliodhna

    No surprise to be honest that a Millar run con is male heavy on the guest front. We saw the same thing happen at the Dublin City Comic Con several years ago which was run by several regulars on the Millar World Forums. Had a 15 odd guests, all male and when asked why the answer was of course ‘there are no women in comics’. Of course alot of this comes down to what most fan boys consider ‘professional’ in their eyes if you’ve not have been published in some forum by Marvel or DC then you can’t call yourself a professional comic book artist regardless of what you put down on your tax returns.

    It has to be said though on the whole the comics scene all over is getting more balanced…shows like MCM, Bristol, Birmingham, High Ex, Thought Bubble are all balanced gender wise both with guests and people attending and smaller events focused on more indie comics are seeing much higher numbers – it’s been great to see Irelands comic scene grow over the last few years with events like Summer Edition doubling in numbers in the space of a year. Even though Kapow is a new show it feels very out of step with what recent developments in the comics scene in the UK and Ireland.

    • Maura

      Clíondhna, thanks for the comment. You may have seen my posts from Thursday and Friday where I updated the list of women artists/writers who work in the UK and Ireland (which includes yourself) and discussed that research.

      There are loads of women working in comics, but without lists like this that are easily Googled or accessible the myth will continue that there are not that many about.

      This is not the first time I’ve encountered attitudes like this – I’ve tackled the same perception in the Horror prose genre, and proved it’s manifestly untrue that there ‘are no women in horror’ by doing the same kind of investigation and pointing people towards the women who work within the industry.

      There are always reasons given for the exclusion of women based on arbitrary criteria. In the comics scene some people only count people working in the big studios as professional. Or, it’s that they don’t do superheroes, etc., etc.

      The only way forward is to constantly call them out on it when it happens. It’s quite unbelievable to me that I’m in the second decade of the 21st century and this kind of exclusion keeps happening. People are getting the message, at least Kapow! has added one woman to the list now, and we can only hope that if Millar does the event again next year there will be a fairer representation of women on the guest list.

      But, I can’t in good conscience attend Kapow! when it manifestly shows so little regard for women comic book creators. That’s one thing I can do: use my power as a consumer to support events that are much more supportive of women.

      I agree that nearly all of the other comic book events are much more balanced in this regard these days.

  • Brigitte Sutherland

    Hi Maura,

    I’m a woman working in comics in the UK! I’ve released a graphic novel called The Adventures of a Homunculus, won awards, been on the beeb and now I’m working with an awarded Aussie female SF writer called Marianne de Pierres on a great empowering comic called Peacemaker!

    Thanks so much for the list, I knew a few of these ladies but it’s wonderful to see a list like that. Wow! Where do they hide themselves?


    • Maura

      Brigitte, thanks for letting me know. I’ve added you to the list of women working in the field in the UK.

      Best of luck with your new project!

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