How about a list of children’s graphic novels that don’t have half-naked women, either victims or heroines, in skin-tight clothing with giant gazongas? And that feature realistic images of boys and men, without suggesting that having impossibly-large bulging muscles is the only way to be a hero? I think yes.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me. After discovering that they’ve taken good old Nancy Drew and put her in 9 to 12-year-old’s graphic novel format, which involves a modern makeover, uber-tight clothing, and a supermodel physique; has her female compatriot’s butt, hips, and bosom grow larger from page to page; and includes an entire section in one book where every female is in a tiny bikini—I was disheartened, to say the least. Poor Nancy. Poor kids.
(The links in this paragraph are NSFW.) Type in “graphic novel” on Amazon, but send the kids out of the room first. And manga? No, don’t even get me started on most manga. I mean, how short can a skirt get before it’s not even technically a skirt anymore? I think we call that a loin cloth, though I suspect loin cloths may be more modest. Pretty sure I don’t need any of my kids, whatever the gender, thinking teenage girls and women are meant to look like little girl dolls with big boobs. Add to this rant the recently revealed Spider Woman comic from Marvel, and my head is a raging bonfire. (But thanks, Oatmeal, I needed a laugh to damp down the fires!)
Big sigh. Deep breath.
Time to remind myself it’s not all like that—not all insistent, soulless, misleading messages to our girls about their skin-deep worth and to our boys about treating girls and women as objects. So, I’ll share a few books we love around here—books where art meets the written word and does a little dance without objectifying or degrading anybody.
Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi. Beautifully drawn, with engaging, flawed, and admirable female and male characters. Full of death, danger, and another world (via the basement, where all creepy worlds begin as far as I’m concerned), this is best for older kids. Also, brother and sister team? Perfect:
Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, by the talented Shannon Hale (of Princess Academy), Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale. These are both great graphic novels, with Calamity Jack being more gory than Rapunzel’s Revenge. The cover art is slicker and Rapunzel’s clothing tighter, than what’s inside *grumble.* (I should be used to that by now, I know.) The stories are fun and dramatic, great for the older kids. The books aren’t perfect: there are a couple of cleavage scenes and by the end of RR she’s got a steampunk torn-up dress thing going on. But still a great story.
* Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke Extraordinaire. I know, there’s supposed to be some title before Extraordinaire like Artist or Writer or Awesome Bookman, but I think his name is more than sufficient. Here’s a great audio interview with Ben. I’m willing to forgive the bare-bellied woman in the Zita books because I can’t be unbendingly unforgiving. Well, I could be, but that wouldn’t be healthy.
Warriors manga, by Erin Hunter. Sometimes it’s great to not even have humans in the book, because you sure won’t find cleavage on cats. At least I hope not. For Warriors fans, these are a fun bit of extra story that fills in gaps from the novels.
The graphic novels based on Avatar: The Last Airbender (the Nickelodeon TV series, not the movie). These are one book per episode, and follow the show faithfully. They are also putting out more graphic novels that occur after the series ended, which is manna for fans (and in our house, this means adults, too!). We’ve read The Promise and The Search, but not yet The Rift. (Ooh… what’s this one?) The books feature my kids’ most beloved characters, who also happen to be some of my favorite tv-based role models for my kids—you know, if they must have tv-based role models at all. The male and female main characters have physical, mental, and emotional complexity and a strength of character worth watching. (One section of books has our Lady of Water Bending in a sari-type outfit with her belly showing, as part of her Fire Nation disguise. I forgive the lapse in her usual head-to-toe attire, because the overall message of her character is excellent.)
* Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell
* Hildafolk, Luke Pearson
* Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye, by Colleen AF Venable. Really funny books for animal lovers.
* Princeless, by Jeremy Whitley. Has a funny superhero-criticism bit where the African-American princess-heroine has to dress in an outfit she hates: a typical “Female Superhero” costume, think: Wonder Woman. This is while she waits for her real armor, that will actually allow her to have protection in a sword fight. We’ve only read the first so far, and it was good. The prince, though, has fallen from his tyrannical father’s good opinion, and it’s a pretty sorry state. I hope he gets back on his feet and finds his own way in the next book. I don’t appreciate female empowerment that puts down men and boys, so hopefully that’s not what’s happening.
* Bigfoot Boy, by J. Torres. It can be hard to find respectful, realistic images of boys and men in graphic novels (where their muscles aren’t busting out of their spandex as evidence of their only asset). Bigfoot boy pushes this boundary a little for me, because he turns into a giant hairy yeti to do good deeds. But I still like it, because I have a soft spot for sasquatches, and because I enjoy his character, his female neighbor and pal, and the story-line.
* Giants Beware, by Jorge Aguirre
* Studio Ghibli has won my heart for its fabulous storytelling, beautiful animation, and modestly dressed characters. Check out the graphic novel versions of the films The Secret World of Arietty, Ponyo, and My Neighbor Totoro. And for older kids: Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke. (The age range listed for these four graphic novels is “5 and up,” but don’t believe it. These are an intense stories with death, gun violence, kidnapping, warfare and extreme creepiness.)
* Jedi Academy, by Jeffrey Brown
* Hereville, by Larry Deutsh. “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl.” I love, love, love Mirka’s background. We need more heroes and heroines with a strict religious background—it educates readers, adds depth to the story, and is just plain interesting.
* Owly, by Andy Runton
* The Secret Science Alliance, by Eleanor Davis. This crew is absolutely wonderful:
* Sidekicks, by Dan Stantat
* Summer Camp Science Mystery, by Lynda Beauregard
I’d love to hear suggestions for other graphic novels that portray both women and men in a respectful way. Drop me a comment if you’ve got one. 🙂