While there are many great comics that speak to both genders, it can be especially hard to find age-appropriate comic books for kids that feature girls and women as the protagonist. It is important to note that just because a book may be appropriate for kids, doesn’t mean it is only for kids. Like the best kids literature, most are a great read for adults as well. So don’t be so “grown up” that you lose your sense of wonder.
So without further ado, here are our 15 picks for 2015 in alphabetical order.
Nothing in 2015 was more surprising than Archie becoming relevant — and dare I say it? — cool again. But that is exactly what happened. The new Archie was a textbook example of how to do a reboot right. Writer Mark Waid shed all of the antiquated baggage that had accumulated around these characters over the years; losing the soda shop, jalopies and ’50s style clothing that had defined the book for generations; and giving regulars Archie, Betty, Jughead and Veronica makeovers, complete with new backgrounds, motivations and perspectives that make them feel fresh and brand new again.
Saga artist Fiona Staples finally created an Archie Andrews that actually seems worth fighting over. One of the most clever twists is that it is clear from the beginning that Archie is nice, but bumbling and love struck, and the plot is largely driven by Betty, Veronica and Jughead who react to try and clean up the messes that Archie creates.
Staples was only able to stick around for the first four issues before returning to Saga, but she leaves the book in the capable hands of Annie Wu. We look forward to exploring the world of Riverdale High more going forward.
The book will probably be best enjoyed by kids 12 and up, but there is nothing objectionable in the content or art for younger kids. And the adults in our families simply love this title.
The soft reboot of Batgirl by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr has brought a much-needed lighter touch to DC’s superhero comics. By divorcing Batgirl from the greater “Bat Family,” and sending her back to college the book immediately took on a friendlier, more-accessible tone. Fletcher and Cameron have grounded Babs firmly in the hipster enclave of Burnside — a suburb of Gotham.
And the more we can talk about Tarr’s art, the better. She has an immense gift for character design and pays great attention to fashion, giving even minor characters a sense of verisimilitude and individuality. And her bubbly art translates amazingly well to action sequences while retaining a very fun (and female) touch.
Batgirl may be the perfect book for older kids, tweens and teens who are interested in the superhero world, but unsure of where to start.
Brendon Fletcher’s reimagining of Dinah Lance as a rock-and-roll diva and the lead singer of the band “Black Canary” has been a tremendous amount of fun, putting the erstwhile superhero into a completely new context. The point of view switches seamlessly from Dinah to her bandmates to critics and club owners, and paints an incredibly vivid picture of the rock-and-roll lifestyle and life on the road.
And — as with Batgirl — Fletcher has been paired with the perfect artist to bring this seedy world to life. Annie Wu’s grungy pencils feature sharp — sometimes jagged — lines that suit the material beautifully.
While likely not appropriate for the youngest kids, anyone who is old enough to watch “Behind the Music” will get a kick out of Black Canary.
Giant Days explores the relationship between three new friends as they enter their first year of university. Spinning out of writer John Allison’s web comic Scary Go Round, the book is a combination of over-the-top slapstick antics, wry British humor and serious interpersonal drama.
Artist Lissa Treiman is better known as an animator, having worked on Disney projects including Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Big Hero 6. Here she shows a new skillset, picking exquisite moments of exaggerated action to tell her story. It’s cartooning at its finest.
Giant Days is that rarest of comics books: a story with no aliens, elves, robots or zombies. It’s just about people — how they relate to one another and how they get through life, and it is beautifully told.
Giant Days is appropriate for kids aged 12+, as it explores issues that would normally face college students striking out on their own for the first time.
Jem and the Holograms
Jem is one of those strange artifacts from the 1980s that elicits immense nostalgia among women of a certain age. It was one of the very few cartoons aimed squarely at girls at a time when there were not dozens of of channels devoted to children with 24/7 programming.
Jem and the Holograms the comic wildly succeeds by embracing the things that made the cartoon so memorable. It focuses on Jerrica Benton, who through the use of the “holographic computer” Synergy can become Jem the lead singer of “Jem and The Holograms.”
It’s fun, brightly colored and focuses equally on adventure and romance — with a splash of science fiction mixed in. Writer Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell show monthly that you can be completely girly and totally awesome at the same time — excuse me, I mean “truly outrageous!”
Honestly, the comic is far better than the source material that inspired it. So whether you are a nostalgia-seeking member of Gen X, or a kid who has never seen a single episode of the cartoon — you will get a kick out of Jem.
Lumberjanes follows the exploits of Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley — best friends and bunkmates at an all girls sleepaway camp — as they battle mythological beasts, solve cunningly devised riddles and best ancient gods. The action can best be described as “madcap,” as the friends lurch and pivot from one adventure to the next. But there is a method to the madness — a plot that holds together surprisingly well underneath all the wackiness — but the real focus is on having fun and developing the relationships between the main characters.
The book is the brainchild of Nimona creator Noelle Stevenson, writer Grace Ellis, and artist Brooke Allen. It was initially supposed to be an eight issue limited series, but it was quickly converted to an ongoing title after an incredible amount of demand for the first two issues.
Lumberjanes may be aimed squarely at kids (especially girls) but this is such a fun story that it is hard to imagine anyone not enjoying it. Oh, and it got optioned to be made into a live action movie by 20th Century Fox in May, so cross your fingers that we get a faithful adaptation.
When Marvel Comics gave editor Sana Amanat and writer G. Willow Wilson permission to make a new version of heroine Ms. Marvel, the creators themselves did not think it would last a year. It defied every bit of comic book wisdom. It featured a female lead. The hero, Kamala Khan, was a Muslim teenager with devout parents. Her costume was not designed to attract the gaze of 14-year-old boys, but rather in a way that a 14-year-old Muslim girl of Pakistani descent from Jersey City would , in an attempt to woo a theoretical female readership that the publisher was not 100% sure even existed.
Marvel’s gamble struck gold. From the very first issue of Ms. Marvel, Kamala has proven to be one of the funniest and most relatable characters in Marvel’s stable — and a runaway critical and financial success. The story of a teenage hero trying to balance family obligations while simultaneously saving the world (or at least Jersey City) echo the early adventures of Peter Parker in the best possible way.
Wilson’s writing has been superb and series artist Adrian Alphona has seldom been better, creating gorgeously detailed pages that do an excellent job of telling the story. The book recently started at No. 1 again after the events of Secret Wars, and Alphona was been joined by Canadian artist Takeshi Miyazawa, who brings a fun manga-influenced style to the book.
Rather than making a comic that was doomed to cancellation in eight months, Wilson, Amanat and Alphona have created a character that will be with us for a long, long time. I want to be Kamala Khan when I grow up.
Kids, teens and adults of all ages will love Ms. Marvel.
In a kingdom where fantasy and science intermingle and coexist uneasily, villain Ballister Blackheart was formerly a good knight until he lost an arm. His archnemesis Sir Goldenloin, appears to be the “good guy,” but he is not motivated by altruism. Then there is Nimona, Blackheart’s shapeshifting sidekick who is far more than she appears.
Originally a two-page school project, Nimona made the transition to Web comic and now to print. The book is a fascinating study in the evolution of writer/artist Noelle Stephenson’s talents. When the story starts, Blackheart and Goldenloin think they know the rules of the game. One is the brave protector of the realm, the other disgraced former friend turned villain with Nimona as the wacky sidekick.
But as the story progresses, so do Stephenson’s abilities, and the story becomes more complex and dark. It soon became obvious that Nimona is not playing by the standard rulebook, and is far more powerful and dangerous than had previously been shown. In some respects, it resembles Jeff Smith’s Bone which also started out a bit silly before developing into a epic fantasy.
The graphic novel collects the entire Web series with some new bonus materials. And it’s a fascinating way to watch the development of Stephenson from talented college student to Lumberjanes creator and Marvel Comics star writer. The story does become a bit dark, and is appropriate for tweens and older.
Power Up starts out simply enough (for a comic) when a mysterious magical alien force grants four earthlings in a pet store incredible super powers. It’s a setup that even casual fans of the “magical girl” genre will recognize immediately.
What makes Power Up different is who gets those powers. A suburban housewife, a short, overweight pet shop clerk, a construction worker (who also gets a fabulous Sailor Moon-esque costume) and a goldfish names Silas who can turn into a small whale that flies and shoots lasers from its eyes.
Kate Leth’s fun, light little story takes familiar stories and tropes — and bends them 90 degrees so that they veer off in different directions than you would expect — breathing new life into otherwise old plot devices.
Artist Matt Cummings has some inspired, minimalist character designs. The six-issue miniseries is close to wrapping up, so the trade paperback should be available soon. We recommend reading it all in a single setting. The story moves along really quickly and you will finish before you know it.
Appropriate for almost anyone.
Astrid is 12 years old when she discovers, then falls in love with roller derby. She loves the pageantry, the cool names and the tougher-than-nails attitude that the women of derby exude. When she finds out there is a junior derby summer camp she can join, she signs up immediately.
But her best friend Nicole wants no part of derby — preferring ballet slippers to roller skates, so Astrid has no friends when she attends camp. Astrid has a very difficult time with derby. She feels clumsy, unskilled and not particularly tough. And the more time she devotes to derby, the farther Nicole drifts away. Will Astrid be able to conquer derby? Will she be able to win back Nicole? Or sometimes do we have to accept that old friends can stop us from becoming who we truly want to be?
Roller Girl was written and illustrated by real-life roller girl Victoria Jamieson, who skated for the Rose City Rollers in Portland, and her love for the sport shines through every page of this wonderful coming of age story.
This is probably good for ages 10 and up, but there is nothing really objectionable for younger readers if the subject matter appeals to them.
The Silver Surfer has long been a staple of Marvel’s “cosmic” line of comics. He was given the soapiest of space opera plots, wringing his hands over the burden of power and dealing with comic-level bad guys that often threatened the very foundations of space and time; all while carrying the guilt he felt for serving as the herald for the world-devouring Galactus. Heavy stuff.
That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise when The duo of writer Dan Slott (Spider-Man) and artist Mike Allred (iZombie, Madman) relaunched the book with a new mission: Humanize the Silver Surfer, and make it fun. They succeeded, and the device that makes it possible is the book’s second protagonist: Earth girl Dawn Greenwood.
Dawn joined the Surfer on his lonely trek across the galaxy and turned what used to be a mopey gloomfest, into a wonderfully strange exploration of the weirder side of the Marvel Universe. Dawn humanizes the Surfer. She relates to him as an person, rather than a cosmic force, making the godlike alien feel more human than he ever has before.
Her presence in the book gives a fresh sense of wonder to the fantastic. Her eyes are not jaded from thousands of years of space travel, and showing Dawn the galaxy, opens the Surfer’s eyes to how amazing it all is, too.
The art is just superb. Mike Allred is truly one of the best in the business, and his partnership with Dan Slott has been a match made in heaven — or at least in outer space. His pop-kitsch style is a sublime choice for the Surfer’s cosmic setting.
Anyone of any age who has a slightly off-center sense of humor will love the Silver Surfer.
Craig Thompson made his mark on the world with a pair of serious dramatic graphic novels for adults Blankets and Habibi. But here he has created an epic, fun graphic novel for children: Space Dumplins.
Space Dumplins follows the adventures of Violet, a young girl with working-class parents living in what appears to be the space equivalent of a trailer park. Her mom is a clothing designer for an intergalactic sweatshop, while her dad collects space whale poop — the energy source of the galaxy — as he works to escape a checkered past (he is on parole when he book opens.)
When the space whales eat Violet’s school, and her dad disappears while cleaning up a bad case of whale diarrhea (the future’s version of an oil spill.) Violet goes on a quest to find her missing father, while simultaneously trying to get into a posh private academy in the wealthy part of the solar system.
It’s a hero’s quest story for kids, but Thompson has also managed to deftly weave in more complex themes of environmentalism, economic inequality and the importance of family. As Violet works to crack the mystery, transcend her class limitations and stave off environmental disaster.
The book is truly massive and one that kids will get more out repeat read throughs of as they age, as it works on many different levels. Thompson’s art is as superb as ever. He really knows how to take advantage of the medium — a large portion of the story and context is told through his superb visuals, rather than by words on the page.
SuperMutant Magic Academy
Another graphic novel that spun out of a web comic, SuperMutant Magic Academy is a collection of online strips by Jillian Tamaki centered around a school for witches and wizards
The regular cast includes Wendy, the popular girl with fox ears; Marsha, her closeted and bespectacled friend who secret crush on her; Cheddar, an invulnerable jock who is also a bit of a jerk; Trixie, a dinosaur girl; Everlasting Boy, who can’t die; Frances, a performance artist; and Ms. Grimdorff, a teacher who’s a bit of a witch — literally. There are also a cast of wonderfully strange background characters, including my personal favorite — a cat dressed in a school uniform that I assume is a student, but we never really see talk.
While the setting may be Hogwarts, the conflicts are pure Mean Girls, as the students navigate the hormone-laced hallways of high school. Interpersonal relationships take the front seat in a way that will feel very familiar to anyone who has ever felt socially awkward at school.
While the strip can go long stretches without much magic, occasionally Tamaki uses the setting to give us fantastic and surreal scenes that can be quite beautiful, before grounding the strip once more in real interpersonal relationships.
This book is appropriate for anyone who is interested in the awkwardness of high-school, and can say the word “vagina” without breaking into nervous giggling fits.
Thor: The Godess of Thunder
Despite the online gnashing of teeth and rending of garments by a small-but-vocal contingent of male fans, writer Jason Aaron’s decision to have Thor become “unworthy” to wield the mystic hammer Mjolnir, only to have a mysterious woman inherit the hammer, the powers and even his name was a plot development that came organically out of the story that preceded it and the mythology of the comic book version of Thor — not from a secret cabal of feminists that have taken over the comics industry.
Changing Thor’s gender has breathed fresh life into the 50 year old franchise, allowing for new storytelling opportunities as foe and friend alike try to discover who this new Thor is, while she discovers her new abilities and finds her place in the world of heroes.
Sales have skyrocketed, and new fans seem to appreciate the overtly feminist messaging in the book, rather than be turned off by it.
Aaron has smartly kept the conflict mostly centered around Norse mythology, starting out with a twisty plot from the treacherous dark elf Malkeith the Accursed, a wrathful Odin and an evil oil corporation. (Is there any other kind?) The old, male Thor makes an excellent supporting character, as he works to once again become a hero so he can reclaim his title. He’s more interesting in this capacity than he has been for years, and the book regularaly shifts to his point of view.
Anyone who is old enough to enjoy the Thor movies will also enjoy this comic. It has comic-book level violence, but overall is a heck of a lot of fun. Older kids and teens.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Remember when comics were fun? When not every story had to have tragic consequences and gloomy, haunted heroes? The creative team behind Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl do, and they have created one of the most engaging, lighthearted and just plain fun comics on the shelf today.
Doreen Green a.k.a. Squirrel Girl has had a long life as a running gag in Marvel comics. Originally created by Will Murray and artist Steve Ditko as a 14-year-old fangirl who just wanted to be Iron Man’s sidekick, she defeated Marvel uber-villain her first time out. Since then she has taken out almost every heavy hitter in the Marvel universe including Thanos, Wolverine and even the planet-devouring Galactus.
Although she has the proportional speed, agility and strength of a squirrel, Doreen’s real superpower is her unbridled sense of optimism and her non-linear problem-solving skills. Joined by her college roommate Nancy and a few other superheroes with improbable animal-based powers. (Koi-Boy, anyone?) Writer Ryan North fills the book with clever dialog, funny trivia and really witty asides. (Read the faint text at the bottom of every page. It might be the best thing in the book and it’s barely noticeable.)
Artist Erica Henderson imbues the book with a rough and bubbly indie style that is far from traditional for superhero comics, but Doreen is far from a traditional hero and Henderson is a perfect match for our chubby-cheeked protagonist.
Anyone of any age can read this book and probably should.