- Girls and Their Comics: Finding a Female Voice in Comic Book Narrative by Jacqueline Danziger-Russell
In Girls and Their Comics, Jacqueline Danziger-Russell finally gives comics-loving girls (and women) a voice as readers and writers of this genre. She writes that her intention is to “explore and explode the myths surrounding the field of comic books, their implied readership, and the gendering of the field” (2). This may sound like a lot to tackle in one book, but Danziger-Russell does a solid job of covering all of that ground. The book consists of five essays that complement one another to fulfill her intentions. The examples used throughout the text are plentiful, ranging from staples such as Archie to lesser-known Japanese manga like Land of the Blindfolded, and readers and scholars will appreciate this breadth of coverage.
The first two chapters of the book provide the canvas for the bulk of Danziger-Russell’s arguments regarding female narratives in comics. In the opening chapter, she discusses how and why comics have been marginalized as a genre in the US over the past century, then introduces the changes that are currently happening to reverse that marginalization in the comics and publishing industries, as well as in terms of acceptance of the genre as an art form. She also provides an overview of comics’ popularity among girls and young women during various periods throughout the past century. In chapter two, Danziger-Russell uses Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (“complete art work”) to draw similarities between picture books and comics as hybrid art forms, as both depend on words and images to tell a whole story. While this chapter seems to veer from the theme of the book, it becomes clear that she is setting up her argument for chapter three, which focuses on the power of visual images in telling girls’ stories.
Unsurprisingly, the strongest chapters in the book are those that are most focused on female readership of and narratives in comics. Here Danziger-Russell combines textual examples with existing and original reader/writer/librarian interviews to make a number of important arguments about female narratives in contemporary comics. Chapter three, “The Power of Visual Narrative,” focuses on the importance and underappreciation of visual literacy, and documents the ways in which comics readership can enhance that skill. The author also uses this chapter to discuss how, due to its visual nature, the format is uniquely positioned to work to combat stereotypical representations of females: “Girls’ comics are becoming experimental and literary, offering an alterative to the stereotypes typically found in mainstream comics, which often continue to objectify the female body and neglect her power as a human being” (93). While some of her illustrations are questionable (Go, Girl!, for example), her point is a crucial one.
Chapter four, “The Appeal of Manga,” explores the ways in which translated Japanese manga has transformed comics readership in the [End Page 164] United States. While Danziger-Russell spends a little too much time rehashing Schodt’s history of manga (I am also unsure about why she quotes the much older of his two texts on the subject), she does discuss at length its importance and influence in girls’ exposure to comics, as well as the current state of manga publishing in the United States. The availability of major US comics companies’ translations of Japanese manga in large chain bookstores (rather than “boys’ club” comic shops) was the industry change that allowed comics to become so widely accessible to girls. Danziger-Russell goes on to expertly document the ways in which the current state of online publishing, amateur/pirated translations, and the downfall of chain bookstores are affecting female manga readership.
In the beginning of the book, Danziger-Russell writes, “Through independent comics, we begin to see a revolution taking place: the clear voices of young women are shining through this medium with more personal and imaginative forms of storytelling” (31). As a reader of independent comics, I was excited by the prospect of these stories...