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10 female cartoonists you need to know

Eleanor Davis
Eleanor Davis

Today, we once again take the opportunity to celebrate some of the fantastic women cartoonists and artists working in comics. On the one hand, it’s absolutely strange to continue to have “women in X field” features when women make up more than half the world’s population, and sure, it’d be nice to be beyond the engagement of these reductive stances. On the other hand, we’re not even close to parity, and lists like this can be very effective in quickly introducing work that’s overlooked. So, yes, these are all female artists, but these are all excellent artists, full stop. Here’s a selection of artists who you may not be as familiar with, but who are producing interesting and brilliant work—work that is resonating within the medium and with audiences. And that’s what we aim to recognize and celebrate.

1. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

An undeniable rising star who’s worked on monster-hit comic Lumberjanes and illustrated covers for Steven Universe, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell has recently completed work on Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, an upcoming graphic novel penned by Mariko Tamaki about teenagers struggling to let go in a complicated on-again/off-again relationship. But the best way to get a taste for Valero-O’Connell’s storytelling abilities and beautiful, emotive work is to read her self-published comics, such as the heartbreaking If Only Once, If Only For A Little While; the tense, poetic Unkind/Unwell; and Amarinthine. In addition to the visual loveliness on display, they’re evidence of a unique voice growing in strength.

2. Laura Park

Laura Park’s comics have won her an Ignatz Award and earned her an Eisner nomination, and her first full-length comic book, Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream, is soon to be published with Drawn & Quarterly. Her cartooning is exceptional: Her drawing style combines rich old-school textures—lots of crosshatching and pen—with a modern charm and expressiveness. She manages to convey a range of emotions and moods effectively, without ever losing a sense of warmth. And she’s funny with it. Links to peruse: her online portfolio; her Flickr account, which is an absolute treasure trove; Dog Detective; this strip on staying freaked out; and these two delicious-looking recipe comics she did for Saveur, here and here.

3. Mickey Zacchilli

A unique variation on naïve styles by way of Japanese influences, Mickey Zacchilli’s loooping, scribbly comics are clever, intuitive work that carry pitch and tone deceptively well. From her excellent, shōjo-esqe (unofficial) Venom comics, which see Eddie Brock and the alien Symbiote comfortably share an apartment, watch TV, and work out together, to her current cast of misfits in the Instagram-serialized Space Academy 123, her work is hugely fun and exuberant. The manner in which she’s able to moderate the abstract density of her lines and mark-making to achieve different tones is remarkable. Zacchilli’s one of the most special, overlooked cartoonists today.

4. Nilah Magruder

The artistic powerhouse you probably haven’t heard of, Nilah Magruder works in animation for Disney, is a highly successful children’s book author, and a great cartoonist. Winner of the 2015 Dwayne McDuffie Award for her (soon to be in-print) fantasy-adventure comic, MFK, last year Magruder also became the first black woman to write for Marvel with A Year Of Marvels: September Infinite Comic. A cursory perusal of her website demonstrates the scope and depth of her talent, shifting between the fine-art approach of her stunning sketches, the dynamism of more cartoony pieces, and the superb brushwork on inked illustrations. Magruder is set to take over the world.

5. Aphton Corbin

A story artist at Pixar, Aphton Corbin often publishes comics on her Tumblr, most notably for Black History Month, where she encourages people to share their experiences on race and turns them into daily, interactive comics. In this powerful, moving comic, she explains what led her to begin this undertaking. Corbin works largely in black and white with splashes of impactful color; her lines have a quick, loose quality and curl that gives them life and personality. Read her on discovering one of life’s major truths, the saga of “Two Crazy Aunts” (in which the amp-off of expressions and narrowed eyes is delightful), and the paper-bag test.

6. Eleanor Davis

There are some people who produce art in a vein of such innate effortlessness, that it seems like this was exactly what they were supposed to do. Eleanor Davis is one of those. Her lines flow onto the page even when doing on-the-go sketchbook comics, as in You & A Bike & A Road (coming in May from Koyama Press), a chronicling of a cross-country bike trip she undertook. Her 2014 collection, How To Be Happy, is the best showcase to get a feel for her comics, from folksy parables to nuanced, thought-provoking sci-fi. Across her work, her use of shape and color remains a highlight. Check out, too, Libby’s Dad (Retrofit), a gorgeously pencil-crayoned short on violence and narratives of belief surrounding women.

7. Carta Monir

Carta Monir is a burgeoning talent on the comics scene. It’s astonishing and impressive to see the quality of what she’s creating and the speed at which she’s finding a creative footing, exploring ideas about sexuality, gender, and themes of connection. Experimenting with styles as she does translates into a number of stylistic variations, all of which she seems to adapt to well. Take a gander at spooky call-center comic Ghost Call (done in MS Paint), the depth of her hourly comics (produced in a day), and pages from Secure Connect, her book with 2D Cloud.

8. Shivana Sookdeo

Another fine artist on the cusp of breakthrough, Shivana Sookdeo is someone whose work you look at and wonder why it hasn’t happened already. She’s been a standout contributor to various independent anthologies such as Elements, Sweaty Palms, and Dirty Diamonds. (Read “Windows,” the comic from the Imagination volume, here—how wonderful is that hanging underwater scene?) She also maintains an intermittent journal-comic blog; frank and empathetic, this entry on self-esteem is especially good. With Sookdeo, her natural ability is apparent even in rougher, impressionistic work or character designs. Most of her mini-comics are available digitally as pay-what-you-want offerings and cover everything from Houdini conversing with a bush to ruminations on working in comics as a marginalized creator. Her washes, inks, and pencils are all incredible and inherently pleasing to look at, and it’s only a matter of time before her talent is given an appropriate canvas on which to shine.

9. Anna Syvertsson

Chances are you have come across Anna Syvertsson’s quasi-autobiographical comics, as they frequently go viral. They’re cute, the appealing cartoonishness consolidated further with animal avatars and characteristics, and they’re also very funny, with a definite streak of weirdness that crops up regularly to set them apart. They’re cosy, warm, and engaging with the kind of easy, relatable humor that appears effortless but is actually difficult to attain. Syvertsson’s collected her comics in one accessible place here. Check out these on the journey to self-confidence, the thrill of math (and cats), the gluten-free life, and more.

10. Vanesa R. Del Rey

Vanesa Del Rey has a gorgeous painted style, the aesthetics of which function like a glove in crime books such as Hit, looking like a throwback to ’40s/’50s pinup noir. She’s developed exponentially (and rapidly) beyond those pulpy sensibilities over the course of her career, amongst which Boom! title The Empty Man with Cullen Bunn—about an outbreak of disease around which murder cults and religious fervor arise—is a particular highlight. She’s also worked on Scarlet Witch and done a plethora of Marvel cover work. This Punisher one is a favorite.