It’s International Women’s Day, and once more, we’re celebrating with a list that spotlights the work of 10 fantastic cartoonists. While some exceptional female names are already on comics fans’ radars—such as Fiona Staples, Emily Carroll, Kate Beaton, Jillian Tamaki, Raina Telgemeier, Eleanor Davis, Meredith Gran, Emma Rios, Noelle Stevenson, and more—the purpose of this list is to gather interesting and exceptional contemporary cartoonists who readers may not be familiar with. In an era that continues to produce an unprecedented amount of quality comics and emerging artists, this is a list that could easily go on and on. But for the sake of brevity, we’ve limited it to 10 (if you want more, you can find last year’s compilation here, and if that’s still not enough, take a gander at 2014’s rundown).
A fairly new name on the comic circuit, Brittney L. Williams’ star has been ascending this past year, with work on Samurai Jack (IDW), Hellcat (Marvel), and the upcoming resort mystery mini-series Goldie Vance from Boom!, in addition to being announced as the artist on Korra (Dark Horse). Having studied graphic design and undertaken an apprenticeship at Disney, Williams is now pursuing freelance work full-time—to the benefit of the medium. Her style feels instantly cohesive and familiar; at once fresh and classic, and her character designs are gorgeous. A look at The Daily Planet Files—her invigoratingly charming Lois Lane and Superman fan comic—demonstrates the extent of her talent. Stunningly accomplished, Williams is destined to be a star.
Belgian cartoonist Mathilde Vangheluwe works mainly in pencil, a tool from which she manages to draw out an astonishing array of textures and tones. Whether in black-and-white or color, Vangheluwe’s strips are not only singularly beautiful to take in, but have an appealing frankness and a smart, caustic sense of humor that makes the work all the more potent. In particular, she has an affinity for drawing people brimming with character even at a glance: carefully selected clothes, a range of hair styles and eye shapes, plump cheeks, freckles. That attention to detail is evident in her consideration and application of the form itself: very tall vertical strips, thought bubbles filled with inky black backgrounds, puffs of angry, exasperated clouds, a range of fonts, and an appropriation of the TV skit format. This homage to David Hockney is great, as is this cat comic, while this coat looks alive.
Boston-based illustrator and cartoonist K.L. Ricks is another superb talent with an incredibly evocative style. The manner in which she renders is to the bone—the daubs of inks and scratches providing a contrast to the fine linework, with an abstract touch. She doesn’t have a huge body of comics work, but what there is is hugely impressive, as seen in ongoing horror comic Country Darkness (currently being serialized on Hazlitt), and short comic Familiar. This poetic (with the help of some Duran Duran lyrics) tribute to a trio of Morse detective shows is really good, too. Ricks often explores sci-fi and fantasy, but it’s her singular artwork that’s so alluring. The black-and-white comics are visually so strong that they manage to create a sense of closeness that almost feels like it doesn’t need words.
Carolyn Nowak may be familiar to readers for her work as an artist on the award-winning Lumberjanes (Boom!), but she is a superb cartoonist who is best appreciated when writing and drawing her own comics. This is exemplified in her autobiographical Lazy strips; the weird, funny, and touching Girl Town; Rungs; or this poignant short comic on beauty. Nowak has a gift to seamlessly broach any subject and make it easily engaging. Her comics often incorporate thoughtful examinations of the social constructs and expectations surrounding girls and women, while being simultaneously engaging and hilarious. Her style has evolved considerably, too: clean, organic lines that feel more assured and cognizant with the spirit and pitch of her work.
Aatmaja Pandya’s fantastic ongoing fantasy webcomic, Travelogue, features a trio of magical friends wandering various lands to take up jobs, help people out, and help themselves get by. It’s told in epistolary format through the eyes of the small and determined Nana as they each try to make sense of the world in their own way. Travelogue is a balm for the soul: warm and affirming, it’s a satisfyingly holistic reading experience. Pandya’s the author of many a mini-comic, regularly exploring folk and lore through various cultural traditions. Recommended reads include Baker’s Dozen; the excellent, resonant Hang In There, Peach, about her connection to video-games; and Abhiram, narrating Pandya’s visit to her grandfather in India.
After a breakout 2015 that saw Tillie Walden’s debut with the unsettling The End Of Summer (Avery Hill Publishing), an atmospheric, quasi-fantasy centering on a curious family closed in in a huge castle, 2016 promises to be another great year for the young cartoonist. She has two new books on the horizon this year, the first of which will release in May. Titled A City Inside, it charts the mundane and surreal life story of a woman from childhood to adulthood. Readers may recognize Walden’s work via a popular comic published online, in which two young girls connect over their love for the cartoon show, Steven Universe. What makes Walden such an exciting arrival on the comics scene is not only her outstanding level of technical ability, but how developed and complete her vision reads.
There’s an intrinsically British quality to Lizzy Stewart’s work, and it’s not just that the soft pencils and colored lines draw out a pointillist-like texture brings to mind the great Raymond Briggs. She also uses watercolors to beautiful, poignant effect, but it’s the pace and atmosphere that create a constant nostalgic haziness even when depicting events occurring in the present. That placidity sits well with her travel zines, with their meticulous itineraries—stories of teenage schoolgirls aimlessly wandering about, or recounting a childhood holiday in the country. Her work can offer a quiet oddness, too, in its combination of the everyday with the small strangenesses of people and their ways.
From her account of depression in Sunday In The Park With Boys, to Soft (Peow Studio), her contemporary reworking of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, and her latest book See You Next Tuesday (Koyama Press), Jane Mai has proven herself an immensely capable cartoonist, and one any comics fan should be aware of. Often combining biographical elements with fiction and a bodacious sense of humor, her artistic repertoire is wide-ranging, swinging from cutesy-cartoony styles to accomplished, with foreboding renderings that eke out the darker undertones in her work. The subjects she addresses range from video games, mental health, Lolita fashion, relationships, and unemployment.
Leslie Hung is set to break out this year, with the launch of her first major ongoing comic, Snotgirl (Image), on which she’ll be collaborating with Bryan Lee O’Malley. The story centers on cyber-famous protagonist Lottie, a fashion blogger who, though known online as “flawless and fun,” is struggling in real life, having been recently dumped and finding herself unable to get along with her fellow bloggers. “She’s vain but insecure and self-aware, which makes it hard for her to reveal herself to the people that are closest to her,” says Hung. It’s easy to see why Hung was tapped for the job. Her beautiful, dreamy work encompasses modernity and elegance in the form of fashionable young women, while imbuing a gamut of emotion and attitude.
One of the most talented and overlooked cartoonists around, what’s most impressive about Sloane Leong is her versatility, curiosity, and the always present sense that she wants to push both herself and the medium. The versatility extends to subject and style, allowing her to produce a wide range of work, from the visceral and uneasy (Surfacing and A Body Made Of Seeing) to fantasy (the Image series From Under Mountains) to a wolf webcomic saga (Alpha Princess Garou Shoujo) to girls’ basketball (Maps To The Suns). She can switch between giving readers stories about wolf romance and pack politics to more challenging work, the meaning of which may not be immediately obvious but is absorbing nonetheless. There’s an earthy quality to her art—generally loose with bold lines and textures—and her coloring is gorgeously rich and vivid.