In 2018, IDW published this amazing anthology of graphic stories that is perfect for anyone interested in the impact that women have had on modern society. Artists, astronauts, inventors, martial arts experts, musicians, politicians, skateboarders, writers, and more are all featured. They’ve claimed their own power and utterly changed the course of history.
The talent pool on this work is deep. Talents like Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marguerite Bennett, Lucy Knisley, Ming Doyle, Bill Sienkiewicz, Kieron Gillen, Gilbert Hernandez, Gerard Way, and Mike Carey (just to name a few) have crafted short narratives with love toward each and every profiled subject. There are so many individual subjects and so many different writers and artists that anyone with a genuine interest can find multiple stories to enjoy.
A potential criticism is that while the authors, writers, letters, colorists, and editorial team are very diverse in background, the anthology can be said to be light on women of color. Another criticism is that many stories do not get to breathe due the constraint of each having only three pages for the telling. Lastly, a good number of the stories are really more about the influence of the subject on the writer than a biographical sketch.
I don’t think that any of these are crippling criticisms. The anthology is not one geared to focus on any particular racial or ethnic group as a whole, though approximately a quarter of the vignettes feature minorities. Three pages is quite short but probably helped the writers with their scheduling time constraints, as well as allowing for more subjects to be included. And while biographies would have been more expected, the mix of approaches keeps the anthology from feeling like a text book, making it more engaging overall.
Lurking below the surface are somewhat related criticisms that I have not immediately addressed. Femme Magnifique is, to some folks, damaged by being an avowedly feminist work. And as feminism is a philosophy or political stance that many strongly disagree with on principle, they claim it will not only turn away readers for this work but many other projects (either by the creators or by the publisher).
Then there are others who just disagree on aesthetic grounds. They believe that having a clear politics inherently ruins it because good storytelling is sacrificed to communicate that stance. I think the hidden message is that stories are somehow separate from the world itself and should stay that way.
I’ll take the last one first, the aesthetic argument. It is true, directly communicated politics can ruin a story. Everyone has probably read some kind of work that wore its heart on its sleeve and bored them to tears, but I don’t think it’s necessarily always so. As to the hidden message, that fails to be other than the fervent wish of the aesthete because stories can only exist in the real world, coming and going based on both cultural reasons and on, particularly these days, marketing.
For example, Star Wars is clearly a political tale of a full-blown rebellion of the masses yearning for freedom from the oppressive yoke of an authoritarian empire (one so cruel that it literally creates a way to destroy whole planets at a time to retain its control). But it’s a rousing tale (especially if we skip certain Episodes) that resonates with many. And it is a gazillion dollar real world business that is (seemingly) guaranteed to survive forever.
Criticism of the anthology based on it being feminist is trickier to handle because the label itself can be many different things depending on who you ask. First one has to figure out what the person objecting to it really means. If they just don’t like women, for instance, then why are they reading a 224 page tome of nothing but stories about women? But what if they believe that the movement of women out of the home into the public sphere and out of the secretarial pool into the chambers of power is detrimental to eudaimonia? Further, that failed eudaimonia of an individual is injurious to society as a whole?
Geez, who wants to spend time unpacking that stack of nesting boxes?
But no fear, true believers (and hardcore atheists alike)! That is not a problem in this work. There are some profiles of politicians but the majority are from the fields of arts and other endeavors. There is no specific set of political goals that can be found throughout the book. If anything, Femme Magnifique is a set of aspirational tales for girls and boys alike.
No thrown together or low quality material here. So, who’s herding all these cats to make a satisfying whole out of the “cat-caphony”? (ha ha) We have to give it to the team of editors (Shelly Bond, Kristy Miller, and Brian Miller), colorists (Claudia Aguirre, Jordie Bellaire, Tamra Bonvillain, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Irma Kniivila, Lee Loughridge, Fabi Marques, Rick Taylor, and Hi-Fi), and sole letterer (Aditya Bidikar). This team took all the individual tales, sequenced them, got them to the finish line, and made them all pop.
Now it’s your turn to pop…on over to the library and pick up this fantastic collection!
– Review by Tony, Main Library