When Franck Bondoux, executive officer of the Angoulême International Comics Festival, defended their failure to include a single female comic artist for the Grand Prix by saying that women weren’t really important in the comic history, many prominent artists and campaigners expressed their anger and threat of a boycott. Olivia Ahmad since has sought to prove otherwise. Working with Paul Gravett, Olivia has brought us the biggest showcase of one hundred women comic creators all around the world with their original artwork, represented by one or more pieces. The exhibition called “Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics”, is now runs in the House of Illustration, London until 15 May.
The show opens with a brief introduction to the history of comics. There are four rooms in total, features work from the pioneers of the medium to the artists working today, through sequential satires up to the recognition of comic as graphic novel. In the first room, also the room that shows work of the many first professional comic artists, I was impressed with how society was towards the female artists in the past. In a political level, sexism was quite a common issue in the comic industry back then. Anne Harriet Fish, a British artist and illustrator, signed her name as Fish to avoid discrimination. Fish is just one among many female artists that had to hide their identity while working with the publisher. Tarpé Mills, also the creator of the first action heroine comic, used her non-gender middle for print to conceal her gender. “It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal,” she said.
Besides the female artists that had to cover their own gender, the female characters within their comic were also used as sex object or being sexualised for the publishing needs. Eventually, female artists had their voice in the industry. Most of them now work independently and able to publish their own graphic novel. Comix creatrix of the 20th – 21st century no longer have to hide their identity. Instead, their comics reveal the truth about their needs and relationship; explore the love and desire with honesty.
I came across the work of Maria Stoian, “Take it as a compliment” (2015) which is a collection of short stories that tell you about sexual abuse and its victim. Her work reflects the victim in different voices under different perspective. Each of the stories only last for several pages, allows the pain to be portrayed expressively and remarkably straightforward. Amongst Stoian are many other contemporary creators that use comic as a medium to deal with such painful subject matter: Nicola Streeten with her work “Billy, me & you” (2011) talks about the struggles after her 2 year-old son Billy died. Una published her book “Becoming Unbecoming” (2015) which also talks about victim blaming and sexual violence. Stepping into the exhibition, one will see that no subject is taboo in here. The exhibition has reveals a truth that has always been hidden under the overpowering of the mainstream comics by male artists, allows the audiences to understand and acknowledge the struggles that female creator have to go through. Because, as Una said, “It’s extremely difficult to talk about them, so reading about them can be helpful.”(1)
So does it matter who makes the work? Is their gender relevant? I guess with how female artists and their work have been, more or less, obscured, there are still a lot of work to be done to change this attitude.
All the artists’ quotes were taken from the Comix Creatrix exhibition (2016)
Keen, T. (2016). Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics – Review – FA Online. [online] Comiczine-fa.com. Available at: http://comiczine-fa.com/reviews/comix-creatrix-100-women-making-comics [Accessed 10 Mar. 2016].
(1) Quote taken from: Onanuga, T. (2016). Comix Creatrix: where women artists and stories are the big draw | OurDailyRead. [online] Ourdailyread.com. Available at: http://www.ourdailyread.com/2016/01/comix-creatrix-where-women-artists-and-storytellers-are-the-big-draw/ [Accessed 10 Mar. 2016].
Stoian, M. (2015). Take It As A Compliment. [Comic] London: House of Illustration.