Raising $97,447 on Kickstarter last March (more than double its $40,000 goal), Femme Magnifique is a comic book anthology that celebrates the lives and impact of fifty women from across history, including the present day. Amassing an impressive roster of comics talent from diverse gender perspectives to contribute, the project is edited by Shelly Bond, whose Black Crown imprint debuted their first title, Kid Lobotomy, last month.
The book opens with an introduction by Cindy Whitehead (one of the book’s subjects), but its mission statement doesn’t really crop up until the end, in a “Create Your Own” section. Each story runs three pages long (four including the quote page). What elevates them beyond straight biography is the personal angle that allows each creative team to talk about why they chose their person, and what that person means to them. This can range from how they first learned about their work (Robin Furth’s teacher gave her a copy of Ursula Le Guin’s The Wizard of Earthsea), to the ways they paved the road for other women to follow, or how they fought gender discrimination in the workplace (Dale Messick, creator of the comic strip, Brenda Starr, Reporter, changed her name from Dalia to Dale).
In many the person doing the writing is the narrator, or appears as a character in their story. Cecil Castellucci, with artist, Philip Bond, talks about how, before Sally Ride, the only woman she saw in space was a “fictional space princess.” There’s a similar drought of pop culture representation for Alisa Kwitney in, “I Dream of Margaret Hamilton,” with artist Jamie Cole. While TV was making out like “miniskirted female scientists were the stuff of futuristic fiction,” and men were the scientists of shows like I Dream of Jeanie, Margaret Hamilton was working as a software engineer for NASA.
Many of the people who helped work on this anthology qualify as role models in their own right. Having their stories embedded into tales of people they admire makes them feel less removed. Everyone starts somewhere, and anybody’s work can make a difference in another person’s life. It means something to know they had people they looked up to, too.
Femme Magnifique is an amazing chance to learn about women you may not have heard of before, like Mary Anning, the ‘she’ of, “She Sells Sea Shells By the Seashore,’ or Ellen Armstrong, a female, black magician in the 1940’s. It’s a chance to gain new insight into writers, like Louise Fitzhugh, and artists, like Louise Anderson. It gives life to women you may know by name, or in Mary Blair’s case, by art (artist Jen Hickman, gives homage to her work on Disney’s Alice In Wonderland), but didn’t realize everything they accomplished. Shirley Chrisholm “was the first black woman to run for major-party nomination for president.”
The book is beautifully designed and makes it easy to find out who’s responsible for what (and when you read horror stories, like Rosalind Franklin’s, about women who weren’t properly credited for their achievements, that’s not something to take for granted). Aditya Bidikar, as letterer, is the common denominator between all the stories, and it’s an incredible feat.
Anyone reading this collection will find something to connect with, and in 2017, it helps to own a book with so much positivity and hope.
Femme Magnifique is available on Comixology. Plans for a softcover edition of the book are in the works from IDW.