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Recent graphic novels by women run the gamut of STYLES, THEMES

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/10/2015 (1599 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While memoir and coming-of-age stories have been popular among female cartoonists, many are now  exploring horror, humour and documentary-style storytelling.

While memoir and coming-of-age stories have been popular among female cartoonists, many are now exploring horror, humour and documentary-style storytelling.

According to the latest U.S. poll by the website Graphic Policy, about 43 per cent of comics readers are women. As the gender gap in North American comics narrows, it is becoming harder to predict the styles and stories that will attract female cartoonists.

Memoir and coming-of-age narratives continue to be popular, but these four recent books also offer well-crafted examples of horror, documentary and humour.

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Brooklyn-based illustrator Dasha Tolstikova has produced a moving and beautifully illustrated memoir of the year her mother went to study in the U.S. while she stayed behind in early 1990s Moscow. Although A Year Without Mom (Groundwood, 168 pages, $20) is recommended for young readers age 10-14, this book's quirky style and interesting snapshot of the end of the Soviet era will appeal to adults, too.

The school system and the political context are specific, but Tolstikova taps into more universal adolescent experiences: absent parents, first crushes, exam anxiety and fraught friendships. All of these are effectively told from the point of view of her younger self in sparingly coloured and expressive drawings that invite readers to linger.

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Emily Carroll's Through the Woods (Simon & Schuster, 208 pages, $17) is a stunning, chilling collection of short horror comics that riff on classic fairy-tale themes. With four new short stories and a print edition of her popular webcomic His Face All Red, the Stratford, Ont., cartoonist gives us deliciously creepy new takes on the big bad wolf, innocent girl, dead first wife, and of course the eponymous woods.

Carroll's dramatic illustrations and sophisticated pacing serve the gothic narratives well. The fate of young women at the hands of multiple sources of evil unites the stories with a feminist thread that continues a tradition of fairy-tale revisualization pioneered in prose by Angela Carter and Anne Sexton. The ambiguous endings leave much to haunt the reader long after the book is finished.

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American cartoonist Jessica Abel's Out on the Wire (Broadway Books, 226 pages, $20) would be the perfect textbook for a class on how to start your own podcast. Inspired by an earlier short comic commissioned by Ira Glass, host of the iconic WBEZ Chicago program This American Life, Abel goes behind the scenes at some of the most popular U.S. podcasts in realistic black-and-white line drawings.

Fans of the style of narrative journalism pioneered by This American Life, Planet Money, Radiolab, The Moth and Serial will enjoy seeing the real people behind the voices, learning how they put the shows together, and watching an idea go through all the production stages. The book itself is a class in how to tell a story step by step, and Abel draws strong parallels between narrative journalism and graphic narratives.

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Last but not least, the long-awaited second collection from Cape Breton-born, Toronto-based Kate Beaton will please her many fans and delight new readers. Step Aside, Pops! (Drawn & Quarterly, 166 pages, $25) features an entertaining selection of Beaton's clever comic strips based on historical, literary and pop culture parodies. Some of the strips have appeared on her successful webcomic Hark! A Vagrant; they continue her offbeat retelling of classic stories, from Wuthering Heights to Julius Caesar.

Beaton's feminist humour deflates myths of masculine heroism and sketches the everyday problems of female heroines, from Cinderella to Lois Lane. She also excavates marginalized figures worthy of greater hero worship, such as Ida B. Wells and Tom Longboat. Beaton's fluid line drawings capture facial expressions and body language perfectly. The footnotes will help readers get the more obscure jokes that invariably "punch up" at inflated egos and ridicule all kinds of pomposity.

Candida Rifkind teaches Canadian literature and graphic narratives in the Department of English at the University of Winnipeg.

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