By now, you’ve likely read Dave Phillips’s post “What Taking My Daughter to a Comic Book Store Taught Me.” For those that have not, read it–it does not go well.
The article’s focus is on how the author realized the sad state of comics for girls. Your initial response may have been the same as mine, to throw your hands up and say “C’mon! It’s SO not that bad! It was just a bad store!” Except was it? Yes and no. First off, what right do we have to invalidate the man’s personal experience? This is how it made him feel, period. But also because seven is tricky. Heck, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the fact that he talks about how easy it was to find male comics featuring Batman and Superman was for his five-year-old son. Five-year-olds probably shouldn’t be reading comics featuring a guy hunting down and killing all of Superman’s loved ones, or a serial killer with his own sliced-on face stapled on – both current storylines. Just saying. But a seven-year-old girl? That’s not so simple.
After a heavy discussion in the GeekDad bullpen, I’ve come up with twelve titles for a seven-year-old girl. Here are some guidelines that I used to judge inclusion.
- Titles must be female-led. Yes, girls can read comics about boys (my daughter devoured Bone), but let’s focus on representation. His son was able to go into a comic store and see people who represented him. Let’s give some for his daughter.
- Titles should be more than a toy ad or a cliche. It’s for this reason we’ve discounted both My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic titles (cue Brony rage), and the Archie comics titles like Betty & Veronica. The former isn’t terrible, but we should aspire for better. The latter is just… c’mon. Body image issues, values stuck in another era, and a basic built-in Bechdel test fail in the very concept books. No, thanks. Let’s have girls who kick butt, not obsess over them.
- Books must be in print! It’s really, really easy to recommend the fantastic Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade. It’s just perfect. Except it’s out of print. Same with the awesome Leave it to Chance. Yes, you can get them on Amazon (and you totally should), but you’re not going to find these casually browsing a comic book shop.
- Books don’t have to be superhero books or monthly comics. Comics are about more than people in tights, and let’s not forget that. As for format, as long as it is a comic you would (or should) find in a well-stocked comic book store, then it’s fair game.
- Age is important. If we upped this to ten, I’d have about a dozen more comics to add (Faith Erin Hick’s Friends With Boys, Brian Wood’s all-girl X-Men run, Storm, Kathryn Immomen’s Sif run, and the most recent two volumes of Captain Marvel pop right to mind–oh, and Spider-Gwen, and Silk, and Spider-Woman–the list goes on). But part of me feels that they’re either a drop too violent, or be just a smidge too mature. But I’m noting them here because your mileage may vary.
- This is my list. Even with the above guides, not all the GeekDads agreed with me. You may not also. I’m basing this on raising my own GirlGeek, now 14 years old. The seven-year-old you know may not be into any of this. As I’m sure you know, there’s no seven-year-old hive mind.
What happened to no books with a male lead, you ask? Titan Comics’ way around the limitations of writing about a Doctor who has already regenerated (twice) is to make the comic book much, much more Companion-focused. Gabriella Gonzalez is more than someone for the Doctor to talk to, but the person who is growing and changing. My only real concern would be that the current story line, set in World War II and featuring the Weeping Angels, may be a bit mature. That’s the same reason I’m not including the companion from their 11th Doctor series, who is mourning the loss of her mother.
Honorable Mention: Dan Slott’s current Silver Surfer run features a similar dynamic, making the generally boring Marvel icon interesting by pairing him with a companion named Dawn Greenwood. The Allred art is a treat for the eyes.
#11: Avengers Assemble: The Forgeries of Jealousy
Officially a team book, this focuses on newbie super hero Spider-Girl (Not the one you’re thinking of – the other one. No, the other, other one) trying to be accepted by the Avengers as she tries to rescue a teacher of hers. Her interaction with the team is the focus of the book, especially with Spider Woman and Black Widow.
This story has great art, solid writing, and featured heroes all over the media for the last few years. The only downside is that terrible, clunky name. Still, due to that popularity, it should be in the trade section at any local comic store.
Honorable Mention: Almost anything Kelly Sue Deconnick has done for Marvel.
#10 Gotham Academy
It’s really hard to believe this is being published by the same company that makes the absolutely soul-crushingly bad Wonder Woman comic. Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher have brought a new and interesting setting to the DC Universe, and Karl Kerschel makes the characters and the very buildings of a prestigious prep school set in Batman’s Gotham just come alive. While it features male characters as well, this is very much a female-led book. Lead character Olive Silverlock is just the right amount of mysterious and engaging, and new student Maps may be the best part of the series.
Note: Don’t get confused and get the new Batgirl as well. Despite the great art and design, the stories are absolutely PG-13.
Aside from the previously cited Cosmic Adventures, there’s been a real lack of Supergirl comics you can hand a young girl, which is insane. It’s like sitting on a goldmine. The recent DC relaunch actually gave us a Supergirl I’d give a teenager, which is an improvement from Peter David’s Heaven/Hell-infused run or the waiftastic Michael Turner covers. The most recent issues though, feature a soft relaunch, sending Kara to space school where she’s met new friends (including a remake of ’80s DC character Maxima), and has to unravel a secret.
A little more violent than some parents may like, the main focus here is a distinct lack of “Good Girl” art, something that plagues Supergirl comics (like in the aforementioned Peter David run, where cheesecake artist Ed Benes drew a scene in a locker room of 14-year-old girls. Ew). And while it’s dressed up with fights and tights, at the end of the day it’s about an outsider trying to fit in at a new school. Just, you know, with laser vision.
Honorable Mention: DC’s digital-first Sensation Comics is killing it with assorted takes on Wonder Woman. The only catch is that not every story is good for a seven-year-old.
I wavered on including this run. For one thing, with Supergirl, this gives us not one, but two comics featuring derivatives of male heroes. For the other, She-Hulk is about to be canceled. The series is now going to be a twelve-issue, two-volume collection. But on review, it’s a book about a strong woman, both physically and in terms of personality, with a largely female supporting cast (the always entertaining Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat), and the level of violence isn’t too high. I’m counting it.
Warning: As with Supergirl, there have been tons of She-Hulk comics, and to say they’re not all for seven-year-olds is the understatement of the day.
Honorable Mention: Faith Erin Hick’s The Adventures of Superhero Girl. It’s a former comic strip, in collection only, but it’s just great stuff.
Like I noted above, these aren’t going to all be about superheroes. Raina Telgemeier’s coming-of-age dental drama may seem advanced for seven, but I’m speaking from experience here. That’s how old my daughter was when she got her copy and she read it so many times that it’s falling apart.
Raina’s other works, Drama and Sisters are absolutely too mature for seven (one deals with homosexuality, the other marital friction), but if your daughter loves this, then try her adaptations of the Baby-Sitters Club books. And if your LCS doesn’t carry Smile? You need a new LCS.
Honorable Mention: Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge. In the same genre, but about a girl who finds her voice via art. I don’t know if I’d give it its own listing, but it’s something to keep in mind.
#6: Adventure Time: Gone Adrift (and others)
While Adventure Time may seem like an almost stereotypical boy’s show, the comics are something else. BOOM! Studios has made it a point to get some amazing indie talent on these books. They’ve had several female-centric minis and graphic novels, like Marceline and the Scream Queens, Bitter Sweets, Marceline: Seeing Red, and the currently out Marceline: Gone Adrift. Strong, engaging books and funny as hell.
Honorable Mention: Bee and Puppycat, another BOOM! book. Based on a popular series of web shorts, my only quibble would be that the female protagonist can be a bit passive.
#5: Cleopatra in Space
I’ve been following Mike Maihack’s work for a long time and it’s just amazing. I admit to cheating a bit here, as your seven-year-old may be more likely to find this one in their Scholastic Newsletter than at the LCS, but they’ll order it for you if you request it.
If you want a taste of Mike’s stuff, check out the webcomic that inspired the series (note disclaimer!), or his always awesome Batgirl/Supergirl one-off prints (DC: Hire this man!). Honorary mention: Zita the Spacegirl, about a modern-day girl who finds herself in space. My own daughter didn’t care for it, but she may have actually been too old.
And that’s the last honorary mention. My final four stand alone.
#4 Ms. Marvel
The new Ms. Marvel is, in a word, perfect. It captures the feel of early ’60s Spider-Man books. Instead of being an outsider for being a nerd, Kamala Khan is an outsider because of her religion. A huge comic fangirl, she finds herself with powers beyond that of a mortal girl, and has to use them while balancing life as a teenage girl. G. Willow Wilson’s stories have been perfect, and other writers have used the character well too. In an age where some characters are sort of shoved at the fans, the new Ms. Marvel feels like she’s here to stay. Thank goodness.
With a slogan like “Friendship to the Max,” you might quickly discount Lumberjanes as yet another “Girls solve conflict by being FRIENDS!” book. But it’s not. It’s so not.
It’s just insane how popular this book is. At the 2014 New York Comic Con, the line to meet the creators was epic. I’ve been waiting for the first trade for my daughter forever. April can’t come soon enough. And now, a quick musical interlude:
They’re really kinda great, you guys.
#2 Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Ryan North has spent the last few years doing some great Adventure Time comics for KaBoom!, as well as funky stuff like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure take on Hamlet. Now he’s at Marvel, where he’s teamed up with Erica Henderson to tell stories of an unexpected hero – Squirrel Girl. For years, it was something of a conceptual punchline, but Marvel is letting these two cut loose. So far only one issue has come out, but it has been letter-perfect. The basic concept is that our heroine is trying a secret identity for the first time, and going to college.
She can beat Thanos, but how will she handle a normal life? Also, she talks to squirrels. Like, all the time. And as an added, added bonus, she’s not drawn like a skinny mini. Indeed, one of the story points is that hiding her tail gives her a “conspicuously awesome butt.”
Paul Tobin may be the most widely published comic book writer that you’ve never heard of. As an in-house writer for Marvel, he wrote tons and tons of those giveaway comics you see everywhere. When not doing that though, he has been killing it with Bandette. Who is Bandette? Bandette is a hero and yet also a thief. There’s some moral ambiguity here, as our heroine evades both Inspector Belgique as well as some more sinister criminals. Bandette is aided by a network of street kids, and it is largely through them we see her true heart, one of purest gold.
Colleen Coover’s art is magnifique. Her art pops in every panel, creating a feast for the eyes, both young and old. If you don’t want to wait for the trades or press for a store to order it, you can get them digitally. You can even read #1 for free. As the hardest title to find, this may be a bit of a cheat, but it’s also the best one on this list.
Update: I have been reminded that the first issue has a sex scene. You may need to use your judgement.
Wow, that was a lot of work. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn the store owner, eh? But at the same time, I’m happy to say it *is* better than it was when I was a young man, albeit only slightly (I can’t see Marvel putting out a Swimsuit Special now.) Back then, we had Friends of Lulu championing the slogan and concept “Comics are for everyone.” Now, FoL is defunct, which is a shame, but the need is not. So as parents, we need to be sure to vote with our wallets. If you hear of a title that may suit your daughter, be sure to not just order online, but go to a comic book store and ask for it. Make sure the owners know there’s a demand so that the next time someone comes in, more than two titles come to mind.