January is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings. The way we kick off a new year informs the months that follow, and that’s why we’re living our best Capricorn-season lives and declaring it the Month of the GOAT, celebrating the Greatest of All Time in the genre. From the best Star Trek captains to our favorite strong female characters, we’re honoring the greats all month long.
Comics have existed as a print medium for close to 200 years, and in that time the art form has evolved as much as any other area of pop culture. However, it’s arguable that no other medium has had as gargantuan an impact on the world of modern entertainment as comic books, particularly over the past 20 years. Not literature, not theater, not video games, but comics. After all, the world of superheroes is what makes up the foundations of Hollywood’s past decade. What was previously considered only a geek’s domain has changed the world, and that’s not limited to superheroes? Comics have won the Pulitzer Prize, they’ve been at the forefront of fighting censorship, they’ve been the chosen medium of memoirists and radical truth-tellers and politicians alike. And even then, some of us still have to fight cynics who don’t believe comics are real art.
That’s also a battle that’s proven especially hard for women. While female comics creators have been part of the historical narrative of the form since the beginning, they remain drastically outnumbered by men and face ridiculous amounts of discrimination and outright hostility, both within the industry and from more aggressively sexist parts of fandom. Still, that cannot erase their incredible and impactful contributions to the world of comics, and that is what we are here to celebrate today. So join us as we celebrate the GOAT women creators in comic history!
This Canadian comic book artist has built her reputation turning out stellar images in North 40, DV8: Gods and Monsters, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and Archie. But she’s best-known for Saga, the sprawling space opera epic that’s earned her a slew of well-deserved honors, including several Harvey and Eisner Awards. Staple’s imagination and artistry have been as key a component to Saga‘s success as Brian K. Vaughan’s writing. Over the course of 50-plus issues (and counting!), Staples has birthed splash pages, visual juxtapositions, and even fully black pages that have made fans gasp, cackle, and cry. Saga‘s is a world where dragons tread, TV-headed royals fight and frak, and a fearsome femme fatale looks like the Venus de Milo crossed with a giant black widow spider. Yet Staples’ elegantly weaves all of these wild looks and influences together into something strange, sexy, repulsive, and absolutely riveting. Saga is one of the best comic series of the century, and that’s in no small part because of the heart, pain, and grace that Staples pours into every page. – Kristy Puckho
Last year saw the passing of many industry greats, but one deeply impactful voice fans said goodbye to in 2018 was Marie Severin, who had done epic amounts of background work in the early days of Marvel. One of the only women working at Marvel during her tenure there, Severin was hired to do fill-in projects but was eventually seen as a full-time talent. Severin eventually left Marvel and comics in general when she was consistently passed over for work and given comparatively incidental jobs, and it’s heart-wrenching to think of the brilliant artwork we missed out on as a result of the hubris of Marvel editorial of the time. Still, much work yet remains. Her run on Doctor Strange gave us the Living Tribunal, one of Marvel’s oddest villains, and her works on camp properties like Fraggle Rock and What The?! stand out as particularly impressive. Comics might not have taken care of Severin, but her work continues to inspire all these decades later. – Sara Century
Marisa Acocella Marchetto
Superheroes, as we know, can take many different forms. Some deal with invaders from other universes threatening to destroy the world, but in Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s second graphic novel Cancer Vixen, the enemy is much closer to home. Released in 2006, Cancer Vixen is a personal story documenting Marchetto’s breast cancer diagnosis and the medical procedures that followed. It is also a love story because the biggest battles need a support system. Marchetto is a cartoonist for The New Yorker, but since Cancer Vixen’s release she has since gone on to write the graphic novel Ann Tenna. Insurance, or rather lack thereof, is one of the big hurdles in Cancer Vixen; proceeds from the book funded free mammograms for uninsured women in New York City. And since then, the Marisa Acocella Marchetto Foundation has been set up to aid uninsured and underinsured women with breast cancer and breast cancer survivors. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 16-years-old, I’d like to think Marchetto’s book would’ve made it a little less scary. Not all superheroes wear capes, some wear MAC lipstick and rainbow pumps. – Emma Fraser
Trina Robbins was the first woman to draw Wonder Woman comics and was part of the underground comix movement in its early days. She designed the costume for Vampirella for Frank Frazetta, worked on the all-women one shot ItAin’t Me, Babe Comix and the anthology Wimmen’s Comix for 20 years, which featured her story Sandy Comes Out, the first comic to feature a lesbian. Robbins was also one of the first women to call out misogyny in comics and has been working throughout her entire career to create roles for women. She drew Wonder Woman in The Legend of Wonder Woman, and despite her love for the character, she was very clear on her thoughts about Mike Deodato’s version, calling her a “barely clothed hyper sexual pinup.” Trina Robbins paved the way for all of us who work on comics. – Jenna Busch
Since the late ‘70s, Rumiko Takahashi has been one of the most important people working in manga. Appearing consistently in Weekly Shonen Sunday for more than 20 years into the early 2000s, she has created some of the best-beloved manga properties of all time. Having trained to be an artist via Lone Wolf And Cub’s Kazuo Koike and his manga-teaching college course Gekiga Sonjuku, Takahashi worked with the best and went on to shine with a style all her own. Some of her stories have been adapted to serial TV shows such as Ranma ½ and Inuyasha, and they have become internationally many people’s introductions to anime and manga alike. Takahashi’s work spans many, many volumes, and she continues to produce work now. Her stories are irreverent and prankish screwball comedies with a science fiction twist. As one of the longest-working comic and most prolific artists alive, it’s safe to say that Rumiko Takahashi is indeed a GOAT. – Sara Century
Lynda Barry has a surprising career, and an impressive body of work behind her after spending nearly 30 years doing weekly comic strips for alternative weeklies. Artistic experimentalism combined with deeply personal life observations and heartfelt forgiveness for the many flaws of humanity is the backbone of the enduring legacy of Lynda Barry’s long career as a cartoonist. Far from separating her art from her own life, the philosophies of Barry are the basis for much of her work. Even when unstated, a clear empathy appears for all of society’s many outcasts. In contrast with many underground cartoonists, Barry offers a heartbreakingly hopeful world that was full of tragedy and casual cruelty all the same. Working across mediums and perhaps best known to the world outside of comics for the theater adaptation of her book The Good Times Are Killing Me, her work as a novelist, or as a revolutionary art teacher, Lynda Barry is one of the most underrated cartoonists on the planet. – Sara Century
Ormes’ strips have yet to be fully collected in an easily accessible way, but much of it is available online, and her legacy speaks for itself. Widely regarded as the first Black woman to have a nationally syndicated comic strip with Torchy Brown, Ormes is a historical figure for reasons beyond just her work as a cartoonist. Known for winding up with a lengthy FBI file due to her political activism, her stances against racism, pollution, and unreasonable societal expectations of women permeate her otherwise lighthearted strips. Ranging from Family Circus-style camp to fashion advice to serious political concern, Ormes showed a great deal of depth in her storytelling. Although Ormes seldom gets the respect she deserves, she certainly has her admirers and has been honored posthumously by the Eisner Hall of Fame. She retired from comics in the mid-’50s but continued as an artist before struggles with rheumatoid arthritis retired her from that as well. Even still, she continued working and building community by serving on the founding board of directors for the DuSable Museum of African-American History. Jackie Ormes, you are a true inspiration! – Sara Century
This one was almost too easy. Absolutely no list of influential comic creators could possibly be complete without Gail Simone, a prolific creator who frequently crosses genres and tones in her work to bring readers new and old a comic book experience that is beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking, terrifying, and sometimes gruesome. Her work in the world of the Big Two superhero universes has not only been wonderful to read but has had an effect on those characters, and those worlds, that lasts far beyond her own pages, while her creator-owned work, of which there has been much more in recent years (thankfully!) allows her to play in a larger, more malleable sandbox, creating worlds and mythologies of her own, and asking big interesting questions through small, character-driven stories. But it is the work she does off the page that is sometimes the most admirable. In addition to her vocal presence online, both in her advocacy for female characters and creators and her impressive ability to troll anyone and everyone on Twitter, Gail is always looking for ways to highlight up and coming creators, both artists, and writers, a lesson more established pros would do well to learn. – Tricia Ennis
As the co-creator of Elf Quest, Wendy Pini’s career encompasses being one of the most successful indie comics publishers ever. Pini is responsible for the art in the long-running series, which only just wrapped up last year, as well as co-writing the series with her husband, Richard. Pini’s art is stunning whether in black and white, or color, and Elf Quest is the only comic I have pored over cell-by-cell, examining details and images, and it greatly influenced my childhood interest in art. Her writing also left a mark, as Elf Quest showed me a (mostly) tolerant, cooperative society, and many characters who lead with empathy and compassion. Not all of the forty-year narrative has aged perfectly, it is, as they say, a “problematic fave”, but Elf Quest‘s legacy is one of the characters who are openly for each other, celebrate passionately, and revel in the small wins that come even as larger battles loom. Elf Quest may be done, but Wendy Pini’s art and stories live on as lessons in beauty, compassion, and understanding. – Sarah Marrs
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Kelly Sue DeConnick is well known within the world of comic books not only for being a fantastic writer but also for her efforts to increase the visibility of women creators. DeConnick has helmed some of the most powerful runs of Captain Marvel and just began her run with Aquaman (released in December 2018), bringing fidelity to the characters, but adding depths and angles unique to her. She’s also created Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet, a massively important comic that explores sexism, racism, transphobia, and intersections of each in a dystopian future that doesn’t seem that far off from our current reality. In an effort to continue the conversation regarding female characters, DeConnick coined the term the “Sexy Lamp Test,” which states that if a female character can be replaced with a sexy lamp and the plot stays the same, there’s some work to be done. She believes, “Women should be protagonists, not devices.” Her work as a creator and as a leader in the field have made comic books more welcoming to women, trans, and nonbinary creators and readers and that’s what makes her the GOAT.