Each week, Big Issues focuses on newly released comic books of significance. This week, they’re Giant Days #6, written by John Allison (Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery) with art by Lissa Treiman (Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph) and colorist Whitney Cogar (Bravest Warriors, Bill & Ted’s Most Triumphant Return), and Power Up #2, written by Kate Leth (Bravest Warriors, Edward Scissorhands) with art by Matt Cummings (Steven Universe, Adventure Time). These two issues spotlight how Boom! Studios’ Boom! Box imprint has become one of the best places to find comics geared toward women, consistently releasing books featuring female creators telling stories about captivating female characters. (Note: This review reveals major plot points.)
Graphic-novel publishers have made huge strides in reaching out to female readers in the past decade, but monthly comics still move slowly when it comes to releasing more titles targeted to women. The five major publishers (Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, and Dark Horse) are all dominated by male creators, and even though there are more series featuring female lead characters, many of these books don’t have any women as writers or artists. It’s still a pleasant surprise when one of these publishers announces a new ongoing title with a woman on the creative team, which is a big shame when the graphic novel industry has established that there is a huge market of female readers eager to see their perspective represented in comic-book form. (Just ask Raina Telgemeier, who has had four graphic novels on The New York Times bestsellers list for months, with Smile spending 164 weeks and counting on the list.)
Boom! Studios’ Boom! Box imprint is one of the few places catering primarily to female readers, and while that isn’t the explicit purpose of the line, it sets it apart in the greater comics landscape. From the very first Boom! Box title, The Midas Flesh by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb, the imprint has regularly featured female creators and lead characters, and its flagship title, Lumberjanes, has become a showcase for exciting female talent that doesn’t get much attention at the bigger publishers. Both of this week’s Boom! Box titles feature women in key roles, and those valuable perspectives make Giant Days #6 and Power Up #2 two of the week’s best comics.
The tastes of women are just as diverse as the tastes of men, so the easiest way to target books toward women and girls is by hiring female creators. This kind of representation is important because although not every female reader will relate to the creator’s point of view, there’s more opportunity for overlap compared to a book by an all-male creative team. Giant Days and Power Up cover very different subject matter, but they’re united by their commitment to telling fun, energetic stories about women during major transitions in their lives.
In Giant Days, that transition involves three new friends in their freshman year at university. Writer John Allison, artist Lissa Treiman, and colorist Whitney Cogar have used this slice-of-life concept to create one of the year’s most engaging, hilarious comics. Spinning out of Allison’s webcomic Scary Go Round, the series balances dry British humor and goofy slapstick comedy with complex characterizations and riveting personal drama, all depicted with rich expression and detail in Treiman’s artwork. In her day job as an animator, Treiman has worked on Disney blockbusters Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Big Hero 6, strengthening storytelling muscles that allow her to maximize the emotional impact of Allison’s scripts.
Allison is an accomplished artist on his own, but Treiman’s experience in animation brings extra vitality to the story. The cartoonish exaggeration of Treiman’s linework combines with Whitney Cogar’s vibrant color palette to give the book a bold visual aesthetic that would translate wonderfully to the screen, but Giant Days is the kind of story that doesn’t get told very often in animated features and TV series. It’s an intimate narrative about young adults exploring their identities as they leave their adolescent lives behind, which doesn’t fit in well with a contemporary animation landscape that prioritizes spectacle and fantasy.
Smaller-scale stories can benefit greatly from the stylistic flexibility and exaggerated expression allowed by animation, but the process is so time-consuming that these narratives don’t merit the amount of labor when they could be told in live-action. Women make up a large portion of Disney fandom, and hiring a Disney animator for Giant Days gives the book a visual sensibility that will appeal to those fans while presenting a story they don’t get to see in the Disney house style.
This week’s issue features Esther and Daisy teaming up to rescue their dormmate Susan from a trashy Northampton nightclub where a high school rival with a grudge is holding her captive, and taking the cast outside of their standard university setting makes the book even more entertaining. Allison’s script provides a highly amusing tour of Susan’s provincial hometown and its residents, introducing readers to a gang of smokers that views itself as an oppressed cultural movement, two brothers who own separate comics and record stores in the same space (“I think that two parallel dimensions merged at this point,” Esther says while standing outside Comic World/Vinyl World), and the Shaws, “the hardest family in Northampton.”
Each location and character is given immense personality by Treiman and Cogar, and the specificity of the art team’s work is highlighted in the nightclub scene, showing a crowded setting full of people with a variety of body types and fashion sensibilities, engaging with each other in different ways. (A wonderful Easter egg is a cameo appearance from Steven Universe’s Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, who are waiting in the line outside the club.) There’s so much life in these pages, and the creative team’s dynamic chemistry keeps the reader fully invested in the struggles of these characters, which are still very real even when the story embraces more fanciful elements.
There’s a strong animation influence in Power Up by writer Kate Leth and artist Matt Cummings, but their miniseries moves away from the Disney look in favor of a style heavily reminiscent of Japanese animé, specifically Sailor Moon. The story follows a familiar path as a mysterious force brings together a group of strangers by granting them magical powers, but the identity of those strangers makes Power Up a new twist on the traditional formula. Instead of a group of teenage girls who basically look the same except for their hair color, the people who gain these supernatural abilities come from a variety of different races, sexual orientations, and social circumstances: Amie is a twentysomething black woman struggling to find motivation in her professional and personal lives; Sandy is a minivan-driving mother of two teens; and Kevin is a burly construction worker who wears a bright pink schoolgirl’s outfit as a suit of armor. And then there’s Silas, the adorable goldfish who transforms into a tiny whale that shoots lasers.
Power Up will appeal to fans of Boom! Box’s recently concluded Help Us! Great Warrior miniseries, a book that found a different angle for a conventional fantasy yarn by leaning heavily on humor, grounding the narrative with comedy that revealed character. (Amie has a pair of Great Warrior slippers in a nod to Madeleine Flores’ lovable heroine.) Power Up #2 opens with Amie watching classic vampire movies for research after being attacked by monsters at the pet store she works at, and the only reason she gets off her bed and out of her hooded penguin onesie is because her streaming service tells her that she’s been watching for eight hours and could probably use a shower.
That focus on Amie’s domestic life keeps the story rooted in a recognizable reality, and much of the book’s humor comes from Amie’s overwhelmed reactions to the craziness of her new superpowered life. Cummings does fantastic work with Amie’s facial expressions as she shifts from unbridled terror when exploding green demons attack her bus to gleeful admiration when Kevin saves her life, and the artist’s skill for creating quick, forceful action intensifies Amie’s emotional reactions by highlighting how different these spectacular fights are from her usual routine.
Hopefully future issues will spend more time on Kevin and Sandy’s personal circumstances, because along with Amie, they represent groups of people who don’t get much play in superhero comics. The moment when Amie and Kevin get in Sandy’s minivan after a big fight makes great use of Sandy’s lifestyle to bring humor to the story, and seeing how these characters’ new superpowered situations intersect with their established identities is one of the most appealing aspects of Power Up. That and the tiny laser whale.
Considering how well graphic novels sell with the target audience for Boom! Box titles, the publisher should seriously reevaluate its strategy for releasing print collections. The Midas Flesh, an eight-issue miniseries, was released in two collected volumes rather than one, with considerable time between volumes for readers to forget about the book. Boom! should have released the entire run in one volume, which would get the full story out in one self-contained graphic novel and prevent the inevitable drop-off between separate volumes.
The first volume of Lumberjanes was released a full year after the series debuted and contained only four issues, a puzzling decision for a book that has gotten a lot of publicity, but doesn’t have very impressive single-issue sales numbers. (It’s impossible to gauge just how well Lumberjanes single issues sell because digital sales numbers aren’t released to the public, and a book with such a strong online presence probably does much better in digital sales than print sales.) Lumberjanes Vol. 1 was Diamond’s 10th best-selling trade paperback of April and was No. 7 on The New York Times best sellers list, and Boom! Box could have capitalized on those sales and brought more people to the single issues if it released the first collection before Lumberjanes #5 hit stands.
In a competitive marketplace, publishers need to be aggressive if they want to maintain interest in their titles, and part of that is accelerating the release of collections to appeal to the steadily growing demographic of graphic novel readers. If Boom! Box released a Lumberjanes collection after every four issues, there would already be four volumes on stands bringing in revenue and expanding the book’s audience. Giant Days and Power Up are two books that have huge potential for sales in bookstores, and Boom! shouldn’t drag its feet when it comes to collecting these titles. In the meanwhile, readers looking for charming, effervescent stories can buy the single issues of these miniseries and prove to publishers that there’s financial gain in monthly comics featuring women on and off the page.