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TitleGender-Blind and Gender-Bound: Young Adult Comics
TagsAdult Comics Avenger Comics
File Size398.0 KB
Total Pages63
Table of Contents
                            Title Page
Preliminary Pages
Table of Contents
Chapter I: The Problem of Agency
Chapter II: Gender and Characterization
Chapter III: Gendered Assumptions in the Gaps
Document Text Contents
Page 1


Seth Brodbeck

A Thesis

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August 2013


Becca Cragin, Advisor

Jeffrey Brown

Esther Clinton

Page 2



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Since 2005, publishers of children’s literature have begun to release a large number of

graphic novels aimed at young readers. Many of these comics take place within the fantasy genre

and feature female protagonists; a surprising trend given the normal assumption that boys do not

want to read stories about girls, and the usual publishing strategy of courting male readers


This project examines five such fantasy comics, Kazu Kibushi’s Amulet, Ben Hatke’s

Zita the Spacegirl, Barry Deutsch’s Hereville, Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro’s Foiled, and

Ursula Vernon’s Digger, which feature young heroines in their leading roles. Drawing on the

scholarship of postfeminism (Gill, McRobbie, Tasker and Negra) and Perry Nodelman’s work on

children's literature, I use textual analysis to reveal a set of problematic implications in the

comics. Despite the positive framing of the protagonists as active participants in their narratives,

these comics end up falling into familiar stereotypes and problems. Taken as a whole, they all

promote a particular brand of tomboyish femininity in their protagonists, which becomes the de

facto model of femininity to the reader given the general lack of other significant female

characters. They furthermore have a tendency to avoid raising issues of gender, an elision which

nevertheless coexists with casts of characters which are majority male, as well as settings which

tend to distribute roles along traditional gender lines. The end result is a naturalization and

personalization of structural inequalities in society.

Page 31

was even aware that magic and monsters truly exist, and chasing this dream rewards her agency

beyond what she is able to exercise in her daily life.

Unfortunately, Mirka attaining agency with regards to Hereville’s supernatural side does

not similarly empower her to deal with her normal problems. If anything, it makes things worse

for her, as her choices with regards to the supernatural have a negative impact on her everyday

life; earning the enmity of the talking pig through stealing a grape leads to her being terrorized

and becoming the object of gossip and ridicule in the community, and her decision to try and win

a sword from the troll earns her an extended period of being grounded. Arguably, the bulk of the

conflict in both volumes of !�������� is caused by Mirka’s choices. The aforementioned grape-

stealing incident leads directly to her finding out about the troll and his sword from the witch.

Chasing after the sword requires her to bully her younger brother to prevent him from telling

their parents. By the same token, the action of the second volume, !���0��1��0�����0���������

is sparked by her ill-advised decision to let the troll cast a spell that sends a meteor hurtling

towards the witch’s house. After the witch turns the meteorite into a copy of Mirka to stop it

from destroying Hereville, Mirka’s choice to split her life with “Metty,” the meteor clone, results

in her getting pushed out of her own life entirely. Her attempts to resolve this problem through a

series of contests backfires on her when she chooses contests that Metty is better at. It is only

some clever word-twisting by her siblings and some backup magic from the troll that allows her

to prevail. At nearly every step of the narrative, Mirka makes things worse for herself by making

the wrong decisions. If it were not for the ultimately positive effect of these choices on her

outlook and attitude, one would think that she would be better off not having exercised her

agency in the first place.

As can be seen from this chapter, agency takes on an important role in each text in the

sense that each heroine is allowed, to varying degrees, to take an active role in driving the

Page 32

narrative. Significantly, the text which affords the least agency to its protagonist, ������ does so

as a way of highlighting the importance of free will. Emily’s restricted agency serves as an

occasion to dissect the importance both of making choices and of the way choices are made,

which does not arise in the texts that give their protagonists a freer hand. Thus, each text

maintains its position in the discourse of postfeminism by making the heroine’s status (or lack

thereof) as a neoliberal free agent one of considerable importance. What bears further analysis,

however, is how that emphasis on free will relates to the expression of masculine or feminine

traits within each text.

Page 62


Abrams. “Book Details: Hereville.” 2013. http :// www . abramsbooks . com / Books / Hereville -

9780810984226. html

Clute, John, and John Grant, eds. ���� �������������(�"����
�) New York: St. Martin’s Press,


Deutsch, Barry. !����������!���0��1������!���$����) New York: Amulet Books, 2010.

———. !����������!���0��1��0�����0��������) New York: Amulet Books, 2012.

First Second. “The First Second Collection.” 2013. http :// us . macmillan . com / Content . aspx ?

publisher = firstsecond & id =5639

Gill, Rosalind. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” �����������������(�

10, no. 2 (2007): 147–166.

Hatke, Ben. ��
��(�#���) New York: First Second, 2012.

———. #��������$����
���) New York: First Second, 2011.

Kibuishi, Kazu. �����) 5 vols. New York: Scholastic, 2008–12.

Lotz, Amanda. &���

�'����) Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

McCloud, Scott. �����
) New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

McGillis, Roderick. “Learning to Read, Reading to Learn; or Engaging in Critical Pedagogy.”


���������2��������, 22, no. 3 (1997): 126-132.

McRobbie, Angela. “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture.” "�����
�4, no.

3 (2004): 255–264.

Mendlesohn, Farah. &�������
�)�Middletown, Wesleyan University Press, 2008.

Negra, Diane and Yvonne Tasker. “In Focus: Postfeminism and Contemporary Media

Studies.” *������������� 44, no. 2 (2005): 107–110.

Page 63

Nodelman, Perry. ����!������ ������%�(����
�����������) Baltimore: John Hopkins

University Press, 2008.

———. '���
� +�����������
(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988).

Rowling, J.K. !��������������������!��(-������������) New York: Scholastic, 2006.

Vernon, Ursula. %�

��) WordPress, 2007–11. http :// diggercomic . com /

Wolk, Douglas. &�����
) Da Capo, 2007.

Yolen, Jane and Mike Cavallaro. *��

���) New York: First Second, 2013.

———. "�����) New York: First Second, 2010.

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