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This month has flown by, and tomorrow is the first day in the last week of guest posts. Before announcing the final guests, here is what went on last week (thanks to all of the guests from the previous week!):

Book List Reminder: If you haven’t already submitted 10 of your favorite speculative fiction books by women this year, there is still time to add up to 10 of your favorites to the list! It currently contains over 1,000 titles recommended during Women in SF&F Month in 2013 and 2014, and Renay and I are collecting more recommendations this month.

Upcoming Guests: April 27 – 30

And now, the final guests of the month will be:

Women in SF&F Month 2015 Week 5

April 27: Karina Sumner-Smith (Radiant, Defiant, “An End to All Things”)
April 28: Aliette de Bodard (The House of Shattered Wings, Obsidian and Blood series)
April 29: Danielle L. Jensen (Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress)
April 30: Cecily (Manic Pixie Dream Worlds)

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Today’s guest is fantasy and science fiction author Karen Miller! Her work includes the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series (beginning with The Innocent Mage), the Godspeaker trilogy (beginning with Empress), and Fisherman’s Children (beginning with The Prodigal Mage). She has also written books in the Star Wars and Stargate universes and the Rogue Agent series as K. E. Mills. The Falcon Throne, her newest fantasy novel and the first book in the Tarnished Crown series, was released last year and will be published in paperback in the US in June.

The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller

Women Writers Are Awesome

I was nine years old when I met Enid Blyton. We were introduced by my primary school librarian, who thrust one of the Famous Five adventures into my hands and said ‘Read that. You’ll like it.’ She also thrust The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at me, but that’s another story.

Probably I was born a story binger. There’s no other explanation for why I devoured every last Enid Blyton I could get my hands on after that first, fateful meeting: all the Famous Fives, all the Secret Sevens, the Mistletoe Farm series, the Wishing Chair series, the Faraway Tree series, the Barney mysteries … I read them all. Many times. Of course these days Enid’s frowned upon as all kinds of incorrect, but she was a product of her particular time and culture, as are we all. I mean, fifty years from now I’m pretty sure some of us won’t be looking too flash.

But that would be yet another story. My point is that one of the first proper novelists I ever embraced with my heart, my soul and all my pocket money was a woman … and so were many of the writers whose work I devoured in Enid Blyton’s wake.

Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong series remains one of my favourites to this day. I still can’t re-read the one where Norah’s appalling cousin murders (yes, murders!) her beloved pony Bobs. (Yeah, and forget Norah being noble and forgiving after the appalling cousin was wounded in the war. I would have staked him out on an anthill covered in honey even if he’d lost both his legs.) There’s not a single book by the Pullein-Thompson sisters I haven’t read. Or Lorna Hill. Or Marguerite Henry. Or Monica Edwards. The Jill series by Ruby Ferguson. The astonishing science fiction and fantasy novels of Andre Norton. Doreen Tovey’s hysterically funny but sometimes heartbreaking tales of life in Devon with Siamese cats and other animals. L.M. Montgomery and her exquisite creation, Anne of Green Gables. Ruth M. Arthur’s brilliantly creepy supernatural books. The truly extraordinary work of K.M. Peyton, whose anti-hero Pennington I’m sure made me disregard blond boys for life. Susan Cooper’s genre-defining The Dark is Rising sequence. (Stupid, stupid Hollywood. How criminal you can be.) Antonia Forest’s exquisitely human and complex series about the Marlowe family, both at school and at home. If there’s a better exploration anywhere of the creative personality (I’m looking at you, Lawrie Marlowe), I dare you to show me! Plus she wrote about death. And anti-Semitism. And family dynamics. And life in general. I swear, that woman should be required reading.

As I grew older, I added some male writers to my list. There was a lot of Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley and Ian Fleming. I tried C.S. Forrester but ended up preferring Dudley Pope. Ramage was a lot sexier than Hornblower – at least until Ioan Gruffudd came along. There was also Alexander Kent and Dick Francis and Peter O’Donnell. And of course I expanded my male author repertoire from there – and still do – but I’m sure you get the idea.

Only here’s the thing. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that all of their books were the action and violence and heroism and high stakes books, but I suspect not. I suspect that this thorny divide has always existed in literature, just as it so often exists in real life: men go to war, women keep the home fires burning and roll bandages. I know that’s changing a bit, in some places more than others, but the roots of that perception grow deep in our culture. It’s one of the many obstacles a lot of women writers face today, particularly women who dare to write space opera and epic fantasy.

Still, things have moved on from that simplistic and stultifying and historically inaccurate mindset. In some places at least. Ironic, isn’t it, that while the landscape of, say, crime fiction (in print and on TV) has shifted with the times and evolution of equal rights to include some of the best, brightest, bravest and bad-assiest women ever to be found in not-real life (Brenda Leigh Johnson, I am looking at you!), there remains such resistance to that notion in the genre of speculative fiction. You know, the genre that’s supposed to be about possibilities. About imagining new and better futures – and different pasts. About playing the ‘what if’ game as hard as you can. Of course, that’s a topic for a whole different blog post, but it’s something to ponder. So go on, ponder away!

In the meantime, though, as I meander back to the topic at hand …

Yes, I certainly started reading a bunch of books by male writers. I think it’s pretty crazy to refuse to read something just because it’s written by someone who has dangly bits and you don’t. Or vice versa. But even though I romped with the boys, and had a great time doing so, I certainly never turned my back on the great women writers whose work continues to inspire and entertain me today.

Dorothy Dunnett, Sue Grafton, Anne McCaffrey, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Katherine Kurtz, Marcia Muller, Ruth Rendell, Ellis Peters, Lois McMaster Bujold, Bertrice Small, Lindsey Davis, Laurie R King, Kate Elliott, Caroline Grahame, JD Robb, Kage Baker, Nora Roberts, Jan Burke, Elizabeth Peters, Georgette Heyer, Diana Wynne Jones, J.K. Rowling, Laurell K. Hamilton, Connie Willis, Barbara Hambly …

Each and every one of these amazing women have made me laugh, cry, gasp, curse and cheer. Each and every one of them has made me proud to be a woman, and inspired me to write stories that I hope and dream will in turn make another woman laugh, cry, gasp, curse and cheer. And men, too. Because put the dangly bits and the bouncy bits to one side and we’re all just people, just human people, struggling to find a way through the mud and the blood and the weeds and the booby traps of this crazy thing we call life. Women know things that men don’t, and vice versa. I think it’s about time we stopped throwing missiles at each other and started listening and learning for a change. Maybe we’d all end up a bit happier, a bit less angry, a lot more kind, if we did. Time to open our minds and our hearts and let the people who aren’t us teach us about them – and in doing so, teach us about ourselves. Surely that’s one of the great things about stories, the act of storytelling. For a little while, for as long as the pages keep turning, we get to be somebody else. To walk in their shoes. To live a life that isn’t ours. To expand our limited horizons and grow our hearts.

Women writers have such powerful stories to tell. Women writers represent roughly half of the human species, the human experience, in all its grossness and glory. For crying out loud, it’s the 21st century. Surely it’s time to recognise that once and for all.

Here’s a true story. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was working on a horse stud in Buckingham, England. I was, in that archaic world of hunting and fishing and shooting, one of the lowest of the low: a student girl groom. Even so, I had my own bedroom – which was a big deal, trust me. Some other students I met were crammed into a crappy single caravan without running water. Mind you, I didn’t always have running water either – at one point every pipe in the house froze during the coldest winter in twenty years. But that’s another story.

The thing is, I had my own bedroom. Which meant I had the luxury of reading in bed. So there I was one night doing just that. It was very late, well into the wee small hours. I should have been asleep because my working day started at 5.45 am and didn’t stop until around 10 pm, but no. I was reading. And then one of the other girls banged on my bedroom door, and came in, and said, ‘Hey, something’s going on in the yard. The horse box is on fire.’ And I said, ‘Oh. Shit. Right. I’ll be down in a minute.’

Only I wasn’t. Because I couldn’t bear to stop reading that book. That book was so exciting, so engrossing, so utterly captivating, that I stayed where I was and let everyone else deal with the brouhaha downstairs.

And what was I reading? I’m glad you asked. I was reading The Disorderly Knights, by Dorothy Dunnett. Book 3 of the amazing Lymond Chronicles, simply some of the best historical fiction that has ever been written. Actually, some of the best fiction ever, full stop. Ah, Francis Crawford. Be still my beating heart.

That, right there, is the power of a great story. It’s what a great woman writer can achieve when she’s at the top of her game. And it’s the kind of impact I aspire to have when I settle myself in front of the computer and start to write.

Women writers are awesome. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Karen MillerKaren Miller writes speculative fiction. Mostly of the epic historical kind, but she’s also written Star Wars and Stargate novels and under the pen-name K.E. Mills writes the Rogue Agent series, about a wizard with special skills who works for his government under unusual circumstances.

She lives in Sydney, travels as often as she can, and when she’s not glued to the computer writing a book or researching history for a book she can be found having fun at her local theatre, swimming laps at the pool, walking the dogs, reading or watching great films and tv dramas, or lazily socialising with friends.

Photo Credit: Mary GT Webber

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Today’s guest is Kelley from Oh, the Books! She and her co-blogger Asti run an excellent blog full of great book reviews, compelling discussions, and comprehensive round ups containing links to all kinds of interesting bookish articles. I discovered their blog last year when they co-hosted the second Sci-Fi November with Rinn and have enjoyed reading their site ever since! (Just like the previous year, Sci-Fi Month was fantastic. It’s a really fun event in which bloggers spend November writing about science fiction media in all its forms, and nearly 100 people signed up as participants last year!)

Oh, the Books!

Science Fiction Book Covers — Are They Different for Female Authors?

One of the first YA science fiction books I heard a lot of buzz about was Insignia, by S. J. Kincaid. The ladies at my favorite bookshop just kept raving about it, so I read that book as soon as I could get my hands on it (and loved it). When S. J. Kincaid visited that same bookshop later in the year, I was one of many eager readers in attendance.

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid

The entire event was fantastic, but a few things stuck out in my mind from that day.

  1. The book cover was intentionally “sci-fi” in style, most likely to attract a more male audience.
  2. The author likely went with her initials + surname, to maintain gender ambiguity (again, likely so that male readers wouldn’t be turned off by a female author).
  3. This author is extremely adept at writing in the voice of a teenage boy.
  4. The combination of 1-3 just plain sucks.
  5. The audience was entirely female (what?!).

Ever since that day, I began paying closer attention to the covers of YA sci-fi books. Much of the time, if the book had a female author and/or female protagonist, the cover art would have a girl in it. If the author was male, or the book has a male protagonist, the cover art would likely NOT have people on it (or if there were people, the design would be very “sci-fi” or masculine overall).

Obviously, this was just my general observation, and I did no thorough investigation or data collection about this, so don’t hold that against me. But still, I think it’s clear that when a female author writes a science fiction novel — especially if it’s YA — the cover art seems to either clearly appeal to girls, or try to cover up any feminine parts.


In a wonderful contrast, I was lucky enough to attend an event with Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman for their release of This Shattered World. During the event, there was some great discussion about the cover design, women reading science fiction, and how all of that blends together.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner This Shattered World  by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

What’s interesting about this series is that it seems to cross gender (and genre) boundaries quite nicely. That event was one of the few I’ve been to that had multiple guys in attendance; this series is clearly appealing to male readers, somehow, despite the fact that there are TWO female names on the cover! This series also gently eases readers who are new to sci-fi into the genre, and encourages them to realize that they might like it! (The books contain more and more science fiction elements as the series progresses.)

Where am I going with this? Good question. My point here, I think, is that all kinds of people like science fiction. Why should women writers have to hide their genders in order to appeal to their target audience? Is that even working? I’d love to see more science fiction YA book covers that just look cool — much like the classic science fiction books (or, like, every single middle grade book!), and don’t attempt to catch the eyes of any particular gender.

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Today’s guest is Genevieve Cogman! Her debut novel, The Invisible Library, was released by Tor UK earlier this year. I read it because I loved the premise—the main protagonist, Irene, travels to alternate worlds as a spy recovering books for the Library, which exists outside of time and space—and I also ended up loving the book as a whole. It’s a lot of fun to read; in fact, it’s my favorite book I’ve read in 2015 so far!

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

In retrospect, I was not a very perceptive child. Or teenager.

When I was starting in on fantasy and science fiction – which, to date it, would be in the late seventies and early eighties – I went through the usual range of stuff, from the good (Tolkien, Hambly, etc) to the exotic (Moorcock) to the, shall we say, very much a product of its time. (The entire EE Doc Smith: all the way through the Skylark of Space, Lensman, and Family d’Alembert series.) I was a very hungry caterpillar very voracious reader, and shovelled down everything I could get my hands on.

I’m not sure why I failed to notice a lack of female characters, or their frequent relegation to stand-around-and-wring-hands-and-get-rescued. When I read Tolkien, I imagined myself as Gandalf just as much as Eowyn. When I read Michael Moorcock, I imagined myself as a companion of Elric and sort of ignored Zarozinia. But I never really thought of him in a romantic way. He was the Doomed Albino Prince with the Black Sword. I was like Moonglum, his true companion. Only better and cooler.

(As I said, I managed some truly huge failures in perception.)

When I read Barbara Hambly’s The Time of the Dark, I noticed a comment in a review about it: that it was a little unusual (though not unwelcome) that the female protagonist took up the sword and the male protagonist took up wizardry. And I thought, hm, you know, that’s true, I have been reading more novels where the men do the swordplay and the women (if they do anything) provide some sort of magical support.

And then I mostly forgot about it. Except to wish, now and again, that there were more women who got as much of a share of the limelight as Gil-Shalos did in the Darwath books.

It took me a while to actually start reading books analytically. Is there a better term for this? When you read a book and start thinking about it as a work which could have been different, rather than a glorious piece of art which is simply experienced and does not actually require conscious thought from the reader. Where you simply dive in and come out the other side after a happy “swim” in that author’s universe. For a long time I didn’t think. I simply noted that “character X has done something stupid” or “character Y has behaved in a specific manner”, rather than wondering “what if character X had done something else”, or “why should character Y be behaving in such-and-such a manner”?

Why, in so many futuristic worlds, did the women stay at home to mind the house while the men went out there with the rayguns? Especially if genetic engineering and super-science meant that men could be given ideal physiques and sleep-taught all sorts of skills? Why weren’t there any female space cadets? (Yes, I read and at the time loved the Heinlein, but I was beginning to think, “Where are all the women training to join the Space Patrol?”) Why was it always Seaton and Duquesne and Crane who had the amazing brains and starkly incomprehensible computers and velocities, while their wives designed clothing and kept house and got kidnapped?

Why did there have to be actual separate anthologies of short stories about sorceresses and swordswomen? And if the answer to that was “because they weren’t being published otherwise”, then why weren’t they being published otherwise? Come to think of it, why did so many of my fantasy books have the women in chainmail bikinis?

Why was the default pronoun in so many of my roleplaying game sourcebooks “he”?

What is the difference between James T Kirk and a green-skinned Orion space babe, when it came to responsibility for their actions, personal agency, and being a cool hero or a wanton irresponsible girl? (I always preferred Spock, anyhow.) Discuss.

Where were all the female characters who were as cool, as intelligent, as cunning, as strong, as elegant, as charming, as prone to make mistakes, as able to recover from them, as capable of sacrificing themselves to save the day, and as able to have character development… as the men? The heroines – and the villainesses too, the ones who weren’t vamps or crones? The scientists? The spymasters? The tycoons of business? The long-lost family members? “Luke, I am your mother…” Why were there so many teams where the main characteristic of the single female team member was that she was female?

Things do change, and they are still changing. But my complaint remains the same. I want to read (and to write) female characters who are as crafty as Locke Lamora, as wise as Gandalf, as self-sacrificing as Sam and Frodo, as doomed as Turin Turambar, as prone to casual romance and not being blamed for it as James T Kirk, as capable of being angsty and obsessed by justice and the past as Batman… in short, everything that male characters can have. I want them to have Spock’s degree of history, emotional conflict, and character development, Doctor Who’s ability to fast-talk and his hatred of cruelty, and the Winter Soldier’s tragic past history. And I want them to be able to stay at home and do the cooking and patchwork, too. And I’d like all that for men as well.

I am still a very hungry caterpillar.

All I want (all, she says) is for the female characters to be as fully human as the male characters.

We’re all working on it.

Genevieve Cogman is a freelance author, who has written for several role-playing game companies. Her work includes GURPS Vorkosigan and contributions to the In Nomine role-playing game line for Steve Jackson Games, contributions to Exalted 2nd Edition and other contributions to the Exalted and Orpheus lines for White Wolf Publishing, Hearts, Swords and Flowers: The Art of Shoujo for Magnum Opus, and contributions to the Dresden Files RPG for Evil Hat Productions. She currently works for the NHS in England as a clinical classifications specialist.

She has had three books of her series about the multidimensional Library accepted by Tor Books, and the first book The Invisible Library is now available. Her novels are represented by Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency.

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Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author Leah Petersen! Her trilogy, The Physics of Falling, is a completed series comprised of the following: Fighting Gravity, Cascade Effect, and Impact Velocity. She also has published short stories in the anthologies When the Villain Comes Home and When the Hero Comes Home 2.

Fighting Gravity by Leah Petersen Cascade Effect by Leah Petersen Impact Velocity by Leah Petersen

Finding the Fantastic through Depression

Women don’t have a monopoly on mental illness or depression, but statistically, women report depression at higher rates than men. We have risk factors that men won’t face, such as hormonal imbalances or pregnancy and childbirth. I’d suffered through depression most of my life, but it was postpartum depression that almost ended me.

I’ve seen several well known fantasy authors come out lately to openly talk about depression. Perhaps it’s become no more than a stereotype as fantasy and scifi go mainstream, but for a lot of us growing up, just identifying as a fan was a pretty good indicator that we already felt alienated or othered by society, even if it was only in the privacy of our heads. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking this disease afflicts our genre more than others. I’m torn between the scifi writer in me that says “data or it didn’t happen” and the fantasy writer who says everything’s possible, and perception is everything.

Either way, for every one of us who talks about mental illness, there are a dozen more who suffer in silence. Admitting you’re having a hard time is hard. And the worse it gets, the more difficult, paralyzing it becomes. For so many of us, depression is what brought us together as genre readers. When we share those experiences in the writing, we’re talking to each other about something many of us know and most endure in silence.

Depression can affect your ability to do anything at all, but maybe some things, creative endeavors, like writing, take a bigger hit. What for one person is cathartic would be devastating for another. I chose this topic for my post because I’m dealing with what many call writer’s block but for me is more properly named “depression.” There have been times I’ve felt that my depression was what drove my writing, and that not-depressed writing wasn’t my best. There have been other times I’ve been numbed, hollowed out by depression. If the words are there, they don’t make it from my head to the page. Then I wonder if the inability to write through depression is the cause or the effect. Both?

Well life’s complicated like that. You can’t plug in 1+1 and expect anything at all. It might be 2 or -2 or 2000. I think that’s why fantasy is such a draw for the mentally ill among us. You can rewrite the equations for a universe that works differently than yours. You can lose yourself in worlds where someone else imagined you—just as you are—as the hero you don’t feel like.

Which is why I love seeing authors write mental illness or disability into fantasy. The project I’m not working on right now, as I find my way through this phase of depression, has a character who is bipolar. It’s a secondary world fantasy in a Bronze Age civilization, so naturally, their idea of mania and depression is more “demon possession” and less “mental illness.” But I find it striking how the ways my character approaches and lives with her “demons” is so similar to my own. Hiding it all, self-medicating, trying to use the Need. To. Move. of a mania to offset the periods of I’ll-never-get-out-of-bed-again depression. Finding ways of surviving a mania without getting killed, and the strange contrast when you return to a suicidal depression.

The methods may vary, the experience is universal. Speculative, fantastical, futuristic fiction is a way we can talk about things that terrify us from a safe distance. A way we can share and connect even if the connection is one made months or years later when the reader picks up a story and finds herself and her suffering in it. It’s so tempting to take fantasy and scifi and scrub them of the things that hurt us personally, because the world is ours to shape. But find and support those authors who make genre fiction a place where they can share this with others. It can be very lonely, on both sides of the page, but we’re in this together.

Next time you write your pain, or read yourself in a story, maybe stop a moment to put your fingers to the page or the screen and send a silent message of support to the person on the other side. She’s in this with you.

Leah PetersenLeah Petersen lives in North Carolina manipulating numbers by day and the universe by night. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing.

Leah is the author of the Physics of Falling trilogy: Fighting Gravity, Cascade Effect, and Impact Velocity.

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The first guest of the week is New York Times bestselling novelist and comic book writer Marjorie M. Liu! She has written books in the Dirk & Steele and Hunter Kiss series, as well as graphic novels for Marvel such as Astonishing X-Men, X-23, Black Widow, and Dark Wolverine. Her novels have received many honors, including multiple Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards and nominations, PEARL Awards, a RITA nomination, a PRISM Award nomination, and a Kiss of Death Daphne du Maurier Award nomination. She has also earned a GLAAD Media Award nomination for her work on Astonishing X-Men. A new comic she is creating with Sana Takeda, Monstress, is coming out this summer (and it looks amazing!).

Monstress X-23, Volume 1

I’m often asked what it’s like to be a “woman in comics”, and while I’m sometimes tempted to reply with, “Gosh, darn, I just strap on my ovaries before I start writing each morning,” the truth is that it’s an important question.  The fact that it’s asked means there’s still misunderstandings, some apprehension, a sense that it’s different for women than it is for men inside the world of comic book publishing. It’s no surprise that young women creators might have that impression — for years we were told that comics are for boys, that women who read comics are outliers, that they need special “girl” comics.  That’s not true, of course — but it’s also not very welcoming, either.  And neither are the various misogynistic marketing snafus, the tired gender tropes, and all the other micro-agressions that litter the field.

We need more women (and people of color).  We need these voices, we need women to be in comics, on every level — as writers, editors, artists.  And the good news is that things are changing — and things have changed.  For the girls who ask me what it’s like (code-speak for, “Can I do this, too?), I want to reassure them that being a woman in comics is like any profession where you love what you do: there are going to be highs and lows, a lot of awesome mixed in with equal or lesser or greater amounts of disappointment; and yes, sometimes your gender (or race) will get mixed up in all of that, because this is still a world where women aren’t always treated the same as men, where the patriarchy protects itself and holds on to its stereotypes in a tight little fist.

But I’m here to say that you can do it.  And if you ask me what’s it like to be a woman in comics?

It’s so much fun.

I’ve put together a list of comics written and drawn by women — books that I absolutely love.  It’s not comprehensive, but if you want a place to start, this is it.


A Bride's Story I Think I am in Friend-Love with You

A BRIDE’S STORY by Kaoru Mori: a lush, gorgeous tale set in 1900’s Central Asia, about a 20 year old nomadic woman who is sent to marry a twelve year old boy.

I THINK I AM IN FRIEND-LOVE WITH YOU by Yumi Sakugawa: a heartbreaking short comic about love, friendship, longing.

Friends with Boys Skim Persepolis

FRIENDS WITH BOYS by Faith Erin Hicks: a homeschooled teen goes to a public high school for the first time, and has to deal with making new friends, handling old family trauma — and trying to help a ghost that haunts her local cemetery.

SKIM by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki – a goth biracial teen in Canada tries to figure out love, friendship, and her own identity.

PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi – a graphic memoir about an Iranian girl growing up before, during, and after the Islamic revolution.

Hark! A Vagrant Aya

HARK! A VAGRANT by Kate Beaton – a hilarious online comic that takes jabs at everything and everyone — from myths, comic book superheroes, historical figures, classic novels, and more. Love it: http://www.harkavagrant.com/archive.php

AYA by Marguerite Abouet – a lovely, uplifting graphic novel about a young woman’s life in Ivory Coast during the late Seventies.