Kate Leth Appreciation Day 2014

Hey Internet, you’re a beautiful thing. Well, you can be; you can also be a cesspit of wrongheaded entitlement and unmerited keyboard ownership at times, but there are plenty of diamonds to be found, if you only know where to look.

I’ll readily admit that I didn’t (and often still don’t) know where I was looking. When I was looking for podcasts, I could Google “podcast women” and maybe find some decent suggestions, but even then I know that I’m missing out on heaps. I’ve found it even harder for comics: apart from studying the new releases each week via Comixology’s poorly-optimised mobile site, I wasn’t doing much to find the interesting and novel work that women are doing in the medium.

This is where the Internet showed off its brighter side. I’d been a fan of Kate Leth’s work for a short while before the Ladyist kicked in (I’m slow on the pickup with some things, OK?), but all I knew were a few of her excellent kate or die strips that appeared on Comics Alliance.

Straight to my heart, Kate.

I started to pay more attention to the person behind this amazing work, and Kate quickly completed the Ladyist Holy Trinity (alongside Neko Case and Kelly Sue DeConnick). Not only is she a passionate fan, she’s also worked in comics retail for years, so she knows how to channel that passion into exciting and unexpected recommendations.

What, that’s not enough for you? OK, try these on for size: a small sample of the staggering stuff I’ve been introduced to via Kate’s recommendations.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

 Less Than Live listeners will recognise this instantly, as Kate’s been talking about it for months now. I took a while to get to it, but I was already imploring people to read this before I was halfway through. Through the Woods is Emily’s first printed work, and the book itself demands to be read in the dead-tree format; not just because of the gorgeous paper-stock and embossed dust jacket, but for the slow-dread that comes with every slow turn of the page. I mean, you could flick through it and still enjoy Through the Woods, but taking it slowly emphasises the stony fear at the heart of each story (kinda like the clunky, slow door-opening cutscenes in the first Resident Evil game). Emily’s stories have a Brothers Grimm feel to them, reaching back to some doomy ancient folklore as she tells of menacing woods, ghosts and dismemberment. She’s an incredible horror writer, wrapping threads of panic through each story until you realise you’re wrapped up tight on the final page. Her art is the star, though, and another argument for the print edition. Her style often resembles old European woodcuts, with ominous inks and spilled-blood reds seeping across each page. Her ghosts are unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere, and the body horror of the collection’s final story still has me squirming.

Babs Tarr

How could you not love Babs, seriously?

Like a whole lot of people, I first heard about Babs Tarr when DC announced her as part of the new creative team taking over Batgirl and released a picture of the yellow-booted costume redesign that set the internet on fire. When Kate interviewed her on Less Than Live, they talked about Babs’s background as an artist, particularly her Tumblr-famous biker-style redesigns of Sailor Moon. Her style taps into fashion with far greater panache than so much of mainstream comics art, with plenty of rosy-cheeked ladies dressed fantastically and ready to kick butt! She also brings a very different approach to drawing women’s faces, which often have a limited range; her Barbara Gordon is cartoonish and broad in some ways, but Babs does wonders with her linework in providing real complexity to Batgirl’s expressions. In her chat with Kate, she talked a bit about the challenges of moving from standalone images to sequential art with the help of co-writer Cameron Stewart. I love the tone of her work, and I’m really excited to see how her work evolves over the course of her run on Batgirl!

Lumberjanes, by Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson and Brooke A. Allen

Lumberjanes #1 (image via publisher Boom! Comics)

Comics about summer camp do not sound inherently awesome. Mix in three-eyed foxes, shape-shifting bear-women and a bunch of kick-ass girls who say things like “What in the Joan Jett are you doing?”, though, and you have my attention.

Lumberjanes manages to be hilarious, silly and tense within the same issue. Ripley, Molly, Mal, Jo and April have great chemistry, and are just as likely to face the challenges of in-group teenage crushes as they are a three-eyed river monster (that’s just issue #2).

Being a summer camp, the girls get Scouts-like badges, though these badges (designed by Kate) aren’t exactly standard issue. So far, they’ve earned the Pungeon Master, Naval Gauging and Up All Night badges, just to name a few. And all that goes on while they try and figure out the mysterious animals and mythical goings-on around their camp.

Lumberjanes is published by Boom! comics, who’ve become an unlikely source for amazing all ages books, including the Adventure Time and personal favourite Bee and Puppycat. Don’t let the all-ages tag put you off, though; this is necessary reading for anyone who likes the idea of awesome, adventuring girls (which really should be everyone reading this). Friendship to the max!

She-Hulk

Jennifer Walters is an under-appreciated force in the Marvel Universe, and not just because she can get big and green like her cousin. She’s a gifted lawyer as well as an intergalactically-regarded smasher of things, but she doesn’t always get the treatment she deserves, often pulled into team line-ups as a heavy-hitter without much regard for her as a character. Dan Slott’s run from a few years back is a personal favourite, but the pairing of artist Javier Pulido and Thunderbolts writer Charles Soule seemed like a strange choice for Jen. Pulido’s flat art style didn’t seem like an obvious fit, and I wasn’t familiar with Soule’s work, so I hadn’t jumped in.

I was so wrong to hesitate. Soule’s version of She-Hulk is a great balance of spandex-clad clobbering and courtroom drama, with each somehow complementing rather than undermining the other. Pulido’s art turned out to be an incredible choice — distinctive, sure, and not always capital-P perfect like Marvel usually pumps out, but his flat style makes Jen feel like a hero from a bygone era, recalling the (terrible) animation of cartoons like Mighty Mouse to surprisingly lovely effect.

The saddest part is that the Soule/Pulido run on She-Hulk only has a few more issues due to decisions by Marvel HQ (who obviously haven’t read the sternly worded letter I’ve been meaning to send them), so please buy the next couple (or at least spring for the trade paperback when it comes out)to show Marvel that we still need Jen Walters in print.

You’re awesome.

That’s just a few of Kate’s amazing recommendations. Follow her on Twitter (@kateleth) to catch some of these suggestions first-hand, and to eavesdrop on her awesome friendship with other amazing comic creators like Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarksy, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. And of course, you should listen to her podcast, Less than Live, which is definitely Ladyist-approved. Seriously, every episode of the podcast is packed with great things to read, especially when Kate has an equally interesting guest on (like Babs, or Kevin Wada, who drew the She-Hulk cover above). And please, tell us about the ways you find new stuff: is it a friend, or a celebrity, or a particular site? Let everyone know in the comments below!

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Kate Leth Appreciation Day 2014

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