Woman World

Aminder Dhaliwal, Drawn & Quarterly, £14.99


It was that noted American philosopher and political commentator James Brown who once declared that It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World. But what if he was wrong? What if the men stopped being born? Die out? What if new-borns were all girls? What would a women’s world look like?

That is the question Aminder Dhaliwal is asking in her surprisingly gentle comic graphic novel. The future she imagines is no hellish dystopia. Rather, it’s a place where women band together and build hospitals and help each other out. It’s as if with the men gone aggression and violence just disappears. Who would have thought?

Not that Woman World is a feminist statement about the superiority of women. It’s actually a slyly humorous take on an all-female community that is both a celebration of female friendship and a chance to take an affectionate hand out of it too.

The humour that results is both sweet and salty. And, okay, maybe just a little feminist too. When a pair of stilettos are found one future woman tries them out as an experiment and takes notes. All she can come up with is: “… Some sort of construction boot to create small holes?”

And where are the men in all this? We are represented by a DVD of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. That, gentlemen, is our legacy.

Coyote Doggirl

Lisa Hanawalt, Drawn & Quarterly, £17.99


Last seen in these quarters talking about food, cartoonist and Bojack Horseman producer Lisa Hanawalt returns with her own canine take on the western genre in Coyote Doggirl.

It makes for a great double bill with Dhalwali’s book in that it shares many of the same qualities as Woman World – a drawing style that is flexible enough to be both cartoony and realistic when needs be, a vision of another more female-centred world and a sense of humour that can be bawdy but mostly trades in sly depreciation.

The story? Hanawalt’s heroine, half dog, half coyote, is separated from her beloved horse Red by a trio of vengeful dogs who shoot her full of arrows and leave her to die. Fortunately, she’s saved by Native American wolves and soon she is off to find her steed.

Hanawalt’s vision of the west is colourful (as the author Patricia Lockwood notes, her pinks are “almost alive”) and at times just as violent as Sam Peckinpah’s. But it also includes leather crop tops. There’s no question that Junior Bonner would have benefitted from a crop top or two.

S*** is Real

Aisha Franz, Drawn & Quarterly, £17.99


Or is it? German cartoonist Aisha Furth’s story about a young woman called Selma is set in a world of break-ins, break-ups, depression, laundromats and unemployment. But it is also full of dream sequences, erotic fantasies and anthropomorphised people with animal heads. In short, it doesn’t look much like Cowdenbeath (or not the last time I was there).

Franz’s style is crude at first look but there’s a real expressiveness to her line and she weaves a narrative that is full of mystery and depth. Plus, she draws a great cat.

The Provocative Colette

Annie Goetzinger, NBM Publishing, £21.99

With its storyboard perfection and old-school grid panel layouts, at first glance you might think the late Annie Goetzinger’s memoir of the French author Colette’s early years is a world away from the punkier approach of the other cartoonists reviewed here. But that’s to ignore the content of the book.

Goetzinger’s Colette is a woman seeking autonomy in her work and her life. She marries an older man to avoid the choice of becoming an old maid or a schoolteacher and then has affairs with men and women, scandalising Paris in the process.

Goetzinger, who died at the age of 66 last December, worked in bandes dessinees for the best part of 50 years and what The Provocative Colette proves is her mastery of the form. If at first glance there is a formal, old-fashioned edge to her art that simply overlooks the subtlety of her use of colour and line. Like Posy Simmonds – perhaps the Anglophone creator who seems to have the most in common with her – Goetzinger was a wonderful metteur en scene. Her eye for interiors, clothing, hairstyles gave her work a real attractiveness.

All in all, this is a loving take on a remarkable woman.

Athena: The Story of a Goddess

Imogen and Isabel Greenberg, Bloomsbury, £14.99

Published by Bloomsbury’s Children’s imprint, Imogen and Isabel Greenberg’s take on Greek myth is an entertaining whistle-stop tour through the Iliad and the Odyssey as told from the point of view of Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

Imogen Greenberg’s script is deft and full of life, alert to all the human failings of the Greek Gods, while her sister adds a splash of colour to her bold signature style (as is traditional in her children’s work) and quiet humour

The result is entertaining and distinctive but for some reason also reminds me of Peter Firmin’s Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog cartoons in the way it creates a world full of magic and spectacle, yet never loses its humanity. In short, if the BBC were thinking of making a new stop motion animated cartoon this might be worth looking at for inspiration.

Love That Bunch

Aline Kominsky Crumb, Drawn & Quarterly, £19.99

Definitely not for children. This collection of autobiographical comic strips is a Rabelaisian vision of sex and food and pain and romance and family dysfunction and body image.

Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s collection of strips offer a raw, messy take on a raw, messy life. There’s an energy and an openness to her cartooning and her storytelling, and while her line work is often crude it’s also full of life.

Whether you really want to be exposed to that life depends on your tolerance for extreme candour. Kominsky-Crumb’s accounts of growing up Jewish on Long Island, her bohemian hippy days in San Francisco’s Bay Area and domestic life with her husband Robert Crumb in California and the south of France is the opposite of coy.

But as Hillary Chute, quoting the Huffington Post, points out, much of this chimes with the humour you can find in TV shows such as Girls and Fleabag, which are not afraid of portraying women as difficult, as sexual, as complex.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that Kominsky-Crumb was doing this decades before. As Chute points out, “in the 1970s it was rare for a woman to put herself – the good, the bad and the ugly – at the centre of stories the way Kominsky-Crumb did.”

Which makes the cartoonist both a pioneer and someone whose time, perhaps, has come.