This is the first of a series of articles on female webcomic artists from around the world, telling how they gained prominence in a male-dominated industry thanks to their artistic talent and storytelling.

Francesca Miller  |  Ed Cristina Brooke  |  6 October 2020

© Courtesy of the artist.

If you look at digital comics, especially webcomics, that top global charts online, you notice that most are produced by young female artists. Their distinctive artwork is woven around immersive stories, crossing genres to reach all audiences. It wasn’t always like this. Digital platforms and social media have helped break down barriers to the coined 9th Art scene, also known as the comic art industry. Talented female artists are now able to carve themselves a prominent place and recognition of their artwork.

Naoko Takeuchi “Sailor Moon” © Courtesy of the artist.

Historically, the most popular titles in print and online originated from the US with comics, Japan with mangas and French-speaking Belgium with “BD” (comic strips). The majority was produced by men, including works for female readers.

In the US, DC and Marvel comics had female involvement that remains, to this day, unrecognised. The same is true in Belgium, where the best-known titles are by male artists, like Hergé’s Tintin and Peyo’s The Smurfs. Peyo’s wife’s involvement as the main colourist of all his work till his death, is hardy ever mentioned. In Japan, Osamu Tezuka, coined Godfather of manga and creator of Astro Boy, created Princess Knight in 1953 for a female audience. This practice carried on well into the late 1970s, till female artists Riyoko Ikeda, behind Rose de Versailles, and Moto Hagio, behind They were Eleven emerged with artwork and storytelling so compelling that the industry had to recognise their credibility as manga artists in their own right. This paved the way for younger ones, Naoko Takeuchi creator of Sailor Moon and Rumiko Takahashi in the 1980s. Takahasi is the second only female recipient of the Grand Prix du Festival d’Angoulême, in 2019.

Florence Cestac © Courtesy of the artist.

The other female recipient is from France, where proper recognition of its female artist talent had to wait until 2000. That year, Florence Cestac became the first woman ever to receive the Grand Prix at the world’s second-largest comic festival, the Festival d’Angoulême. She’d been an active cartoonist since the 1970s under her own publishing house. Her work now sells at auction. 

Female comic artists have always been around, but their efforts were, and sadly still are, often thwarted by organisations with all-male leaderships that didn’t appreciate their talent as comic artists.

 

Smartphones and technology changed art lovers and readers’ behaviours alike, thanks to webcomic platforms and social media networks. For female webcomic artists, platforms such as webtoons removed barriers to the industry, allowing them to submit their work freely, without prejudice as to whether there would be an appetite for their work.

With social media networks, especially Instagram, female artists can now engage directly with their fans, organically grow their fanbase and extend the reach of their works. Ratings, viewings, word of mouth and engagement form the foundation of their reputations as credible webcomic artists. Their works go on to have a life of their own, branching beyond online: to merchandising or adaptations in video games, animation and drama. Their online reputations are compelling the industry, which is used to overlooking these women, to pay attention and recognise their talent and achievements.

Pénélope Bagieu  © Courtesy of the artist.

Pénélope Bagieu, French female webcomic artist, is one example of an artist who has grown her career thanks to her blog webcomic series My Fascinating Life and Les Culottées; the latter was in 2016 published as a series of graphic books. In 2019, she received an Eisner Award at San Diego Comic-Con, for her work Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

Rachel Smythe © Courtesy of the artist.

Also last year, webcomic series by women topped the global charts. Lore Olympus by New Zealand-based Rachel Smythe, was the most read on the webtoon platform, according to Webtoon. Lore Olympus still is at the top today. Other toppers were Let’s Play, by US-based Mongie (Mongrel Marie) and True Beauty, by South Korean female artist Kim Na Young.

Alai Cinereo © Courtesy of the artist.

These women tackle new or existing subjects with a different perspective that seems to appeal to all genders, when you look at their fanbase. We will cover and interview more artists in the coming weeks to give a fuller picture of their art, style, their stories and what it is to be a female webcomic artist today.

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