Graphic novels. One-handed reading for geeky fanboys, right? Alice Rooney checks out some of the more, er, girl-friendly comics out there.

There are some retail establishments which, while ostensibly open to both sexes, just ooze stinky testo-essence of boy: sex shops and electrical goods emporiums spring to mind...and comic shops.Funny places, comic shops: home to the greater spotted mullet-headed print-geek, mole-eyed due to too many late-night sessions lying on a shuddering bed with the latest instalment of the adventures of Shania, Metal Bodiced Queen of the Slut Warriors gripped in one sweaty hand. However, there are some supersonically fly girl comics nestled on those dusty shelves, and if you've never seen fit to explore the arcane world of the graphic novel, you'll be missing out if you don't give these sparkly little gems a try.


The film of Dan Clowes' "Ghost World" is due out in the UK on November 16th, but that's no excuse not to seek out the comic book first. Originally to be found within the pages of Clowes' equally interesting but generally less immediately 'girl friendly' "Eightball" project, "Ghost World" explores the rather depressing but breathtakingly real lives of Rebecca and Enid, two cynical, confused stereotypical Gen-X chicks, as they pretend not to be wrestling with the question of just why being 18 years old is so rubbish. As such it tackles all the favourites- parent troubles, sex, lack of self-esteem and other 'issues'- but Clowes' perspective is so bitter and twisted that you're more likely to find a fire-breathing dragon taking up half a page than you are to encounter any kind of sickly, nostalgic sentimentality.

If you've ever felt the hideous pain that is worrying whether your cripplingly self-conscious and ironic fashion statement might be taken seriously, or thought it might be cool to wear rubber sex-shop bunny ears, or moreover, watched a friendship on which you leaned like a crutch rot and die with with the passing of time, then you *need* this comic.



Now for the serious, epic, classic shit. Between 1981 and 1995 Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez ruled the XY-conscious graphics world. Together they created 2 seperate comic communities in which there was not to be found a single stereotyped female character, just dozens of physically and emotionally realistic, mainly Latina women, and the men whose lives revolved centrifugally around them.

The opinion of Love and Rockets fans is split as to which brother's work was the most consistently successful: Jaime's pop-art influenced work centres on the relationship between Maggie, a ditsy, Reubenesque car mechanic and her bolshy best friend and sometime lesbian lover, Hopey, whilst Gilbert's is based in Palomar, an isolated Central American village ruled with an iron fist by generously breasted matriach Luba and her brood of children, most borne to different fathers. I'm a bigger fan of Jaime's stuff, but its alllll good, mi chica.



In a genre obsessed with portraying females as huge-chested yet 2-D Amazons with a fantastic array of heavy artillery, the degree to which Jaime's and Gilbert's stuff refuses to conform to this framework is joyous. Five years in, Jaime decided to change Maggie from a flat bellied, big-bootied Jennifer Lopez-alike to 'the fat fat girl in the before picture from the diet ad' (her weight fluctuated from then on, but Jaime never gave into the pressure to make her thin- and therefore 'hot'- again.)

She watches as her unrequited love Speedy Ortiz (who bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the Fun Lovin Criminals, foxy-line-drawing fans) spirals headlong towards a gang-related death. She meets dinosaurs in the jungle while fixing crashed spaceships and goes on tour with psycho professional-wrestler aunt Vicki.

All the while Maggie and Hopey, their space cadet friend Penny Century, manic depressive Izzy and all the other inhabitants of fictional Californian suburb Hoppers go about their business: falling in love and out again, losing each other, getting unfeasibly fucked up on tequila and having to walk home at 3 in the morning, stripping in lousy bars and taking money for sex, touring with crap bands, having miscarriages and not really feeling that bad about it because they didn't really want the baby anyway, just like they might if they were *real women* and not *drawings*!



Mean eyebrows, fat bellies, big booties and all, Las Locas ('the crazy girls') were and remain the sexiest women ever to grace comic-land, (and I've mentioned Speedy, who is my equivalent of that sad fancying Betty and Wilma thing that guys do). And I haven't even started on Gilbert's stuff, which is less punk-sexy, but intellectually deeper, influenced as he is by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Frida Kahlo and left-wing radical Mexican politics and stuff. Although less accessible in terms of drawing style some of it's still well horny, in a comics-aren't- supposed-to-be-horny kind of way.



The best place to start is with the first of the Bros' 15 anthologies. It's called 'Music for Mechanics' and has Las Locas leaning seductively against a wall on the cover. Within these pages and those of the 14 other anthologies can be found the funniest, most touching comic characters to be given life by the pen of man. (Unfortunately I'm still looking for something by a lady artist that rocks my world in a similar fashion, but I'm sure there are girls out there who can give advice on that one). And if you disagree, I will have to set scary girl gang the Widows on you, and you really don't want that...they don't hit with open palm like no pussies, ey...





Meet Erica Smith, editrix of Girlfrenzy zine, and learn how to make your own nipple tassles.


In Praise of Step Aerobics
Sit-ups? I'd rather sit down! Buttock clenches? Yeah, every time I see Kate Thornton! But step aerobics? Now you're talking!