When one of the creators behind Chicago-based Ladies’ Night Anthology comic book series brought her portfolio to an executive at one of the biggest comics publishers, she received a side-eyed glance and curveball slam that told her immediately that he wasn’t interested: “My daughters would love this.”
“People tend to hire people who are a reflection of themselves,” said Megan Byrd, editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Night Anthology. “If they’re not seeing the type of work they’re interested in, it’s a hard obstacle to say they have an audience for it.”
But there is an audience, and a growing one at that. Women have always read comics and have an easier time finding each other today thanks to social media and groups like Byrd’s monthly Ladies’ Night events held at Graham Cracker Comic Books in the Chicago Loop.
That same community mentality has also made it possible for female comic creators to find smaller publishers not just willing but dedicated to getting their work into the hands of both men and women.
Ladies’ Night Anthology started in 2013 and has released a new issue every year since. Byrd said their mission is to help first-time creators create a network. All writers and artists have to be willing to collaborate, and the anthology’s editors facilitate those partnerships.
The first issue included mostly creators from Chicago, with a few outside artists and writers with connections to the group. Thanks to word of mouth, the second year had a much more international flair — something Byrd liked, but steered away from for the 2015 issue.
“When you have people in California and Scandinavia and you’re trying to get on a conference call, it gets hard,” she said. “As we’ve grown, we’ve gotten more interest from artists and writers who want to be a part of it, but at the same time we want to focus on first-time creators and give hands-on support.”
Some of Ladies’ Night Anthology’s veterans have left the project for more well-known publications. Kat Leyh, who appeared in the first volume, has since joined Boom! Studios, as a writer for comic series Lumberjanes.
Boom! Studios is among a handful of independent publishing houses that support more women writers. As more women seek venues for their work — and publishers like DC and Marvel decline from giving them that venue — these kinds of publishers will grow not only in influence but also in number.
Founded in late 2014, Emet Comics is part of founder Maytal Gilboa’s bigger vision: Emet Entertainment, a production company that she hopes will expand from comics to TV and movie production. For now, it has four series in its pantheon, created by female authors and artists from all over the world.
But don’t necessarily call Emet Comics a “For women, by women” operation. Just as Ladies’ Night Anthology aims to present comics for everyone, so does Gilboa.
“We want everyone to find their way to the stories and characters we’re creating,” Gilboa said. “‘By women for everyone’ is more accurate. Our priority is being authentic and giving women a stage to tell the stories they want to tell.”
Emet, which is Hebrew for “truth,” reflects not only the authenticity of the work Gilboa hopes to produce but also how she found her way to starting her own company.
“As some point you find yourself in the office pushing paper and realize that no one’s going to give you your dream job, that you’ll have to get it yourself,” she said. “We spend a lot of time lying to ourselves, but this amazing thing happens when you start living truthfully: you become addicted to it and affect everyone around you. That word (truth) felt like a great beacon for us to aspire towards.”
“Truth” also reflects the intersectional diversity of both Emet and Ladies’ Night Anthologies’ creators. Just as comic book fans aren’t all white and cisgender, Byrd and Gilboa make sure their authors and artists represent different groups that go beyond gender.
For example, Emet publishes “Zana,” which takes place in the South African aparteid world and is written by a white South African and drawn by an agender (doesn’t define as male or female) artist. “Inside the Loop’s” author is gay, married and has kids. The artist is Chinese-American.
Byrd said Ladies’ Night Anthology has reached out to groups to purposefully attract women of color and other minorities.
“I don’t want to say ‘Here’s our token black creator,’ but at the same time I want to give those women opportunities, and more so create opportunities together,” Byrd said. “We are a very diverse group organically, but if we start looking a little pale, a little straight, we want to make efforts to go outside of that and make sure the work gets out to the communities that don’t necessarily run in the same circles.”
The internet and female comic creators are frenemies. On one hand, it’s a platform for vitriolic trolls that launch misogynistic attacks from behind a keyboard and screen. But for the women of Emet and Ladies’ Night Anthology, it’s a portal that connects them across continents, oceans and city blocks.
“Community in our world is not limited by borders,” Gilboa said. “It’s about openness and a willingness to help one another. With the internet, we live in exponential times. We have the power to change the world we live in and relatively quickly.”
Kate Everson is a Chicago journalist and University of Missouri alumna. By day she is an associate editor for four HR industry magazines. By night, she reviews films, outlines fiction novels with tough female leads and dreams of being the first person to win two Oscars in the same night for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. When her fingers aren’t getting exercise bouncing across her keyboard, she’s reading Palahniuk and Vonnegut, practicing her Batgirl skills in the dojo or waiting by the mailbox for her Hogwarts letter. As Katharine Hepburn said: “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting.”