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For their new comics anthology, The Big Feminist But: Comics about Women, Men and the IFs, ANDs & BUTs of Feminism, editors Shannon O'Leary and Joan Reilly enlisted a group of artists and writers ranging from their mid-20s to mid-40s to submit comics dealing with their ideas, experiences, and impressions of feminism. The artists' ages place them as having come of age during or after the "Third Wave" of feminism that emerged in the '90s. Accordingly, the book's title refers to the often-heard phrases "I'm a feminist, BUT..." and "I'm not a feminist, BUT..." and the resulting work utilizes a range of forms to both explore and critique traditional feminist themes and even question the idea of doing a feminist comics anthology now.
No one theme or approach dominates here. There are first-person explorations of some fairly classic issues done in ways that attempt to defy certainty: In "Boy's Life," Bitch magazine cofounder Andi Zeisler says, "I definitely don't have any illusions about raising the perfect feminist son. I'm not sure what that would even look like," while the accompanying drawing wryly undercuts her message by depicting her son asking his enthralled mom, "Can I learn to bake?" Many of the artists appear to be looking for ways to address traditional feminist topics and gender roles without being subsumed by them. "Queer, Eh?" by Virginia Paine, is about a young woman who's looking for a word to describe her sexuality, and is delighted to find that "non-identifying" is indeed "a thing." And in "Prostitution: for Teens" by Jen Wang, the main character explores the ramifications of writing a non-judgmental young adult novel whose heroes are teenage prostitutes.
Front page image: Lettering by MariNaomi