Written by Bonnie Burton, Sandy King Carpenter, Alison Ross, Stephanie Hans, Ming Doyle, Stacie Ponder
Art by Jessica Hickman, Tanja Wooten, Stephanie Hans, Ming Doyle, Stacie Ponder
32 pages, color
Published by IDW
A little over a year ago, Renae De Liz started a Kickstarter for an all-female-comic-creators called Womanthology: Heroic. The Kickstarter was wildly successful—it got over four times its goal and topped out at over $109,000—and it got the attention of a lot of people in the industry. Now Womanthology is back with Womanthology: Space, a new series which will eventually be collected into a second Womanthology graphic novel. And so far? It’s off to a slightly unmemorable start.
Anthologies are a tricky business; simply hanging a theme on a collection and putting a bunch of stories with that idea together isn’t automatically a recipe for success. Because of the nature of the collection, each short story is going to need to stand out and be strong so that readers are willing to turn the page and try just one more. And while there aren’t any bad stories in Womanthology: Space #1, there also aren’t any that jump out and make you remember them 24 hours later.
Bonnie Burton and Jessica Hickman’s opening story is a perfect example of this. "Waiting for Mr. Roboto" has a cute enough concept and opening image of an outer space diner called Yub Grub where alien Trixie works with a number of robots and wishes for someone handsome to come in and yank her off her feet. (When asked why she won’t date one of the robots, she angrily explains that she’s not robosexual.) And then, of course, a handsome man waltzes in and Trixie’s instantly smitten. While I appreciate that Burton has one of Trixie’s early assumptions about another group of beings dashed on the rocks by the end of "Waiting for Mr. Roboto," this is a story that only stands out in that I found myself a tiny bit surprised that Womanthology: Space #1 opened with a story about a woman wanting nothing more than a man to sweep her off her feet. Obviously just because a comic is created by women doesn’t mean that it’s automatically going to be full of feminist stories—if nothing else I guess I appreciated that my expectations about this comic were promptly put in check—but it feels like a story almost identical to prose shorts we’d have seen in the 1950s science-fiction magazines. Add in some slightly stiff art and ultimately there’s nothing that new here.
"Dead Again" by Sandy King Carpenter and Tanja Wooten is up next, with a story about a nameless man who is preparing to blow up a derelict spaceship and is haunted by the ghost of the woman that he loved. Carpenter’s story feels a little flat; with just six pages it’s admittedly hard to try and build up the history of an entire relationship between two people, and as a result by the time we see the ghostly Miranda the story is almost over and any tension that could have built up is promptly dismissed. "Dead Again" is a story that was ultimately hampered by the format; given another half-dozen pages I think this would have had a fighting chance to succeed on that front. (I was also a little surprised once again at the role of the female character; this time she’s little more than a photograph, barely at presence at all.) More successful is Tanja Wooten’s art, which is beautiful. I’m not entirely sure how it was constructed (maybe pencils that have been computer colored?) but it’s full of beautiful rich blues and nice portraits of the salvage characters. Wooten’s art is one of the high points of Womanthology: Space #1, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her art down the line.
Alison Ross and Stephanie Hans offer up "Stealing Heaven" with a story set in 2040 with two women trying to become the first woman on the moon. The space race between the United States and China is a great launching point for "Stealing Heaven" and I appreciated the fact that we were finally getting some female protagonists who weren’t defined by the men in the story. And while the art looks great, the story once again feels too big for just six pages; we’re getting just the briefest of details here, and it’s something that I feel could be easily expanded into a bigger, more successful story. "Stealing Heaven" feels like a teaser for a full-length graphic novel, and it’s one that I would read in that larger format. It’s definitely the strongest of the three 6-page stories in the issue, though.
Closing out the first issue are two 2-pagers. First is Ming Doyle’s "The Adventures of Princess Plutonia!" which is short, sweet, and fun. It understands its page length and plays to that strengths as Doyle reverses the typical "space faring prince saves the chained up woman held captive by the evil ruler." Doyle’s art is great—it reminds me of an early Paul Pope—and I feel like she hit the mark well here. Stacie Ponder’s "Space Girls" strips are a little less successful; there’s a hint of something fun here (and the big space cat made me laugh) but especially coming after Doyle’s contribution, it feels like Ponder’s two pages have barely gotten things moving. Perhaps if there are indeed more "Space Girls" strips in future issues they’ll come together a bit better, but for now it’s a slightly weak conclusion to the first issue.
Ultimately, as stated before, nothing in Womanthology: Space #1 is bad. I’d expected a lot more, though, than what I got. Hopefully future issues will have some creators that can work better with the short story size and limitations. Right now, though, these too-short stories end up being not that memorable because of their lack of working within the boundaries of a short story. There are some talented creators here, but their selections don’t serve them well.