Inspiring Women in Comics: Publisher Edition

Meg Lemke here… Who do I admire? Thank you for asking. I’m going insider baseball/book publishing industry with this, which is only a short-list of all the women I’ve looked up to in my comics career thus far. If we get into artists, this is going to go on all day. Also, full and hopefully obvious disclosure: I know and have in some form interacted professionally with all these ladies and count some, luckily, as friends. Guess what? The boy’s club is busted up, and women in comics are getting together for brunch.  

Peggy Burns became the publisher of Drawn and Quarterly last year on their 25th anniversary. Over a decade ago, she quit her mainstream comics publishing gig in NYC to haul all her earthly possession to Montreal with her husband, and ever since, she’s worked to make D&Q one of the best literary comics publishers in North America (arguably in the world). And now her kids are growing up bilingual in French schools, and she is the boss of the whole deal. Peggy is uncompromising and fearless and genuinely feared, it must be said. (“One of the people in comics I like best and in the top one percent of people whom I’m careful never to cross,” wrote Tom Spurgeon.) She goes to the mat to advocate for her cartoonists. Watch what’s coming; D&Q has always published incredible female (and feminist) voices, including recently the likes of Lynda Barry, Lisa Hanawalt, Kate Beaton, Sarah Glidden, and the late Geneviève Castrée. While Peggy has always had a hand in acquisitions, with her at helm, I look forward to the current generation of lady-drawers sailing high from Quebec. (P.S. I sat down with Peggy to interview her about being a mother, too, through all of the above—keep an eye on the site for the piece to publish). From her, I take the lesson to stand by my convictions.

Annie Koyama is also a publisher, of her namesake Koyama Press (not-coincidentally another Canadian house; yay to government arts-funding). Recent titles she’s brought out include Rokudenashiko’s What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy. I must admit the bias I hold toward her press as home to MUTHA contributor Keiler Roberts’ forthcoming book. Annie is beloved by her authors; Julia Wertz’s introduction to The Infinite Wait is largely about how Koyama saved her from purgatory at a big trade house, in the crash after the early-oughts “indie comics are the best” gold-rush. And thus, allowing Wertz the freedom to write a transformational work of literature. The lesson from this legend-in-the-making is again to stand by the artists you believe in, to trust them to know the world is waiting for the book that they need to create.

Karen Green is the comics librarian at Columbia University, but she’s also the most well-connected and widely read fan of the medium I have ever met. Plan to go to a comics festival or panel in NYC? Chances are that Karen put it together, or at the least someone was smart enough to ask her opinion. Her taste is excellent. She’s a scholar, a critic, tireless and full of infectious enthusiasm, with a sharp ready wit. She is probably correcting my grammar as she reads this piece… sorry Karen, none of us will live up, but thank you for sharing your example. If you ever get the chance to sit down with her, take out your spiral-bound and take down notes. The lesson I remember daily from Karen is to take comics seriously, and then to speak your mind.

Jennifer Camper is the creator of Juicy Mother, a Wimmin’s Comix alumna, and art editor at the Women’s Review of Books, as well as founder of the incredible (truly) Queers and Comics conference (where her old friends Alison Bechdel and Howard Cruse happened to stop by to headline the inaugural show in NYC–next up is Spring 2017 on the West Coast. Don’t miss it). PEN America just published her Dykes in Print for the Illustrated PEN’s bound books week coverage, which encaps her biting hilarious style. Jennifer is who you want to sit near at a panel to listen-in (it’s not hard) to her not-under-breath corrections to whatever dude is on stage talking about comix history. The lesson of Jennifer Camper: Rage against the machine, unapologetically. Yet, as evidenced by the line-up for her conference and the new voices she’s brought to WRoB, she supports the next generation of feminists—while, I can vouch, still telling us what-for as she feels it.

Heidi McDonald, who runs The Beat, and I had brunch (aforementioned) recently and we also talked about being “bad feminists” (after I congratulated for all her acting out for the cause). You’ve heard, right, that journalism is a hard f’ing gig? She’s survived the last couple decades of up and down, from print to web conglomerate lay-offs to sustaining her own vibrant space online. And take notice how she gets right in there, daily raising hell from headline articles to comment threads, often to call out sexism at all levels of the industry. Support her Patreon, and go ahead and chat back at her if you question her hot takes, she is more than happy to hear from her readers—just also take lessons from her putting in the hours and the minutes and the skin in the game on the beat.

I wanted to also talk about Jessica Abel and her new series on creativity; Nicole Rudick and her too-often-overlooked contributions as a critic and editor bringing comics across the elitist literary divide; Gina Gagliano for being such a brutally hard worker, ever-loyal and dedicated to the First Second programDeanne Urmy, Alison Bechdel’s editor, who will forever live in my mind as the shining example of a traditional nonfiction book editor who brought her sensibilities fluently to graphic narrative (seriously, Fun Home happened to be the first-ever comic she worked on, and look what happened); Françoise Mouly is worth pages of accolade more (but I’ve written some already). But this blog post is already overdue. Maybe I’ll be lucky and even though I’m deadly late on this first deadline, Megan Purdy will ask me back. Until then, check out the comics I’m championing on MUTHA magazine, Illustrated PEN, and at the Brooklyn Book Festival!

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Meg Lemke

Meg Lemke

Meg Lemke is the Editor-in-Chief of MUTHA Magazine, a guest editor at the Illustrated PEN series (PEN America), and a Literary Council member at the Brooklyn Book Festival, where she programs the comics and graphic novel panels. As a book editor, she worked at Teachers College Press at Columbia University, Seven Stories Press, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, The Seattle Review, The Atlanta Review, The Good Mother Myth blog, and Seleni, among other publications. She lives with her family in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Find her @meglemke on twitter and or read up on her formative years at Lady Collective.