Superheroine Sundays: Jody Houser

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Image IDW
Image IDW

This week, I must open with a confession. As a woman of larger girth with lesser height, I had been anxiously awaiting the original short run of Faith. Unfortunately, though I saw the covers at NYCC last year, as I have not started tracking the future release dates, I missed the four issues. When the opportunity to take an early look at the upcoming Faith ongoing came up, I jumped on that one. In the process, I discovered the wonderful world of Jody Houser, this week’s Superheroine in Comics.

Researching Ms. Houser brought me into a world of talking cupcakes, apocalyptic princesses, fat heroines, girls who feel small, allegorical discussions of power, and the perfect story for one of my favorite Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Reading through a series of Ms. Houser’s work, what strikes me the most is that she is stylistically consistent in her writing from one work to the next while providing a strong sense of individual voice to each character and to each work.

For example, her own self published work, Cupcake POW! has talking cupcakes and a princess who uses her tower imprisonment to prepare for a dark future.

Image Jody Houser
Image Jody Houser

What I love here is the simplicity of the few lines of text combined with the simple images. Each princess image is nearly the same, only the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth giving a sense of emotion. The first three lines appear to invoke traditional feminist problems. Then, the punchline of the joke breaks the princess out of both the princess narratives and the overcoming a patriarchal society narrative. Bringing in her training for the zombie apocalypse, the princess isn’t the traditional self-rescuing princess of current stories saving herself from the tower. She’s choosing to use that imprisonment to her own benefit, thus subverting the original goal. That subversion message comes across in many of Ms. Houser’s works.

Next on my list was reading “Origin Story,” her short story in Rise: Comics Against Bullying Volume 1. Ms. Houser clearly understands how to purposefully incorporate the visual elements of text into a story. Little of this story includes dialogue. The story mostly consists of snippets of conversations or short lines from the comic the main character reads. These are scattered on the page to invoke the sense that all of this is the character’s inner monologue. Instead of the character opining on her feelings, the snippets such as “ugh hate her” and “such a freak” are meant to show how the external statements become incorporated into the psyche of our character. No one talks directly to her until the end. Therefore, we become one with the character, able to feel her feelings. Being able to envelop readers in a character using so few words is one of the things that I admired about this particular story. By choosing powerful words, Ms. Houser’s precision in her writing means that she is both clear in her message but also allows the reader to take a sense of ownership through the reading process.

Image Northwest Press/Rise Comics
Image Northwest Press/Rise Comics

Moving on, I purchased Womanthology: Space. The upside of this is that I now have a plethora of really amazing women comic writers and artists to flip through. What I really loved here was the way Ms. Houser showcases her writing versatility. Both the Cupcake POW! piece and “Origin Story” predominantly focus on a single character. Ms. Houser’s Womanthology piece, “Trinkets,” gives us a fuller sense of her narrative sense of voice. The two voices in the dialogue, the museum thief and the magical mask, are distinctly written. The artistic differences, choices of colors and lettering, are unnecessary since each of the characters has a clear diction and vocabulary distinct to herself. The deeper allegorical nature of “Trinkets” also shows more of Ms. Houser’s versatility as a writer. Her Cupcake POW! Princess clearly has a point of view and acts as a stand in for “women.” Her “Origin Story” character clearly acted as representative for a certain genre of young woman (of which I was totally one, and totally own it) who felt belittled and ended up with a low sense of self-esteem as an outsider. The characters of the mask and the thief each represent a different type of power.

This allegorical story shows Ms. Houser’s depth. In all honesty, what I particularly loved as I read through the different works was the range of creativity. Ms. Houser is not a one-note writer. Her varying narratives and the different ways she incorporates them provide depth and range to her body of work that I love in an author.

On top of her own creative projects, Ms. Houser wrote the phenomenal back story to one of my favorite characters, Agent May. This particular story focused her writing in a more mainstream comics world and gave readers an additional perspective. While the other works all act as shorter stories within a generally short story–focused genre, Houser’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. piece gave readers a fuller sense of her range. Houser’s ability to write internal monologues that fit within a larger story, much as we saw in “Origin Story,” means that for once readers were able to have a sense of who Melinda May really is as opposed to the face she shows to the world.

Image Marvel
Image Marvel

The other characters have conversations that show they are involved in the story but not the focus of the narrative. Agent May’s inner monologues that respond to these outer conversations gives readers the perspective on her character and her true feelings, something viewers of the show are more often forced to guess. In addition, Houser writes each of the characters clearly and has witty, quick, engaging dialogue that makes the reader want to continue.

Overall, I’m looking forward to Ms. Houser’s run with Faith. I’m looking forward to settling in one night and reading straight through the four issues of the short run in preparation for the ongoing. Ms. Houser’s voice and her range place her on the precipice of comic writing popularity. I hope that with an ongoing Valiant book, she’ll be able to reach the level of respect and popularity she deserves.

Because Ms. Houser writes voices for the disaffected, manages to engage readers in the inner lives of characters, and is able to engage her readers by connecting to their varied lived experiences, she is this week’s Superheroine Sunday profile.

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