Strong Female Protagonist Review

I feel so strongly about this comic; everything about it speaks to me as a writer, as a young adult (okay I’m 22, but still), and most importantly, as a woman.

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Strong Female Protagonist writing by Brennan Lee Mulligan; illustrations by Molly Ostertag
Published by Top Shelf Productions on November 25th 2014
Genres: Comics, Feminism, Coming of Age
Pages: 220
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


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First, I’m going to express my love for the title: Strong Female Protagonist. Mulligan and Ostertag are pretty much me when it comes to procrastination, and but then run with it. This title sounds like something they typed into the file’s title just to be able to find it on their desktop later–and that is the brilliant part of it. It’s so commonplace that you can insert any female into the title. It tells the reader exactly what they need to know, what they should know, about the piece. This comic, like Paper Girls, is in silent conversation with the feminist talk of today. As I’ve noted in my Paper Girls 1 and 2 review, the mere fact that this comic follows a girl, instead of a boy lead, already turns the stereotype of comics on its head. Comics used to be a hobby for boys, and I think it’s safe that to say to some extent it still is. Most of today’s comics feature male superheroes or female leads wearing barely any clothing on–who is that for I wonder? Don’t get me wrong, though, the male lead comics are still entertaining for anyone of any gender, but that’s why I love comics like this one and Paper Girls. Girls are now the superheroes, but they aren’t without their flaws or regular pants and shirts. In some cases they are children, like in Paper Girls, or college students, as in SFP, who try to juggle school, friendship and romantic relationships, and supervillians.

This brings me to the other amazing part about this comic: the storyline. There is no cheesiness to be found here, folks. Ostertag and Mulligan have thought about how a real teen hero would react to her hidden identity and sudden super strength. Alison Green never once enjoys being called a hero–she much prefers being unnoticed all together. She knows that as a superhero for the town, her profession comes with broken relationships as well as hatred from the common people. No tax-paying individual wants to deal with a destroyed city once Mega Girl and her gang are done battling some radioactive villain. So Mega Girl faces a lot of backlash. On top of this, Alison is still young–young enough to be unsure of her path and who she wants to be. Does she want to hang up her cape? Is being a superhero for a town that seems to hate her really worth it? Is she suffering as a consequence? Sure, I’m not a superhero during the day, but I was once a college student and understand the struggle that resides in someone who separates themselves too far–between school, romantic interests, social life, and a job, it’s hard to know which way to turn when they all need you at once.

Ostertag and Mulligan create this young woman and give her the ability to be a hero, though she doesn’t need to have super strength in order to do that. The reader watches Alison repair relationships with her younger sister and family, the relationship hurdles that all growing teenagers find themselves in; as well as friendships when she does decide to take off the mask. How does she handle a drunken, but offensive statement from a friend? Or a friend that uses her as a punchline? So Ostertag and Mulligan use super strength as a medium to converse about the real issues, issues all young women are facing today–hatred, confusion, frustration, identity, masculinity and patriarchy, our own bodies, and so on.

Finally, the art style is just so lovable. It comes across as classically comic-like as well as sketchy, something that someone drew offhand and then was told it was good enough to be turned into something–there is something remarkable about that. This comic doesn’t need perfection in the drawing, or realism for that matter–the storyline is certainly real enough. By keeping with the classic cartoon-like style, the illustrator shifts the focus to the dialogue and plot line, as well as keeping with the 180 degree comic twist. So it looks like a regular comic, feels like a regular comic, but is made for strong women who want to be everyday heroes.

Please read this comic if a real female superhero is your cup of tea–no skimpy, tight “superhero turned stripper” outfits. Also read this comic if you like classic comic art style, funny, but real relationships, and overall coming of age tales. I desperately want the creators to come out with Book 2 in trade paperback, but for those that cannot wait, please continue reading their amazing work at: strongfemaleprotagonist.com.

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Dear My New Best Friends,

Dear Jenny Lawson, Ruby Elliot, and Allie Brosh,

Dear award-winning authors,

Dear you crazy women,

Dear my new best friends,

I’m assuming you’ve heard this many, many, many times over (I’m hoping it doesn’t get old), but I want to thank each of you for the work you have done. To some, your work might seem like fun books with drawings and crazy taxidermy stories, and while this is totally true, your books have been so much more to me. I honestly don’t even know where to begin this review–and let’s be honest, this is hardly a review at this point but more like word-vomit colored with fancy sprinkles and googly eyes. All five books get five stars and if you don’t like that, you can leave. This is my website after all. If I must nitpick, I would give Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson five out of five stars and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened also by Lawson four-and-a-half stars simply because that’s how much I love Furiously Happy. So you get five stars! And you get five stars! Everyone gets five staaarrrsss!

But seriously, I am in awe of all of you. I think I might be in love with all three of you at the same time. Can we have a sleepover?

Did that come off as too creepy? I’m sure at a Barnes and Noble signing, you guys have heard worse–like someone’s comment about how your hair smells and you wonder how he knows. Or someone on meth asks you to a steak dinner with a note reading: Attn. pretty lady behind the counter. Wait…these things happened to me, not you. Anyways, dear god do not ever change. Please, for the love of humanity, keep writing, drawing, living your beautiful lives so nobodies like me, who frantically type up raves that no one will read, have something to do with their boring, depression-ridden lives.

You all speak to me–individually and together. We are having a conversation together, whether you intended for it or not.

Positive conversations between women are crucial today and by displaying all sides of yourselves, you three women (and I’m sure many more) are having a conversation with each reader, letting them know that everything they are feeling from mental illness to motherhood, from husbands/boyfriend/girlfriends to family issues and work issues, we are not the only ones. These feelings, emotions, dark and light thoughts are happening to women all around the globe. By publishing these stories, these non-fiction tales, Lawson, Brosh, and Elliot are letting me know that what I am experiencing right now, in this very moment, might be both horrible and hilarious, or the worst and the best. Because you all talk about these issues as everyday problems, and yet still a crucial part of you, you are normalizing issues that society has hushed. No experience from a woman is allowed to be discredited or silenced any longer.

With the changing of hands in our government, the repealing of Obamacare and the lack of care for mental health patients, I am scared that my drugs that keep me stable enough to live each day will no longer by supported by my insurance. I’m scared that those like me, that have problem waking up in the morning because of something dark sitting on their chest, will not receive the help that they, that we, need. Depression and anxiety might seem commonplace on the internet, it is still misunderstand or not wildly accepted as a real thing. Many do not understand, and choose to not understand because these illnesses do not affect them the way they affect us, and this scares me. However, thanks to you guys, you have made these illnesses even more commonplace and easier to explain. I can show RubyEtc.’s pictures or Brosh’s drawings to my boyfriend, so he can grasp what I’m feeling when words escape me. I can color in and hang a picture drawn by Lawson’s beautiful hand in a heavy-traffic space in my house, so I can see it every day and feel “normal.”

Like you, like many women, I struggle with my mental illnesses. In fact, I feel as if saying this is so commonplace that my readers will be like “Yeah, so? We all do. You’re not special in saying that you have mental heal issues.” However, it is so easy to feel alone in our own minds. Sure, logically I know I’m not the only one with depression, anxiety about time, etc. but since most of the people I surround myself with do not experience these crippling issues, I can feel more alone. You guys take that feeling away. I am not alone thanks to your books. I am normal thanks to your books.

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Order in which I read, starting on the left.

So to Ruby Elliot:

Thank you for putting pictures to my thoughts and feelings. In the beginning stages of my mental illness, I didn’t even know I had problems–I just thought I had temper tantrums, anger management problems, and tons of emotions because I was always crying. Once I started therapy and began putting names to the feelings, I felt much better. And you have done that again. If someone asks me how I’m feeling, I can just show them your book. Pictures are so much easier to digest and interpret. In our busy lives, sitting and reading an entire self-help book is unlikely (okay but I do this anyways), but being able to flip through your book to a dog-eared page and remember that you felt this way strong enough to draw it out for me to ponder on is remarkable. Here are some pictures (that I took myself) of your pictures that perfectly describe me (please excuse potato quality and my nail polish):

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To Allie Brosh:

I had one of my least favorite English professors recommend your book. He is a condescending arse-hole and actually got fired from my school. Now I’m assuming this has NOTHING do to with your book and more to do with the fact that no one likes him. However, once I started reading Elliot’s book and had read one of Lawson’s, everyone began asking me if I had heard of or read Hyperbole and a Half. I was always brought back to that classroom with my teacher saying he had found myself in your book (so condescendingly might I add) and I wanted to smack him. But trust me. I get it now. Sure he’s a prick, this letter isn’t about him, but goodness Ms. Brosh, I think I peed my pants while reading your book (I wouldn’t be surprised if many strangers tell you that). Not only this, but even though I’ve been on medication for four years now and have seemed to grasp my own problems as far as mental illness goes, you still have shed new light on what I once was feeling and what I still am currently feeling.

The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief…But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck…Which leads to horrible, soul-decaying boredom (124-25).

I feel like when I start therapy again once I move, I could simply bring in chapters from your book and say “This. Diagnose this, and you’ve diagnosed me.” On top of the mental illness similarities, you just totally understand the other weird shit that I feel:

It feels unfair when the other things in the world refuse to be governed by my justice system. [Brosh goes on to draw a panel about falling in love with an otter in a magazine, and then wondering why the otter has betrayed her by not being real and in front of her] (276-77).

Why do we feel this way? I don’t know, but thank you for pointing out a thing I do that I really didn’t even know that I did until you pointed it out.

Finally, to the mastermind Jenny Lawson:

Where do I even begin? You were my first; my first for a lot of things. Furiously Happy was not only the first book I bought that you wrote, it was the first “mental illness is a topic in this book” book that I bought, and I’m pretty sure it was the first book that made me laugh so freaking hard I wanted to throw up. Jenny,–I can call you Jenny, right?–I want to be like how you are to your own mental health issues. I know that that is kind of a shitty and fucked up thing to say, knowing your history with self-harm and just general issues, but seriously. You not only put to words feelings and emotions that leave me speechless and that I cannot describe to the lesser, normal people, but you then take it a step further and depict the ways that you are actually living with it. Your stories, particularly all those in Furiously Happy, have made me want to be a better person towards the issues that battle each other inside my cranium. You are so proud of yourself and the work you’ve accomplished–being a famous blogger, bestselling author, loving mother and wife, taxidermy animal collector–all while struggling with these non-curable problems. And you’ve done it so hilariously and real. I cannot thank you enough for being the type of person who is so true to herself and just also happens to have crippling mental problems and doesn’t use them as a crutch for her life.

I’m pretty sure I’ve dogeared my entire copy of Furiously Happy, so much so I can’t even find an appropriate passage to turn into a block quote here because I’m pretty sure I can’t insert the entire text–must be some sort of law. All I know is that throughout Furiously Happy and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened I was laughing so hard I was peeing and my boyfriend was wondering if I was going to make it out alive (uhh the pooping story in LPTNH??), I was nodding my head in complete and utter agreement with other tales, and for once in my life, dreaming about visiting Texas. And though I haven’t had the chance to fully go through You Are Here, I know while it might not be as hilarious as your tears-in-the-eyes stories you tell, it will only further complete my collection of your work.

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These are the things that I need to get through the day.