Whether you’re a woman who’s only recently found an entry point into the world of comics, a longtime comic book enthusiast looking for a thoughtful, diverse, empowering community of like-minded female fans, or fall somewhere in between, Femme Power Comix is an invaluable resource for discovering what you want to read next.
The website and its accompanying Instagram account offer an invigorating dose of feminism and girl power to rookie and veteran readers alike, serving up recommendations, news, and the latest weekly woman-centered releases while celebrating diversity within the industry.
The Femme Power Comix slogan is “fictional femmes and real life feminists fighting for love and justice for all, which you have to admit is pretty inspiring.
You’d never guess from the voluminous amount of knowledge, insight, and comic book savvy on display that Femme Power Comix creator Miranda Nordell is a relative newbie to the genre.
Miranda was drawn to comics after the Netflix series Jessica Jones helped her confront her PTSD. Soon, flawed comic book heroines, including She-Hulk and Batwoman, became something of a fictional support group to her. While searching for a forum in which she could express her newfound passion and find solidarity and similar perspectives to her own, she realized such a thing didn’t exist. So she decided to create it.
After she and her husband moved to a new apartment in San Francisco and discovered they were in walking distance of the local comic book shop, the store became Miranda’s “happy place.”
Let’s join her there, at least in spirit, as she shares her thoughts about the empowering potential of comics, her special connection to Batwoman, why teen heroes are her favorite, Comicsgate, Squirrel Girl and empathy, and why “adult discoverers” might be more open to change.
You’re the creator of the website Femme Power Comix, which celebrates diverse, woman-centered stories in comics and culture. It’s a great resource for both new and established comic book readers who are looking for recommendations and news. How did you get the idea for this project?
When I started getting really in to comics, I quickly read through many of the characters I knew from pop culture (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, etc.) and would search the web for recommendations. I wanted to find pages with people like me who loved comics like I did; I wanted to be affirmed that I wasn’t alone. And I would read comic books news sites and reviews and swim in an online sea of male reviewers who looked at comics through a male perspective.
It took some deep searching to find even one or two other focused forums dedicated to women and comic books, and they generally had dozens of contributors and thusly dozens of voices and required ongoing work to hope I came across one that felt reflective of mine. Many of the social media platforms had pages focused on one particular character, the work of one artist, etc.
I wanted to read about upcoming feminist comics, I wanted to hear other people’s takes on how comics were intersecting with current events, politics and social justice, I wanted to find a place that felt approachable and user-friendly for someone new to the world of fandoms, like me. After about a year of feeling like I couldn’t find this place, I decided to try creating it myself!
Why did you decide to focus specifically on feminist stories and women in comics and pop culture?
This one was a bit of a stumper for me because I can’t remember thinking about any other options. Many fields (let’s be honest, much of society) are designed by and filled with men. Comics in particular appears to be heavily male dominated. It’s one thing for spaces to simply have the interest of more men, and another to outwardly prevent women from being successful. Comics has had many controversies to this effect, most recently Comicsgate.
Being a woman and connecting with female characters and female creatives in the field through comic books has been hugely empowering for me. I want other folks to know comics that same way, not by things like Comicsgate. It felt important to have a page showcasing the kickass things women are doing and hopefully have other women and femme folks feel a connection as well.
Tell me a little about the kind of work, research, and creativity that goes into running femmepowercomix.com and its social media accounts.
Femme Power Comix still feels largely in its infancy, having started two months ago on Instagram and the website a few weeks later. Many of the posts reflect things I’m currently reading or excited to read, watch, attend, etc. I spend much of my day enmeshed in or thinking about comic books, so it often feels more like a friend sharing recommendations.
I hope it feels that way at least a little bit to folks who interact with the page. I feel like I’m just starting to get a better handle on how to plan and curate content! Some of our things, like our #SquirrelGirlSunday posts, were discovered accidentally! I love Squirrel Girl and went to share a post on a Sunday and voila! A new hashtag was found and we have made it a mini recurring series ever since.
You began getting into comic books in earnest about two years ago. This is fascinating to me because I have a similar story. You mentioned that you became interested in the medium after you were diagnosed with PTSD. What about that experience drew you to comics?
The first season of Jessica Jones really felt life changing. She’s obviously brilliant but also spends much of her time drunk and belligerent. At the point when I was watching it, I didn’t have any particular diagnosis but it was following a traumatic event and I was skipping work, ignoring messages from my friends and family, and basically drinking myself to sleep every night. It was a good “oh shit” moment to see how that could play out long term, years of pushing people away and drinking away any small sums of money you make.
I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with PTSD, but I related to the things she was experiencing, like the triggers and sudden bouts of panic. I felt like that could maybe describe me too. Once I was able to engage in care and discover I did in fact have that diagnosis, it was amazing to realize what role Jessica Jones had played in getting me in to care.
I started to read her comic books, and just discovered what felt like a support group. One that helped me be reflective but didn’t pressure me to share my own story or judge me for what else was going on in my life. I started searching for other characters with similar stories, and quickly started reading She-Hulk. In Mariko Tamaki’s brilliant recent take on the character, She-Hulk was able to explore her PTSD.
There’s a scene where she’s having a panic attack and recalls a nurse telling her to watch cooking videos to help her move her focus on to something more innocuous. In Jessica Jones, she would recite the names of the streets she grew up on to help herself feel present and in control. Now I had this amazing network of women sharing tips for me, ones I found worked for me too. I never expected to discover this medium in a way that allowed me to recognize and find my voice.
Why do you think women have a need for flawed, but strong heroes to relate to and admire?
Women deserve to have characters that reflect them and that give them hope. After I was diagnosed with PTSD, I needed to not feel broken. Reading characters that were experiencing some of the same things and could quite literally save the day was hugely empowering for me. It was an important reminder that it could be a part of me without inhibiting what I could be or contribute. Men have had these types of characters for generations, often with dozens to choose from. Women deserve the same.
You said that you have felt “empowered” through comic books and want others to feel the same way. In what way can comic books empower women?
I think this really goes back to seeing strong and flawed heroes. Knowing that life can be complicated and overwhelming and you can still save the day. Saving the day is relative for everyone. Maybe that day your save was getting all your tasks done at work, or managing to make a delicious dinner and help your kiddos with their homework. You get to define what saving the day is and remember that experiencing a trauma can make it more challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
As comics diversify, I also think it’s hugely empowering to see more stories and voices reflected. I love that Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel, a young Pakistani American living in New Jersey. Our heroes come from homes and families and communities that look just like ours. We should always believe there is a hero inside us too.
Do you feel there was anything that hindered you from enjoying comics earlier in life, or was it just something that wasn’t on your radar?
My older brother read comics when I was younger, and I remember going with him once or twice to our town’s singular comic shop. The “girl” section was small, and the only comic I remember reading was Betty and Veronica. I have a different appreciation for the characters as an adult, but in the early ‘90s, all I remember was the love triangle bickering, and it didn’t much appeal to me.
I rarely throughout my life had comics in my sphere of influence. I remember a few folks who were passionately devoted to the early MCU, but the characters were basically all white men and it felt like that’s the audience they were hoping for so I never gave it much thought.
Tell me about some of the baby steps you took at the beginning of your journey into the world of comics. Where did you buy your books? What titles did you read? Who helped you find what you wanted to read?
In May 2016, we moved in to a new apartment in San Francisco, which upon exploring our new neighborhood we discovered we were located two blocks from a comic book store. We popped in just for fun after I had developed a recent obsession with the first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones. The shelves were lined with the predictable comic greats like Batman, Iron Man, etc., but also dozens and dozens of things I had never heard of.
I asked the guy behind the desk what he could recommend starring “strong women” and he pointed me towards the first trade paperback of Paper Girls. My husband was pointed towards the first trade paperback of Saga, and between those two we were quickly hooked.
You’ve said comic book stores are your “happy place.” What do you love about them?
The simplest answer is that they are filled with comics, and I would happily spend days sitting and reading and connecting with literary friends. I also truly believe that comics are magic, and being in a place that brings together a group of people who firmly believe in and experience that magic can’t be anything but magical!
You mentioned that you find it “interesting to talk with folks who have been lifetime readers vs. adult discoverers.” You said, “It often feels like the appreciation is just as deep but the way we interact with the medium or the things we’re looking for may be different.” Would you elaborate on that?
I think this could likely be said about many mediums, but it often feels like for lifetime readers there is a sense of ownership. To me, it feels more like a security blanket vs. a good friend. The lifetime reader has a heap of memories from a formative time entangled in the lives of these characters. When the stories are updated or changed, folks often express feeling a violation of those memories.
For new readers, we are able to appreciate the story in this time. We can admire the characters and feel connected to them but maybe not take it as personally if the character evolves or changes. Just like a friend telling us about a huge change in their life, we can be skeptical but hopefully ultimately supportive.
For someone who only recently got serious about comics, you certainly seem to have a voluminous knowledge. How did you become such an authority on the subject?
Reading, reading, reading! Once I started reading comics, I found I couldn’t stop. The number and diversity of stories means I can just keep bouncing from one story to the next without getting bored or burned out. I’ve also spent a lot of time asking questions from other comic book readers I respect.
Your favorite Marvel characters include Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Moon Girl, Squirrel Girl, She-Hulk and Hellcat. What’s special to you about these heroes?
It’s pretty easy to notice many of these are teen heroes. I have always been passionate about adolescent development, working in the field for the last ten years. Developing powers and feeling challenged to be connected to something larger than yourself is such a great, if not particularly subtle, metaphor for adolescence that the two types of stories meld so perfectly together. I also think teen stories often get to be more “fun.”
Adult stories often require the hero to face their trauma, hero responsibilities and “normal” adult tasks. Teen heroes get to spend some time on silly hijinks. Adult hero stories tend to be more focused on good vs. evil, where younger heroes, Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl for example, tend to look at themselves vs. a problem, which may mean teaming up with the “villain.” Squirrel Girl in particular often leads with empathy in a way that sets an amazing example for readers.
Your DC favorites include Batwoman, Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman. Why do these superheroines stand out to you?
Being both queer and Jewish, I have to admit I connect with Batwoman the most. Perhaps oddly my first exposure to Batwoman was through DC Bombshells, where there is a very strong storyline following Batwoman’s Judaism during World War II. I felt deeply connected to her own struggle in defining her faith through a trying time.
Batgirl and Supergirl are also teen heroes and reflect a lot of the same sentiments I shared above.
Are you excited that an increasing number of these heroines are being featured in film and television?
Absolutely! Comic books are unfortunately not as accessible a medium, and television and film allows for a lower barrier to entry for audiences to discover and fall in love with these characters. My only disappointment is that these do not seem to translate into an increased demand for the comic books in which these characters star.
What are your thoughts on the new Captain Marvel movie?
I am exceptionally excited for the new Captain Marvel movie! Not only is Carol Danvers an amazing character that has long deserved her own film, but this represents so much to so many people. The recent Captain Marvel comics were written by amazing women and some of the most vocal, feminist talent in the comic biz, and to elevate those voices is a great sign.6
This is also the first film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to star a female hero. The MCU has millions of fans around the world and this says to them that women’s stories matter. I wish it didn’t need to be said, but that’s where we are and I thankful they are saying it.
What about the potential Batwoman series starring Ruby Rose?
I think this expresses a similar notion. More female heroes in television and film are important and tell people that their stories are worthy. The fact that Batwoman is also Jewish and a lesbian is that much more of an elevation. We live in a world that politically tells all three of those marginalized groups (women, Jews, and queer folks) that they are less than. Every opportunity to push against that is important.
You work in HIV Prevention. Do your pop cultural interests at all intersect with or inform your career, or vice versa?
Now that I’m more familiar with the nerd zeitgeist and comic book nomenclature I hear my patients and people out in the world mention things and it creates instant connections. Getting to forget about the world and spend a few minutes talking about my favorite comics with patients is an enormously helpful way to build rapport. It also reminds me of the powerful history of using zines for health promotion. We have been able to get folks in the community involved to make things like zines about needle exchanges. It’s important for the work we do to be enmeshed in the community.
One of your other passions is geek fashion. How did you become interested in that? What do you enjoy about it?
I have always loved fashion. Since at least first grade, I can remember picking out my own clothes for school and finding that to be my most natural form of self-expression and creativity. As I started to get more into fandoms, I wanted ways to connect with other fans without necessarily just wearing a graphic tee. It’s been great to explore things like Disneybounding, casual cosplay, and fashions from places like Her Universe, that allow me to balance my high femme sense of fashion with nerdtastic fandoms.
If I’m not mistaken, you’ve even done some modeling! Tell me about that.
Wow! That’s true! I really try to support local, small businesses, and I’m lucky that there are many in the Bay Area. A new clothing company called And Comfort happened to find me on Instagram, and we started chatting and I really loved their fashions and goals. They shared that they liked my esthetic and asked if I would be interested in fit testing their new styles. This then morphed into modeling!
The photos were just released in mid-September and it is very funny to see myself this way. Many times in my life I have been explicitly told or made to feel like I did not have ownership over my own body nor did I deserve to take up the space I do, so posing in a clothing campaign certainly felt surreal.
When it comes to fandoms, you’re also into animation, including Bob’s Burgers, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe. What do you enjoy about those series?
Animation is an awesome media all its own to reflect the “real” world in a more fun and fantastical way. Steven Universe is shockingly astute for a children’s show! Both Bob’s Burgers and Steven Universe incorporate music, which adds another level of creativity. Ultimately all three of these programs have amazing female characters. The Crystal Gems, Mabel Pine, and Tina and Louise Belcher are all characters that break stereotypes, that are creative and quirky and strong and smart and are important additions to the world of beloved animated characters.
Do you collect anything?
Clothing and comics are high on my list! I’ve started to collect things that reflect my favorite characters, so I now have several figurines and fan art pieces of Batgirl, Batwoman, BoJack Horseman, She-Hulk and Lisa Simpson.
One of the aims of Femme Power Comix is to celebrate diversity. Do you think the industry is headed in the right direction when it comes to diversity?
I think parts of the community are. It amazes me that people fight against this diversity and get upset about existing stories updating to better reflect our world, or new stories being added. The reality is for so long non-white, male, heterosexual voices were the only ones showcased and an enormous collection of folks were made to feel as other (not even speaking to how ironic that is considering that is the consistent theme of comics). One of our goals is to consistently showcase these voices and make sure they’re not drowned out.
Do you have any opinions about Comicsgate and some of the other recent backlashes against diversity?
Every time I hear Comicsgate, I have to try not to roll my eyes too hard. The sad reality is that the comic book industry cannot continue to survive gatekeeping. The world is changing and comics need to adapt. If the goal is to provide stories that reflect the reader, to give hope to anyone that they too have a hero inside them, then they need to reflect the diverse population that is reading them. They need to open the door to new readers so that the industry can grow, feature new and diverse talent, and continue that system.
What are your ultimate hopes or dreams for the future of Femme Power Comix?
I want to create a respected space where people go for recommendations and opinions. Ultimately, I hope to expand and grow enough to create a space that reflects the importance of women and diverse stories in the comic industry and related culture.