Big Girls # 1

Big Girls # 1

Jason Howard

Image Comics


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Big Girls revisits familiar ideas and tropes in our collective and popular imagination but repackages them in order to center women as simultaneously larger than life characters and the saviors of our future. Jason Howard, the artist and writer behind Big Girls, isn’t necessarily interested in making comics that are explicitly or overtly political nor navel-gazey, but that isn’t to claim that his stories don’t have something to say. Big Girls is set in a world where an ambiguous catastrophe has occurred referred to as “the Mistake.” The consequences of the Mistake have led society to band together on what is called “the Preserve” in an effort to confront a new threat in the form of kaiju-inspired monsters known as “Jacks.” The only people—women—who can stop the Jacks are the "Big Girls". Despite some ambiguity, the narrative makes it clear that in this dystopia a disease related to the Mistake has infected humans and it can take on two forms: boys will begin to grow rapidly, but as their size and age progress the disease will turn them into full-blown monsters. For girls, the disease makes them bigger and stronger thus positioning them as the only deterrent to the potential threat of the Jacks.

The art in Big Girls doesn’t look or feel like a corporate comic. Howard’s lines are kinetic and sometimes look like they had been sketched out in a hasty fashion as they spill outside the panels and into the gutters inconsistently, yet I can’t help but detect a sense of deliberateness. The lines speak to the spirit of the comic itself: this is something fun and to be enjoyed and the vibrating lines of Howard’s art are a part of that same spirit. The colors of Big Girls are moody. Generally, panels will be colored with hues of blue imbuing the mise-en-scène with a sense of melancholy and technocracy—which makes sense when you get to know Ember, one of the Big Girls that is at the center of the comic. When violence, rage, or danger becomes imminent or present, the background-color reflects this in vibrant and deep reds. The kinesis between the lines and colors produces an effect that begins to make you take the story more seriously despite its seemingly recycled tropes of gigantic figures, battling over city skylines.

The narrative gestures at an ethically driven question: “has science gone too far?” We don’t know quite yet, but we do know it has had some role to play in the formation of the Big Girls storyworld. The stakes are set between the ever-present threat of the Jacks, the Big Girls, and the interests of the Preserve’s police force headed by High Marshal James Tannik, and also the scientist Dr. Slates. By the end of the comic, some ambiguity begins to dissipate as we’re presented with a mysterious character who seems to know the secret behind the Jacks and what produces and drives them. With all these pieces on the board, it’s hard to not imagine that the plot will develop a dynamism very much needed in comics that are genre-driven, especially ones with female main characters. I think Big Girls does have something to say about science, gender, technology, and their relationship to ethics in a world inundated with catastrophe. What it’s exactly saying isn’t quite clear yet since we’re barely cracking into the story, but the trajectory is there, you can feel it.

Big Girls drew me in initially by tapping into a sort of cultural memory and imagination by re-presenting to me familiar tropes and images of giants fighting each other as they tower over cityscapes and the small people afraid of them. Despite the familiar feelings, the story reads fresh, fun, and most importantly—comic. Which is to say, its delicate balance between verbosity and active, vibrant lines and colors produces interesting storytelling at times. With that being said, I don’t feel or think that I need to keep reading the series because the presented mysteries of the first issue didn’t quite ensnare me in ways that very few genre comics do today. On one hand, I recognize that genre-driven comics should be met on their own terms and appreciated with those terms in mind and that there’s more to be said about the new ways in which we can represent gender in familiar places. On the other hand, the routine nature of the narrative, tropes, and conventions that Big Girls plays with leaves much to be desired. If you are the type of reader that considers themselves an aficionado of kaiju, superheroes, and graphic art for the sake of itself, then this might be the comic for you, otherwise, it may seem too familiar on the palate for those who have already consumed their fill.