When I first heard about Wayward Sisters: An Anthology of Monstrous Women, a Kickstarter comic anthology about female and non-binary monsters by female and non-binary writers and artists, I thought it sounded too good to be true.
Luckily for me, I was wrong: it is true, and the bold art, thoughtful storytelling, and sharp critique within its page are everything I dreamed they would be and more.
The project, as lead editor Allison O’Toole explains it, was born out of a desire to see unusual or relatable images of monstrous women: “We [O’Toole and her co-editor M. Blankier] were both bored by monster stories where women are only victims, romantic interests, or sexy monster hunters. The rare lady monsters we did get too often reflected stereotypical images of women: seductresses or crones (non-binary monsters were, and are, next to non-existent).”
Historically, the relationship between monstrosity and gender has been a complicated one, with gendered monsters from Medusa to Grendel’s mother to the Bride of Frankenstein serving to police the limitations of what was considered socially acceptable behavior for women.
Wayward Sisters follows in a line of contemporary attempts at reclaiming the image of the monstrous feminine as either a celebration or empowerment of femininity and womanhood.
Reminiscent in its style and its aim to Angela Carter’s lyrical The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979), or the 2000s werewolf film Ginger Snaps, Wayward Sisters sees its monstrous women transcend the limitations of traditional conceptions of monstrosity in myriad and delightful ways.
These monsters don’t have to apologize for being monsters, or face off against villagers with pitchforks; these women don’t end their stories needing a hero or a coffin. Each story takes up its subject matter in a unique way, cohering to form a delightful and ultimately vital collection of stories..@WSanthology follows in a line of contemporary attempts at reclaiming the image of the monstrous feminine as either a celebration or empowerment of femininity and womanhood. - @cprevas Click To Tweet
The art in Wayward Sisters is consistently stunning: each and every artist’s individual style is lovingly rendered, both where it is intended to be beautiful and where it is intended to be grotesque. The sheer variation of art — Dante L.’s muted warm tones in “The Alligator at the End of the World,” Emmanuelle Chateauneuf’s sharp black-white-and-red in “Tinseltown,” the bold bright patterns of ZAVKA’s “The Insect,” Sabaa Bismil’s delicate pastels in “The Way Home” — make Wayward Sisters a fantastically diverse and compelling piece of visual work.
Be it the watercolors of “The Wife’s Shadow” or the way iguanamouth’s touching, wordless “Light Pollution” perfectly captures the glow of artificial light on every page, the art of each story, in turn, makes for a fun exploration of tone within a group of very different stories on a central theme.
For the most part, the stories in Wayward Sisters hover around a central conceit: woman is and/or becomes monster, and monstrosity allows her freedom/vengeance/power, etc. With some slight variations, most of the stories are, at their core, about either the power monstrosity can offer or about finding love or acceptance in the face of monstrous identity/appearance.
All of these stories are good, and absolutely worth a read.
“Moonless Sea,” in particular, stood out to me because of the rich world and mythology it manages to build in only a few short pages, as did “Bad Hair Day” and its heart-wrenching literalization of the way our inner demons and insecurities can keep up away from people who care for us.
However, it is the stories that deviate from this central conceit where the anthology really thrives.
Saffron Aurora’s “Lost and Found,” for example, brings up complicated ideas about how we treat and connect to our own bodies when a mistreated, overworked hand rebels against the rest of her body. “White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant” is a striking and surprising commentary on conception, labor, and our relationship with nature. The first story in the collection, “Love and Fury,” provides a nuanced take on the intersections between family and duty, and the tough choices we sometimes make even when we understand the consequences.
My personal favorite story in the anthology was gillian blekkenhorst’s “Inheritance,” which plays with ideas of not feeling at home in a house, and not feeling at home in a body. The complicated spaces of a haunted mansion play out alongside a compelling and brief drama of embodiment and trust. Its narrative twists and turns, as well as the ghost-like way the white words of its narration drift and spin along its pages, left me wondering what I had missed and made me eager to instantly read it again and again.
In general, Wayward Sisters has something for just about everyone, from the grotesque to the cute, from the comic to the tragic, from the joyful to the peaceful to the heartbreaking. The monsters in this collection are just as diverse and varied as the artists and writers who have created them, and the women and non-binary people who will come to read them. It would be difficult to pinpoint a weak story in the group, though there are certainly a handful that stand out — that I know I will revisit as time goes on.These stories are exactly the kind I wish I’d seen growing up, and @WSanthology perfectly captures what I love so much about monsters. - @cprevas Click To Tweet
The inclusion of non-binary creators and non-binary characters in this anthology is particularly refreshing. So often, non-binary people are left out of works like this based on a strict “women only” criteria, but in a collection dedicated to providing sympathetic, complicated, and relatable monsters, the exclusion of non-binary creators would have felt like a major oversight. The non-binary creators behind several of Wayward Sisters’ best stories absolutely shine, and the anthology is all the better for having included them.
In the introduction to the anthology, Faith Erin Hicks writes, “These are the fairy tales I wish I had as a kid, the ones that say it’s okay if you struggle, it’s okay if you’re weird, it’s okay if you’re a little monstrous. We all are, after all.”
Personally, I can’t help but agree with her. These stories are exactly the kind I wish I’d seen growing up, and the anthology perfectly captures what I love so much about monsters.
If you, too, are looking for a compelling read about women and gender non-conforming people filled with breathtaking art, diverse stories, and a healthy dose of horror movie glee, look no further than Wayward Sisters — I guarantee you’ll find a story here you can’t stop thinking about for days.
Wayward Sisters Rating: ★★★★★
Wayward Sisters: An Anthology of Monstrous Women is available for preorder through TO Comix Press. In Full Bleed received an advanced reader copy from the editor for review purposes.