A super villain with super strength, no health insurance, and a conscious. Henchgirl, Kristen Gudsnuk’s debut graphic novel published by Dark Horse comics, is a smart, funny, satirical take on your typical superhero graphic novel with its own twists and turns. I recently had the opportunity to both read and interview the author of Henchgirl.
Gudsnuk began Henchgirl as a webcomic; now it is a published graphic novel with Dark Horse Comics. She is one of the many female artists/comic book writers that are paving the way for women in comics.
"I was just making Henchgirl and putting it out there for the world to see," said Gudsnuk, "and luckily I got a good reaction, and being with Dark Horse is a dream come true."
Meet Mary Posa, a twenty-something-year-old woman who has distanced herself from her family and is working various jobs, one of which is being a hench girl for the famous butterfly gang in Crepe city. Mary is different from the common canon of superheroes. To begin with, she is drawn as a softer, curvier character instead of the typical large-breasted, super-muscular heroes. She has the power of being super strong, but in a world where super powers seem to be common and heroes are like celebrities, her power is seen as useless - with the exception of being able to carry large boxes.
Gudsnuk’s wit shines through in the dialogue and her artwork shows a refreshing take on the typical comic drawing. A softer, more human-like protagonist promotes body positivity and shows not all heroes or animation has to look the same.
“I feel like the standard is to have everyone have a fit body type,” said Gudsnuk at a C2E2 interview, "I don't like the default being always a certain kind of person. I wanted to make her cute and also chubby, so people would see that and feel ok with themselves. The reality is there are tons of different body types in people."
In, Gudsnuk uses soft colorful artwork and juxtaposes it with funny and even violent themes within the graphic novel. Take Mary Posa’s love interest, Mannequin, for example. Mannequin's power is to change his body into a literal mannequin, which allows him to astral project. This swapping of gender roles is refreshing. Both Mary and Mannequin boy do not fit into archetypes, which make their characters more relatable.
“I always get very annoyed by toxic masculinity,” said Gudsnuk, "for me, I wanted Fred to be a character who is a man, but he is vulnerable; he's not as strong as his female love interest characters and he's okay with that, he's not trying to make up for it."
She plays with these gender roles throughout the entire graphic novel, and she does not shy away from the power of metaphor. This approach allows the reader to look critically at the characters. While Gudsnuk does touch on pivotal issues men and women are facing, never feels preachy, which is exactly what you want in a graphic novel.
Gudsnuk is also not afraid to explore controversial themes such as rape. I don’t want to give away too much, but in the graphic novel, there is an incident that occurs where Mary is forced to do something while she is unconscious. This act brings together her and one of her other hench girls, Coco. Although the act is not overtly rape, the metaphor Gudsnuk puts forward is an easy correlation to rape and other issues women face, including victim blaming.
The graphic novel also has moments of gory violence. The violence is not gratuitous and fits nicely into the story. Then again, comics and graphic novels have always been a little grittier than your average form of animation, and Henchgirl is no different. I asked Gudsnuk if she thought this comic could help people who have dealt with traumatic experiences such as rape or violence.
"In my comic, it's okay to not be okay, to be messed up or make self-destructive decisions," said Gudsnuk. "I think a lot of people see parts of their own experiences, frequently negative ones reflected in what happens to the characters. Hopefully, it does help people."
Overall, Henchgirl is a fun and dark graphic novel. Like Steven Universe or Bee and Puppy Cat, it looks like children’s animation but is actually an adult graphic novel with adult themes. The graphic novel is humorous, smart, and has a lot of heart. It is a celebration of women, friendship, and overcoming your own self-destruction.
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Isabel Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa