Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Kickstart This! Femme Magnifique

As a history nerd, I'm fascinated with trying to understand how things are connected through generations. I always want to know what has carried down through the ages and how it affects us today. Maybe it's simply a matter of hoping the work of my generation will carry forward in a beneficial way. But, honestly, I think it's a bit bigger than that. It's a feeling of time moving at its own pace, and human progress being greater than any one person or event, but instead made up of the steady accumulation of actions and ideas. There's something marvelously freeing in knowing that social movements started long before me, and will continue long after me, and my job is to help move it along. Studying history has always been my way of tapping into that feeling of being connected backward and forward.

But aside from the philosophical reasons for my research, there's also the wonderfully inspirational aspect of reading stories about people, and in particular the women, who came before us -- the struggles they faced, the hard work they put in, and the impact they had. Learning about their successes without the story of how they got there is an almost tragically inadequate lesson. It's in learning of their struggles and resolutions that we are able to identify with them, and then apply that knowledge as a kind of fortification as we face our own endeavors.

That's why I will never tire of books sharing the stories of important women from history. Each new project shows us a unique perspective on the familiar stories. Each new anthology gives us a new set of women to celebrate, while also telling us a story about the artists involved in the selection process -- why they chose which women and how the group them is also part of the story.

I only just recently learned about a new project honoring an impressive list of women who have left their mark on history: Femme Magnifique. In this case, the stories are being told in a delightfully visual art form: comics. Each profile tells the story of a remarkable woman, and is drawn by a different comic artist. Co-curator Kristy Miller agreed to answer a few questions about this great project celebrating the lives of amazing women throughout history.

SRPS: First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself? What's your background?

KM: I am an archaeologist, a college professor, and I co-own Hi-Fi colour design with my husband. I have a BA in Antiquities, a Secondary Education certificate, an MA in Museum Studies/Anthropology, and I'm currently a Ph.D. candidate in Education.

I am currently the Lab Director and Assistant Field Director for a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Salalah, Oman, called Al Baleed. My husband and I spend between five and nine weeks a year there. I am an Adjunct Professor at a local community college where I teach various Anthropology classes including Women in Other Cultures and Archaeology.

As for Hi-Fi, my husband (Brian) and I started this company over 15 years ago. We are a digital coloring studio that provides digital color for comics, movie posters, games, etc. Brian is the creative director and I oversee the business side of things. Hi-Fi has about 40 employees around the world.

SRPS: You have a wonderfully diverse background including studying and teaching classes on archaeology as well as ancient and modern history. How did you find yourself studying people of past eras?

KM: I have always been fascinated with the past. When I was little I lived in the county and my dad and I would go for walks in the woods and look for old bottles or arrowheads or whatever we could find. I always wondered about the people that used those things. As soon as I learned what an archaeologist was I knew I wanted to be one (at about age 8!). My favorite areas are Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the Middle East and the association between all of them. In college I focused on the Classics (Greece and Rome). I took five semesters of Latin and two of Greek, then my Senior year I was chosen to attend a semester long dig in Oman… that quickly switched my emphasis to the Middle East. As an adult I have visited many of the places I used to read about. It is an amazing thing to actually go inside the pyramids or walk around Knossos.

SRPS: What is Femme Magnifique? What inspired you to create this collection of women's stories?

KM: Femme Magnifique is a graphic novel anthology which will contain up to 50 short stories about women from all walks of life, past and present. Shelly Bond, former DC Vertigo Editor, came up with the idea and asked Brian and me to help her curate the book and launch it on Kickstarter. There are over 100 artists involved in the project, many with a background in comics.

A few days before the election Shelly called Brian and me wanting to know if we were interested in working with her on a cool, powerful project called Femme Magnifique. We were all upset with the election cycle and how women were being portrayed or talked about in the media, specifically in politics. At the same time, Brian had decided to do something art-based to address these concerns; he just hadn't figured out what. Within a week, we had firm ideas about the kinds of stories we wanted to tell and who we wanted to invite to write and draw them. We all agreed that Femme Magnifique needed to be a book about the achievements of women as told by both sexes. Men cannot be excluded from the conversation. They're pivotal to the advancement of women, so we have an expansive list of male and female talents contributing to the project.

SRPS: It reminds me a bit of The Wonder Women of History comics that were publish alongside the original Woman Woman, only with more modern women to celebrate. How did you go about selecting who to include?

KM: The first step was actually not about the subjects but about the creators. Shelly, Brian and I came up with a list of writers and artists we thought would be great on the project. Shelly opened up her massive Rolodex and started contacting people. Everyone we spoke with was as excited about the project as we were. The next step was to ask each writer to come up with two or three women who were inspirational to them and that they would like to write about. Interestingly we had very little overlap, the list was varied and impressive. We felt the stories would be even more inspirational if they were personal in nature—someone the writer and/or artist was passionate about.

SRPS: It's Women's History Month, which seems like perfect timing to celebrate these remarkable women! Why is it so important to tell the stories of women from history?

KM: The short answer is just two words: Role Models. I do an activity with my college students who take my Women's classes. They are to fill in the name of their favorite/most inspirational women in the following fields: politics, music, science, art, education, women's movement, family, etc. They can all fill in the blank for family and music but the majority are left blank. They are not even aware of the choices in some of those fields. I turn the activity around and ask them to name the most successful/popular people in their degree field. The answers are by far and away male. It's not that women are not in these fields or that women have not been pioneers but that they are often overlooked or forgotten. Many times there was one successful women but 100 successful men, you would think that would make the woman stand out but instead she is ignored.

One of the Kickstarter reward levels is a Teacher's Edition. I am writing curriculum for teachers to go with Femme Magnifique. There will be activities like the one above as well as specific activities that focus on the subjects and they will be adaptable for all ages. I hope that teachers and everyone else will find Femme Magnifique valuable and inspirational and order it from Kickstarter.

As they reiterate on their website, the folks behind Femme Magnifique are committed to using their platform to not only tell these stories, but to create change.
In every area of the arts and sciences, in tech companies or political campaigns and in the pop music and comics cultural landscape, we have to do better. Reach out together and create a book that will spread the good word about woman whose tremendous accomplishments inspire others around them -- from young girls to entire nations -- not to accept anything less than absolute equality.
I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of Femme Magnifique! If you haven't already backed this project, please consider doing so ASAP! There's only a week left to get in on it. They've already met their initial goal, as well as their first stretch goal. They're super close to their second! Now more than ever, we need more inspirational stories of remarkable women in the world.

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