Feminine. Somehow the word was kidnapped by Madison Avenue, defrocked and defanged until we've all but accepted "feminine" as little more than a marketing euphemism for saccharine, Barbie-pink and insipid.

Pop culture provides us with only one alternative to the good-girl: her supposed antithesis. And while a few gems such as Tank Girl give us something more to aspire to than fretting on the sidelines admiringly while the hero saves the day, most "riot grrls" are still created by men and ultimately about male fantasies.

From magazines to television to film, we are deluged with the message that women exist primarily to give the hero someone to sleep with. If we are older than twenty-five or don't resemble swimsuit models, then we are either the hero's mother or (as Disney films usually teach) evil. Women who don't fit the narrow, artificial stereotypes of physical beauty are relentlessly taught through our media invisibility that we are valueless.

If fiction gives us the means to define ourselves, how tragic that women are so often limited to bit parts in the stories men tell each other, rather than stories of our own.

Jen Benka and Kris Dresen's Manya and Kris Dresen's Max & Lily are a breath of fresh air. They give us women who have Things To Do, none of which involve landing a man. The characters are imperfect while still being sympathetic, granting women the same largesse that men have always enjoyed in their fictional role-models. Their work is sumptuously illustrated, literate, formally innovative and (yep) feminine.

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This interview was conducted in early 1999 by Kristen Brennan and published by Jitterbug Fantasia. Be sure to visit the nail-bitingly fabulous Manya.com website for fresh strips and info!!

All images © Jen Benka and Kris Dresen.
Interview © Kristen Brennan.

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