Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2004

Read This: The best of the Canadian small press

This Staff

Illustration by Shary BoyleLike many of the contributors to Girls Who Bite Back, I grew up on a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons, Smurfs and Strawberry Shortcake. When it came to biting back, the only superheroes and ass-kicking role models I had were Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels (the small-screen version).

Thankfully, things have progressed and young (and not-so-young) girls now have a whole new breed of strong, smart subversive female fighters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.

Girls Who Bite Back: Witches, Mutants, Slayers and Freaks (Sumach Press) analyzes these new pop culture superheroines and their popularity, problems and, at times, conflicting messages. Through essays, analysis, fiction, art and comics, this insightful, entertaining and empowering anthology explores the evolution of the female superhero from early characters like The Fantastic Four’s Invisible Woman to today’s fictional fighters like Xena, Warrior Princess.

Along the way, contributors, including editor Emily Pohl-Weary, explore the roles of women as both comic characters and creators, challenging the idea that all -superheroines need be skinny, young, white, heterosexual and able-bodied. Contributors dissect old female superheroes, invent new ones and teach us about the superhero lurking in all of us.

There’s Candra K. Gill’s excellent essay “’Cuz the Black Chick Always Gets It First,” exploring issues of race and diversity in Buffy. Halli Villegas introduces us to Jane Bond, Catherine Stinson takes on her childhood hero Little Orphan Annie, Lisa Rundle slays so-called feminist superheroes on the big screen and Esther Vincent seeks out the elusive female action hero to add to her collection.

And just in case you thought it was easier to leap tall buildings in a single bound than bridge the gap between average everyday gal and superhero, there are enough reminders in this anthology (check out Rose Bianchini’s story “Everyday Superhero”) that it’s the little things we do daily that grant us superpowers. Whether it’s sexism, ageism or depression, we all slay vampires and monsters each day (in whatever form they might take). And if you get hungry from a life of fighting crime there’s even an adventure comic complete with a spring roll recipe. — Lisa Whittington-Hill

LD: Mayor Louis Taylor and the Rise of Vancouver By Daniel Francis (Arsenal Pulp Press)

On the strength of his reputation as “an ordinary man representing ordinary folk,” Louis D. Taylor was elected mayor of Vancouver eight times between 1910 and 1934. But his life was closer to extraordinary: he was, at various times, wanted by the Chicago police, owner of the tallest building in the British Empire and a starving Klondike prospector. As mayor he was ahead of his time, encouraging women’s suffrage and an eight-hour workday, but he was also thoroughly of his time, declaring the need to “preserve British Columbia for the white people.” As a result, LD is both lest-we-forget history and celebration of an unsung visionary, made eminently readable by Francis’s graceful style. —Adam Lewis Schroeder

Borders Matter: Homeland Security and the Search for North America By Daniel Drache (Fernwood Publishing)

The title distills the essence of Drache. The early Canadian nationalist, critic of free trade, eminent globetrotting political economist and, once upon a time, editor and writer for This Magazine, powerfully demonstrates that borders never ceased to matter, free trade agreements notwithstanding, and are now all too much in vogue in all the wrong ways since 9/11. Goods—and so-called intelligence, mostly false—move too easily, while people, particularly those in need of a safe haven, face increasing obstacles. This book is an essential background guide to following the Maher Arar inquiry, arguably one of the most revealing political happenings in Canada in recent history. —Mel Watkins

Catch and Release: Trout Fishing and the Meaning of Life By Mark Kingwell (Viking Canada)

Perhaps his best book, Catch and Release is a memoir of sorts, built around a fishing trip to Kelowna, British Columbia that Kingwell took a few years ago with his father and two brothers. The trip begins with Mark the Skeptic declaring that “I will not fish,” and it ends a few days later with the philosopher soundly converted to the Brotherhood of the Angle. Along the way, Kingwell uses the intersection of writing, fishing and philosophy to work out familiar philosophical problems about the relationship between thought and action. Ultimately, we are left with a sort of Zen koan as written by Izaak Walton:

Q. What is the meaning of life?

A. Let’s go fishing! —Andrew Potter

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