Man-Eaters Volume 1 is the kind of comic that would have shaken my entire world in high school. Chelsea Cain pens the story, with art by Kate Niemczyk, colors by Rachelle Rosenberg, letters by Joe Caramagna, and overseen by Lia Miternique. Man-Eaters tells the tale of a reality where a disease spread by cats has infected all of humanity. Most people don’t experience symptoms of the infection, but girls between the ages of 11 and 14 are liable to mutate in extreme ways.
Specifically, at the onset of menstruation, they become wildcats hellbent on destruction. Maude is one of the few girls who slip through the cracks of the government’s efforts to end menstruation. At the onset of her first period, she believes that she is the one committing the horrific murders that her police officer father responds to; but what if she’s okay with that?
More Than A Pretty Face
Let’s start at the surface level; the art for Man-Eaters Volume 1 may be some of my favorite in modern comics. No exaggeration. While many modern comics lean towards a cinematic edge, comics exist more to look good as opposed to communicating a story, the team behind Man-Eaters is not ashamed to be working on a comic. To put it bluntly, they know how to draw a damn comic. The best part of this is a double page spread early on in the first issue. It guides the reader so expertly through an apartment complex that my art student brain sang out in glee. Niemczyk’s ability to plan a page leaves me giddy.
Comics are an invisible art form. The content that makes a book good is the content the reader doesn’t notice. But trust me, I noticed. On top of that, the character and environment designs are top notches. There’s no shortage of micro-expressions and lived-in rooms that function solely to build character.
Pussy Cat Propaganda
Man-Eaters Volume 1 is littered with tear-out posters, stickers, and other goodies to get the reader involved. The graphic design provided by Miternique set the scene and worked solely towards immersion. It’s the extra step that tells the reader that the creative team is working on this project out of love. It also works to add an extra level of horror. The world presented by the Man-Eaters is perfectly parallel to ours, even referencing the 2016 election. But the posters and public notices included with the story serve to ramp up the social horror aspect.
The coloring is solid across the board, with the palette never interrupting the story or drawing more attention to itself than needed. Lettering works cleverly into the art, playing off of the propaganda posters and advertisements littered throughout the world.
Man-Eaters Volume 1, Pussy Hats, & The Ethics Of Making Women Monsters
Now THAT’S a subheading.
I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.
Tolkien said this in response to his audience reading World War I allegory into his Lord of the Rings series. Ever since a certain subset of anti-intellectuals have decided that All Allegory Is Bad Because Daddy Tolkien Said So. Despite this belief, let it be known that allegory is good actually and a legitimate tool for processing and communicating ideas that could otherwise be too traumatic for the writer or reader to endure. Of course, this isn’t the only reason for allegory, but it’s the most apt one for Man-Eaters Volume 1.
Man-Eaters is concerned with two main points: the monsterization of womanhood and the fragile nature of masculinity. The first is more obvious. Girls literally become monsters when they start their periods. The scene of Maude staring at her blood-stained panties recalls 70’s horror classic Carrie. The concept of growing up, “becoming a woman,” is so frightening already. Of course in the real world, women are already demonized over periods. Menstruation becomes a badge of shame. Walking to the bathroom with a tampon disguised up your sleeve because it won’t fit in your skinny jeans pocket should be an Olympic sport.
Fluorine In The Water Turning The Damn Girls Into Cats
In a twist, Maude and her fellow students rebel against the status quo set up by their school. Maude sneaks normal water from the boys’ lounge since girls are forced to drink estrogen suppressing tap water. This draws upon both segregation and the history of hormone therapy in the United States. (The segregation allegory is at least mildly inappropriate but difficult to work around considering the set up of the world.) These girls are not afraid of their own bodies, their own perceived monstrous nature.
“Yes. We will become monsters. We will tear this world apart.”
It’s a sentiment that rings true, especially to today’s youth. I know plenty of young girls who spent their time after school making Hillary posters just like Maude and her friends. Plenty of real-world feminist icons have been invoked. From Maude’s pussy hat to her Bitch Planet poster to Rosie the Riveter. Cain and her team have no interest in being subtle.
Not Just Lip Service
Man-Eaters doesn’t just present itself as a story about young girls troubles, but actively works to amplify the voices of real girls. Art, prose, and poetry is provided by multiple middle school students as bookends to issues. Stella Greenvoss, Eliza Fantastic Mohan, and Emily Powell all provide their unique voices to the comic to make it something truly special. The trade actually opens on one of Powell’s poems that sets the tone for the entire book,
I AM A FIERCE CAT.
I WILL RIP YOU INTO SHREDS.
HIDE IN FEAR FROM ME.
Kitty’s Got Claws
I should stop beating around the bush. I know what you’re all dying to know. What’s in it for the fellas? “Paige!” I hear you shout, “I like totally get that stuff was bad for women in the past! But like, you can vote now! So what’s the big deal?” First of all, how did you get this number? Second of all, it’s nice to hear from you, Mister Straw Man. While most modern men won’t go this far in their rhetoric, Man-Eater Volume 1 taps into what modern misogyny looks like.
The conversation today isn’t about limiting women’s power, but on restoring masculine power. Of course, the two have the same underlying problem: Masculine Fragility. I’m borrowing this language from the phrase White Fragility, which basically states that the white mind is too used to being in a position of power. Any slight threat to that perceived power leaves the person in question in a state of shock, terror, and rage. I hope nobody minds me coopting this and applying it strictly to men. Namely white men, but that’s a story for another comic review.
When we dive into how Masculine Fragility works, we find that men never lose power. Men are still more likely to make more money doing better jobs than women on average. School-age girls still have to dress “modestly” so that their classmates and teachers won’t leer at them. Masculine Fragility operates on the same principles as White Fragility. When a nonmarginalized group sees a marginalized group gaining any sort of power, they see it as a threat to themselves.
But Here’s Where The Metaphor Gets A Little Weird
Man-Eaters Volume 1shows Masculine Fragility to a very literal extent. Girls turn into cats, and so the men retaliate. Men develop leagues and send out pamphlets specifically to protect themselves from the cats, an allegory for powerful womanhood. Men are literally fragile in the face of womanhood. But is that… okay? If the cat disease wasn’t real, if girls weren’t literally killing people, the metaphor would work a lot better. Maybe girls are being framed for killings because people already assume that they’re feral.
Sure, maybe they still turn into cats, but they’re not violent. Society is just told that because it’s easier to lock girls away on their own than to allow them to own their own womanhood. But, as far as we can see in Man-Eaters, men have a legitimate reason to be wary around infected women. Cats have mauled entire families. The thing about prejudice is that it inherently makes no sense, and oppressors seek out nonsense reasons as to why they hate the Other.
So, to give a reason behind women’s oppression in this universe that can be logically tracked diminishes the impact of the allegory. That’s not to say that this logical fallacy does much to bring down a fantastic book. I’m sure Cain and Co. are more than aware of these points. (And if I just predicted a big plot twist in Man-Eaters I want credit.) It’s just something to keep in mind while reading.
A Purr-fect Conclusion
Man-Eaters Volume 1 is a solid collection of some of the best comic works out there right now. It’s witty, it’s fun, and, most importantly, it’s aware of what it is. As a part-time cat lover, full-time woman, I recognize that this is a story made with me directly in mind. Maude reminds me more of my middle school self than I care to admit. But even I can take off my blinders and recognize that this book is incredibly done. Even if I wasn’t in the target demographic, the writing is solid, the art is incredible, and the concept is just high enough to capture the imagination. I can’t wait for the next trade paperback to come out so I can curl up with my fellow cats and sink my teeth into it.
Man-Eaters Volume 1 is a purr-fectly good book for any socially conscious bibliophile to dig their teeth into.