If you’re already a fan of the works of Sam Maggs—and you may well be, by way of her historically inclined Wonder Women or The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy—then you’re no doubt pumped for her next outing, Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History. And if you’re not yet familiar with Maggs’ contribution to feminist literature, Girl Squads seems like the perfect jumping-on point. Right here, we’ve got an exclusive first look at the cover, featuring Jenn Woodall’s illustrations of the real world feminist icons whose stories are detailed in Maggs’ latest tribute to women around the world:
Featured from top to bottom: The Trưng sisters, a pair of Vietnamese twins who fought off the invasion of the Chinese in the year 1000; the Haenyeo, a team of Korean women divers, all aged over 50, who, as Maggs puts it, “basically run [the] whole economy” of the Jeju Island; the Dahomey Amazons warriors from the 1700s; and finally, Afghanistan’s first women’s orchestra, Zohra.
Below, our own Alicia Lutes speaks with Maggs to get a few more insights about Girl Squads, its beautiful cover, and the true stories it sets out to tell.
What was the impetus or inspiration for the cover design?
SAM MAGGS: Our incredible illustrator Jenn Woodall ( Magical Beatdown) and veteran Quirk book designer Andie Reid worked super hard on this design – turns out it’s a major challenge to incorporate multiple groups of women onto just one cover. Also, I’ve learned that the letter “Q” is really difficult to typeset without making it look all wonky. Ultimately, we just really wanted to show as many groups of amazing women doing intriguing things as we could on the cover to hopefully make you want to learn more about them ASAP.
Was there a particular message or theme you wanted to relay in the cover art?
SM: Girl Squads tells the tales of women who banded together to make change through activism, battle, art, science, and athleticism, stories spread across thousands of years and over the entire globe. It was really important to everyone on the team that the cover exemplify the diversity of the women’s stories in the book; from Iranian women’s rights activists in 1920 to Indigenous Canadian cross-country skiers in the 1970s to Europe’s first women poets in 13th-century France, all of these women impacted both their society and the world at large in ways that we should absolutely know about today. We also wanted the cover to equate to the tone of the book: while it’s still got the same irreverent humor as my other reads, it definitely doesn’t talk down to its audience, and we wanted the art to reflect that this book is full of actual, serious research (and actual, terrible puns, of course). Mostly, though, we just wanted to show cool women doing cool stuff together. Success!
Tell me about the artist and how it came together!
SM: I’ve known Jenn for years through the Toronto comics scene, and I’ve always been a huge fan. Her comic Magic Beatdown (about a magical girl who takes revenge on street harassers) is incredible, and her Sailor Moon fanart pin speaks to me on a deeply personal level. I was so thrilled when Quirk told me she’d agreed to jump on board as the illustrator for Girl Squads because she’s one of the best artists in the industry at drawing strong women who look like they could kick your ass at any moment. Girl Squads is all about making wonderful things happen through the power of friendship and teamwork and I think that Jenn’s work on this cover really exemplifies that!
Can you explain to me some of the stories behind the women on the cover?
SM: Absolutely! The two gals on top are Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, two sisters in present-day Vietnam who took up arms against Imperialist Chinese invaders for the preservation of their people and culture in the first century CE. Under them we’ve got the Haenyeo from South Korea’s Jeju Island, women divers almost entirely over the age of fifty who have been largely responsible for the economic success of their community for generations. Third down are the so-called “ Dahomey Amazons,” an army of women who were defended their West African kingdom from around 1645 to 1890, widely regarded as some of the most effective female fighters in history. Finally on the bottom, we have girls from my personal favorite tale in the book: musicians from Zohra, the first all-female orchestra in Afghanistan’s history, making musical waves in their country right now.
What are you most excited about with this book compared to your others?
SM: I’m so excited to be able to share these stories with readers as a real celebration of women supporting women. No gal would be successful without the support of her sisterhood, and we all know that working together and lifting each other up is the best way to move (intersectional) feminism forward, and also to achieve our individual goals. I think it can be a tough thing to remember for all of us sometimes; we’re all constantly inundated by this “there can be only one!” Smurfette syndrome, where women are made to feel pressured to compete with other women all the time for a limited number of spots in a male-dominated world. But, deep down, we all know that we’re stronger together than we are apart, and that part of the reason the patriarchy has such a vested interest in making us want to compete instead of cooperate is that women in large numbers Get Stuff Done. I hope this book helps to spread the gospel of friendship, recovers some lost history of wonderful women’s team-ups, and leads us to share our own stories of the inspirational squads that helped us get where we are today.