betty the smidgen

All right, fuckers. Lets talk about Rat Queens, the comic so amazing I breezed through all three volumes in a day and a half and then almost cried because there was no more to read

For decades, the fantasy genre has had that moniker not just because it dealt with fantastical things like dragons, magic, elves, and other such things, but because it was also a genre where men’s chauvinistic fantasies ran wild, where women were often little more than helpless damsels in need of being rescued, and even the ones who weren’t were dressed up as objects of male fantasy, wearing armor that made no sense, which served no practical purpose. It was all about the male gaze, it dominated the genre for a very long time.

In recent years there has been an effort to overthrow that long standing norm. Many have pushed back (such as the pathetic “Puppy” movement at the Hugo awards recently, a group of voters who banded together specifically to get works that were pro-women, pro-poc, and pro-lgbtq+ to lose) and the result has been a renaissance of the genre, with projects that are inclusive of all genders, sexual identities, and races. Recently these previously ignored or demeaned groups have come to the forefront, leading several titles in the genre.

One of those title is Rat Queens, a comic about an all-female team of adventurers living and adventuring in a D&D style world.

Note: I read all three volumes, so there are some teeny spoilers, but I avoided anything really big. And most of it is character stuff and not plot stuff.

The Rat Queens are violent and magically inclined badasses, but they’re also introverts, nerds, hipsters, stoners, and emotional fuck up. Despite the fact that they use swords and magic to take down monsters in a fantasy world, they’re real.

They also obliterate the idea of what a sexy female fantasy character is. They have wide hips and big thighs, flat chests and real boobs that are sometimes floppy. Their tummies roll when they bend over. These aren’t four female fantasy characters with the same unrealistic, typically sexy body. Their bodies are all very different, and they’re all very sexy.

Hanna would probably be considered the leader of the group, if the Rat Queens really had a leader. She’s a half-elven demon who desperately tries to had that latter part. She’s also a skilled magic user, relying more on her spells than her blades in a fight. She’s a loud mouth, surly, combative, and wonderfully vulgar. 

She’s also in an incredibly complicated relationship with the head of the city’s guard, Sawyer. 

Her story and backstory really does seem to anchor most of the story, but I really think that’s just because the story is unfortunately finished. We were definitely getting foundation to really explore the other characters’ stories in more depth, but stuff behind the scenes caused the series to be put on hold indefinitely, so they never got to the point of digging into the other characters like they did Hannah. (I’ll talk about the behind-the-scenes drama at the end of the post).

Dee is an incredibly powerful cleric who just happens to not believe in the deity that grants her powers. She was raised in a cult that worshiped an ancient god and she learned her powerful magic there, but she had doubts that led to her leaving home to figure things out on her own. 

She’s also a nerd and an introvert who prefers a book to most people. She struggles with how much she misses her family, and the pain of leaving behind her parents, her siblings, and her husband while also struggling with her faith. 

Like Hannah, she also favors magic in a fight, but where she really comes in handy is with her curiosity and her fondness for research. One of the things that I really like about Dee is how not sexual her character is. Not because the sexuality displayed by the other characters is bad (quite the contrary) but because every woman is different when it comes to their sexual appetite and their enjoyment of sex, and it’s wonderful to see a character for whom sex and romantic relationships is not a major part of their arc.

Violet is a hipster dwarf who loves stabbing things with her sword. As long as too many other people don’t start loving it, too. Whereas Dee and Hannah use powerful magic in fights, Violet charges in pointy end first, looking to cut apart as many baddies as possible.

She’s also a huge dork who tries so hard at being badass that it almost negates her actually badassery at times. She’s very, very much a hipster, who left her life with the dwarves and shaved off her beard because she felt stifled by her culture, and then grew the beard back when she saw that other dwarven women were shaving their beards, too.

She also really likes sex. While Hannah and Betty are definitely sex-positive and definitely have sex during the course of the story, I think Violet is probably shown to be the most sex-positive and most sexually active. Her boyfriend is an Orc named Dave (or “Orc Dave”, as he’s a member of a group of adventurers called “The Four Daves”) and she is not subtle about the fact that she wants him, and she is not shy about sharing the facts of their sex life once she has him.

Finally, there’s Betty, the cutest little smidgen ever (from the art, I’m guessing “smidgen” is equivalent to gnome). Betty likes drinking, fighting, candy, drugs, and girls. And, specifically, one girl.  

Betty’s got it bad for a chick named Faeyri, but Faeyri’s not crazy about Betty’s friends, especially Hannah, who can get pretty combative when drinking. In between all the fighting, the adventuring, and the magic, we get a sweet little love story that actually presents a relationship with very real and honest problems.

While Betty loves to get stabby, and while her small size often serves as an advantage in battle, her greatest contribution to the group might be her skills as a thief and her ability to read people. She can look at any place and figure out how to get her teeny tiny form into it in the most covert way, and she can look at any person and read them look a book. 

But no matter how clever she is, she’s still a huge weirdo who loves candy, drugs, and her friends.

The women of Rat Queens are all so different in so many respects, and they’re all so flawed and real. The series is hysterically funny, full of so much heart, and a must read for any fantasy fan who loves well written female characters. This fast became one of my vert, very favorite comics of all time.

Unfortunately there are only three collected volumes + one issue. The original artist was arrested for domestic abuse, and though he ultimately wasn’t charged, he was not brought back to continue as the series’ artist. They did find a new artist for what would be the third volume, but ultimately, according to the series’ writer Kurtis Wiebe, they didn’t really mesh, and now the comic is on hiatus indefinitely. From searching around the internet it looks like the plan is to eventually continue it as a web comic, but Wiebe is currently writing the new series Bounty (which is another great female-led comic, this time taking on the also-until-recently male dominated genre of sci-fi. I’ve only read the first issue but I adored it, and I can’t wait for the TP to come out, which will happen the day after my birthday), so I’m not sure when it’s actually going to happen.

While it’s definitely a bummer that the story just kind of… stops, and we don’t know for sure when it will continue, you have to read Rat Queens if you have any kind of appreciation for stories led by strong female characters, and especially if you’ve been disappointed by other fantasy stories, and especially if that disappointment largely came from the misogyny, lack of diversity, and homophobia in the writing. I’m getting emotional from how much I love Rat Queens, that’s how good this series is.

Rat Queens was suggested by anne-ominous ​ for Positive Portrayals week.

From the Vol 1 Amazon page:

Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit. It’s also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief. This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!

I personally love this series. You should definitely look into picking it up!