I think a lot about geek culture. From being a critic here, to a creator there, to some of my ventures in my personal life, how people have built a world of self-creation and expression out of consuming genre media is a big part of what I have focused my life on. It's no small thing to have something come along that significantly alters my fundamental understanding of something I feel I've lived as a part of for most of my life, but Chainmail Bikini can make that claim. At a time when female gamers and geeks are defining a new environment for expression in a culture that marginalized or ignored them, Chainmail Bikini is an anthology that personifies that voice. Not the voice of one person, perspective, or struggle, but a landscape of unique experiences that never feel the need to tell one story. This is the voice of female gamers and at times it's a humbling experience to receive. Clocking in at a little under 200 pages, Chainmail Bikini is an anthology that collects the works of 40 female gamer creators, involving their passion for the medium of fantasy play. Not just video games, the comics also extensively cover table top RPGs and LARPing, both in autobiographical stories as well as fiction. The personal identities covered are also broadly diverse, lesbian and trans creators alongside straight and CIS stories. Some comics pointedly address feminist issues while others tell stories as simple as recounting childhood memories. Technical polish of the art also varies, with some art being industry tested and others featuring a rougher but still personal touch. While this may sound all over the map, I can say having read many anthologies (we're an indie comic review site, you have no idea how many we get) this is one of the best curated ones I've read. It feels balanced and diverse, opening its doors to so many perspectives yet never feeling like a madhouse of whatever is out there. Not every comic may hit you the same way, and you may come across stories whose perspective you don't identify or agree with, but this anthology builds an ideal feminist platform for female creators, one that doesn't pick one voice to represent women, but rather a human chorus. I didn't enjoy each comic equally, but I believe every comic included here is worth reading to fully experience the entire picture of what it has to offer.
Where the book particularly affected me was finding the common themes between the otherwise unrelated stories. One that stood out in particular was how many women, either by addressing the subject directly or building it into their stories, communicated how gaming often serves as a means for shaping personal identity in ways they feel denied by flesh and blood society. Participating in pocket realities where the rules are defined as an act of personal creation resurfaces as a key experience again and again in the book, showing how these fantasies helped define (and in at least one case, hinder) a sense of identity, a message reinforced with the humor and heartache these stories bring with them. Besides the pleasure of reading artfully crafted comics, this was my defining takeaway from Chainmail Bikini, and what I carry with me having finished it.
At a time when the game culture debate is still as hotly contested and hyperbolic as ever, I don't think it is too bold to say that Chainmail Bikini is required reading for participants in said debate. This anthology creates a tapestry of experience interwoven in with its passionately defended politics that invites the reader into empathy with the women who find their passions and pastimes the target of controversy. This isn't the be-all-end-all of female gamers discussing the medium, but for male readers it can be a deeply felt and personal primer on the female gamer experience, in a wealth of its forms, while for some female readers it might strike a resonant chord of relateability. It has great art, it has meaningful writing, and a steady hand organizing it all into a thoroughly readable package. And who knows, maybe something it inside will shift the very ground under your feet.
[su_box title="Score: 5/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]