Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag’s acclaimed webcomic Strong Female Protagonist has been updating twice a week for more than five years, building acclaim and followers with each installment. Of course, you already know that, because not only is the webcomic thriving, but Mulligan and Ostertag’s Kickstarter campaigns to fund trade paperbacks of the series have been astonishing successes, with Book Two (collecting online issues five and six, over 300 total pages) sextupling its initial funding goal of $12,000 in 2017.
The comic focuses on Alison Green, who has given up her career as the superhero Mega Girl to attend college in search of a better way to help the world overcome problems that can’t be punched in the jaw. Kickstarter supporters already have their copies of Book Two, but the rest of the world can catch up this June when Strong Female Protagonist’s print distributor, Top Shelf Productions, delivers the book to stores.
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CBR exchanged emails with Mulligan and Ostertag to discuss the strip’s evolution, their continued focus on the comic despite individual successes outside it, and the overwhelming fan support for their creative vision.
The two issues presented in Book Two showcase different sides of Alison’s life. The fifth issue, which clocked in at a jaw-dropping 167 pages, finds Alison in conflict with a former teammate over the treatment of rapists and abusive men. The entire issue, Mulligan contends, “center[s on] Mary and Alison and their disagreement about the relationship between violence and justice. If you read Alison’s argument with Mary in and outside of the dam, she spends much more time talking about the futility of violence and the harm it does to the people wielding it than she does suggesting that [the perpetrator] deserves a different fate. Even her final exchange in that argument holds up the threat of accidentally killing an innocent person, which is not the same as suggesting that an actually guilty person deserves a second chance.”
The moral debate over punishment is a major component of the arc. But of course, when two superpowered characters throw down, there’s also carnage and thrills to be found. “For sure!,” Mulligan said when asked if he and Ostertag wanted a more action-driven arc. “I think Molly and I both wanted to include some more action in the story, and the feel of an action/thriller suited the emotional weight of that chapter.”
Ostertag agreed. “We’ve been waiting to expand Alison’s powers for a while, and it was very exciting to finally get to the place where her powers allow her to fly. For all the heaviness of that chapter, it was fun to have to chance to draw some superheroic action.”
For the sixth issue, Mulligan and Ostertag intentionally dialed back the volume and muffled the fireworks, bringing the series back to Alison’s college experience — specifically focusing on an ongoing axiological debate with persnickety Professor Gurwara and Alison’s complicated relationship with several of the men in her life — notably incarcerated former henchman Daniel and spoiled trust funder Max.
“Chapter Six can be summed up as an exploration in Alison’s life of utilitarian versus deontological morality. Do the ends justify the means, or are there moral rules that must be observed regardless of outcome?” Mulligan explained. “Alison sees an image of herself in Daniel, a fellow super-strong biodynamic individual, and one with a temper and an urge for combat that Alison shares. While he is neutralized and captive, Alison sees an opportunity to connect with someone that shares the parts of herself she is most afraid of, and sees an opportunity for mutual healing and growth. With Max, she sees an opportunity to help Feral and simultaneously do a tremendous amount of good for a great deal of people, and uses him as a means rather than an end in himself, which violates Kant’s categorical imperative, but results in what Alison considers a greater good. In both cases, the questions Alison is asking (What makes the most ‘good’? Do I use Max to help Feral? Can I heal Daniel and myself, even though we’ve both killed?) focus on utilitarian ends.”