I was way too young when I read Garth Ennis’ series Preacher for the first time.
Full of all the world-weary wisdom of a twelve-year-old, I first came across Preacher when I was twelve years old and its run had just finished (even more disconcerting, I had picked up interest in it from my younger brother, who was eleven at the time.) Preacher, which tells the story of Jesse Custer, a disillusioned man of the cloth who is possessed by the spirit of a supernatural entity named Genesis and goes on a quest to find God, has a lot of elements that really appealed to a nerdy seventh grader: rich mythology, a snarky vampire sidekick (who bore more than a slight resemblance to a certain British peroxide-blonde vamp I also loved), and a gritty, modern Western sort of feel. But since it’s also excessively violent, angry, and cynical in turns, it’s not exactly light reading for a preteen.
But if carnage was enough to entice me, it wasn’t what made me stay––I’ve always been the kind of reader that has trouble really investing in a story unless there’s a cool girl, somewhere, for me to latch starry-eyed infatuation and admiration onto. Luckily, Preacher supplies this with its female lead, Tulip O’Hare. Tulip is Jesse’s tough ex-girlfriend, who starts the series furious with him for ditching her in Texas, but quickly gets sucked into the mad search for God. And while it would be easy to peg Tulip into the role of “love interest/damsel,” especially as she gets hurtled into a love triangle as the series progresses, it would be a huge disservice to her character; there’s a lot more to Tulip! For instance:
She’s a Badass
Tulip’s mother died in childbirth, and her father always wanted a son. When he saw that Tulip was a baby girl, he was disappointed, but instead of letting that consume him (a common fictional trope, especially when the mother kicks it during labour), he said “Well, this isn’t so bad,” and named her Tulip, because he thought flowers were beautiful.
However, he also raised her tough. Tulip’s father never denied her femininity, but he did teach her to hunt, shoot, and fight. He also taught her to never let anyone presume she’s an inferior soldier just because she was a woman—a lesson that Tulip took to heart, and of which she proves the merit continuously alongside Jesse and Cassidy.
Tulip doesn’t take crap from anybody. She’s made some faulty life choices (alcohol, crime, assassination attempts), but she does it all with the confidence that comes with being her own woman. When Jesse leaves her prior to the events of the series, Tulip doesn’t pine, she moves on. When that doesn’t work out and she finds herself with a heavy drinking problem instead, she checks herself into rehab to clean herself up. Tulip is never afraid to strike out on her own, whether it be trying out for the boys’ baseball team in school, or embarking on a dusty Americana-tinged road trip.
She Sticks Up For What She Believes In
Tulip isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes right, whether that’s driving a truck through a wall to save her best friend, or sassing God because she doesn’t think that he has Jesse’s best interests in mind. She’s resourceful and funny and brave, and she has conviction, even when she’s not exactly living on the right side of the law.
If you’re familiar with Preacher, you’ll know that yeah, it’s not a series that is the nicest to women. And frankly, I would be quick to argue that the comic book world in the 1990s was probably not the most empowering environment for a woman to immerse themselves in. But in Tulip, Ennis has captured a glimmer of something exciting and courageous, and it’s in Tulip that I was able to find someone to admire, even in the boys’ club universe of Preacher.