When you go to a play, have you ever been fascinated by what you don’t see on stage? By the unseen mechanics of stage hands that bring sets in and out of frame, lighting cues that direct your attention to the right actor? Intrigued by the magical and dangerous tunnels that run through the high school putting on the play?

In The Backstagers, Volume One: Rebels without Applause, Jory is the new kid at St. Genesius Prep and feels out of place at his new all-boys school. He has to find something to do after school, and where is one place a studious outcast looks for friends? Drama club of course! When the comically egotistical star actors/twins send him off to get a prop, Jory meets the stage crew, or backstagers. During his first foray backstage, the crew embraces him, introduces him to the dangerous and mysterious tunnels only known to the backstagers, and puts him to work corralling the odd creatures known as tool rats. Jory is hooked and filled with questions. To find answers, and realizing the actors aren’t going to be his new pals, he decides to join Aziz, Beckett, Sasha, and Hunter as a backstager.

Much like a stage play, readers get to follow a great ensemble cast, with Jory as a stand-in for the readers. Each act’s adventure offers the opportunity to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of each member of that ensemble. This cast is the book’s greatest strength. In a culture where media starring boys can overemphasize the importance of brute strength, The Backstagers offers a more balanced approach, mixing emotional vulnerability, using mind over matter, and when needed, taking action and fighting off some giant spiders. The characters’ friendships are obviously important to them, and at the possibility of losing one of those friends, they aren’t afraid to express anger and worry. The ensemble is diverse in identities and cultures. Jory and Aziz are characters of color, and there is strong LGBTQIA+ representation. Jory and Hunter have crushes on one another and are constantly blushing when interacting. Beckett is transgender and smitten with an ex-classmate from the all-girls school they attended before transferring to St. Genesius.

Another aspect of the writing that works really well here is the pacing. Writer James Tynion wastes no time getting us backstage and introducing the magical mysteries that carry the book, and revealing just enough of the mysteries to keep readers hooked from act to act. The magical tunnels feel like they are inspired by stage plays, their movements and periodic reorganization similar to the way a set changes during a performance or the way sets get recycled for a future show. Rian Sygh’s art and Walter Baiamonte’s colors pair well here, playing with lights and darks that fit the particular part of the set the characters are in. While the dangers are ever present in the setting, the overall look does a wonderful job of never being too scary for younger readers. The most unnerving artwork is used sparingly at the end, and to good effect setting up volume two.

This title fits very well with the Boom Box imprint, and will appeal to readers who enjoy those titles, like Lumberjanes, Goldie Vance, and Diesel: Ignition. It will also appeal to readers who enjoy series that mix real dangers in an gentler and often cute setting, like Steven Universe or Gravity Falls. Put simply, this book is a super fun read with representation I would like to see more of in YA titles.

The Backstagers, Volume One: Rebels without Applause 
by James Tynion IV
Art by Rian Sygh
ISBN: 9781608869930
Boom!, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 12-17

  • Adriana

    Past Reviewer

    Adriana graduated with a BFA in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College, and an MLS from the University of Maryland. She’s been working as a library and research professional in the Washington, D.C. area ever since. Being a sucker for mini-comics makes the Small Press Expo one of her favorite times of year. For two years she served as a volunteer at the Library of Congress where she processed the SPX Mini-Comics Collection. Her tattoo collection isn’t growing as quickly as she’d like, but it’s an enjoyable task nonetheless. Like many people who grew up in the ‘90s, she loves Sailor Moon, and aspires to be a powerful magical girl. Or a professional wrestler. Either one would be great. In the mean time, she chronicles her attempts to get through her Netflix queue at To the Queue!

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