Charlie is done with basketball. She’s played since she was eight, and she loves the sport, but she doesn’t love the stress that came with playing in college. Sidelined by panic attacks and anxiety, she lost her scholarship. That’s when she decided to focus on filmmaking and transferred to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics. Where, naturally, she’s immediately approached about joining the basketball team.
The thing is, this school doesn’t technically have a basketball team. Not yet. But a hyper-friendly overachiever named Liv is determined to start one—and she only needs one more player for their team, the Avant-Guards, to qualify for the league. With the help of the quirky crew she’s already recruited, Liv launches a campaign to get Charlie on board.
And hey, playing for the Avant-Guards might be different. There’s a lot less pressure: their newly-formed league consists only of arts colleges and specialty schools that aren’t exactly intensely competitive. The people on the team seem nice. Maybe Charlie could get back to actually enjoying basketball. Plus, Liv is awfully cute, and she seems like she might be into Charlie.
This comic presents a full cast of charming characters. Charlie’s aloofness quickly begins to crack in the face of Liv’s earnest enthusiasm. She starts to bond with the rest of the team: Liv’s deadpan ex; a perky self-proclaimed witch; a genial nonbinary artist; and their coach, an experienced player who’s off the court due to an injury but happy to cheer on the team. Their levels of experience and skill vis-à-vis basketball vary widely, but that’s okay; the Avant-Guards are in it for fun and a little friendly competition.
The drama, thus far, is mostly off the court. Charlie isn’t sure she’s ready to get back into team sports, while Liv isn’t sure she’s over her ex enough to try dating Charlie. The tough emotions are just brushed against, not lingered on, at least in this first volume. This is a gentle book about good people becoming friends and playing some basketball.
It’s also extremely clever and funny. The Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics is a fun, flamboyant place full of fun, flamboyant people. The Avant-Guards’ away game at a veterinary school with an equally amusing name suggests that the other schools in the league have just as much personality. The two protagonists—we get sections from Liv’s perspective as well as Charlie’s—are sympathetic and easy to root for, and the rest of the cast is also delightful. Their antics as they try to recruit Charlie to the team make for great comedy, as does the team’s chaotic first practice.
Adding to both the humor and the overall enjoyability of the book is the excellent artwork. The characters are distinctive, diverse, and expressive. Their movements and postures look natural and dynamic. They are realistic, but still exaggerated enough to offer some wonderful visual comedy, as when the whole team is briefly incapacitated by the appearance of cute dogs. Great attention is paid to detail, including things some artists might miss, like what Liv’s afro puffs look like after being slept on. The backgrounds, too, contribute immensely to the richness and humor of the comic. For example, the series of wacky booths Charlie passes at the Student Activities Fair really helps to establish the setting of this over-the-top art school.
This comic will be a hit (dare I say . . . a slam-dunk?) with readers who enjoy goodhearted, funny, and inclusive stories. I would be especially quick to hand it to fans of Moonstruck who are willing to step outside the fantasy genre for another sweet, sometimes silly, well-drawn LGBTQ+ romance.
The Avant-Guards, vol. 1
By Carly Usdin
Art by Noah Hayes
Boom! Box, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
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Character Traits: Black, Lesbian, Bisexual, Nonbinary
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator