The Hazards of Love began as a webcomic in 2015, with issue covers and occasional splash pages in color, the rest a thickly lined and crosshatched black and white. In 2018 author/artist Stan Stanley told Women Write Comics that she set out to create a creepy, queer YA story with a Latinx cast, the kind of story she’d love to have read as a teen. Book 1 collects the first 11 issues (plus an issue zero), fills every page with blazing color, and contains more teeth than you can imagine.
Amparo Uribe and Iolanthe’s meet cute is Amparo hiding from school authorities in the library after pulling the fire alarm. After a great evening with Iolanthe (that was not a date), Amparo’s abuela reminds them of the ways they’re letting their mom down by making mischief at school. So when a talking cat appears in their bedroom and offers Amparo a wish, they wish to become a better person. Unfortunately the cat was really just stealing Amparo’s name, body, and life. Now the cat is living Amparo’s life in Queens and Amparo is exiled to a lush, animalistic wonderland called Bright World, where everything loves to eat humans. Nameless and shoeless, they are helped by/fall prey to tavern owner Mimi, an anthropomorphized hairless dog. As a way out of Mimi’s doomed indentured servitude, they are helped by/fall prey to El Ciervo, who buys them from Mimi—but not before cutting their hands off. Given the name Fawn and new, morphing blue flame hands, they continue searching for an escape to the real world, aided by one of Mimi’s servants, Juliana.
Back in Queens, time is passing and Iolanthe is suspicious of the suddenly sweeter Amparo. But feline Amparo wins her over, and sets about bringing up their grades, holding down a job, and making their family proud. They go to prom and graduate from school and keep trying to build a future. But a cat’s life isn’t as long as a human, and this cat has been alive for a while already. When they disappear, Iolanthe begins a strange search involving an underground psychic.
My summary can’t do the writing justice. There are twists and turns and sickening reveals and the dangers of Bright World can’t be easily cataloged. Memories and things humans keep on the inside are currency in Bright World, combining identity and survival in a primal way. Amparo is established as using they/them pronouns early on, and is questioned occasionally throughout the book about their gender. They speak in terms of being “bad at being a girl” or not really feeling one way or the other, not choosing labels. What it means to be “you” is constantly challenged in both the Queens, NY and Bright World storylines. Many of the characters speak Spanish and all of the signs in Bright World are in Spanish. The characters are often sparse on details yet vibrant, like Juliana, who retains a fiery spirit in the midst of having lost most of her memories. We spend little time with Iolanthe, but feel her deep concern and care for Amparo.
I originally read this in a digital copy, on Hoopla. The bright colors glow and the characters jump off the screen. When I decided to review it I scored a hardcopy from my library and while I don’t usually worry over digital vs paper, the black of the pages made me fall in love with the art in a new way. The entire page and between the panels are a deep black, starting out with straight gutters in the beginning that start to wiggle and swirl as magic enters the story, then remaining wild twisted things, sometimes resembling thorns, for the rest of the story. These are shown in the digital copy as well but were brilliantly shown in the printed version. Bright World is colorful in the manner of poisonous plants and animals, standing against the black panes of the pages like stained glass or the images on prayer candles. Stanley has said she was inspired by her childhood in Mexico and the riot of color reflects this as much as the folk art animal shapes and characters. In violent contrast, El Ciervo is a flat black deer head above a crisp suit. He has blue eyes, white antlers, and occasionally his pointed teeth glint, but his face is mostly a void of darkness that quietly menaces Amparo. I want to read more, but love the colors so much I think I’ll wait for Book 2 instead of reading ahead from the webcomic.
There are few sections that are challenging in readability, including an issue that divides the pages horizontally with an undulating boundary showing Amparo’s Bright World troubles and Iolanthe dealing with the deceitful cat’s antics side-by-side. Sometimes following tightly stacked speech bubbles of conversations took a little more care. But the jumbled style and the extra attention it required from me felt appropriate somehow and well worth the trouble.
The Hazards of Love is best for older teens and has more than enough complexity for adults. From a content standpoint it’s fine in a teen or high school collection. Stanley has taken care of the language in the webcomic by simply scribbling out swear words, there’s no nudity or sex, and the violence is swift and cerebral, with only a little gore. Fans of gothic comics like The Last Halloween and twisted fairytales will find a lot to sink their teeth into.
The Hazards of Love, Book 1: Bright World
By Stan Stanley
Oni Press, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 9 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Mexican, Queer
Character Representation: Latinx, Queer, Nonbinary