Freestyle

The boroughs of New York City are filled with the stylish moves of breakdancing teens and tweens. But what happens when they add a twist to their routine?  Breakdancing and yo-yo tricks are an unstoppable pair in Gale Galligan’s newest graphic novel Freestyle. The author and illustrator use their skills to create a story with relatable characters having fun expressing their style and flair on and off the dance floor.

The breakdance crew Eight Bitz need to practice every weekend if they want to win the upcoming dance competition. Their team captain is pushing their limits, causing rifts between members. However, things get a bit more chaotic when team member Cory is grounded until his grades improve. Not only that, he is stuck with quiet studious Sunna as his tutor. At first the two have trouble getting along, but things soon change when Cory watches Sunna perform some expert yo-yo tricks. As she flicks her wrist and lets the plastic bauble fly to and fro, Cory becomes mesmerized and wants to learn all the techniques. As the two become closer, however, members of Eight Bitz take note. With tensions in the dance team rising, a few members confront Cory and question his loyalty to the team and their friendship.

Gale Galligan’s artwork and storytelling go very well together. Not only are readers introduced to the world of breakdancing and yo-yo competitions, they are treated to a story of middle schoolers foraging and maintaining friendships while preparing themselves for that next level in their academic careers, high school. Each character has their own recognizable strengths which they use to achieve their goals and weaknesses that they combat in their own way. The cast is very much diverse, with characters of different gender identities and nationalities. There are also pressures of perfectionism and meeting parents’ standards within the story, common occurrences in the lives of most middle schoolers.

What really brings this story to life is Galligan’s artwork and panels packed with slick dance moves and yo-yo throwing action. In double page spreads, tweens are jumping and moving to a hip hop beat while spinning yo-yos fly in all different directions. The artist’s choice of using a bright color scheme adds to the excitement of the pages, giving readers a chance to pore over every single detail. Their research into both activities is prominently shown throughout the story, with characters using different lingos and names to describe routines, movements, and positions.

Illustrator and author Gale Galligan combines the quick moves of breakdancing and yo-yo tricks to create an exciting, heartfelt story of friendship and expression. Public and school libraries should consider this graphic novel in their collections, especially those who cater to devoted readers of Raina Telgemeier and Kayla Miller. Middle school readers and fans of Galligan’s work on The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels will definitely want to give this book a try and perhaps look into the exciting world of yo-yo tricks and dance crews.

Freestyle
By Gale Galligan
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022
ISBN: 9781338045802

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Taiwanese-American,  Genderqueer, Nonbinary
Character Representation: Chinese-American

Gender Queer: A Memoir

Gender Queer Deluxe EditionGender Queer: A Memoir begins with an arresting image. As a student, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, taped over two pages of eir sketchbook with blank pieces of paper. The pages concealed an autobiographical comic about gender created for a school assignment, a topic that filled Kobabe with discomfort. In the opening of Gender Queer, we’re shown the censored pages—then, with an immensely satisfying “RIPPP!”, Kobabe tears away the paper, revealing the title page of Gender Queer itself.

Gender Queer is the self-portrait of a queer artist developing the confidence to tell eir story, in eir own words and on eir own terms. Narrating Kobabe’s gender journey from early childhood to the present, this graphic memoir chronicles eir efforts to build a life that affirms every piece of eir identity. There isn’t a single pivotal coming-out scene; instead, Kobabe embarks on a slow, continuous project of self-expression and self-knowledge, with results as precise and dazzling as the constellations that decorate the cover of this deluxe edition.

Maia Kobabe’s story begins with a California childhood spent catching snakes, making art, and feeling completely out of step with eir peers. A series of early crushes helps Maia to realize e’s bisexual, but this doesn’t explain the deeper discomfort e feels with eir body and assigned gender. Confused and discouraged, Maia catches hold of a pair of lifelines—coming to books as a late reader, and joining a Queer Straight Alliance at eir high school. Discovering stories that reflect eir own experiences, e begins to feel less alone.

Entering adulthood, Maia finds a word—genderqueer—that reflects the complexity of eir experiences. Just as important, e continues to collect touchstones that affirm eir sense of self instead of eroding it. There’s the first time e listens to David Bowie; the male figure skating costume that fills em with gender euphoria; the queer fan fiction that sparks eir sense of the erotic, yet ultimately makes em realize that e prefers reading about romance to experiencing it firsthand. Kobabe’s sophisticated artwork explodes to life in these moments, expressive full-color panels featuring inventive imagery such as Maia’s gender leafing out like a young seedling, or Bowie’s music as a full-body, cosmic experience (complete with rocketship). 

Yet as Maia pieces together identity labels—nonbinary, mostly asexual, queer—and builds a network of supportive friends and family, the obstacles grow. Maia knows that as long as e minimizes eir gender, eir relationships and sense of self will suffer. But loved ones offer pushback when e tries to explain nonbinary identities; Pap smears are a source of trauma that medical professionals rarely take seriously; and everyday interactions come with a cost: Maia must stand up for emself, over and over, just to feel comfortable in eir own skin. This is the Maia who censored eir own sketchbook, and at the close of the memoir, this self-effacement is still palpable. Now a working artist, e hesitates over whether to share eir pronouns with students. “I think I’m carrying more fear than I need,” e realizes.

If Gender Queer is an act of bravery, it’s also a funny, sophisticated, deeply relatable coming-of-age story about charting your way alongside books and best friends into adulthood. Accessible but never didactic, Kobabe’s deft storytelling and polished, appealing artwork excels at communicating with a broad readership. For a queer and trans audience that has rarely encountered nonfiction centering nonbinary experiences, Kobabe’s memoir delivers affirmation, while for readers who are new to learning about queer identities, it educates and invites empathy. Gender Queer is also smart about the way it presents sexual material; this book doesn’t shy from frank discussions of sexuality, masturbation, and sexual health, but the content is contextualized in a way that is sensitive to the needs of younger readers, and Kobabe takes care to avoid explicit sexual depictions of underage characters.

The 2022 deluxe edition collects process pieces and select issues of the original Genderqueer comic strips, providing a snapshot of Kobabe’s creative process. An introduction by She-Ra and the Princesses of Power creator ND Stevenson reflects on the impact of Gender Queer since its initial publication in 2019. Stevenson writes about the book’s significance to himself and queer loved ones, as well as, briefly, those who have sought to remove it from public schools and libraries in “a last, desperate attempt to hammer an infinitely complex world into a small, unthreatening shape.”

Maia Kobabe’s introspective, joyful memoir is an important contribution to comics literature. It is highly recommended for any library collection serving adult and older teen readers.

Gender Queer: A Memoir, Deluxe Edition
By Maia Kobabe
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781637150726

Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Asexual, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary

Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales, vol. 5: The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories

The Woman in the Woods and other North American Stories marks the fifth volume in the series of cautionary fables and fairy tales. The eight tales in this volume are from Indigenous nations, told and illustrated by Indigenous artists, and highlighting tales from Odawa, Chickasaw, Métis/Cree, Métis, Ojibwe, Tania, Navajo, and S’Kallam societies. The editors asked each of the authors to ask for permission from the Elders and/or nations to retell and rework the stories for inclusion in this anthology as they recognized and respected the protocol inherent in the gathering of the stories from the people. Unfortunately, there are no source notes included in the collection, making it of less value to educators, librarians, and storytellers than I had hoped. True, the intended audience is middle school readers, not scholars, but the authenticity of each of the tales should be paramount for them as well. I do appreciate the fact that each of the tribal affiliations has been identified for the tales.

While the tales are rendered in black and white with various hues of grey, the cover itself jumps with colour. Ironically, the story alluded to on the cover is not included in the collection. Editor and cover artist Alina Pete remarked that she had hoped to include the creation story of Sky Woman and Turtle Island, but she could not find anyone that had permission to tell this story. Sky Woman fell to the water-covered world and fell on the back of Turtle. One by one, the animals dive into the water to try and find land until Muskrat is successful in bringing back soil. Sky woman spreads the soil on Turtle’s back to create the world as we know it. She shows Sky Woman dancing for joy and two constellations on the back cover featuring two of the characters from the tales within the covers.

Most of the illustrations in the book itself have simple backgrounds, focusing on the characters of each tale. The different styles of illustrations make each of the stories individual in a collection continuous from tale to tale without any commentary. Most of the illustrations are rendered realistically, although one or two stories have manga-like characteristics and vary between historical and contemporary settings. They also vary in length.

The anthology begins with the Odawa creation story, “As it was told to Me,” retold and illustrated by Elijah Forbes, which demonstrates that the world needs the balance of good and bad to exist. It is followed by a trickster rabbit story about the cost of vanity from the Chickasaw people. “Chokfi” is written by Jordaan Arledge and illustrated by Mekala Nava. The next two stories are located closer to this reviewer. “White Horse Plains,” from the Métis settlement St. Francois Xavier, relates the tale of the dangers of greed and conflict. It is written and illustrated by Rhael McGregor. The second Métis tale is possibly the most familiar character in the collection for me. Written by Maija Ambrose Plamondon and illustrated by Milo Applejohn, “The Rougarou” tells the story of a werewolf like monster and a young boy who befriends the Rougarou. I must admit that while I am familiar with many Rougarou tales, this is the first time I have encountered this one. Alice RL’s Ojibwe tale of “Agonjin in the Water” relates a tale of another story of friendship between a human and a mythical creature: the mythical, Mishipeshu the Great Water Guardian of the lakes and rivers.

The Taino story that follows gave its title to the anthology. It is written and illustrated by Mercedes Acosta and also focuses on the relationship between a woman and a spirit of a young girl who sees the mysterious “Woman in the Woods.” The penultimate tale, “Into the Darkness,” is a Navaho shapeshifter tale about a character so frightful that no one dares to speak its name. It is written by Izzy Roberts and illustrated by Aubrie Warner. The final tale, written by Jeffrey Veregge and illustrated by Alina Pete, is a romantic tale from the S’Kallam people. The Moon in “By the Light of the Moon” falls in love with Octopus Woman, the Queen of the Salish Sea in Puget Sound. The bright light of the Moon makes it possible for the Moon to watch her dance and to send her kisses. The power of the kisses has a surprising repercussion.

The stories are followed by two pages of concise biographies of the creators including their tribal affiliations and, in most cases, their sexual orientations.

Recommended for middle school and public library collections. Because the book is part of the cautionary fables and fairy tales series, most of the stories have strong lessons imparted in the story line, but they are not dogmatic and do allow the power of the storytelling to shine through. I just wish there were adequate source notes—did I say that already?

Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales, vol. 5: The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories
Edited by Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald, Alina Pete
Iron Circus, 2022
ISBN: 9781945820977

Publisher Age Rating: 10-12
Series ISBNs and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation:  Cree, Metis, Navajo, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans, Two Spirit
Character Representation: Cree, First Nations or Indigenous, Metis, Navajo

Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American

Where does one’s sense of identity begin, how does it evolve over time, and can it be shaped honestly to avoid misunderstandings? Laura Gao wrestles with these elusive questions as she navigates the curious wonders of growing up in her graphic memoir Messy Roots. Whether riding on a buffalo though the lily pad ponds of China, playing tricks on her little brother, or getting love struck by a slick female basketball player at her middle school in Texas, Laura Gao aims to find her identity and truth. This coming-of-age memoir presents a wildly amusing and deeply personal account of straddling between different cultures which will resonate with young adults seeking to find themselves along the universal journey of life.

Messy Roots transports readers on a ride through the curious and vivacious life of Laura Gao as she embarks on fanciful escapades in Wuhan, China, immigrates to Texas, returns overseas to her native homeland one summer, and finally reaches San Francisco in adulthood. Like an alien transplanted to another planet, she struggles to adapt to American culture by changing her Chinese name from Yuyang to Laura (after the first lady under President George Bush), hiding her Chinese dumplings for lunch at school, and defying stereotypes of being a math whiz. She further weaves cultural details seamlessly into her narrative–from reflecting on the Chinese legend about the young maiden whisked off to the moon during the mid-autumn festival to satisfying her cravings for white rabbit candy (a sweet milky confection).

Gao’s characters, rendered through sketched line drawings, resonate with comedic effect. Facial expressions and doodles capture a mixed range of emotional nuances and personas, sometimes with exaggerated effects reminiscent of manga. Intricately composed panels in some instances feature subtle details that warrant a second viewing to fully appreciate their thematic implications.

A remarkable and rollicking rampage through one teenager’s rites of passage, Gao delivers an honest and humorous take on the ups and downs of growing up in a constantly shifting world while tackling intersectional themes of immigration, assimilation, racism, sexuality, and self-identity. While the story adopts a warm, light-hearted tone, it also sheds light on more serious issues including the anti-Asian microaggressions that continue to persist during the Covid-19 pandemic. Her debut offers a refreshingly energetic voice to young adult library collections, bringing a queer Wuhanese American to the forefront of BIPOC characters.

Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American
By Laura Gao
Harper Collins Balzer + Bray, 2022
ISBN: 9780063067776

Publisher Age Rating: 14+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Chinese-American,  Queer, Genderqueer ,  Character Representation: Chinese-American, Queer, Genderqueer,

Mooncakes Collector’s Edition

The life of Nova Huang, teenage witch, had been going through its usual motions: helping her grandmothers run their bookshop, loaning out spell books to the local magic users, and investigating the odd supernatural occurrence in the community. Naturally, she did not expect to run into her long-lost childhood friend and werewolf, Tam Lang, facing off against a malevolent horse demon in the woods. Currently on the run from those looking to steal their wolf magic, Tam turns to Nova for aid. What follows is a resurgence of unspoken feelings, their relationship deepening as they reconnect over hopes, fears, and uncertainties both old and new. In this brand-new collector’s edition of the Hugo Award nominee, Mooncakes weaves a beautiful story that will captivate readers with the wonders of magic, self-discovery, and the unshakeable strength of love and family, both born to and found.

Wendy Xu’s muted, yet charming color palette immediately engulfs readers into the atmosphere of the story, as the comic opens on a panel filled with the alluring reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn. A sense of coziness in the colors persists in the backgrounds, whether in the forest surrounding Nova’s town or in the book-filled backroom of her grandmothers’ bookshop. Even the clothing of the characters goes a long way in strengthening the fall vibes that linger within each page, displaying comfy sweaters and stylish button-ups and jackets. From the art alone, Xu’s illustrations bring about an urge to whip up the warmest, most comforting beverage, wrap yourself in a soft blanket, and nestle within them. The use of larger panels as well as a straightforward layout scheme make this an accessible read, its more character-driven scenes being the most standout portions of the story. Panels in which there is no dialogue are fairly common, relying completely on Xu’s artistic choices to accurately convey the underlying emotions of the scene. As a result of the depth and versatility of the characters’ expressions, each of these scenes hit their marks perfectly.

The story itself is mostly grounded, all fantastical elements aside. Nova and Tam’s relationship serves as the emotional crux and, though we fall into the middle of their developing romance, this does not make it any less compelling. Their constant support and loyalty to each other cements them as a couple we want to see succeed and overcome all odds. Both of them try to anchor the other through their own emotional insecurities, whether it is Nova’s fear of leaving behind the only family she has left or Tam’s doubt of their own abilities and need for acceptance and family. The open and honest communication between them is equal parts refreshing and endearing as we follow them through their shared journeys. This dynamic aside, the comic underlies the story with a healthy amount of humor with the characters naturally bouncing off of each other. Though the danger of whatever is lurking in the woods remains prevalent in the story, the action mostly takes a backseat to the exploration of the characters and their dynamics.

One element that Suzanne Walker and Xu weave expertly in Mooncakes is its representation, which, although present and utilized in the story, does not make up the sum of the characters. Both Nova and Tam are Chinese-American, with Nova also being bisexual, hard of hearing, and a hearing aid user, while Tam is genderqueer and goes by they/them pronouns. The intersectionality of these representations does not come off as “how many identities can we stack on top of each other,” but as realistic facets of these characters, as they should be. Neither of the main characters’ main conflicts revolve around these parts of their identities, nor does the comic completely shy away from how they do impact their lives. These two elements balance each other perfectly, leading to a representative material that treats its characters like people first and foremost.

Due to the art style of the comic, its themes on identity and acceptance, and the meaningful relationship between the main leads, Mooncakes is best for those 13 and up looking for a good mix of heart and humor with a paranormal edge. This special edition also includes a new introduction and afterword, as well as previously unpublished materials, such as concept art, scripts, and letters from the characters that give additional worldbuilding. Librarians and educators looking for more inclusive materials or character-driven stories for their collection should considered purchasing this title.


Mooncakes Collector’s Edition
By Suzanne Walker
Art by Wendy Xu
Oni Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781620109731
Publisher Age Rating: 13-16

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Chinese-American, Queer, Genderqueer, Hearing loss
Character Representation: Chinese-American, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Hearing loss

Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir

Kimiko Tobimatsu, a 25-year-old queer, mixed-race Canadian woman with no history of health problems discovers a lump on her breast. In this powerful and honest autobiographical memoir, depicting her emotional and physical experiences with breast cancer, superbly illustrated by Keet Geniza, the reader weaves through the corridors of this disease with Kimiko. Her story commences with the newly complex life of constant appointments, evaluations, treatments, and the difficult conversations with everyone she cares about as she contemplates having breast cancer. The most appealing aspect of this novel, for me, is how the author and illustrator expand the customary narrative of cancer patients to illuminate the continual issues, rarely discussed, once a patient is deemed “cancer-free.”

“There’s not a lot of writing out there on cancer and disability. Maybe because for those of us who are now cancer-free, the ongoing symptoms are after-effects (of surgery, radiation, meds), not the result of disease still being present.  Or maybe it’s because the mainstream cancer narrative is about overcoming adversity, not about experiencing ongoing disability” (92).

Kimiko’s relative youth generates a multitude of additional concerns once the cancer has been contained. She becomes highly aware of her body, its image, the food she consumes, the relationships new and old, being queer, all while becoming attuned for the perpetual need to rest, regroup, and rejuvenate. Her relationships with her family, especially her mother, play a huge role in Kimiko’s self-discovery as does her floundering relationship with her partner. She addresses many popular mindsets, within and outside, the medical profession regarding gender expression, reconstructive breast surgery, reproduction, early menopause, and the stereotypes perpetuated by the ubiquitous “pink ribbon” campaigns. In this compellingly told story, she shares with the reader her discoveries of how she found her own approach to move forward and the energy and dedication that the move demanded on her personally. As mentioned previously this is a robust resource for others who do not see themselves in standard breast cancer tales.

Geniza’s use of muted blues, blacks, and grays intensify the gravity of the situation, highlighting, through the expressive facial portraits, the fatigue and worry that the experience has on all those involved, not only the protagonist. The illustrations add to the tenderness, the pain, and the hope of those within Kimiko’s circle. The illustrations effectively and economically enhance the text in the relating of the narrative and in bringing the characters alive for the readers.

I must add a disclaimer here, your reviewer experienced similar encounters with the upside-down experiences of being diagnosed with breast cancer and its after effects. Kimiko’s story, although quantitatively different, strongly resonated with me as I reviewed her story and especially her disclosures about the aftermath of being “cancer-free”. Ironically, perhaps, I found reading this graphic novel experience joyful and poignant. It reverberated loudly with me although I match the perceived demographic of breast cancer patients in Canada. Her story strongly demonstrates that each person’s experience is uniquely their own, regardless of common, or in this case, uncommon markers of the disease and treatment. It also points to the unexpected interconnections in the shared experiences as well.

This graphic novel is a strong entry in the genre of graphic medicine and should be widely accessible in all public libraries as well as academic library collections highlighting memoirs, health and wellness narratives, and LGBTQ dialogues.


Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir
By Kimiko Tobimatsu
Art by Keet Geniza
ISBN: 9781551528199
Arsenal Pulp, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Queer
Creator Highlights: Japanese-Canadian, Queer, Genderqueer, Disability

Be Gay, Do Comics

The Nib compiles approximately fifty webcomics (many of which were previously published on thenib.com) from forty creators on a wide variety of LGBTQ+-related topics into this Kickstarter-backed anthology. The comics run the gamut from one-page funnies to ten-plus-page detailed glimpses into queer history. Associate Editor Matt Lubchansky’s introduction explains the origin of the title’s source, the phrase “Be Gay, Do Crime.” Lubchansky also discusses the significance of comics as a means to express queer identity in a singularly accessible manner.

Some of the most interesting comics in the anthology serve to educate readers about various aspects of the queer experience. These include histories, cultural and national disparities in treatments of queer people, and procedures like embryo adoption and securing birth control as an asexual person. One historical highlight is The Life of Gad Beck, written by Dorian Alexander, which details gay Jewish Beck’s resistance under Nazi Germany. Levi Hastings’ gorgeous illustrations are rendered in black, white, and pale blue, with thick outlines (there is no art tool information in the book, but it looks like Hastings used oil pastels). Another particularly informative contribution is Sam Wallman’s A Covert Gaze at Conservative Gays, an illuminating piece about historical and contemporary right-wing activism among queer people. At first glance, Wallman’s panelless comic closely resembles a infographic by a Mad Magazine artist; Al Jaffee comes to mind. But this black, white, and pink comic strikes a perfect balance between discussing “gay supervillains” like Milo Yiannopolous and more sympathetic conservatives like gun advocates in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Kazimir Lee’s What’s It Like to Raise Kids in Malaysia When You’re LGBT? is another interesting piece which details political perspectives and individual experiences of queer people in Malaysia. The standout art is reminiscent of a mid-20th century picture book; the full-color illustrations are predominantly in earthy reds, pinks, yellows, and browns, and there are minimal outlines in the characters’ block-like head and body shapes.

The anthology balances its drier informational pieces with funny one-page strips and relatable memoirs. A memoir highlight is Dancing with Pride by Maia Kobabe (Gender Queer) and is about eir experience in a folk dancing class where dancers are assigned different roles based on their perceived genders. The simple illustrations appear to be in pencil and watercolor, and feature a page where the dancers are lined up in order so their shirts make a rainbow, a very subtle and sweet nod to queerness in non-queer spaces. Another moving piece is written by Sarah Mirk and details activist Pidgeon Pagonis’s experience as an intersex child. The piece, Gender Isn’t Binary and Neither Is Anatomy, is illustrated by Archie Bongiovanni (A Quick & Easy Guide to Pronouns, Grease Bats).  A couple laugh-out-loud funny highlights include Joey Alison Sayers’s The Final Reveal, in which the extremes of gender reveal parties are spoofed, and Shelby Criswell’s Astrological Signs as Classic Queer Haircuts

As is always the case when I read comic anthologies, there were pieces that didn’t resonate as well with me as those I’ve named above. Rather than specify them, I will argue that it is because this book features something for every reader. If a piece didn’t resonate with me, it is sure to resonate with someone else. The queer representation is so varied, with gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, intersex, and ace representation, and with countless intersectional queer identities, that I am confident every queer reader will find something to relate to in this book. Due to its array of art styles and queer representations, I would particularly recommend Be Gay, Do Comics for fans of Iron Circus’s anthologies, like FTL, Y’all, Smut Peddler, and The Sleep of Reason.


Be Gay, Do Comics
Edited by Matt Bors
ISBN: 9781684057771
IDW, 2020

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Intersex, Nonbinary, Trans
Creator Highlights: Black, Filipino-American, Puerto Rican Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans

Cannonball

Adulting is hard. Cannonball, written and illustrated by Kelsey Wroten, is a raw story about the trials and tribulations of living through one’s 20s. With eye-popping illustrations and a relatable, if sometimes unlikable, main character, Cannonball is a perfect time capsule of the pains of being 24 and lost.

Caroline is an aspiring writer who graduates from school. She finds herself struggling to come to terms with growing up. While her friends start to move on and find “adult” jobs, Caroline stays stagnant. This arrested development is very much her own doing, as she refuses to sell out and become a poser. Everyone is a poser to Caroline. She believes that her words are powerful and she cannot be a part of the corporate world. She fights with her friends, her parents, and anyone connected with the writing industry. She drinks too much. She is jealous of the success of school acquaintances. Caroline falls into a dark spiral of loneliness, pettiness, and general self-hatred. One night while drunk, Caroline sits down and writes a story. It becomes an instant hit and is made into a book. Will Caroline finally find peace, or will she continue her self-sabotage?

The artwork is bright with an unusual use of colors. There is a distortion to the color palette as Caroline weaves in and out of the real world and her daydreams. The androgynous style of the characters works well with the overall queer overtones to the story. Wroten takes great care to give each character some individuality. They all have their own color scheme and signature look. The use of tattoos, hairstyles, and facial expressions rounds out the characters nicely and enhances the story greatly.

Cannonball is a painfully relatable story. The writing perfectly encapsulates a morose and stubborn 20-something who refuses to see the light among the dark. Caroline is a decidedly unlikable character. She’s mean and petty and doesn’t seem that interested in the well-being of her best friend and family. Caroline comes off as two-dimensional but the reality is that some people are so fixated on their own misery that they are blind to anything and everything else around them. The writing and dialogue feel extremely real. Cannonball is as beautiful as it is bold. It’s a classic story of existential angst and raging against the machine.

Cannonball is appropriate for readers 16+. There is a lot of alcohol consumption and some sexual situations. Cannonball would be enjoyable to readers of Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis, and On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden.

Cannonball
By Kelsey Wroten
ISBN: 9781941250334
Uncivilized Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Queer Genderqueer, Nonbinary

The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life

Tom Hart’s new instructional text, The Art of the Graphic Memoir, is a valuable tool for aspiring graphic novelists, with a wealth of examples and exercises. In fact, it is probably as close a simulation as possible to attending a live course on the subject such as those taught through Hart’s Sequential Artist’s Workshop.

In this prose volume, Hart guides readers through a methodical process of creating a graphic memoir. From the early stages of gathering material from personal experience to structuring the story arc, choosing a visual style, and completing the narrative, Hart provides his readers with concrete examples from his own work, as well as thoughtfully-chosen pieces from other published graphic memoirs. Each chapter focuses on a specific stage of the creative process, utilizing several exemplary works to illustrate the ideas presented. The chapters end with exercises to help students work on their own memoirs, suggestions for further reading, and an in-depth “live example,” which traces his own process of creating a graphic memoir.

While this text is primarily instructional, it is at the same time immensely personal for the author. Tom Hart not only guides his readers through producing their own work, but also shares the ways that creating his bestselling memoir Rosalie Lightning, which relates the events surrounding the death of his young daughter, was personally transformational for him. The Art of the Graphic Memoir is as much about why someone can benefit from creating this type of work as it is about how to do it. The book’s subtitle stems from the importance Hart places on the personal transformation to be gained from creating a graphic memoir.

It is important to note that while this book is instructional, it does not teach readers how to draw. The assumption is made that readers are already proficient in drawing, and the focus is placed upon guiding them through making artistic decisions in crafting their memoirs. Hart shares numerous decisions that had to be made in creating his own memoir, such as his choice to show the death of his daughter first and then return to earlier events in her life. Hart gives readers of The Art of the Graphic Memoir a behind-the-scenes look at the processes other graphic novelists have used in creating their memoirs, as well. He quotes extensively from other creators and uses a wide variety of examples of their experiences and techniques. He shows us reference photographs used by Alison Bechdel, an outline from Malaysian graphic novelist Lat, and countless examples of finished works from across the spectrum of graphic novels for children through adults. It is clear that Hart knows the field well, and has a deep understanding of the creative process applied to this medium.

This book will be tremendously useful to aspiring graphic novelists, especially those interested in the memoir format, but the work is versatile enough to benefit other readers. While it is focused on providing instruction for those hoping to create memoirs in particular, many of the techniques and strategies covered would be useful in the creation of other types of graphic novels and even works of prose. As for those not interested in creating their own works, this text still holds value in that it helps readers develop literacy in graphic novels as a medium and insight into various creators and their craft.

The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life
By Tom Hart
ISBN: 9781250113344
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018

Fence, vol. 1

When Boom! Box first solicited Fence in the fall of 2017, they billed it as a fusion of Yuri! On Ice (an anime about figure skating) and Check, Please (an amazing web comic about college hockey and baking). This was a great marketing move, because I immediately added it to my pull list, and I am more than thrilled to review the first volume.

Fence, Vol. 1 collects issues one through four, and follows Nicholas Cox, a scrappy guy from the wrong side of the tracks who dreams of becoming a world-class fencer. Lacking the funds to pay for formal training, he cleans up a fencing studio in exchange for lessons, and enters a regional fencing tournament. He’s confident bordering on cocky, and the bottom seed, so of course he’s eliminated in the first round by the enigmatic Seiji Katayama, a fencing prodigy. Seiji disdains Nicholas, and he has a lot to learn about sportsmanship, but still beats Nicholas 15-0. Nicholas vows to beat Seiji one day, no matter how hard he has to work.

Despite his disastrous loss, Nicholas is recruited by the head fencing coach of Kings Row, an all-boys boarding school with a middling fencing program. Nicholas accepts the offer of a shot at a fencing scholarship, thinking he’ll get another chance to beat Seiji, who’s being recruited by Exton, the top fencing school in the country. However, once Nicholas arrives at Kings Row, he discovers that Seiji, for some reason, decided to come to Kings Row instead of Exton, that Seiji is also his new roommate, and that they’re both competing for one of the coveted three spots on the varsity fencing team. Now, not only is Nicholas’ honor on the line, but also his scholarship—if he doesn’t win a spot on the team, he’ll lose it, and won’t be able to afford the tuition at Kings Row.

Overall, Fence is a joy to read and experience. The dialogue and story, by C.S. Pacat, is sharp and funny, and she easily integrates explanations and background information about fencing techniques and rules into the story. This makes the story and technicalities easy to follow, with the added bonus of looping the reader in without making you feel like an idiot. Fencing novices will have no trouble following the story, and near novices like me (thank you, one semester of fencing class) will definitely learn something new.

What makes this comic really stand out, though, is the art. Pencils are done by Johanna the Mad, a popular web artist who makes her comic debut with Fence. She excels at dramatic framing, and I paused many times while reading this book to admire just how well she captures movement and emotions, whether it’s the swagger of Seiji Katayama leaving defeated opponents in his wake, how cavernous and intimidating the salle (a room used for fencing) feels on the first day of tryouts, and Nicholas’ anguish in defeat.

With the uber-dramatic framing, sometimes Fence feels less like a graphic novel and more like Japanese anime. The flow of the panels and the story feel an awful lot like anime cuts, and the plot is a classic sports anime storyline. Although not a huge fan of anime myself (Yuri! On Ice is one of two shows I’ve seen in their entirety), I’ve been to enough Otakons and listened to my otaku friends talk about sports anime enough to recognize it when I see it. The tropes are all there, including the scrappy underdog, the characters who go from being rivals to friends to maybe more (hopefully—Seiji and Nicholas are still firmly in the “rivals” stage of that evolution), and even the odd-couple friendships. There’s even one panel where one character is so in awe of Seiji that a wreath of red roses appears around the aloof prodigy’s head.

You would think that this would make Fence tropey and predictable, but somehow it really, really works. All the elements—the dialogue, the pencils, the inks—come together to create a loving homage to sports anime in comic form, with enough twists to make the story original and exciting. You can really tell that Pacat and Johanna the Mad are in sync for the vision of this comic, and the result is an entertaining, fun book that would be a great addition to any library.

On top of all of its merits, Fence also features an incredibly diverse cast. You would think that the upper echelons of prep-school fencing would be overwhelmingly hormonal white boys, but the fencing team at Kings Row is made up of hormonal boys of all races, cultures, sexual orientations, and gender identities. It’s fantastic to see that kind of representation in this comic, and I hope other creators in the industry follow suit.

Fence, vol. 1
by C.S. Pacat
Art by Johanna The Mad
ISBN: 9781684151929
Boom!Box, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: (13+)