The Last Witch: Fear and Fire

Be wary on Imbolc Day, when the witch, Cailleach, roams the woods, looking for children to feast upon. At least, that is the legend told in Saoirse’s village, warning anyone who dares to venture to the witch’s tower. Eager to prove herself, Saoirse, along with her brother, Brahm, goes to see if there is any truth to the old stories, only to fall right into the Cailleach’s clutches. From that point on, everything Saoirse knows and loves will change forever, as she discovers the meaning behind a mysterious mark on her shoulder, a dire threat to the world of apocalyptic proportions, and her own latent magic that may be more than she is ready to master. In this first installment of a new, action-packed fantasy series, The Last Witch: Fear & Fire begins a tale steeped in Irish lore and history, one that examines the responsibility of having power and the dangers of its corrupting influence.

When taking in the comic’s immaculate and engaging artwork, it would be difficult to imagine this story told through any other style. V.V. Glass’ illustrations perfectly match each tone and setting, such as the dark and foreboding witch’s tower in the wintery woods, the dynamic expressions of the characters as they endure both great hardships and welcoming moments of mirth, or the truly epic displays of Saoirse’s magic. The full-page panels that capture the might of these powers are consistently stunning and excel in showcasing both the great beauty and dangers of the magic in this world. Glass’ character designs also assist in highlighting the more gruesome aspects of the comic, particularly in the designs of Saoirse’s witchy adversaries. Black Annis, the witch Saoirse and Brahm mistake for the Cailleach, wears an intimidating smile of needlelike teeth, along with a forked tongue and slitted eyes, a figure that feels as if she had stepped right out of a cautionary fairy tale. There is also the Badb, who wields air magic through her constantly shifting faces, some more frightful than the others. Though eerie at times, the style of the comic adapts easily to whatever mood the text conveys, whether it be light-hearted, mysterious, or simply magical, resulting in a satisfying narrative harmony.

For this first volume, the fast pace of the story manages to include a great deal of plot progression and worldbuilding without doubling down on staggering exposition or giving away too many answers at once. Though the reader learns a great deal by the volume’s conclusion, there are still more unknown elements at play, enticing readers to continue with Saoirse’s journey. Saoirse is a character that is easy to fall in love with: headstrong and determined with a touch of recklessness, but also holds an admirable responsibility to her loved ones. Her external conflict with confronting malevolent witches is paired nicely with the internal battle of controlling her ever-growing magic, ultimately coming to a point where she fears what she is truly capable of. With this comic being only the beginning of the story, it sets up an intrigue in how these feelings will develop and affect Saoirse down the road.

Truthfully, it is the darker, more complex aspects of the comic that give it a sense of identity. Imagine a cross of Avatar the Last Airbender, a Cartoon Saloon production (the studio behind The Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers), with a healthy dash of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. As a result, you will get an enchanting yet perilous tale sure to appeal to those who flock to stories of grand, culturally-inspired adventures with an edge.

While the story does not contain explicit moments of gore, there are several gruesome moments that may unnerve younger readers, such as one instance of child-eating and a good amount of off panel deaths. Taking this into account, The Last Witch: Fear & Fire is most suitable for readers 13 and up and will fit in nicely in young adult or teen graphic novel collections that have a good circulation of epic fantasy stories or strive to diversify their collections with materials featuring strong, predominantly female casts.

The Last Witch: Fear & Fire
By Conor McCreery
Art by V.V. Glass
BOOM! Box, 2021
ISBN: 9781684156214
Publisher Age Rating: 14-17

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: British, Canadian, Nonbinary
Character Representation: Irish

John Carpenter Presents Storm Kids: Grimms Town Terror Tales Rise of the Candy Creeper

Take the eerie urban legends of Supernatural, mix it with the mystery and intrigue of Something Stranger, throw in the whimsical antics of Ghostbusters, and what do you get? A smart and fascinating world of supernatural folklore and adventure in The Grimms Town Terror Tales: Rise of the Candy Creeper. A ghoulish adventure geared for middle grade readers, this debut volume, conjured up by the creative team of Neo Edmund (A Tale of Red Riding) and Renae De Liz (Legend of Wonder Woman), brings an enchanting addition to the Storm Kids imprint by John Carpenter and Sandy King.

Borrowing characters from the mythos of Grimms’ fairy tales, the story spotlights Hansel and Gretel, who come home one evening to find their house ransacked and their parents gone without a trace. Upon closer inspection, they stumble into a hidden underground science lab deep in the subterranean levels of the house where they discover an arsenal of techno-magical weapons. In time, they learn that their parents are actually monster hunters. This secret operation undertaken by their Grimm ancestors has apparently endured for centuries. Before long, the siblings find themselves swept into a supernatural world lurking with uncanny characters including a grim-mannered goblin, a wraith-like pumpkin-headed Candy Creeper—the Boogey Man of stolen Halloween candy—and a nefarious witch named Hildaga Vontrix who lives deep in the woods just outside of town. Along the way, they acquire newfound powers, but at what price? And just what deadly secrets lie behind their family history? To find their parents, Hansel and Gretel must uncover their past to vanquish the deadly forces threatening them and save Grimms Town from imminent danger.

This spooky spin on a classic fairy tale for adolescent readers serves up just the right amount of scares, adventure, and mythical intrigue for a new generation. The narrative momentum revolves around Hansel and Gretel’s lineage shrouded in mystery, unfolding in incremental flashbacks from their happy-go-lucky Aunt Zoe, who reveals a darker, sinister history steeped in ancient folklore. Candy-like colors of neon green, gold, and pink illuminate vibrant panels, while deeper shades of blue and purple dominate scary scenes of malevolent beings prowling around the shadier corners of Grimms Town. The constant banter between the sister-brother duo enlivens the story, with some panels packed with heavy dialogue. The plot unravels fairly quickly as Hansel and Gretel are sucked into a fantastical world besieged by unimaginable dangers as they attempt to reunite with their parents, while encountering bizarre characters to help them unlock the secrets to their past.

This first venture into a world teeming with supernatural beings, ancient magic, and threatening danger at every turn sets the stage for further adventures. Grimms Town Terror Tales marks an entertaining addition to libraries seeking to fill a lighthearted dark fantasy and horror niche for younger readers.

John Carpenter Presents Storm Kids: Grimms Town Terror Tales Rise of the Candy Creeper
By Neo Edumund
Art by Renae De Liz
Abrams, 2021
ISBN: 9781733282161
Publisher Age Rating: 8 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Nonbinary

Eighty Days

How does it feel to fly? To soar above the world, nothing but you, your plane, and the sky? Would that be enough?

For pilot Jay Corvidae, it has been. Flying for AVO, the country’s aviation guild, with his best friend and fellow pilot and engineer, Sable Auliya, is what he knows, and what his future seems to hold. Until the day his plane is chartered for a flight by the mysterious Fix Vulpes, who certainly knows quite a lot about radio operation for a no-class thief. 

As AVO asserts their power and takes control over international governments, Jay and Fix’s adventures take a turn for the dangerous (and the amorous), while Sable charts her own course as she rises through AVO’s ranks. With war looming on the horizon, the truth can shift and change in an instant, and Jay, Fix, and Sable must all face the same question: what does freedom really mean?

With Eighty Days, A.C. Esguerra has built a world very similar to our own. Though the world they created is purely fictional, with countries named things like Easterly and Northerly, and no year adjacent to our timeline is specified, the setting and character design emulate a 1930s-esque Europe on the brink of WWII. AVO, then, could serve as a stand-in for any fascist government in Western history, though the style of their uniforms (and much of how the high ranking AVO officer side characters look in general) will likely have readers associating them with Nazi Germany.

Similarities to our world aside, Esguerra’s world-building is strong and highly detailed. Teen readers will be thrust immediately into the world of Eighty Days with background information coming out slowly throughout the graphic novel’s 300+ pages. It is divided into four “books”, and takes turns centering the three central characters’ journeys. This deep end approach to storytelling may be daunting for some readers, and some may even get a bit lost as they try to follow the intricacies of the plot. But it may also serve to help immerse some readers and keep the stakes high. 

It is impossible, however, to separate Esguerra’s textual storytelling and world-building from their absolutely stunning artwork. Rendered completely in black and white with shades of grey, their swooping, sweeping line work evokes the beauty and grace of flight. This style works well to create a sense of place and tone for this quasi-historical tale, and is especially effective in the many wordless sequences of train travel and flight. Esguerra’s stylistic choices do fall short, however, in some of the action and fight scenes, where the loops and swirls that worked so well in skyscapes become muddled and harder to decipher when characters moving at high speeds are being depicted instead.

That said, the characters in general are beautifully drawn, and each has their own vibrant personality that shines through in their character designs. Jay has a more guarded, yet cocky look behind his glasses, and it’s clear how he was unable to resist Fix with his unruly curls and sweet but impish smile. Sable, a young woman of color (perhaps their world’s equivalent of South Asian?), exudes both strength and elegance in equal measure. 

Aimed at teens 13 and up, Eighty Days will challenge readers to question what they know about the world around them, especially regarding oppressive governments, and will show what a difference just a few people can make. It would be a solid additional purchase for collections where adventures, slow burn LGBTQIA+ romances, and alternate universe historical stories are popular, and where the art aspect of graphic novels is especially appreciated.

Eighty Days
By A.C. Esguerra
BOOM! Archaia, 2021
ISBN: 9781684156573

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Filipino-American, Nonbinary
Character Representation: South Asian, Gay

The Tea Dragon Tapestry

The third and final book in K. O’Neill’s Tea Dragon series is just as poignant and artfully crafted as the previous two installments. In the first book, aspiring blacksmith Greta meets Tea Dragon Society members Hesekiel, Erik, and Minette; and begins caring for Ginseng, a tea dragon who recently lost her previous owner. Now it’s over a year later, and Ginseng still hasn’t begun to grow new tea leaves, a sign that she is still grieving. Greta is preparing a smithed object for the great blacksmith Kleitos’s test. If she passes, she will move to his forge to become his apprentice. Minette receives a parcel from the monastery where she previously lived with her parents, and where she was training to become a prophet. The parcel contains a tapestry she started but never completed, and seeing it triggers a series of disturbing dreams in which she tries to connect with her ancestors but is unable to do so.

Ginseng’s and Minette’s stories play out in parallel. Greta tries to do everything she can to help Ginseng move on and feel happy again, while all Ginseng wants is time to grieve. Minette wants to focus on the joyful experiences she’s had since she left the monastery, but she keeps getting pulled back into feelings of loss. Both Greta and Minette gradually learn that it’s important to allow oneself—as well as one’s friends—to be sad. As Erik says to Minette, “It’s alright to let those feelings” [of sadness] “wash over you, and give them time to soak into the earth. That’s when things start to grow again.” While Erik means this metaphorically, it could be taken literally, since Ginseng’s leaves begin to grow once Greta makes it clear that she will be there for the tea dragon throughout her mourning period.

As was the case in the previous Tea Dragon titles, the art is beautiful. Humanoid characters are portrayed with a wide range of skin tones, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities, as well as light fantastical elements like horns or antlers. Though the sweeping, border lineless paintings don’t leave a lot of room for facial detail, O’Neill’s illustrations convey even the subtlest emotions with finesse. The colors are earthy and bright, with clear delineation of changing seasons among the background flora. The most memorable and lovable aspect of the Tea Dragon series is the tea dragons themselves, and Ginseng, Chamomile, Rooibos, and Jasmine are all just as adorable as ever.

O’Neill’s Tea Dragon universe is elaborate, and existing fans will be excited to discover that at the end of The Tea Dragon Tapestry O’Neill has included a compendium of essays explaining the universe in more detail. While this book could potentially be read as a stand-alone, readers will benefit from having previously read The Tea Dragon Society, since The Tea Dragon Tapestry continues Greta’s and Minette’s stories first established in that book. Lovers of The Tea Dragon Festival will appreciate the cameos from Rinn and Aedhan. The Tea Dragon Tapestry is a must purchase for libraries where the first two volumes were popular. Recommend this series to pensive kids who enjoy meaningful reads and cute animals. Oni Press has also released related merchandise such as enamel pins, plush tea dragons, and tie-in card games, which may signify an expansion of the fandom.

The Tea Dragon Tapestry Vol. 3
By K. O’Neill

Oni Press, 2021

Publisher Age Rating:  9-12
Series ISBNS and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Nonbinary,
Character Representation: Queer, Wheelchair User,

The Magicians: New Class

Students in over their heads, death, sexual intrigue, dismemberment, and bickering coming to a head with a threat to the whole world; The Magicians: New Class is full of these touchstones from its parent franchise, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. We’re introduced to a handful of hedge magicians in a house in New Orleans before seeing them on a stage at Brakebills Academy for Magical Pedagogy where Dean Fogg unveils an initiative to incorporate hedge magic into the august school. Hedge magic is traditionally taught outside of institutions, passed down in informal houses and has existed for millennia. Hedge magician Keshawn Warren will be joining the staff and three of his students will be admitted as 3rd year students, the first hedge magicians to practice at Brakebills. The new students, Pat, Emily and Audrey, find themselves in a special class with three current third year students, Brian, Sophie and Andy. Andy is outspoken in his disdain for hedge magic and is only mollified upon learning the supposed history of magic traditions class is really for learning illicit battle magic. Deadly mistakes are made. A super villain is revealed. To avoid spoilers I’ll stop summarizing now. Taking place sometime after the events of the novels and TV show, the story and characters stand separate from those. Prior experience just gives the reader a fuller sense of the world. I have seen all of the TV show but have not read Grossman’s original novels.

I have read criticisms of the novels’ narrow male focus and problems with their depiction of homosexuality. This comic is a refreshing break from this, centered on a woman, peppered with sexual tension between Andy and Pat, with a nonbinary supervillain. We spend the most time with Emily, a hedge witch who hands over her prescription meds when she starts at Brakebills and is instead given a noxious green potion that she’s told will cause her body to start producing the proper hormones. I did not pick up on the importance of that scene until 30 pages later when she’s wearing a t-shirt that says “Trans Rights”, in part because I wasn’t familiar with the names of the prescriptions and there are a number of conditions (magical and not) that could be affected by hormone imbalance. It is later specifically stated (during a discussion of crushes) that Emily is trans. I thought this was a clever way of revealing this aspect of her character and a clear benefit of writer Lilah Sturges’ perspective that makes own voices books richer. Emily is the only hedge magician really interested in the formal, academic Brakebills experience, and like the previous novel/TV hero Quentin Coldwater, she feels that magic and Brakebills represent the only chance she has left at life. 

The art by Pius Bak is sketchy and insubstantial, backgrounds are only hinted at, often only one or two faces are shown with strong emotional detail and any other faces are inscrutable or blank. I have to wonder if readers without a prior knowledge of Brakebills can get much of a sense of the setting from the occasional antiquated architectural fragments. Gabriel Cassata provides a wonderful moody color palette of muted browns inside the school, with the battle magic practice made visible as columns and circles of neon green and blue energy. When the students sneak out at night to show off to each other the panels are cloaked in heavy blue grays, crackling gold sparks of magic illuminating the scenes. 

I loved The Magicians TV show because it was charming, inhabited by fascinating characters with deep emotional journeys and lots of hijinks. I did not find much of that in this miniseries. We don’t learn a lot about the characters, other than who they’re crushing on and what kinds of magic they’re interested in. This felt like an introduction and I was disappointed to find the series was only 5 issues, I would have enjoyed seeing the characters develop in future volumes.  When they’re showing off to each other, the hedge magician Pat does a particularly meta comics trick, turning Andy’s dialog into a Mylar balloon on a string. I wanted more of that humor and playfulness that acts as a great counterpoint to the serious themes in the TV show. 

I would put this in the adult section at my library but wouldn’t be surprised to see older teens heading for it, given the crossover popularity of the original novels and show. It has strong language, gore, and sex, with Audrey’s bare back the only nudity. The violence is in a fantasy vein but still made me squirm. It may appeal to fans of Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Buffy, or any other world where young adults have to save the world. For another outstanding comic about a woman exploring the nexus of magic and trans issues, try Sex Death Revolution by Magdalene Visaggio.

The Magicians: New Class 
By Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges, Pius Bak, Gabriel Cassata,
Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios, 2020
ISBN: 9781684155651
Publisher Age Rating:  15+
Related media:  Book to Comic

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Nonbinary
Character Representation: Gay, Trans

Be Gay, Do Comics

The Nib compiles approximately fifty webcomics (many of which were previously published on 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


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.

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

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Character Traits: Queer Genderqueer, Nonbinary

The Avant-Guards, vol. 1

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
ISBN: 9781684153671
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

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities

Oh, what a delightful little book this is. Witty, engaging, and down-to-earth, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, created by Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg, is the introduction to LGBTQ+ identities we’ve been waiting for. For queer and trans youth, those who know their gender identity and those who are still figuring it out, this guide seeks to answer their questions and validate their feelings. For allies, it’s a window into what it means, and how it feels, to be queer and/or trans, and for everyone else, it’s a great starting point to learning more about these identities. As a queer-identifying person myself, I am sad that there wasn’t anything like this book when I was younger and thrilled that it exists now.

The story begins with a group of curious forest snails. They come across a gathering of queer and transhumans camping in the woods—much different from the humans they’re used to seeing—and are surprised by the snail Iggy, who belongs to one of the humans. Iggy becomes their guide, and our guide, into the wonderful world of queerness, and takes us on a journey through gender identity, sexuality, gender expression, gender dysphoria, and more. Iggy has learned about queer and trans identities by listening to his human, Bowery, a queer educator, and the story shifts back and forth between Iggy’s education-driven narrative and the more personal accounts of queerness discussed around the campfire. A third group, the sproutlings, also play a part in this guide. They are a group of nature-dwelling creatures of all shapes, colors, and sizes, and represent a world in which everyone is free to explore their gender without fear or judgment from others. They are not immune to feelings of confusion or loneliness but are fully supported in their quest to discover who they are and what makes them feel true to themselves. It is a different world from our own, but one that we’re shown is possible.

The concepts within this book are complex, but the chapter format makes them less intimidating and easier to digest, especially for those who may be new to such terms and ideas. Individual segments include coming out, asexuality, gender expression, etc. I’m impressed with the writers’ abilities to tackle them in a way that is easy to understand, yet feels like nothing is left out. For example, one of the most popular ways of describing gender has been as a linear spectrum, with male and female gender binaries sitting at opposite ends of this spectrum, and other identities falling somewhere in between. While this guide acknowledges this view, it also highlights the more inclusive approach to gender as a fluid, nonlinear spectrum that holds space for all identities and allows for plenty of room to explore. The general tone of this guide is thoughtful, clear, and empathetic, with a simplicity that normalizes the queer experience and teaches nonqueer humans how to be respectful allies.

While I typically prefer colorful palettes in the graphic novels that I read, I appreciate that the creators opted for a minimal array of pinks, yellows, and blues. It’s fun, colorful, and pleasing enough to the eye, but doesn’t detract or distract from the information being relayed. All in all, this is a wonderful resource for schools and libraries serving the Teen+ age group. Tweens may also benefit from this guide, although the true meaning of a lot of the concepts discussed may be too difficult for them to fully grasp. If you’re looking to improve your LGBTQ+ collection, or are interested in similar titles, I also recommend A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by the same publisher.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities
By Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg
ISBN: 9781620105863
Limerence Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen and up

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Character Traits: Queer Trans, Agender, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

Chronin, vol 1: The Knife at Your Back

In Chronin: Knife at Your Back, Mirai Yoshida is out of time. Literally. A history grad student from 2042, she has disguised herself as a man and finds herself trapped in 1864 in Edo, Japan.

This gender-bending, time-hopping adventure by writer and artist Alison Wilgus is simply drawn with clean lines and and somber grey shading. But the plot is rich enough to keep the reader heading down the Tokaido Road when Yoshida, in her ronin disguise, is hired as a bodyguard to accompany a tea house owner on a trip from Kyoto to Edo.

Edo (Tokyo) is a political powder keg in 1864. The Tokagowa Shogunate is set to fall, as pro-imperial forces gather, but Mirai has issues of her own to worry about. Besides being disguised as a samurai (a capital offense), she’s dealing with her ex-boyfriend-turned-patriot and the possibility that they might have altered history.

The average reader’s lack of Japanese history is no impediment to understanding the story. Not a lot of time is spent on exposition or explanation of terms (and there are no footnotes). I am a fan of the Edo period, and readers of historical samurai manga like Rouroni Kenshin, Peacemaker, or Kaze Hiraku may be familiar with the Shinsingumi or the Imperial factions of this civil war and the resulting Meiji Restoration.

Chronin’s flashbacks reveal Mirai’s studies in the future and the tale of how she became trapped in the past, as well as her ex’s radicalization that caused him to abandon his studies for a tea house mistress and life in 1864.

The plot reads like an exciting manga and the art is reminiscent of a Japanese woodblock print, with lightly shaded, simple backgrounds. The characters are flatly drawn without shading or a lot of detail. The time travel trope is fairly common and has been explored in comics and fiction—certainly the phrase “Butterfly Effect” applies here. As unexpected events occur and expected events fail to materialize, Mirai (which means “future” in Japanese) is left wondering what the hell went wrong.

This first volume reveals each character’s motivations bit by bit and leaves some secrets left unanswered. It’s an engrossing, fast read, not bogged down by the political or historical plot. These simply serve as a backdrop to Mirai’s own adventure.

Wilgus’ previous graphic novel works include an Avatar: The Last Airbender prequel, Zuko’s Story. Volume 2 of Chronin: The Sword in Your Hand is set to be released in September of 2019. In it, Mirai is forced to concoct a plan to set history to rights, but will face some formidable enemies, and only time will tell if she will survive, let alone make it back home.

The publisher rates it for older teens, which makes sense as the main characters are grad students. The libraries I have checked all list this graphic novel in their adult graphic novel section, most likely due to the plot and the age of the main characters. The simplicity of the art and lack of color reduces the impact of the violent sword fights. But this graphic novel will appeal to teens and adults alike. I eagerly look forward to reading the next installment.

Chronin, vol 1: The Knife at Your Back
By Ben Wilgus
ISBN: 9780765391636
Tor Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T+
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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Character Traits: Japanese Queer Genderqueer
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator