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
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
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 Moonstruckwho 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+)
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Black, Lesbian, Bisexual, Nonbinary Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator
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
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Queer Trans, Agender, Genderqueer, Nonbinary Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator
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)
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Japanese Queer Genderqueer Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator
Faster-than-light space travel costs less than an iPhone: how would it change your life? This is the simple premise of the Kickstarted anthology FTL, Y’all!: Tales From the Age of the $200 Warp Drive, which asks creators for their takes on space travel made widely available to the masses through simple schematics uploaded to the internet.
The stories in this anthology vary widely in almost all aspects: art, tone, setting, characters, and even length. There is some variation in quality, as well, with some stories I felt worked better than others. On the whole, though, I enjoyed the vast majority of them. Of course, this is a highly subjective thing, and there are so many different types of stories in this book that there is likely something for just about everyone.
Creators’ approaches to the prompt range from events taking place very soon after FTL (Faster Than Light) travel becomes available to far in the future, when Earth and humans’ lives have already transformed significantly. There are lighter, funnier stories, such as “M.S.P.I.P.S.P.”, in which a mother and daughter suffer the challenges and indignities of spaceport travel that closely resembles modern-day airport struggles. Stories like “Failsafe” tackle heavier topics, such as a character attempting suicide by black hole. Some stories address or comment on issues in our current society, such as “Space to Grow,” in which a young astrobiologist blogger deals with attacks and harassment online. There are stories that focus solely on humans and how Earth is affected, while others include aliens and distant planets.
One of the stand-out best things about this anthology is the diversity of the characters depicted. In a genre that still tends to heavily favor white cis men, this book is a breath of fresh air, with quite a number of characters of color, women, queer characters, and non-binary characters. Additionally, the stories tend not to focus on these specific qualities, but allow characters with these identities to simply exist and be represented in the world. There is very little biographical information provided about the writers and artists, but I suspect there are also a number of creators from groups very underrepresented in science fiction. It’s always great to see new voices and ones that are not often given space or recognition.
The art style of each story is completely different, and readers will probably have likes and dislikes among them. They range from very stylized and cartoony to more realistic, from overly detailed and even crowded to much more sparse. The one story whose artwork I personally struggled with was “I Want To Be Alone.” Each panel packs a lot of very exaggerated detail, and I found it very difficult to parse, to the point where I wasn’t sure what was going on. It’s a style that might have worked better in color rather than black and white. Other than this, I liked some better than others, but found they all generally worked to set tone and mood while effectively conveying the action.
The publisher suggests FTL, Y’all! for adults. This is probably the safest place to shelve it, but I suspect some older teens would enjoy the book as well. It does include some heavy topics, depiction of death, and some swearing, but only in certain stories, and there is nothing too graphic or objectionable. If stories were pre-screened and selected beforehand, most of the content would be appropriate for younger teens, too. On the whole, it’s a book focused on people, connections, and interpersonal relationships presented in the context of a fun sci fi-themed exploration of human nature.
FTL, Y’all!: Tales From the Age of the $200 Warp Drive Edited by C. Spike Trotman, Amanda ISBN: 9781945820205 Iron Circus Comics, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: Adult
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Japanese, Black, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Lesbian, Gay, Nonbinary, Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator
Yarrow is a budding chef who loves introducing people to insect cuisine. She moves from California to work at a new insect specialty restaurant, but her trajectory comes to a screeching halt when she offends Chanda, the head chef and owner. Yarrow has three days to prove to Chanda that her love of insect cuisine is a genuine passion rather than an interest in a fad. Is Yarrow up to the challenge? And will she be able to win the heart of her new friend Milani?
Meal is a sweet story that blends a queer romance with a personal exploration of individual relationships to food and culture. The characterization is excellent: Yarrow is an enthusiastic guide into the world of entomophagy, and the secondary characters—particularly Milani and Chanda—have well-rounded personalities and clear goals. This strong characterization allows the story to unfold naturally as the characters work out their relationships to one another and to the cuisine itself. Yarrow and Milani’s relationship is especially sweet as they work through their personal challenges and compatibility question together.
Meal also sensitively addresses the history of insect cuisine in cultures around the world as well as the experiences of minorities’ relationships to insect cuisine in a society with predominantly white Western values. The discussion of these themes are naturally included in the story: both Chanda and Yarrow share their experiences exploring and reclaiming that part of their heritage even as they prepare to share their passion with the wider community. Even though the story touches upon some heavy topics, the characters’ teamwork on the restaurant and Yarrow and Milani’s relationship balances the story.
Blue Delliquanti’s charming black and white illustrations contribute to the story’s warmth. Delliquanti’s character designs feature a diverse collection of body types, and the artwork makes the food recognizable and appealing. The gestures and quirks Delliquanti portrays compliment each characters’ dialogue and effectively convey the characters’ personalities and add emotional panache to the story.
Meal is a unique queer romance whose thoughtful storytelling and diverse cast should hold great appeal for teen and adult readers. As an added bonus, there is a food essay by collaborator Soleil Ho and a collection of insect recipes at the back of the book. Delliquanti has also included some design sketches for those who enjoy seeing the development process. Meal is a great purchase for libraries looking to expand their graphic novel collection and is an essential addition to any LGBTQ+ collection.
Meal Written by Blue Delliquanti and Soleil Ho Art by Blue Delliquanti ISBN: 9781945820304 Iron Circus Comics, 2018
Set in outer space, Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam is the story of Mia. When we first meet Mia, she has just joined a crew of “reconstructionists” who travel from planet to planet to fix damaged locations. It isn’t completely explained what has happened in these places, but many of them are dangerous and unstable.
Woven into Mia’s present-day life with this crew are flashbacks showing her freshman year at boarding school five years prior. At school, Mia fell in love with Grace. But Grace was hiding a huge secret about herself and her family, which ultimately leads to Grace leaving before Mia can say goodbye. They’ve never seen each other again and Mia just wants one more chance to say goodbye and make sure Grace is okay.
As Mia becomes closer with the crew, she reveals this desire. Her new friends are supportive and decide to help Mia find her long lost love which leads to a dangerous adventure for all of them.
Tillie Walden is good at telling emotional, personal stories. Her characters are likable and relatable, just like in her memoir Spinning. While both are wildly different genres, Walden is able to capture the same universal feelings of first love, friendship, and finding your place.
To put it simply, On a Sunbeam is a sci-fi lesbian romance. Walden’s world is populated mostly by females (one of Mia’s friends/crewmates is nonbinary) and there is not one male character in the story, which I didn’t really notice until halfway through. These are strong, diverse, awesome women who can do manual labor and at the same time provide emotional support to their friends. It is not often that you see that kind of dynamite female character—and it is even more uncommon to have it be every female character in the story.
I’ll be honest; I wasn’t sure if I liked this book at first. As someone who doesn’t read a lot of sci-fi, I wondered if that kind of setting really added anything to the story. However, the more I think about it, the more I really enjoyed it. The setting adds a unique aspect to the story and in the end, it is still full of realism despite the unrealistic, futuristic world.
At 544 pages, On a Sunbeam is a bit longer than your average graphic novel, but it delves into a lot of themes that I think most readers could relate to and love. The characters are in their late teens/early twenties, and I recommend this for teens and adults.
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden ISBN: 9781250178138 First Second, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: 12-18
It’s another beautiful day in Beach City, full of the usual unusual occurrences in this episodic Steven Universe graphic novel.
First, we spend time with Lion, who gets into trouble by licking Amethyst while she naps in cat form, plays with Pearl’s swords, chases a gem lizard, and stares soulfully at Sadie. Typical cat stuff, in other words. In the second story, we get back into the wrestling ring with the Purple Puma this time accompanied by Pearl, with rather mixed results. Steven tries going fishing while on an aquatic mission for the Cabochon Circlet, and the team ends up getting some timely help from Onion and his dad. Last, we go on a trip to a corn maze with Steven and Garnet, where they find an unlikely family forming underground.
Compared to some of the other Steven Universe graphic novels, Punching Up has a fairly cohesive storyline and consistent visuals. Too Cool for School and Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems both have a single storyline and artist throughout. However, Steven Universe volumes 1 and 2 alternate artists and have several short stories, some as short as two pages. The art in Punching Up is more consistent, despite having three different artists, and fairly close to the show’s style. I feel this makes it more appealing to a reader new to the Steven Universe graphic novels, especially younger readers, because it provides consistency between show and comic.
None of the stories are too deep, dark, or closely related to the show’s main storyline, so it’s relatively spoiler-free and easy to pick up for any fan of the show. These factors make the graphic novel especially approachable for younger fans. Punching Up does require some understanding of the show to really grasp the significance of any of the storylines. The first chapter revolving around Lion explores the mystery of his nature, showing him both as a big cat and as a magical creature, and balances both sides well. The third story feels weakest, using non-verbal panels like the Lion story but with less clear results. As a fan, I love that this comic has little details like the fact that in the background of the corn maze there are scarecrow cameos of characters from Steven Universe and other media. In general, this comic has just the right amount of detail in each panel to keep things interesting without getting cluttered.
Punching Up could definitely be shelved in the children’s section, especially because it doesn’t explore any of the heavier material Steven Universe sometimes dips into. Steven Universe is one of those unusual shows that appeals across multiple age ranges, with a fandom that spans anywhere from children to adults. Older fans understand that it is marketed towards children, so it won’t particularly matter to them if they need to go to the children’s area to find this book.
This is one of the newest graphic novels in the franchise, having come out in April 2018, so it’s easy to find and should continue to be for some time. It is also thankfully on the cheaper side of graphic novel prices, considering it comes in the standard trade paperback, which doesn’t necessarily stand the test of time well in a library setting. All of the graphic novels are episodic, so it isn’t necessary to have the others before getting this one, either. The naming conventions for the Steven Universe graphic novels can be a little strange, as some have subtitles and volume numbers, some have just subtitles, and others just have volume numbers. It might be worthwhile to look up the release order if you’re wanting to collect all of them or see if you are missing a few in the series.
Steven Universe, vol. 2: Punching Up by Grace Kraft, Melanie Gillman Art by Meg Omac, Rii Gillman, Katy Farina ISBN: 9781684151349 KaBOOM!, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: 8-11
Thirteen-year-old Charlie; a black, queer teen, finds herself in the middle of a Christian backpacking retreat for girls. As the only black camper, Charlie feels like an outsider. From the start, the camp leader, Bee, describes redemption as a “whitening.” As Charlie listens to her, she grows uncomfortable, but chooses to stay quiet and wrestles internally with herself and her choice to come here, which she believes was God’s answer to her prayer.
The group soon sets off on a pilgrimage inspired by a similar one a group of women took in the 19th century. As the hike goes on, Bee tells the story of these women and preaches about feminism, but it becomes clear to Charlie that this feminism only included the white, straight, rich women of the time. A girl like Charlie would never have been included in this first pilgrimage. Feeling more and more out of place, she pleads to God, questioning why she came and begins to doubt herself.
Fortunately, Charlie befriends an outspoken girl named Sydney, who is also an outsider in the camp. Sydney confides in Charlie that she is transgender, but is keeping it a secret for fear of ridicule from the other campers. They find comfort in each other as they discuss their lives, religion, and thoughts, realizing they both are left out of the history of the hike. The story ends before the hikers reach their destination, leaving some questions, but ultimately is still a satisfying conclusion. (As the Crow Flies started as a webcomic and was published after a Kickstarter campaign. Melanie Gillman continues to work on the story of Charlie and Sydney, and a second volume is planned.)
With realistic and detailed colored pencil illustrations and several wordless pages showcasing the scenery of the hike, the book has a strong sense of setting and place. You can feel the sun beating down on Charlie as she struggles up the mountain. The enormity and beauty of the environment make it easy for Charlie to believe in and talk with God. A feather seems to be following her around and she feels it is a sign from above. This splendor also makes the casual racism and homophobia feel like a slap in the face. The juxtaposition of such beauty with ignorance is startling, pulling Charlie and you away from the nature.
The characters are dynamic and diverse. Charlie interacts with mean girls, who tease Sydney for wearing skirts, but by the end one of them has a change of heart. The kindness of Bee’s daughter helps Charlie along the way as well. For such a short and concise story, a lot is addressed; including race, religion, sexuality, and feminism.
With heart and humor, As the Crow Flies makes you think and consider what you’ve been taught about feminism, religion, and history and consider who has been left out of the story.
Appropriate for tweens and older, this is a must-have for diverse and inclusive collections.
As the Crow Flies, vol. 1 by Melanie Gillman ISBN: 9781945820069 Iron Circus Comics, 2017