On a Sunbeam

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

Steven Universe, vol. 2: Punching Up

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

As the Crow Flies, vol. 1

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

LGBTQ+ Best of: Teens and Adults

A little while ago we put together a post of the best LGBTQAA+ comics for kids. It’s taken longer than we intended, but here’s the follow-up list featuring comics for teens and adults!

[Editor’s note: Many of these titles have multiple volumes and in those cases we have just listed the first in the series.]

Another Castle: Grimoire
By Andrew Wheeler and Paulina Ganucheau
Published by Oni (2017)

Elevator Pitch: In this colorful comic, Princess Misty is kidnapped by Lord Badlug, a tyrant who rules over a land of ruin populated by monsters. He plans to marry her and use her to conquer her father’s kingdom, while Princess Misty plans to take down Badlug’s reign from the inside. Then she learns more about Badlug’s realm and realizes that overthrowing him might not lead to a simple happily ever after for anyone.

Appeals to: Fans of fantasy and cute, punchy retro art.
Content Notes: Mild violence
Suggested Age Range: Teens and older kids
Contributed by Nic Willcox

The Backstagers, vol. 1
By James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh
Published by BOOM! Box (2017)

Elevator Pitch: Jory is the new kid in school and needs somewhere to go while his mom’s at work. He ends up joining his school’s drama department, where he discovers a hidden, magic world backstage. Putting on a great play will require strong bonds and enough bravery to dive into a fantasy portal and return unscathed.

Appeals to: Theater kids, quirky outcasts, lovers of cute and colorful art.
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

 

Batwoman: Elegy
By Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III
Published by DC Comics (2011)

Elevator Pitch: Batwoman is the Jewish lesbian DC superhero you didn’t know you were missing. In this volume Batwoman takes on a maniac known as Alice, who believes Gotham is Wonderland and everyone who lives there are expendable extras in her story. Batwoman (aka Kate Kane) is the female version of Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) with the same amount of tech, the same amount of women, and because of her military background, more guns.

Appeals to: Those who enjoy different takes on Alice in Wonderland, are looking for a more grown up Batgirl, or like superheroes with military backgrounds like Captain America.
Content Notes: The usual street level superhero fighting.
Suggested Age Range: Teens and Adults
Contributed by: Danielle Boyd

Cry Havoc, vol. 1: Mything In Action
By Simon Spurrier and Ryan Kelly
Published by Image Comics (2016)

Elevator Pitch: A lesbian werewolf soldier, Lou, is recruited with other supernatural beings to take down a rogue military operative in Afghanistan. The story uses color-coded panels to depict three different eras in Lou’s life. Lou is living her “normal” past life in one stage, preparing to attack in Afghanistan in the second stage, and has already been captured in the third.

Appeals to: Fans of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now who’d like a supernatural angle.
Content Notes: Violence, language, sex
Suggested Age Range: Adults
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

DC Bombshells, vol 1: Enlisted
By Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage, and others
Published by DC Comics (2016)

Elevator Pitch: Your favorite female DC superheroes (and villains) are reimagined and plunked into World War II to fight for truth, justice, and freedom. Based on the incredibly popular DC Bombshells Collectibles line and set in a universe where—when the world is on the brink of disaster—the Allies call in the superheroines.

Appeals to: People who like to read alternate takes on their favorite superheroes like DC Elseworlds or Marvel What If’s, also fans of WWII settings and female superheroes falling in love with each other.
Content Notes: Regular superhero violence
Suggested Age Range: Teens and Adults
Contributed by Danielle Boyd

The Heart of Thomas
By Moto Hagio
Published by Fantagraphics (2013 (originally serialized in Japan, 1974))

Elevator Pitch: Thomas and Juli’s relationship is cut short by Thomas’s untimely death. However, a new student arrives who looks exactly like him! How will the student body react and will Juli project on the poor student to an unhealthy degree?

Appeals to: Shojo and yaoi fans, sparkles and roses, boys boarding schools featuring dramatic slaps.
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

 

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded
By Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis
Published by Harry N. Abrams (2016)

Elevator Pitch: Alan Turing was a gifted mathematician whose genius made him indispensable to the Allies in World War II. His valuable work with codebreaking machines collided with social norms as the British government punished homosexuality.

Appeals to: Math geeks in need of another patron saint, historians of World War II and queer life in England.
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

 

Kim and Kim, vol. 1: This Glamorous, High-Flying Rock Star Life
By Magdalene Visaggio and Eva Cabrera
Published by Black Mask Comics (2017)

Elevator Pitch: A space bounty hunting team made up of two Kims. When their bills pile up they decide to take on a bounty that far exceeds their pay grade and end up on a wild universe spanning adventure.

Appeals to: Fans of space team up books like Guardians of the Galaxy, people looking for books about trans characters who aren’t transitioning any longer, but just living their life, and fans of quirky independent publishers.
Content Notes: Some language
Suggested Age Range: Teens and Adults
Contributed by Danielle Boyd

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink
By Milk Morinaga
Published by Seven Seas (2013)

Elevator Pitch: This collection of romantic short stories follows teen girls at two all-girl high schools. It explores a variety of different situations and debunks some myths and misunderstandings about lesbian relationships. And it’s cute and sweet!

Appeals to: Anyone who wants stories that take lesbian relationships seriously in a wide variety of forms, but is also light and fun.
Content Notes: Brief nudity, implied sex
Suggested Age Range: Teens and adults
Contributed by Nic Willcox

The Last of Us: American Dreams
By Neil Druckmann and Faith Erin Hicks
Published by Dark Horse (2013)

Elevator Pitch: Ellie and Riley have grown up in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a parasitic fungus. Military authoritarians rule inside the walls of society, while zombie-like hordes ravage outside. They cannot resist an invitation to join the insurgent “Fireflies” and live a life of free rebellion.

Appeals to: Gamers who enjoyed The Last of Us and look forward to its sequel.
Content Notes: Violence
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

The Less than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal
By E. K. Weaver
Published by Iron Circus Comics (2015)

Elevator Pitch: Amal, running away from dealing with the fact that he just came out to his parents, meets up with TJ, who’s looking for a quick escape out of town. They take off across the country on a road trip that ends up an adventure, a playlist fueled conversation, and just maybe a powerful romance.

Appeals to: Anyone who’s a sucker for a good road trip tale will love this, and the romance is beautifully wrought in body language, heated glances, and so much humor.
Content Notes: A number of explicit sex scenes keeps it for adults.
Suggested Age Range: Adults.
Note: This one is available in an omnibus from Iron Circus Comics, and I do recommend getting the omnibus edition if you can.
Contributed by Robin Brenner

The Movement, vol. 1: Class Warfare
By Gail Simone and Freddie Williams II
Published by DC Comics (2014)

Elevator Pitch: A group of superpowered teens fights corruption in Coral City. Along the way, they will also confront some of their personal demons. This two volume series packs a punch—both due to its action-packed plot and the diverse cast.

Appeals to: Superhero fans.
Content Notes: Superhero violence
Suggested age range: Teen and Adults
Contributed by Megan Rupe

 

My Brother’s Husband
By Gengoroh Tagame
Published by Pantheon (2017)

Elevator Pitch: When a Canadian arrives at Yaichi’s door and introduces himself as the husband of Yaichi’s late brother, everyone in the household must learn to deal with this new normal. From the neighbor’s blatant prejudice to Yaichi’s own latent homophobia, to Yaichi’s young daughter’s swift acceptance of her new uncle, the book shines a spotlight on Japan’s largely closeted gay culture, the pervasive cultural discrimination of homosexuals, and the notion that one must be “taught to hate.”

Appeals to: Anyone who may be facing difficult conversations, both on the giving and receiving ends.
Content Notes: Some minor nudity (butts), but only in the bath, where it makes sense to be naked.
Suggested Age Range: tweens, teens, adults
Contributed by Eva Volin

Nimona
By Noelle Stevenson
Published by HarperTeen (2015)

Elevator Pitch: Lord Ballister Blackheart is, like most villains, usually unsuccessful against his heroic nemesis. But that’s before he gains an enthusiastic and incredibly powerful sidekick, the mischievous shapeshifter Nimona. How will Ballister handle actually winning, especially when it turns out the stakes are higher than he realized and Nimona may not be who he thinks she is?

Appeals to: Fans of snarky takes on fantasy and superhero stories.
Content Notes: Some violence, but nothing gory or detailed
Suggested Age Range: Teens and adults
Contributed by Nic Willcox

O Human Star!
By Blue Delliquanti
Self published as webcomic (2015)

Elevator Pitch: A man wakes up to discover that he is sixteen years in the future and now inhabiting a robot version of his original body. Uneasily reunited with his old partner (and old flame) and his adopted robot daughter, who is trans, they start to unravel their history and build their future. With two gay protagonists and a trans teen, this is a wonderful, funny, smart look at what makes us “human”.

Appeals to: If you want Blade Runner minus the ominous pomposity and grim outlook plus a lot more diversity in the cast of characters, this is for you.
Content Notes: There is romance on an adult level and on a teen level, none of it especially explicit.
Suggested Age Range: Teens and adults
Note: This is available currently only directly from the creator’s website, but it’s worth it.
Contributed by Robin Brenner

The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance
By Various
Published by Other Side Press (2016)

Elevator Pitch: Nineteen stories by 23 different creators, representing a diverse assortment of queer narratives. The majority of these stories achieve a sweet kind of charm, often portraying romances between a human and a ghost or creature.

Appeals to: Anyone howling at the moon for more queer representation in comics.
Content Notes: Brief nudity
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

 

Rat Queens, vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery
By Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch
Published by Image Comics (2013)

Elevator Pitch: The Rat Queens are a misfit party of women adventurers on the lookout for cash in a sword and sorcery world. Comprised of an elven mage, a dwarf warrior, an atheist cleric, and a halfling, the Rat Queens face all manner of unique trials involving assassins, grotesque monsters, and Lovecraftian cultists.

Appeals to: Fans of Dungeons & Dragons. The sword and sorcery theme makes it accessible to fantasy fans, however the imaginative script and the hilarious banter among the women sound like they could come from a most spirited D&D session.
Content Notes: Language of a sexual nature and nudity make this a title strictly for adults.
Suggested Age Range: Adults.
Contributed by Allen Kesinger

SuperMutant Magic Academy
By Jillian Tamaki
Published by Drawn and Quarterly (2015)

Elevator Pitch: Marsha is crushing on Wendy but doesn’t know how to approach her. Her predicament is the closest to “normal” among the superpowered students of this prep school that contains all the drama of a normal high school plus massive doses of non-sequitur humor.

Appeals to: Webcomic addicts (this started online), high school dramatists, existential absurdists.
Content Notes: Language, nudity (brief and non-detailed)
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

Wandering Son, vol. 1
By Shimura Takako
Published by Fantagraphics (2011)

Elevator Pitch: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. Both are trying to keep their identity exploration secret but are subject to prying eyes and childhood gossip. This series treats both their journeys into gender identity with sensitivity and insight rarely seen in comics.

Appeals to: Coming-of-age enthusiasts, anti-bullying narratives, compassionate trans narratives. A lot of the book’s strengths lie in fairly subtle social interactions.
Content Notes: Content-wise, this series is pretty clean in the first volume, but in subsequent volumes, the children develop a friendship with an adult trans woman, Yuki. She and her boyfriend’s scenes breach some sexual topics and use risque humor; Nic’s review goes into detail. Also, Takako acknowledges how some of her characters look confusingly alike. While the English editions of this series have been discontinued, the eight available volumes are absolutely worth reading!
Suggested age range: Teens and Adults
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

Weirdworld, vol. 1: Where Lost Things Go
By Sam Humphries and Mike Del Mundo
Published by Marvel (2016)

Elevator Pitch: Becca is an ordinary Earth girl in a dangerously weird world, but her new friend Goleta the Wizardslayer will help her get home. Becca’s got some regrets about the Earth life that awaits her when she comes back, but for now she has to survive the perilous realms before her and outwit sorceress Morgan Le Fay.

Appeals to: Fantasy fanatics, those who enjoy swords ‘n’ sorcery.
Content Notes: Fantasy violence
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

The Wicked + The Divine, vol. 1
By Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Published by Image Comics (2014 – present)

Elevator Pitch: The world’s greatest pop stars are manifestations of the gods. Downside: they will die two years after receiving their holy form. The latest batch of musical demigods have plenty of baggage and more than a few deadly secrets.

Appeals to: Fans of Young Avengers or Phonograph (same creative team).
Content Notes: Nudity, swearing, blood
Suggested Age Range: Adults
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

 

The Woods vol. 1
By James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas
Published by BOOM! (2014)

Elevator Pitch: A high school is transported to an alien planet, and nobody knows what to do next. The teachers and faculty want everyone to stick together. The bullies want to treat their classmates like trash. A select few run off to take their chances in…the woods.

Appeals to: Fans of Kazuo Umezu’s The Drifting Classroom, high school mysteries like Morning Glories but with dangerous alien flora & fauna.
Content Notes: some violence
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

Zodiac Starforce
By Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau
Published by Dark Horse (2016)

Elevator Pitch: A group of magical demon fighting high schoolers come together to fight mean girls and intergalactic demons set on conquering our universe.

Appeals to: Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sailor Moon
Suggested Age Range: Teens
Contributed by Danielle Boyd

Pride Month Best of List: Kids

June was Pride Month, which commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a key point in the fight for gay rights in the USA. Pride Month is full of events to unite the queer community and allies in celebration, provide opportunities to reflect, and shed light on issues the community still faces. Due to scheduling mishaps, this list did not go up during Pride Month as originally intended, but to continue to celebrate and encourage including queer titles and creators all year round, the staff here at No Flying, No Tights have compiled a list of graphic novels that feature LGBTQAA+ characters.

Princess Princess Ever After
By Katie O’Neill
Published by Oni (2016)

Elevator Pitch: Amira and Sadie are both princesses, who meet when Amira rescues Sadie from her tower. Adventures, friendship, and love soon follow.
Appeals to: Fans of Steven Universe, Princeless, and people who love cutesy/chibi style comics.
Suggested Age Range: Children
Contributed by: Danielle Boyd

 

 

Compass South (Book one in the Four Points series)
By Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2016)

Elevator Pitch: A treasure hunt with multiple players, taking place in 1860 and starring 12-year-old twins Cleopatra and Alexander. They each head to San Francisco by separate means, but are secretly being chased by pirates. Cleo takes on a male identity, which s/he prefers.
Appeals to: Fans of historical fiction, twins, high seas adventure, gender-queer identities, Amulet, and Three Thieves.
Suggested Age Range: Children
Contributed by Thomas Maluck

 

Goldie Vance (series)
By Hope Larson and Brittney Williams
Published by BOOM! Box (2016)

Elevator Pitch: Goldie’s? a plucky teen who uses her social disadvantages to her crime-solving advantage. When she wants intel on one of the guests at the hotel where she works, she disguises herself as a housekeeper, confident that as a woman of color, she won’t be remembered. Goldie’s wistful yearning for a minor female characterincluding the disappointment that she has a boyfriendwill ring as real for teens and preteens.
Appeals to: Lovers of other fun and female-strong series like Lumberjanes.
Suggested Age Range: Tweens and teens
Contributed by Amy Estersohn

Lumberjanes (series)
By Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen, and Noelle Stevenson
Published by BOOM! Box (2015-present)

Elevator Pitch: Summer camp was never quite as wacky as Lumberjanes imagines it, but that’s all the better for the reader. As five girls sleuth, fight, snark, and forge friendships at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, they always have each other’s backs and prove that friendship can be the key to any mystery.
Appeals to: Lumberjanes is pretty unique on the young readers stage for style and humorNimona fans will gobble the series right up, and young fans of the animated series Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, and Over the Garden Wall will be delighted to find more weird happenings in the woods.
Content Notes: Lumberjanes is great for middle grade on up.
Suggested Age Range: Children, teens, and adults all adore this series, as there’s something there for everyone.
Contributed by Robin Brenner

Drama
By Raina Telgemeier
Published by Graphix (2012)

Elevator Pitch: This bright, funny, relatable comic tells the story of Callie, a theater kid who is psyched about being the set designer for her middle school’s upcoming musical. This will give her a chance to hang out with two cute brothers who are part of the show! What could go wrong?
Appeals to: Fans of Telgemeier’s other books, theater kids.
Suggested Age Range: Teens and older kids
Contributed by Nic Willcox

O Human Star. vol 1

Through his groundbreaking work in robotics, Alastair Sterling helped pave the way for the AI revolution. Unfortunately for him, he died unexpectedly before he could see his work completed. That is, until 16 years later when he woke up in a robotic body matching his former self and containing all of his memories, but with no idea how he got there. His only hope at finding answers in a world he no longer recognizes lies with his former research partner, Brendan Pinsky.

Author/cartoonist Blue Delliquanti first developed her comic in 2010, and began posting pages online as a webcomic in February 2012. Soon after, Delliquanti made a name for herself as a queer author championing the LGBTQ community, who used her own experiences to create comics people could turn to for guidance. A successful Kickstarter campaign brought O Human Star to print.

In O Human Star, right off the bat we’re given brief glimpses into the true nature of Al and Brendan’s relationship. It has a real foundation to it. Through flashbacks, we see the strain caused by Al’s slight discomfort with his sexuality, which is still evident 16 years later. Delliquanti also includes the transgender community through Brendan’s robotic daughter Sulla, who brings a fun, playful energy to the graphic. Delliquanti very seamlessly writes about how Sulla was originally born a boy, but decided she wanted to be a woman because that’s how she identified, so Brendan made that change for her, no questions asked. The lack of discussion speaks volumes and shows the progress their society has made on transgender issues.

O Human Star also dives headfirst into issues of morality, ethics, and the argument of what can versus what should be done with the human psyche posthumously. In their world, robots aren’t just pre-programmed beings, but direct copies of someone’s actual mind. So while Al may seem human, he’s not. The entire story also takes place within a couple of days. While Delliquanti packs a lot of information into those few days, the story never grows boring. It forces us to ask ourselves: at what point are lines crossed and when do issues of ethics come to play? Or have those lines already been crossed?

Phenomenal writing aside, the art propels it to another level. The entire graphic novel is illustrated in two color palettes to signify the time period. The present tense is illustrated in blue tones, while flashbacks are drawn in red. The flashbacks are never out of place nor disrupt the flow of the story, but give the reader further insight into who Al and Brendan were 16 years prior. In a couple scenes, both tones are used to sharply contrast one another and fully draw the reader in. The limited use of color also forces the reader to focus on the characters and story without getting lost in the background and what’s going on around them. Delliquanti is also great at putting in subtle markings on her characters, such as the line of circuitry on Al’s hands, to distinguish between human and robot. It’s so faint yet effective that the reader can always tell the difference, especially since robots work so hard to look human. Delliquanti also skillfully draws faces in a way that show more emotion than any line of text ever could. Many times the panels don’t even need text to convey the emotion Delliquanti wants us to experience and allow the story to shine.

O Human Star is meant for mature audiences due to sexual content and male nudity. While the progression of Al and Brendan’s relationship is tastefully done and none of the sexual imagery is gratuitous, it might be too graphic for some audiences. The issues Delliquanti writes about are important and necessary, though. It’s important for people to see themselves in literature because it gives them something tangible they can positively relate to, and O Human Star does just that.

O Human Star, vol 1
by Blue Delliquanti
ISBN: 9780990995609
Independently published, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: Mature

Laon, vol. 1-6

17-CoverLaon is a gumiho – a mischievous nine-tailed fox spirit of extremely ambiguous gender. (If, like me, you’re more familiar with Japanese than Korean mythology, think kitsune.) After Laon loses a bet to powerful Queen Mago, the gumiho is stripped of … her? his? … tails and ears, and cast down to Earth. Specifically, to Seoul, South Korea. Laon is desperate to regain – you know what? I’m just going to say “her,” since that’s what they use most in the books – her tails, but darker forces are also looking for them – and for Laon.

What’s a gumiho to do? Well, Laon finds unlikely assistance from the staff of Rumor and Truth Monthly, a tabloid magazine. Jaded reporter Tae-ha is still bitter over the disappearance of his girlfriend, Young-yoo, four years earlier – and his own inability to remember what happened the night she vanished. He’s eager to make a deal with Laon: Tae-ha will help her recover her tails, and she will then use her power to help him find the missing Young-yoo. Meanwhile, the rest of the tabloid’s staff – including Young-yoo’s brother – have their own motives in dealing with Laon.

Of course, finding the tails won’t be easy. The city is swarming with demonic creatures that Laon calls “hwan,” capable of possessing or killing humans. Queen Mago isn’t above sending an assassin after Laon. Strange forces are drawing together under the auspices of a new religious cult. And if that doesn’t make things tough enough, the tails have taken on human hosts and made plans of their own.

This series is the first manhwa I’d read, and the Korean cultural references were fascinating. The books contain everything from political jokes to popular hangover remedies, all helpfully explained in the endnotes.

Of course, these volumes contain a lot more than that: gore, nudity (pretty much female only, but lots of it), incest, sexual violence, prostitution, suggestions of pedophilia, and general squickiness. (If a little girl is molested by a demon that’s taken on the form of the girl’s mother after brutally murdering said mother, what category does that go into?) Oh, and panty shots. You will not believe the number of panty shots.

Laon herself (himself? itself?) is an interesting character. She is quick-tempered and petulant, with the appearance of a schoolchild, but is actually a being nearly one thousand years old and in possession of formidable powers, even sans tails. Her strangeness is well-presented: Laon doesn’t have human values, isn’t familiar with human culture, and has a distinctly un-schoolchild-like tendency to devour her enemies. She makes for a convincingly otherworldly character, as do the agents of Queen Mago who are sent to find her. The gumiho’s oddness also makes for a humorous juxtaposition with the all-too-human issues that plague the staff of Rumor and Truth Monthly: unrequited love, an awkward office romance, and the magazine’s precarious profit margin.

The art is lavish and detailed, from the characters to the cityscapes to the food. The action sequences are easy to follow, which is saying something given how weird some of them are (e.g. Laon jumping in and out of the pictures on billboards). The creepy and gross bits are creepier and grosser thanks to the skillful artwork.

The plot can be disjointed at times. This complete six-volume series never makes clear the reasons for Queen Mago’s actions, and there are some other loose ends as well. Still, the story is coherent enough to easily follow what’s happening from one moment to the next. There are some intriguing mystery elements, too, as Laon searches for her tails and various other characters try to help her or trip her up.

The biggest appeal factors I see for Laon are the Korean cultural references (not a dominant part of the series, but quite present) and the action, served with a side of humor and sex. Not for the faint of heart or stomach, but could be a fun series for those who are neither.

Laon, vol. 1-6
by YoungBin Kim
Art by Hyun You
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780759530539
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780759530522
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780759530546
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9780759530553
Vol. 5 ISBN: 9780316131957
Vol. 6 ISBN: 9780316132114
Yen Press, 2010-2011
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen