Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Gay, Do Comics

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

You Brought Me The Ocean

You Brought Me The Ocean is not your average coming-of-age and coming out story. Sure, our protagonist, Jake Hyde, lives in a town too small for his aspirations. And, yes, Jake has not yet come to terms with his sexuality. And, of course, his best friend, Maria is tragically in love with him. You Brought Me The Ocean has all the makings of a generic YA novel. But this graphic novel is different for one reason alone: the universe of this story is inhabited by superheroes and villains.

Jake is not only struggling to come out as gay to his family and friends, he is also trying to come to terms with his superhuman ability to control water. Though this is an interesting, and certainly unique, concept the execution of the story falls flat. Unfortunately, You Brought Me The Ocean is not the intricate story of sexual identity wrapped up in themes of self-discovery, defining the “superhero”, and magic realism it deserves to be. Instead, it is a shallow depiction of both the coming out story and the superhero origin story. Neither plot line gets the attention it deserves and, quite frankly, the two concurrent plot lines are not the only victims of this narrative.

Aside from Jake, the characters in this book are all woefully underdeveloped. Jake’s best friend, Maria, is resigned to being identified solely by her unrequited love for Jake and the fact that, unlike Jake, she enjoys living in the desert. Similarly, Jake’s love interest, Kenny, has few defining characteristics. And, as is often a problem with underdevelopment, the dialogue throughout the story is stilted and unrealistic. Let’s look at the following lines of dialogue spoken between Jake and Maria, as they head out on a hiking trip:

Jake: Ready to journey to the ends of the Earth?
Maria: So long as we’re back by dinnertime.

The dialogue throughout the entirety of You Brought Me The Ocean carries this same tone. Namely: awkward and cliched.

The artwork is, regrettably, as disappointing as the text. Artist Julie Maroh is perhaps best known for her work on Blue is the Warmest Color; a famous French graphic novel about the tumultuous relationship between two young women. Aside from the fact that Maroh has previously published LGBTQA+-themed work, she seems an odd stylistic choice for You Brought Me The Ocean. Maroh’s often monochromatic coloring washes out pivotal scenes throughout the story. Take, for example, a scene in which Jake uses his water-bending powers to part a flash flood. Rather than bright, deep blues and a menacing, stormy sky painted with grays, the reader gets a wave of neutral colors. Maroh is clearly a talented artist, but her work here clashes too much with the story to be ignored.

Ultimately, this is a disappointing book with an incredibly promising premise. However, I hesitate to discourage adding this to your graphic novel collection entirely, given the dearth of LGBTQA+ representation in the superhero genre. Though You Brought Me The Ocean does not exactly live up to its premise, one can only hope this book is an indication of better—and more LGBTQA+ representative—superhero comics that are yet to come. For now, You Brought Me The Ocean may have to suffice.

You Brought Me The Ocean
By Alex Sanchez
Art by Julie Maroh
ISBN: 9781401290818
DC Comics, 2020

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Black, Chinese-American, Gay
Creator Highlights: Latinx, Gay

Ghosted in L.A.

Ghosted in L.A. is a new Boom! Box series by Sina Grace, illustrated by Siobhan Keenan with colors by Cathy Le. If Grace’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s behind the solo X-Men book Iceman, in which Iceman comes out of the closet. While Ghosted in L.A. isn’t a superhero comic it does have that same witty and heartfelt dialogue I’ve grown to love from Grace. This is a realistic comic with a paranormal bend.

Daphne Walters follows her boyfriend to college in Los Angeles and gets way more than she bargained for in the process. Daphne doesn’t really ask herself what she really wants in life, and instead takes on the interests and hobbies of her boyfriends. Her best friend, Kristi, calls her out on it right before Daphne moves from Missoula, Montana to the city of Angels. This results in Daphne cutting off her Kristi.

Daphne is idealistic and unfettered as she takes on the new adventures awaiting her in college, but things don’t go as planned. Her roommate is a moody girl who drives Daphne out of their room by hosting bible studies and Ronnie, her boyfriend, dumps her the first week of class. This sends her running into (literally) Rycroft Manor, a seemingly abandoned apartment complex. Daphne takes a dip in the pool only to discover Rycroft Manor is haunted! The ghosts are mostly friendly and lead by Agi, who agrees to let Daphne stay on a temporary basis. What could go wrong?

Ghosted in L.A. is a fun story that has a bit of mystery to it. Why are the ghosts haunting Rycroft Manor? Why hasn’t a developer hasn’t tried to flip the property? What’s the backstory of each ghost? And will Daphne figure out what she wants in life? All these answers lie in most of the first volume, and I’m eager for the second volume to come out so I can find out more! Also, there’s a great LGBT storyline between one of the ghosts and Ronnie.

Content warning for sexual assault in one storyline. Daphne goes out with a pushy bro to get over Ronnie. He isn’t good at taking no for an answer, and luckily the ghosts save the day. This is definitely an older teen and up read.

Grace is great at weaving a compelling story, and I love how Daphne’s slang is a little out of time and place just like the ghosts she befriends. Keenan’s art has clean lines and she’s great at fashions since the ghost range from the 1930s to the present. Grace lends his artistic hand to the first three pages and some of the covers. His style is a little blockier than Keenan’s, but it still fits in with the tone of the comic. The colors are fantastic in this book! Le is great at using a subdued palette for the ghosts and supernatural activity while having living characters pop with brighter colors. If you’re looking to add to your older teen/new adult graphic novel collections then Ghosted in L.A. would be a welcome addition.

Ghosted in L.A. 
By Sina Grace
Art by Siobhan Keenan and Sina Grace
ISBN: 9781684155057
Boom! Box, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Gay
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Goldie Vance: Larceny in La La Land

Goldie Vance is a sunny, unstoppable force of nature. At sixteen, she has already solved a few mysteries around the Florida resort that her dad manages. She hopes to continue her detective work this summer, but things at the resort seem frustratingly routine and un-mysterious. Luckily, Goldie’s rival-turned-friend Sugar Maple is starring in a movie, and she has invited Goldie’s mom to consult on the film out in Hollywood—and bring Goldie along! Goldie’s girlfriend Diane and best friend Cheryl are also jetting off to Los Angeles for exciting summer internships, so they’ll all be together for what promises to be an excellent summer.

Goldie being Goldie, she has barely arrived when she finds herself witness to a car chase. Putting together some clues from the scene leads her to the office of a tough, standoffish private detective, Adella Avery. Though she initially resists the idea of hiring a teenaged assistant, Avery grudgingly accepts that Goldie has talent and agrees to take her on. Avery is currently investigating a series of big-ticket thefts, and Goldie soon discovers connections between the thefts, Avery’s past, and even Sugar Maple’s new movie! What’s going on? And where will the thieves strike next?

Set in an alternate version of the 1960s—one without segregation, racism, or homophobia—this book is diverse, upbeat, and fun. It has a retro feel to it, though the exact time of the setting is not necessarily obvious. (I had to look it up to be sure.) The outfits and styles of the characters fit the time period, though, as do the diners and movie sets we sometimes see in the backgrounds. The art is poppy and colorful, with expressive characters who are just on the realistic side of cartoonish.

Goldie is a good-hearted and good-humored heroine who overcomes obstacles with smarts and persistence. Avery is prickly, but dedicated, and the complexity of her character is revealed as more of her past comes to light. Diane, Cheryl, and the rest of Goldie’s crew don’t get a lot of page time, but each has her own pursuits and interests in addition to supporting Goldie.

There’s plenty of action in this book, and more than a little crime, but it’s still a lighthearted romp populated almost entirely with people who mean well. No one gets hurt, no one swears, and there is no sexual content that goes beyond a quick kiss. But while the story is kid-friendly, it’s not juvenile or overly simplistic: the dialogue is clever, and some characters’ motivations are complicated.

It is refreshing and heartening to read a story with a richly diverse cast—both in terms of race and LGBTQ+ representation—that does not focus on discrimination or tragedy. Stories of racism, homophobia, and the overcoming thereof are important, but it is also important for people of color and LGBTQ+ readers to see themselves in stories that are not all about oppression, and for readers of all stripes to see diverse characters star in a variety of stories. Goldie is a biracial girl with a girlfriend, and to follow her happy and exciting mystery-solving life offers readers hope and positivity.

While it is part of the Goldie Vance series, this volume stands alone just fine. Hand it to young mystery fans, especially those who like their stories on the gentle side.

Goldie Vance: Larceny in La La Land
By Jackie Ball
Art by Mollie Rose, Natalia Nesterenko, and Lea Caballero
ISBN: 9781684155446
BOOM! Box, 2020
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: Black, Multiracial, Lesbian,
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

Flying Kites: A Story of the 2013 California Prison Hunger Strike

Did you know guidelines from the United Nations limit the use of solitary confinement to 14 days maximum, yet incarcerated people in the United Staes have spent years or even decades in isolation?

Created collaboratively by the Stanford Graphic Novel Project class of 2018-2019, Flying Kites tells the story of a fictional family caught up in the real events of the 2013 California Prison Hunger Strike. Balancing education with emotional impact, the book follows college student Luz Santiago and her incarcerated father, Rodrigo, as they begin to speak out against and challenge the human rights abuses of solitary confinement in California prisons.

Rodrigo has been incarcerated for most of Luz’s life. The book is vague on the details of his initial crime, though there are references to him having stabbed or possibly murdered someone. For the last ten years, Rodrigo has been confined to the SHU, or Secure Housing Unit, meaning he spends 23 hours a day in a very small space by himself. The single hour a day he is allowed out of his cell is spent alone in a slightly bigger enclosed space where he can “exercise.”

Luz, who is now in college, knows only a little about her father’s circumstances and mental state. She works hard to juggle a job, her classes, socializing with peers, and driving nine hours to visit her father on a regular basis. She diligently communicates with Rodrigo through hand-written letters, but he hesitates to share with her the raw details of how much he and the other inmates in solitary confinement truly suffer on a daily basis. When Luz and Rodrigo learn about a planned hunger strike to protest the use and abuse of the SHU, they each become involved in their own way: Luz attends protests, spreads the word, and speaks to the media, while Rodrigo participates by refusing food with his fellow inmates. Each hopes the strike will lead to lasting change that will help not only their family, but incarcerated people throughout California and the United States.

According to the notes and materials at the end of the book, the most of the specific named people in Flying Kites are composite characters, bringing together details of real people’s lives into fictionalized characters who can tell a story. The comic makes good use of these composites, allowing the story to have personal impact and a clear emotional narrative. As a result, the real information woven throughout doesn’t feel too heavy-handed and deliberately educational, and readers have an entry point to connect with events that might otherwise seem distant from their own lives.

The events and issues described by Flying Kites are extremely important and are still relevant today. The information isn’t popular knowledge, and there is still a lot of work to be done around prison reform and the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. The members of the Stanford Graphic Novel Project have clearly done their research, and provide a wealth of resources after the conclusion of the story in a number of appendices and notes, so it’s easy to take the book as a jumping off point for further exploration of the topic. I began reading the comic with only vague knowledge of the issue, and came away feeling much more informed and concerned about the widespread use of a practice that is considered torture by the United Nations.

I also found the creation process behind this comic very intriguing. The Stanford Graphic Novel Project is a two-semester undergraduate college course focused around the creation of a graphic novel. As a group, the students choose and research a topic, develop a story, then write and draw the entire comic. For the most part, the quality of the book is comparable to those by professional creators. Some of the notes in the back of the book provide more details about the course and the creation of the comic, and more information about the Stanford Graphic Novel project can be found on their website.

My only real complaint about Flying Kites was the variability of the artwork, likely due to the collaborative nature of the book. The style and quality of the art changes often, sometimes even from page to page, and there were some styles that I liked much more than others. Though the characters are still recognizable, and it didn’t affect my understanding of the story, I found it a little jarring at times, and was not a fan of some of the more simplistic, sketchy illustration work.

This book is an excellent choice for anyone interested in the topic, concerned with issues of social justice, and who enjoys comics about real historical events. It can also be used effectively in a classroom setting to begin or further a discussion of the issues of prison reform and human rights abuses. Nothing is graphically depicted, but readers should be aware there are mentions of death, suicide, self-harm, mental illness, and other disturbing effects of the psychological torture that is solitary confinement. Flying Kites is freely available on the Stanford Graphic Novel Project’s website for reading online or downloading as a high resolution PDF.

I hope this important book can receive the attention it deserves, and I look forward to reading more of the Stanford Graphic Novel Project’s work from both past and future years.

Flying Kites
By Stanford Graphic Novel Project
ISBN: n/a
Stanford University, 2019

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Black, Latinx
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection explores the identity, imagination, and struggle of cartoonist Yao Xiao. Baopu is a monthly, serialized comic published in Autostraddle, a online community dedicated to publishing independent, progressively feminist, queer media. Thus, Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection allows us to enter the universe of a bisexual, Chinese-American emigrant woman, an identity not often, if ever, shown in popular media. The collection includes both never before seen comics and fan favorites.

Baopu is a Taoist word used to illuminate the importance of simplicity and the ideal of living in a simpler state. Xiao clearly exemplifies this ideal through her work. The artwork is understated and the writing is accessible. The use of simplicity in Xiao’s artwork conveys a feeling of intimacy. Every comic in this compilation seems like it could have easily come directly from Xiao’s diary. And, frankly, this makes her comics likeable. Regardless of your identity, Xiao’s artwork is relatable. Xiao portrays herself in pseudo-minimalist drawings throughout each comic. In fact, her line work is so uncomplicated that her character is often only identifiable by a triangular hat differentiating her from the characters around her. While some readers may find the lack of detailing in her work frustrating, others will find it endearing.

As for the actual writing in this collection, once again readers may find themselves divided. Some of Xiao’s writing, such as one comic highlighting her frustration to pick a—literal—box, may read as cliched and a bit saccharine. However, other comics, such as those highlighting her loneliness as an immigrant, are quite poignant. One notable comic, titled “Quiet Night Thoughts” illustrates a poem by famed 7th century Chinese poet Li Bia. Xiao beautifully applies a poem written during the Tang Dynasty to her experience as a Chinese-American in the 21st century.

Given the independent nature of this publication, no particular age group is ascribed to the book. However, this book will mostly likely be appreciated by teens and emerging adults. Another issue with the independent publishing of this book is availability. This title most likely will not be available to libraries unless purchased from the publisher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, or Amazon. And, ultimately, may not be worth the investment.

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection is a sweet, engaging book. However, for a comic collection, the book is short at 128 pages. The collection feels incomplete. As a reader, I found myself wanting more. Xiao is clearly a young, very promising comic artist. I would love to read a more comprehensive volume of work from her. While I cannot recommend that this particular book be added to your library’s graphic novel collection, I would highly recommend that prospective readers take a look at Xiao’s professional Instagram account (@yaoxiaoart) and published work on Autostraddle. Xiao is a competent artist and cartoonist. More is certainly to come.

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection
By Yao Xiao
ISBN: 9781524852450
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: (16+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Chinese American Bisexual, Queer
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator

The Cardboard Kingdom

The Cardboard Kingdom is an anthology book, with Chad Sell illustrating the stories of neighborhood children and the intersection of their make-believe and personal lives. Each chapter, written by a different author, features a protagonist’s imagined self serving as an outlet for how they feel in their normal life. The roles these children choose for themselves range widely, including heroes and villains, power fantasies alongside supportive roles, and invention taking place next to action. While some of the kids have brief periods of confusion getting into the collective fantasy or figuring out their individual place within the group, eventually all are accepted and lauded for their unique features.

This premise sounds light and fun, and it absolutely is, with Sell’s artwork generally portraying a bright, friendly neighborhood full of potential for play. This is an all-ages affair with easily understood themes, including ones of introspective struggle and frustration. For example, one of the children, a boy, role-plays as an evil queen, complete with boots and large hair. Another kingdom-dweller, a girl, wears a mustache. Each of them has a hurdle to overcome in getting their parents on board with how they play, which depends on communication and empathy.

Wordless sequences invite the reader to identify how characters feel and why they react the way they do, like a slightly more mature Owly. Any difficulty between family members tends to come down to a gap in understanding. In other cases, a child will play rough, want to incorporate animals in a certain way, or base their persona in reaction to their parents’ separation. Each writer’s story comes from a personal place, which results in a cascading emotional rush over the course of the book as one poignant tale bookends another and the group takes on a larger meaning than any given individual. Kids cameo in each other’s stories, and it’s fun to pick out their forms of play in each chapter. Forget DC and Marvel, this is the connected comics universe I want to follow!

The Cardboard Kingdom begs a certain comparison to another kid-friendly paean to creativity and lost afternoons adventuring around the neighborhood: Calvin & Hobbes. Calvin would absolutely get along/playfully wage war with these kids, and they would invite a living, breathing Hobbes into the action without a moment’s hesitation. In this case, instead of the standoffish “No Girls Allowed” treehouse, the level of play is closer to the anything-goes antics of Calvinball, where the rules are made up but anyone can jump in, including diverse skin tones.

There is no content warning for this book, though you will likely need a tissue by the end, whether you recognize yourself in one of the kids or share in the quiet and loud emotional triumphs that will speak to children and adults alike. I cannot imagine anyone with a heart not being affected by the unbridled joy of this book and so recommend it to the highest possible degree… from the children’s shelf. Keep some drawing materials, LEGO, or cardboard of your own on hand for when this book blows up your own creative urges.

The Cardboard Kingdom
By Various Authors
Art by Chad Sell
ISBN: 9781524719371
Knopf Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 4-7

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: Multiracial Queer Genderqueer
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Bury the Lede

Madison Jackson, intern for the Boston Lede, is determined to be a reporter—and be taken seriously as a reporter. Her editor hasn’t said more than five words to her, the more seasoned journalists look down on her, and she keeps getting scooped by the competing newspaper. All she needs is one lead, one big break, to prove herself.

One night, she gets what she has been looking for: a dead body, a missing kid, and a guilty wife. It’s exciting, and Madison soon finds herself wrapped up in the middle of it all. Except, instead of telling the story, she becomes the story. The wife will only talk to Madison, and only through a series of cryptic messages. She wants Madison to figure out the mystery, and sends her on a wild chase throughout the city, which ultimately involves a lot of powerful people. In the end, Madison seemingly gets what she wanted: a big story. But at what cost?

Gaby Dunn is well-known on the internet. She used to work for Buzzfeed, had a popular YouTube channel, and now hosts podcasts and writes young adult books. This crossover into graphic novels draws on her past as a journalist, and it shows. The characters and setting feel realistic. Madison is naive, but smart and ambitious. She’s a perfect protagonist for readers to follow through the mystery.

Claire Roe’s illustrations are dark, but have a neon undertone. This is perfect for the noir-ish storyline and complements the action well. There is also a fully diverse cast with plenty of people of color and differing sexual orientations. This adds to the realism of the story and makes the characters relatable and authentic.

I would recommend this for older teens and adults due to violence and mild nudity. But Dunn and Roe make a good team and I look forward to more stories of Madison and the Boston Lede. This is a strong addition to the realistic graphic novel genre.

Bury the Lede
By Gaby Dunn
Art by Claire Roe
ISBN: 9781684154272
Boom! Studios, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

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Character Traits: Bisexual
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

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