The Hazards of Love, Book 1: Bright World

The Hazards of Love began as a webcomic in 2015, with issue covers and occasional splash pages in color, the rest a thickly lined and crosshatched black and white. In 2018 author/artist Stan Stanley told Women Write Comics that she set out to create a creepy, queer YA story with a Latinx cast, the kind of story she’d love to have read as a teen. Book 1 collects the first 11 issues (plus an issue zero), fills every page with blazing color, and contains more teeth than you can imagine.

Amparo Uribe and Iolanthe’s meet cute is Amparo hiding from school authorities in the library after pulling the fire alarm. After a great evening with Iolanthe (that was not a date), Amparo’s abuela reminds them of the ways they’re letting their mom down by making mischief at school. So when a talking cat appears in their bedroom and offers Amparo a wish, they wish to become a better person. Unfortunately the cat was really just stealing Amparo’s name, body, and life. Now the cat is living Amparo’s life in Queens and Amparo is exiled to a lush, animalistic wonderland called Bright World, where everything loves to eat humans. Nameless and shoeless, they are helped by/fall prey to tavern owner Mimi, an anthropomorphized hairless dog. As a way out of Mimi’s doomed indentured servitude, they are helped by/fall prey to El Ciervo, who buys them from Mimi—but not before cutting their hands off. Given the name Fawn and new, morphing blue flame hands, they continue searching for an escape to the real world, aided by one of Mimi’s servants, Juliana. 

Back in Queens, time is passing and Iolanthe is suspicious of the suddenly sweeter Amparo. But feline Amparo wins her over, and sets about bringing up their grades, holding down a job, and making their family proud. They go to prom and graduate from school and keep trying to build a future. But a cat’s life isn’t as long as a human, and this cat has been alive for a while already. When they disappear, Iolanthe begins a strange search involving an underground psychic. 

My summary can’t do the writing justice. There are twists and turns and sickening reveals and the dangers of Bright World can’t be easily cataloged. Memories and things humans keep on the inside are currency in Bright World, combining identity and survival in a primal way. Amparo is established as using they/them pronouns early on, and is questioned occasionally throughout the book about their gender. They speak in terms of being “bad at being a girl” or not really feeling one way or the other, not choosing labels. What it means to be “you” is constantly challenged in both the Queens, NY and Bright World storylines. Many of the characters speak Spanish and all of the signs in Bright World are in Spanish. The characters are often sparse on details yet vibrant, like Juliana, who retains a fiery spirit in the midst of having lost most of her memories. We spend little time with Iolanthe, but feel her deep concern and care for Amparo. 

I originally read this in a digital copy, on Hoopla. The bright colors glow and the characters jump off the screen. When I decided to review it I scored a hardcopy from my library and while I don’t usually worry over digital vs paper, the black of the pages made me fall in love with the art in a new way. The entire page and between the panels are a deep black, starting out with straight gutters in the beginning that start to wiggle and swirl as magic enters the story, then remaining wild twisted things, sometimes resembling thorns, for the rest of the story. These are shown in the digital copy as well but were brilliantly shown in the printed version. Bright World is colorful in the manner of poisonous plants and animals, standing against the black panes of the pages like stained glass or the images on prayer candles. Stanley has said she was inspired by her childhood in Mexico and the riot of color reflects this as much as the folk art animal shapes and characters. In violent contrast, El Ciervo is a flat black deer head above a crisp suit. He has blue eyes, white antlers, and occasionally his pointed teeth glint, but his face is mostly a void of darkness that quietly menaces Amparo. I want to read more, but love the colors so much I think I’ll wait for Book 2 instead of reading ahead from the webcomic.

There are few sections that are challenging in readability, including an issue that divides the pages horizontally with an undulating boundary showing Amparo’s Bright World troubles and Iolanthe dealing with the deceitful cat’s antics side-by-side. Sometimes following tightly stacked speech bubbles of conversations took a little more care. But the jumbled style and the extra attention it required from me felt appropriate somehow and well worth the trouble.

The Hazards of Love is best for older teens and has more than enough complexity for adults. From a content standpoint it’s fine in a teen or high school collection. Stanley has taken care of the language in the webcomic by simply scribbling out swear words, there’s no nudity or sex, and the violence is swift and cerebral, with only a little gore. Fans of gothic comics like The Last Halloween and twisted fairytales will find a lot to sink their teeth into.

The Hazards of Love, Book 1: Bright World
By Stan Stanley
Oni Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781620108574
Publisher Age Rating:  Grade 9 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Mexican, Queer
Character Representation: Latinx, Queer, Nonbinary

Shadow Life

Aging can be a scary ordeal, one which we must all experience as we travel along the path of life, for the threat of death looms overhead. In her debut graphic novel Shadow Life, Hiromi Goto and Ignatz-nominated cartoonist and illustrator, Ann Xu take us on a slice-of-life journey through the lens of an elderly woman who defies the pervasive, menacing fear of death, preferring, instead, to embrace and savor life to its fullest.

Kumiko Saito, a seventy-six-year-old widow, resides in an assisted living home where her well-intentioned daughters have placed her, much to her discomfort. One night, she sneaks out and runs away in pursuit of a little freedom, finding refuge in a cozy apartment. She touches base online with her eldest daughter Mitsuko, but refuses to divulge her secret hangout. While relaxing at her home away from home, she relishes in the mini pleasures in life—swimming at a community pool, snacking whenever she pleases, and taking cat naps at her leisure. In the midst of her private revelries however, a malevolent supernatural being has surfaced and begins to hound her with relentless determination. Later on, she pays a visit to have tea with her former female lover from another life time, but detects another spirit occupying her home. Sinister forces and other eerie occurrences are set into motion as she must soon combat the onslaught of death itself.

Goto and Xu have constructed a captivating story that explores the steadfast will of an elderly character who challenges stereotypes of aging. While she goes about taking care of daily tasks such as taking pills and cooking meals, the feisty Ms. Saito must also navigate a labyrinth of threatening obstacles seeking to ensnare her at every corner. Shadow Life depicts the dynamic resilience of an elderly woman whose courage perseveres at all odds while she dispenses a few bad ass tricks to battle the encroaching specter of death. A fluid storytelling style, combined with intrepid characters and sparse dialogue, creates a symbiotic narrative flow. Similar to watching a silent film, each shot captures minute details with careful attention, sometimes in a montage style. From quizzical facial expressions and photo snapshots to shadowy beings lurking in the corners, the intricately crafted elements in each panel unify to produce a visually gripping and well-designed plot.

Many stories featuring Asian seniors portray them as sage gurus, but this story offers a refreshing and rarely seen take by creating one imbued with agency. A haunting story interspersed with bits of the macabre and supernatural realism, but also radiating with warmth and compassion, Shadow Life offers a thrilling piece of literary fiction fit for all library collections.

Shadow Life
By Hiromi Goto
Art by  Ann Xu
First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781626723566

Publisher Age Rating:  General Adult

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Japanese-Canadian, Queer,
Character Representation: Japanese-American, Bisexual,

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

It’s hard to say what Mannie Murphy’s debut graphic novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is about without listing all of the contents, but I’ll try. I’ll admit to being disappointed by the publisher’s summary.

Murphy begins with their adolescent memory of being at a slumber party and hearing the news of River Phoenix’s death. The story takes a deep dive into Phoenix’s life story, film highlights, and his work on My Private Idaho, Gus Van Sant’s seminal film about queer underground culture in Portland. It then ricochets around Portland-adjacent stories of violent white settlers, redlining, and racial strife through the centuries. The explosive trial of neo-Nazi skinhead Kenneth “Ken Death” Mieske for the murder of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw in 1988 takes up a considerable length of the book. A muse of Gus Van Sant, he is the narrative’s path into the rise of white supremacy and its stranglehold on Portland. The strategic infiltration of the police force and the subsequent violence is a case study for the current national crisis. Murphy then circles back closer to home and their experiences at a Portland high school that valued individuality and questioning authority. 

The writing is a thoroughly compelling blend of confession and heavily researched true crime, all told in a stream of consciousness style. The text is neat handwritten cursive filling up half of each page, with varied spacing as needed. In an interview with the Center of Cartoon Studies, Murphy said that the cursive script is meant to function in part as a barrier the reader must be willing to scale, and an emblem of the diary format, as well as funneling access to their 35-55 year-old intended demographic. The ability to read cursive also squares with the requisite generational knowledge to remember Geraldo Rivera, part of a key moment related in the book when skinheads literally broke onto the mainstream American TV scene. Honestly, I hope more people are learning cursive than the alarmist news media reports, because I want Murphy’s progression of thoughts to bloom in younger minds as well. After reading it twice, I can tell the book has only begun growing in my own mind. 

The art and visual format are challenging but rewarding. There are no panels or speech bubbles; one could perhaps make an argument for it as a picture book or illustrated memoir rather than a graphic novel. School newsprint with handwriting guide red and blue lines buckles under the weight of the ink washes Murphy uses for half-page illustrations. Luminous eyes and thickly-lined faces evoke moments from movies, magazine spreads and photojournalism. I couldn’t always tell from the picture alone which celebrities were depicted, but Murphy captures the cool vulnerability of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in particular. All of the people have a ghostly aspect that haunts the pages. The landscapes recall postcards. The physicality of the paper and its wrinkles, the visible bleed from the back of the splash pages announcing the chapters, all reinforce the idea of the book as a personal artifact. 

The content and themes are adult, without any lurid or graphic language or illustrations. Older teens who are into true crime and cultural introspection may enjoy it. While a connection to the 80s and 90s can add to the reader’s understanding, it’s not necessary. I struggle to come up with readalikes, it makes me think of Peter Kuper and Art Spiegelman in their attempts to gather accessible stories around monumental concepts. Despite the journal approach to the writing, there are few direct stories of Murphy’s life; they traffic more in public tragedies. And yet, I’m also reminded of Julie Doucet’s New York Diary.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden is a singular experience and I hope most libraries with adult graphic collections will give their communities a chance to read it. 

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
By Mannie Murphy
Fantagraphics, 2020
ISBN: 9781683964100

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Queer

Red Rock Baby Candy

Shira Spector weaves a dreamlike graphic memoir from ink, watercolor, and mixed media collage. In its nonlinear timeline the story details, among other things, Spector’s pubescent sexual awakening, her miscarriage and struggle with infertility, and her father’s decline in health and ultimate demise due to a brain tumor. The first death that shapes Spector is her Bubbie’s—a story that is interspersed with lyrics from the children’s clapping song “Down Down Baby.” One page features: “Gramma, Gramma, sick in bed. Called the doctor, and the doctor said…” when a parent interjects with the news: “Bubbie is dead.” The story jumps to a portrayal of a country/folk artist singing the book’s titular song, a “queer infertility anthem” about the magical Red Rock Baby Candy Mountain, where babies grow on bushes and are naturally well-behaved. This quick leap from trauma to comedy is par for the course in this big, beautiful, messy book.

It’s often difficult to glean the story from the art, since many pages feature poetic words splayed out across images rather than a clear explanation of what happens next. These pages are emotionally resonant and evocative; it’s possible Spector intended to give readers the opportunity to feel what it’s like to experience these things, rather than detail the minutiae of her own story. The early pages of the book are all in black-and-white pen drawings with hatched shading and occasional grey ink washes for additional shades. Spector adds pink as an initial spot color, mostly for lipstick, flowers, veins, and blood vessels, the latter two of which remind me of the external hearts and snipped arteries in Frida Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas. Gradually, a second spot color is introduced – blue, such that the pink and blue juxtapose and seem to poke fun at the binary of genders assigned to babies before they are equipped to understand their own identities. Once the story turns to miscarriage and infertility, Spector brings in paper collage. Most of these images appear to be cut from vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks, with layers of ornately-decorated cake, hard-boiled eggs, and sliced ham forming Spector’s own miscarrying body. It’s visceral and truly unlike anything I’ve seen in a book; I could see many pages from this book featured as stand-alone pieces in a feminist art gallery.

When Spector finally has a kid, the book shifts to a realm of full color illustrations, where it remains as it delves into a history of her childhood sexual experiences (including a scene many people—myself included—can relate to, in which she discusses masturbating to Judy Blume’s seminal book Forever) and her gradual realization that she’s a lesbian. One page stands out among the psychedelic illustrations due to its computer font paragraphs and its title across the top: “On My First Fingering.” This page details a sexual assault that turns into an ad for Sexy Baby Time perfume (likely a reference to Love’s Baby Soft perfume), which girls should purchase because “Boys like the way babies smell. Brand new and vulnerable…So delicious they want to ruin them.” This is not an easy book to read.

I could go on about the fertility doctors who say Spector was having trouble getting pregnant because “it wasn’t the natural way,” or how she proposed marriage because she “secretly…hoped getting married would bring my stubbornly dead dad back,” but instead I will say this is a strange book filled with a mix of straightforward and stream of consciousness writing, as well as a blend of realistic drawing and abstract lumps. Like Lynda Barry’s work, it strikes that delicate balance between a childlike perspective and a very, very adult one. Also like Lynda Barry’s work, and like Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, most pages of this book feel like they were quickly sketched in a notebook hidden in a high school desk from the teacher’s prying eyes. It’s powerful and different and addresses plenty of important topics in a moving and thought-provoking way. I would recommend this book for most adult graphic memoir collections.

Red Rock Baby Candy
By Shira Spector
Fantagraphics, 2021
ISBN: 9781683964049

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Lesbian, Jewish
Character Representation: Lesbian, Jewish

Getting it Together

There are more similarities between Getting it Together and the hit television show Friends besides Jenny D. Fine’s inspired cover art (six 20-somethings dressed in black and white holding primary-colored umbrellas). The group of friends is anchored together by a pair of Persian-American siblings, Lauren and Sam Aziz. Lauren’s dating Jack, Sam’s best friend, but she slept with Ashton (not while “on a break” but after the couple decided to “open their relationship up”). Lauren is in an indie rock band called Nipslip with Annie and Elijah. Sam is gay and hooking up with guys through dating apps. Their lives in the San Francisco Bay area intersect through a series of bars, coffee shops, and apartments while they are all trying to make sense of their relationships and themselves.

The biggest and most welcome difference from Friends is the diversity. The most colorful part of that show was the umbrellas in the opening. Getting it Together has a colorful, diverse cast of characters with different racial, cultural, and sexual identities.

It’s not always easy to follow the web of relationships, but a flowchart might help. Co-creators, Sina Grace and Omar Spahi have created a relatable, honest look at a likable group of young people (they seem to be in their early 20s-30s, so they are on the cusp between Millennials and Gen Z).

Grace was the comic book artist working on the iconic and all-too-short Iceman coming out arc for Marvel and has a string of both big titles for big comic publishers as well as his own indie comics.

Getting it Together is cute, but not too cute. It’s funny, but not hilarious. It’s honest, but not brutal. The characters are quirky, but not weirdly so. The first act throws us into the middle of Lauren and Jack’s breakup, and the second finds Sam stuck in the middle. The realization that the pivotal character is Lauren comes during a drug-filled truth session after a Nipslip gig at a rooftop bar.

Young adulthood is a weird time in everyone’s life. You’re blessed with youth, beauty, and friends, but lacking in self-awareness and direction. Getting it Together illustrates this beautifully in muted, earthy colors, and well-drawn panels.

And while it is filled with sex, drugs, and rock & roll, it’s a fairly tame slice of life comic that is light on tragedy and big on the kind of relationships that get us through our 20s.

Getting it Together would work in any adult graphic novel collection (mostly due to the aforementioned sex, drugs, and rock & roll).

Getting it Together
By Sina Grace, Omar Spahi
Art by Jenny D. Fine, Sina Grace, Mx. Struble
Image Comics, 2021
Publisher Age Rating:  M for Mature

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Queer


The front cover of Flamer has a lofty quote from Jarrett J. Krosoczka: “This book will save lives.” It may seem like an overstatement, but when one finishes reading Flamer, they will invariably agree. Flamer may be a devastating read, but it provides a much-needed update to Dan Savage and Terry Miller’s It Gets Better Project that feels current in spite of its mid-1990s setting.

Aiden Navarro is spending his summer earning badges at Boy Scout camp. In the fall, he’ll start at public school, choosing not to return to the Catholic school he’s attended—and where he’s been relentlessly bullied—for years. Aiden is chubby, Filipino, and effeminate, all qualities that render him an easy target for the aggressively masculine white boys at his school (and, for that matter, at Boy Scout camp). Unfortunately, Aiden’s home life is difficult as well. His father is verbally abusive, and his mother leans heavily on Aiden for emotional support after their fights. At its best, Boy Scout camp provides Aiden a refuge, a space where he and fellow campers are free to rank their favorite X-Men characters and where friends value his thoughtful perspectives about how to treat their girlfriends with dignity. At its worst, though, Boy Scout camp is a hotbed of daily micro and macro-aggressions. One camper targets Aiden with a relentless stream of racist comments, and another holds Aiden down to pull out his ponytail, ripping out some of his hair in the process.

In spite of his discomfort with the homophobic jokes other campers make, Aiden is convinced he’s not gay. After all, as he puts it, “Gay boys like other boys. I HATE boys.” But after daydreaming that he is Jean Grey to his bunkmate Elias’s Cyclops and experiencing a handful of other clues—like an accidental erection in the boys’ shower—he begins to suspect he is different from his girl-obsessed peers. He writes to his BFF Violet to express his concerns. After a particularly embarrassing moment with Elias, and suspecting that Violet’s lack of response to his letter means she’s ashamed of him, Aiden reaches a breaking point. He contemplates suicide and is confronted by a humanoid manifestation of the fire inside him; a flame, often used as a pejorative for queerness, is literally his savior. This powerful moment is likely to resonate with anyone who has tried to push away an aspect of their identity only to realize it is integral to who they are.

Curato’s art, in colored pencil and ink wash, is predominantly drawn in thick, pastel-like black and white lines. Curato uses fiery spot colors to indicate particularly emotional moments, such as scenes where Aiden is being bullied or where Aiden feels conflicted about his Catholic background. There are three particularly powerful panels of artwork I’d like to highlight. In one, Aiden is sinking into a deep pool of water created by his mother’s tears. Another is reminiscent of the Rider-Waite tarot deck’s Nine of Swords: Aiden is covering his eyes in his bed in one corner of the full-page spread, while the walls around him are scrawled with his own negative self-talk. The third depicts Aiden, saved by the fire inside him, reborn as a phoenix in flames.

Curato includes a handful of practical resources alongside the narrative. Since the story takes place at summer camp, Curato seizes the opportunity to teach the reader about aspects of camping, such as different knot shapes, orienteering, hemp bracelet stitches, and how to find and use good firewood. Additionally, after Curato’s afterword, in which he details how Aiden’s story is similar to his own experiences, he shares information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the TrevorLifeline. 

Flamer doesn’t sugarcoat its subject material, so readers who enjoyed the similar handling of tough subjects for tweens in Tillie Walden’s Spinning and Kacen Callender’s King and the Dragonflies are sure to love this book. With its soft-edged illustrations and frequent daydream sequences, Flamer retains an otherworldly quality even while grounded in the real world’s brutalities. This truly intersectional queer graphic novel is a must-have for all libraries serving teens and adults.

By Mike Curato
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2020
ISBN: 9781627796415
Publisher Age Rating:  14-18

Title Details and Representatio
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Filipino-American, Gay,
Character Representation: Filipino-American, Gay, Catholic

Moonstruck, vol. 3: Troubled Waters

Werewolf barista Julie and her girlfriend Selena are on the rocks. Maybe they can get some bonding time in at the annual Mermaid Festival! Except when they meet up with a close friend of Selena’s, Julie feels awkward. And a beautiful stranger is following Julie around and… flirting with her? Awkward again. Worse, Julie’s prophetic friend Cassie pops in to tell her that she needs to break up with Selena or find herself in danger. Yikes!

Meanwhile, in a series of humorous, wacky asides, Chet; a centaur; and their partner, Manuel, navigate an internship with NewPals (a virtual pet company that is a pastiche of Neopets). While we don’t actually see their adventures, the comic includes periodic “NewPals Super Fun Pages”–illustrated worksheets such as word searches or crossword puzzles–that hint as to what is going on with that internship. Hint: it’s not what Chet and Manuel expected.

Like the first two volumes, this is a diverse, inclusive book. Julie is fat, Latina, and queer, and Selena is fat, Black, and queer, while Chet is nonbinary. None of these identities is ever the focus of questioning or discrimination. Indeed, the only part of her that protagonist Julie feels insecure about is the werewolf part.

Beyond its array of real-world identities, the Moonstruck comics feature a huge selection of different fantastical creatures. There are shapeshifters, minotaurs, fairies, and more; with this volume adding mermaids to the mix. The creators have come up with some fun and interesting accommodations to make suprernatural town of Blitheton accessible to all of its residents; including the water-filled wheelchair that Skyla the mermaid uses to move around on land.

While it still has fluff and humor, this volume turns up the angst compared to the first two. Julie and Selena have been wrangling relationship issues for awhile now, and Julie has been struggling with embarrassment and shame about her werewolf identity. Both of these get worse in volume three, and we finally get a glimpse of why Julie hates being a werewolf even though (A) Moonstruck’s werewolves do not lose control when they transform, so it’s not particularly dangerous, and (B) practically everyone in Blitheton is a supernatural creature.

The art continues to be cute and colorful, it’s palette slightly more saturated than what might be called pastel. The characters are distinct and easily recognized, as well as highly expressive. Most are a little roly-poly, with rounded edges that make them look soft and cute. Every so often, we get an excerpt from Julie’s favorite book series, Pleasant Mountain Sisters (Sweet Valley Twins, anyone?). These comics, drawn by Claudia Aguirre, feature a totally different art style, with bolder colors and more screen tones–and an all-human cast. Julie’s dream is to become a writer for this book series, and her love of this very “normal” world with no supernatural creatures in it recalls her desire to be a human and not a werewolf. This volume also includes some fun extras at the back, like fanart and character concept drawings.

Moonstruck continues to offer a largely sweet and gentle supernatural world, but this volume expands on the emotional turmoil of those incredibly soft and cuddly-looking werewolves. Hand it to fans of good-hearted, inclusive fantasy stories like Lumberjanes.

Moonstruck, Vol. 3: Troubled Waters 
By Grace Ellis
Art by Shae Beagle and Claudia Aguirre
ISBN: 9781534314931
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Black, Latinx, Queer
Creator Highlights: Lesbian

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

The Avant-Guards: Down to the Wire

Just when things were going so well! The Avant-Guards, a quirky basketball team at an equally quirky arts college, have been having a great season; but now stress and interpersonal conflicts are stirring. When Nicole realizes that her passion is not music, but comedy, and wants to change her major; how will her parents react? Will a new player who sets off Charlie’s anxiety derail Charlie’s relationship with Liv? Meanwhile, their newly-formed league has been hit with a funding crisis that could sink it for good. Can the Avant-Guards pull together for a fundraiser to save the league?

This volume concludes the story of the Avant-Guards, taking them from the team’s formation in volume one to the end of their first basketball season. The three volumes—collecting twelve issues of the comic—include character arcs for all the members of the team, though the greatest focus remains on reticent transfer student Charlie and exuberant team captain Liv. Volume One was told entirely from Charlie and Liv’s perspectives, while Volume Two introduced the viewpoints of teammates Jay and Tiffany and their coach, Ash. This volume gives us a Nicole-centered storyline before returning to Charlie and Liv. We also glimpse the perspective of the team’s newest member, who unintentionally throws the team into turmoil just when they need each other most.

As in previous volumes, on-the-court action is interspersed with hanging out, planning, arguing, and other off-court drama for the Avant-Guards. Readers of the first two books will be familiar with these vivid and varied characters, all with their own motivations and hang-ups, adding depth to the interpersonal scenes. Meanwhile, the basketball games—which sometimes include sprawling, dynamic double-page spreads—make for a fun and different way to view the characters. The big fundraiser, too, neatly showcases the talents and interests of each member of the team, reminding us of what they’re all actually going to art school for.

The artwork remains lively, colorful, and expressive. The backgrounds and the characters’ outfits are packed with fun little details, from posters on the walls to the way the different characters dress for the big fundraiser. At the end, the book contains a series of sketches, showing pages in progress, early character designs, and more. It also lists, with illustrations, the other teams in this unusual basketball league, including the Jetts (playing for The Royal Academy of Punk Rock), the Cuddly Retrievers (of The American Institute of Veterinary Curiosities), and the Baristas (hailing from The Academy of Specialty Coffees and Loose Leaf Teas).

Like the first two volumes, Down to the Wire is funny and heartfelt, populated by sympathetic characters who make mistakes but mean well. There are certainly stakes—mostly emotional ones, though the league’s funding is in jeopardy as well—but this is a feel-good book that isn’t here to stress readers out. Given the trajectory of the series overall, it will not surprise readers to hear that things work out in the end.

The Avant-Guards: Down to the Wire 
By Carly Usdin
Art by Noah Hayes
ISBN: 9781684155613
Boom! Box, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: African-American, Chinese-American, Bisexual, Lesbian, Nonbinary, Anxiety
Creator Highlights: Queer

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

Browse for more like this title
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Black, Chinese-American, Gay
Creator Highlights: Latinx, Gay