Love comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s between adventurous pirates, burgeoning demon hunters, smooth spies, or even your average couple trying to make it all work. Young Men in Love, edited by Joe Glass and Matt Miner, showcases all these relationships and more, containing twenty stories from queer creators devoted to exploring the romantic hurdles and queer joy of male/masculine couples. This graphic novel boasts a variety of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal romance, contemporary slice of life, etc., ensuring that each reader will be able to find at least a story or two to enjoy.
Typical of most anthologies, not every story is going to be as hard hitting as the next one. With an average length of four to eight pages, there are some that struggle to break beyond their concept, leaving the reader more with an idea rather than a fleshed out narrative. The majority of contributors, however, manage to pace their stories so that, though we may not spend much time with these characters, they still leave a great amount of impact. Despite the varying appeal of each story, there is an admirable amount of honesty, vulnerability, and love interwoven within them all. An immense sense of pride lives in these pages that comes from an unwavering self-acceptance and the ability to love openly without shame or fear. Moments of loneliness, depression, and doubt play roles in multiple stories, but they always come around to love in the end, whether it comes from a partner or within themselves.
Given the graphic novel’s notable range in terms of content and themes, there are several stories that display aspects of queerness that are rarely discussed in the community. Ned Barnett and Ian Bisbal’s “Another Name” deals with a trans man realizing his identity and coming out to his partner in what was once a heterosexual relationship, highlighting the fears and anxiety that may come with such a discovery. “Act of Grace,” written by Anthony Oliveira and illustrated by Nick Robles, follows a teen expressing religious guilt to his priest, afraid of how his feelings for a boy may conflict with his Catholic upbringing. Editor Joe Glass, along with Auguste Kanakis, throw in a moving inclusion in “Love Yourself,” which has a character experience the fetishization of plus sized men in the community and how validation and love for someone comes from appreciating and celebrating the whole of them rather than a singular aspect. These are all facets to the queer experience that I have seen firsthand, but seldom are they reflected in media tailored to those they are meant to represent. Seeing these conflicts approached and resolved with such depth and respect allows the reader a touch of hope and comfort, even if they may not entirely relate to it.
Intent on including as many voices and experiences as possible, Young Men in Love also gives a tremendous amount of diverse representation in terms of ethnicity and body type. It shies away from solely depicting the stereotypical skinny, white, gay man, as there are several stories with black, brown, and plus-sized protagonists. What’s so refreshing about these depictions is that, aside from “Another Name” and “Love Yourself,” none of the stories make the characters’ backgrounds the focal point of their conflict. They exist as people foremost, without their identities being a source of added trauma.
As there is a separate artist accompanying each installment, there is a vast variety in art styles, ranging from charmingly cartoonish to engagingly realistic. I will forever throw praise onto Nick Robles, who puts so much life into his textures and instills a healthy dose of emotion and drama into “Act of Grace” through his use of lighting and character expressions. There is something Leyendecker-esque about his style where he captures the male form exceptionally well, making it the perfect fit for this collection. I also really appreciated the yellow tinge given to the palette and borders of Paul Allor and Lane Lloyd’s “The Way Home,” producing a nostalgic effect reminiscent of those old comics that had probably been left in the basement for too long. Overall, there is a vibrant rainbow of color throughout the graphic novel, as the reader is treated to vibrant pastels to moody, atmospheric shadows. Each story, as a result, becomes visually distinct and memorable, even if its content may not have lived up to the one that preceded it. None of the art in this graphic novel disappoints, which brings a certain coherence to all the differing perspectives within.
For fans of uplifting romantic stories with happy endings or layered depictions of queer experiences, Young Men in Love will hit that emotional, sappy spot in spades. As a romance comic, the content is fairly clean, with nothing going further than the occasional cuddle or kiss. The featured protagonists range from being young teens to full adults, so it may appeal most to readers fourteen and up. Librarians and educators looking to obtain graphic novels with positive and varied queer representation from queer creators should consider purchasing this title.
Young Men in Love Vol. By Joe Glass, Matt Miner A Wave Blue World, 2022 ISBN: 9781949518207
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Black, Brazilian, British, Canadian, Greek, Latinx, Malaysian, Mexican-American, Bisexual, Gay, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans Character Representation: Black, British, East Asian, Latinx, Gay, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans, Catholic
In Season of the Bruja, Aaron Durán depicts the conflict of surviving cultural practices vs. rampant colonialism, while also delivering a touching story of grief and self-discovery.
Being the last bruja, Althalia carries a tremendous weight on her shoulders. Immense powers dwell inside her, and she needs to ensure that the history and ways of her ancestors live on. Her beloved abuela teaches Althalia all she can about her growing magical skills and the traditions of their people, but, after a chance encounter with a fanatic priest, the young bruja’s world is thrown into chaos. Facing a centuries-old and deadly prejudice, Althalia must fully realize her role as a bruja before everything she has worked hard to protect becomes lost to time forever.
Durán, over the course of the comic, presents readers with an intriguing, yet somewhat cryptic world. At many points, it feels as if one would need a basic understanding of Mexican folklore going in, as certain creatures, concepts, and figures go unnamed and unexplained, which may confuse some readers as to their significance in the story and to the characters. It is not enough to bring down the story as a whole, but may lead one to backtrack their reading several times to make sure they did not miss anything. I especially felt the shakiness of this world going into the third act, with characters moving from place to place so quickly, mythologies intertwining, and new, mysterious adversaries cropping up in the last thirty pages with little to no explanation. I didn’t even realize where much of the climax was taking place until I had finished and was reflecting on what I had read.
Overall, the world Durán has created is not an unrealized one, but one that could have used some more definition. At several points, it feels more like the second volume of a series rather than the first as the story expects the reader to take several plot threads at face value. From the very first page, readers are thrust immediately into action as we see Althalia taking on a possessed child with her friends Dana and Chuey, a werecoyote and chupacabra, respectively. The dynamics of their relationships have already been fully developed, which makes the scene almost feel like an intrusion rather than an introduction. The reader may struggle to engage with the conflict as these characters are still strangers to them, and the reason as to why these specific characters are here is a mystery. While the rash Althalia, passionate Dana and kind, paternal Chuey become endearing characters as the story goes on, the beginning paints a disorienting view of them.
All issues aside, Season of the Bruja is essential reading when it comes to its message of the importance of preserving traditional customs and the destructive impact of colonialism. Durán does not shy away from depicting the historical and enduring prejudices of the Christian church against Indigenous practices, making Althalia and her abuela’s commitment to the survival of their heritage all the more empowering and inspiring. Though Althalia struggles to find her place in her identity, her pride and dedication to those who came before her ultimately shine through. This is a comic that celebrates its culture and the love for it is shown on every page.
Sara Soler’s illustrations only add to the magic of Durán’s story, with eye-catching, lively colors and atmospheric lighting. The designs of the supernatural characters are a real treat, especially the otherworldly palettes of Althalia and abuela’s alebrijes, as well as the sinister, imposing forms of multiple demons. Full page spreads accompany significant moments in the story, each one beautiful and impactful as Althalia’s emotions start to run high and her magic takes center stage. Unfortunately, there are several moments in which it is difficult to track the action of the main characters, whether due to the lack of a panel showing transitions between movements or a hasty layout. Characters will suddenly appear in different places than shown before without explanation or have an interaction off panel that could have contextualized the scene better. In its calmer moments, the flow is more natural and easier to grasp, though there is still the odd messy transition here and there. Still, it is a style that matches the heart and soul of Althalia’s journey, giving it a standout look that is familiar and resonating.
The world may need some settling into, but Season of the Bruja remains a graphic novel with a captivating, strong identity, and heartfelt representation of Mexican culture. Those looking for a supernatural, emotional story with a heavy mythical and familial aspects will find an engaging read here. Due to its heavier themes underlaid with a lighter tone, this title may resonate the most with teens and adults. Librarians and educators in search of materials that give meaningful representation as well as cover rarely explored topics in graphic novels, such as systemic cultural erasure and preservation of Indigenous history, should consider purchasing this title.
Season of the Bruja, Vol. 1 By Aaron Durán Art by Sara Soler Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781549308161
Publisher Age Rating: grade 7-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Latinx, Spanish, Bisexual Character Representation: Latinx, First Nations or Indigenous,
Gender Queer: A Memoir begins with an arresting image. As a student, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, taped over two pages of eir sketchbook with blank pieces of paper. The pages concealed an autobiographical comic about gender created for a school assignment, a topic that filled Kobabe with discomfort. In the opening of Gender Queer, we’re shown the censored pages—then, with an immensely satisfying “RIPPP!”, Kobabe tears away the paper, revealing the title page of Gender Queer itself.
Gender Queer is the self-portrait of a queer artist developing the confidence to tell eir story, in eir own words and on eir own terms. Narrating Kobabe’s gender journey from early childhood to the present,this graphic memoir chronicles eir efforts to build a life that affirms every piece of eir identity. There isn’t a single pivotal coming-out scene; instead, Kobabe embarks on a slow, continuous project of self-expression and self-knowledge, with results as precise and dazzling as the constellations that decorate the cover of this deluxe edition.
Maia Kobabe’s story begins with a California childhood spent catching snakes, making art, and feeling completely out of step with eir peers. A series of early crushes helps Maia to realize e’s bisexual, but this doesn’t explain the deeper discomfort e feels with eir body and assigned gender. Confused and discouraged, Maia catches hold of a pair of lifelines—coming to books as a late reader, and joining a Queer Straight Alliance at eir high school. Discovering stories that reflect eir own experiences, e begins to feel less alone.
Entering adulthood, Maia finds a word—genderqueer—that reflects the complexity of eir experiences. Just as important, e continues to collect touchstones that affirm eir sense of self instead of eroding it. There’s the first time e listens to David Bowie; the male figure skating costume that fills em with gender euphoria; the queer fan fiction that sparks eir sense of the erotic, yet ultimately makes em realize that e prefers reading about romance to experiencing it firsthand. Kobabe’s sophisticated artwork explodes to life in these moments, expressive full-color panels featuring inventive imagery such as Maia’s gender leafing out like a young seedling, or Bowie’s music as a full-body, cosmic experience (complete with rocketship).
Yet as Maia pieces together identity labels—nonbinary, mostly asexual, queer—and builds a network of supportive friends and family, the obstacles grow. Maia knows that as long as e minimizes eir gender, eir relationships and sense of self will suffer. But loved ones offer pushback when e tries to explain nonbinary identities; Pap smears are a source of trauma that medical professionals rarely take seriously; and everyday interactions come with a cost: Maia must stand up for emself, over and over, just to feel comfortable in eir own skin. This is the Maia who censored eir own sketchbook, and at the close of the memoir, this self-effacement is still palpable. Now a working artist, e hesitates over whether to share eir pronouns with students. “I think I’m carrying more fear than I need,” e realizes.
If Gender Queer is an act of bravery, it’s also a funny, sophisticated, deeply relatable coming-of-age story about charting your way alongside books and best friends into adulthood. Accessible but never didactic, Kobabe’s deft storytelling and polished, appealing artwork excels at communicating with a broad readership. For a queer and trans audience that has rarely encountered nonfiction centering nonbinary experiences, Kobabe’s memoir delivers affirmation, while for readers who are new to learning about queer identities, it educates and invites empathy. Gender Queer is also smart about the way it presents sexual material; this book doesn’t shy from frank discussions of sexuality, masturbation, and sexual health, but the content is contextualized in a way that is sensitive to the needs of younger readers, and Kobabe takes care to avoid explicit sexual depictions of underage characters.
The 2022 deluxe edition collects process pieces and select issues of the original Genderqueer comic strips, providing a snapshot of Kobabe’s creative process. An introduction by She-Ra and the Princesses of Power creator ND Stevenson reflects on the impact of Gender Queer since its initial publication in 2019. Stevenson writes about the book’s significance to himself and queer loved ones, as well as, briefly, those who have sought to remove it from public schools and libraries in “a last, desperate attempt to hammer an infinitely complex world into a small, unthreatening shape.”
Maia Kobabe’s introspective, joyful memoir is an important contribution to comics literature. It is highly recommended for any library collection serving adult and older teen readers.
Gender Queer: A Memoir, Deluxe Edition By Maia Kobabe Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150726
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Asexual, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
Shaken from the accidental death of her sister Maura, the grief-stricken Doctor Frances Ai vows to bring her back to life with all the scientific and magical power at her disposal. And it works. . . supposedly. The being that rises from the slab has no memory of Maura’s life, nor does she share any of her interests or quirks. This is someone entirely new, though Frances is willing to do anything to bring her sister fully back, even if that means taking the new being apart and trying again.
Fearing her own unmaking, the creation, who deems herself M, attempts to slip into Maura’s old life, aided by Maura’s spirit still wandering among the house’s mirrors, visible only to M. However, that life comes with Frances’ high expectations, ones that M has no interest in pursuing as she discovers her own passions and desires. Once masquerading as Maura starts taking its toll, M must decide who she wants to be, her own person or the pale shadow of someone else. Talia Dutton’s Frankenstein-inspired debut, M is for Monster, expertly navigates through the topics of grief, self-discovery, and the importance of self-expression, as M strives to become the most comfortable and authentic version of herself.
M’s journey with forging her identity, Frances’s struggle with her grief and guilt, and Maura’s frustration of having to live vicariously through M give the story a resonating and relatable weight. Each character receives just enough focus for their arcs to develop and conclude satisfyingly, while also having their own moments to shine and make their mark on readers. M, with her hiccups of having to adjust to life in general, Frances’s overexuberance towards science, and Maura’s wit and dry attitude all add a lighter side to the story, allowing it to breathe in its more relaxed moments. Personally, I found myself invested the most in M’s progression, which naturally lends itself to a queer allegory. While not explicitly queer herself, M goes through many experiences that one does when first discovering that part of themselves: the uncomfortable nature of having to put on a persona to conform to others’ expectations, of trying to distance oneself from a past version of themselves, and finding oneself growing beyond the vision other people have of them. In the end, it becomes a lesson in allowing one to be themselves for their own benefit, something M tries to come to terms with over the course of the comic.
Along with this allegory, there is some LGBTQ+ representation in the form of Frances’s partner, Gin, who goes by they/them pronouns, and their neighbors who are in a sapphic relationship, all of which are normalized.
With a calm, cool palette of white and teal, the comic exudes a sense of thoughtfulness and reflection that distinguishes it from the more horror-based aspects of its story. It reminded me somewhat of Bloom, a comic that, while completely different in terms of plot, utilizes a similar coloring motif to enhance the mood and atmosphere of each panel. In Dutton’s work it serves as an emotional hook for the reader, pairing well with the paneling that becomes an additional storytelling device. There are multiple instances in which the layout of a scene provides subtle indications of developing character dynamics or adds subtext to the overall plot and character motivations. A spread that particularly stands out is a page of Frances and M conversing, with Maura appearing in a bubble to the side, slowing inching closer and closer with each panel as a result of her speaking through M, until she is completely between them with M uncomfortably pushed to the side as Maura’s influence becomes more prevalent. In a scene with no dialogue, it speaks volumes to M’s plight, perfectly summarizing the overall conflict of the story.
M is for Monster will no doubt please readers who enjoy engaging, emotional stories with an evocative art style and a smidge of the grotesque. Due to its more mature handling of these themes, this title is most suitable for audiences 14 and up. Librarians and educators who have a high circulation of character-driven and low sci-fi titles and aim to include more representative and diverse materials should consider purchasing this title.
M is for Monster By Talia Dutton Abrams, 2022 ISBN: 9781419762208
Publisher Age Rating: ages 13-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Chinese-American, Bisexual Character Representation: Assumed Asian, Lesbian, Queer, Nonbinary
The Woman in the Woods and other North American Stories marks the fifth volume in the series of cautionary fables and fairy tales. The eight tales in this volume are from Indigenous nations, told and illustrated by Indigenous artists, and highlighting tales from Odawa, Chickasaw, Métis/Cree, Métis, Ojibwe, Tania, Navajo, and S’Kallam societies. The editors asked each of the authors to ask for permission from the Elders and/or nations to retell and rework the stories for inclusion in this anthology as they recognized and respected the protocol inherent in the gathering of the stories from the people. Unfortunately, there are no source notes included in the collection, making it of less value to educators, librarians, and storytellers than I had hoped. True, the intended audience is middle school readers, not scholars, but the authenticity of each of the tales should be paramount for them as well. I do appreciate the fact that each of the tribal affiliations has been identified for the tales.
While the tales are rendered in black and white with various hues of grey, the cover itself jumps with colour. Ironically, the story alluded to on the cover is not included in the collection. Editor and cover artist Alina Pete remarked that she had hoped to include the creation story of Sky Woman and Turtle Island, but she could not find anyone that had permission to tell this story. Sky Woman fell to the water-covered world and fell on the back of Turtle. One by one, the animals dive into the water to try and find land until Muskrat is successful in bringing back soil. Sky woman spreads the soil on Turtle’s back to create the world as we know it. She shows Sky Woman dancing for joy and two constellations on the back cover featuring two of the characters from the tales within the covers.
Most of the illustrations in the book itself have simple backgrounds, focusing on the characters of each tale. The different styles of illustrations make each of the stories individual in a collection continuous from tale to tale without any commentary. Most of the illustrations are rendered realistically, although one or two stories have manga-like characteristics and vary between historical and contemporary settings. They also vary in length.
The anthology begins with the Odawa creation story, “As it was told to Me,” retold and illustrated by Elijah Forbes, which demonstrates that the world needs the balance of good and bad to exist. It is followed by a trickster rabbit story about the cost of vanity from the Chickasaw people. “Chokfi” is written by Jordaan Arledge and illustrated by Mekala Nava. The next two stories are located closer to this reviewer. “White Horse Plains,” from the Métis settlement St. Francois Xavier, relates the tale of the dangers of greed and conflict. It is written and illustrated by Rhael McGregor. The second Métis tale is possibly the most familiar character in the collection for me. Written by Maija Ambrose Plamondon and illustrated by Milo Applejohn, “The Rougarou” tells the story of a werewolf like monster and a young boy who befriends the Rougarou. I must admit that while I am familiar with many Rougarou tales, this is the first time I have encountered this one. Alice RL’s Ojibwe tale of “Agonjin in the Water” relates a tale of another story of friendship between a human and a mythical creature: the mythical, Mishipeshu the Great Water Guardian of the lakes and rivers.
The Taino story that follows gave its title to the anthology. It is written and illustrated by Mercedes Acosta and also focuses on the relationship between a woman and a spirit of a young girl who sees the mysterious “Woman in the Woods.” The penultimate tale, “Into the Darkness,” is a Navaho shapeshifter tale about a character so frightful that no one dares to speak its name. It is written by Izzy Roberts and illustrated by Aubrie Warner. The final tale, written by Jeffrey Veregge and illustrated by Alina Pete, is a romantic tale from the S’Kallam people. The Moon in “By the Light of the Moon” falls in love with Octopus Woman, the Queen of the Salish Sea in Puget Sound. The bright light of the Moon makes it possible for the Moon to watch her dance and to send her kisses. The power of the kisses has a surprising repercussion.
The stories are followed by two pages of concise biographies of the creators including their tribal affiliations and, in most cases, their sexual orientations.
Recommended for middle school and public library collections. Because the book is part of the cautionary fables and fairy tales series, most of the stories have strong lessons imparted in the story line, but they are not dogmatic and do allow the power of the storytelling to shine through. I just wish there were adequate source notes—did I say that already?
Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales, vol. 5: The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories Edited by Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald, Alina Pete Iron Circus, 2022 ISBN: 9781945820977
Publisher Age Rating: 10-12 Series ISBNs and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Cree, Metis, Navajo, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans, Two Spirit Character Representation: Cree, First Nations or Indigenous, Metis, Navajo
In her new home of Piedmont, Becca yearns for what every high schooler desires: a place to fit in and a squad to call her own. Much to her surprise, the most popular clique in school immediately accepts her into their fold, bonding over shopping trips, gossip, and… bloodlust? On a full moon’s night, Arianna, Amanda, and Marley reveal their secret: they are werewolves, preying on skeevy boys who target unsuspecting girls at parties, and they want her to join the pack. Filled with a need for acceptance, Becca embraces the transformation, feeling a kind of strength she never had before. But with this power comes a dangerous hunger that rattles her to her core and tests her morals. Tensions only flare higher as longstanding rules are broken, authority in the pack is questioned, and one wrong kill threatens to expose them all. In this fast-paced, strikingly illustrated graphic novel, Squad perfectly balances its elements of drama and horror, though unfortunately does not live up to the full potential of its story.
Personal tidbit about me, I love werewolves, they’re my favorite monster, star in my favorite horror films, and can be abundantly diverse in terms of storytelling and design. I also love the girl gang trope found in films like Heathers and The Craft, which this comic utilizes perfectly, as I found so many parallels between this comic and the latter film. Naturally, I was excited to dive into a story about a pack of female werewolves taking a bite out of the patriarchy in a way only werewolves can, but was ultimately disappointed once I reached the final page.
Most of my issues with this comic comes from its story and how certain elements do not receive any development that would have made it more memorable. The themes of Squad, such as finding community, reclaiming agency and control from potential aggressors, and challenging oppression towards women are all there, but become muddled due to its fast pace and short page length. Standing at around two hundred pages, this does not give Squad the time it deserves to properly flesh out its message, characters, or lore and, as a result, its impact is compromised significantly. Though the comic strives to highlight female empowerment, the internalized misogyny shown by the main characters, exhibited through fatphobic remarks and moments of victim blaming, is seldom addressed or even combated. There are also several microaggressions committed against Becca, who is Asian, that receive the same treatment, which is odd considering they mainly come from her eventual love interest. Seeing this, I was waiting to see how the climax would handle these moments, if they were to serve some purpose for a more nuanced message about feminism or the effects of, as Ms. Norbury so eloquently put it in Mean Girls, “girl on girl crime.” Unfortunately, those scenes just sit within the story, unanswered for.
Some of the characters and their dynamics almost exist as afterthoughts, appearing through the uneven character development of our main cast, or the tacked-on romantic relationship between Becca and Marley that begins nearly fifty pages before the end of the comic. While it is always wonderful to see more LGBTQ+ representation in young adult graphic novels, it still needs to be quality representation that has enough time and focus devoted to make it truly resonating. What is truly disappointing about Squad is that its lacking elements could have worked, if only given a little more time to breathe, develop, and not feel so constrained by its own page length.
The saving grace of the comic would definitely be Lisa Sterle’s illustrations, which evoke an engaging atmosphere that revels in the story’s horror aspects. In the more suburban scenes, the colors are flatter, more evenly toned to match the domestic setting, but, in moments of high emotion or violence, Sterle incorporates a startling scarlet red, making these scenes stand out in a perfectly visceral way. The character designs are memorable, giving off a more modern Archie Comics vibe while having their own identity. Sterle deciding to give the squad’s wolf forms a leaner, more emaciated look is a good touch, tying in nicely with their insatiable appetites, though having them all mostly be different shades of brown makes it difficult to tell who is who at times.
Fans of series like Riverdale, Teen Wolf, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will appreciate the dramatic and horror elements of the story, and for teen readers there is the additional appeal of connecting with a high school setting and the social issues brought up in the story. As Squad has multiple instances of gore and violence, along with one moment of near sexual assault, I would agree with the publisher-given age rating of 14 and up. While I would not recommend this comic as a must have for a collection, it may interest librarians and educators looking to include titles that share the appeal of the previously mentioned series or have a high circulation of female-centered, character-driven stories.
Squad By Maggie Tokuda-Hall Art by Lisa Sterle Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2021 ISBN: 9780062943149
Publisher Age Rating: 14+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Japanese-American, Bisexual, Jewish Character Representation: Black, Japanese-American, Lesbian
The Nib compiles approximately fifty webcomics (many of which were previously published on thenib.com) from forty creators on a wide variety of LGBTQ+-related topics into this Kickstarter-backed anthology. The comics run the gamut from one-page funnies to ten-plus-page detailed glimpses into queer history. Associate Editor Matt Lubchansky’s introduction explains the origin of the title’s source, the phrase “Be Gay, Do Crime.” Lubchansky also discusses the significance of comics as a means to express queer identity in a singularly accessible manner.
Some of the most interesting comics in the anthology serve to educate readers about various aspects of the queer experience. These include histories, cultural and national disparities in treatments of queer people, and procedures like embryo adoption and securing birth control as an asexual person. One historical highlight is The Life of Gad Beck, written by Dorian Alexander, which details gay Jewish Beck’s resistance under Nazi Germany. Levi Hastings’ gorgeous illustrations are rendered in black, white, and pale blue, with thick outlines (there is no art tool information in the book, but it looks like Hastings used oil pastels). Another particularly informative contribution is Sam Wallman’s A Covert Gaze at Conservative Gays, an illuminating piece about historical and contemporary right-wing activism among queer people. At first glance, Wallman’s panelless comic closely resembles a infographic by a Mad Magazine artist; Al Jaffee comes to mind. But this black, white, and pink comic strikes a perfect balance between discussing “gay supervillains” like Milo Yiannopolous and more sympathetic conservatives like gun advocates in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Kazimir Lee’s What’s It Like to Raise Kids in Malaysia When You’re LGBT? is another interesting piece which details political perspectives and individual experiences of queer people in Malaysia. The standout art is reminiscent of a mid-20th century picture book; the full-color illustrations are predominantly in earthy reds, pinks, yellows, and browns, and there are minimal outlines in the characters’ block-like head and body shapes.
The anthology balances its drier informational pieces with funny one-page strips and relatable memoirs. A memoir highlight is Dancing with Pride by Maia Kobabe (Gender Queer) and is about eir experience in a folk dancing class where dancers are assigned different roles based on their perceived genders. The simple illustrations appear to be in pencil and watercolor, and feature a page where the dancers are lined up in order so their shirts make a rainbow, a very subtle and sweet nod to queerness in non-queer spaces. Another moving piece is written by Sarah Mirk and details activist Pidgeon Pagonis’s experience as an intersex child. The piece, Gender Isn’t Binary and Neither Is Anatomy, is illustrated by Archie Bongiovanni (A Quick & Easy Guide to Pronouns, Grease Bats). A couple laugh-out-loud funny highlights include Joey Alison Sayers’s The Final Reveal, in which the extremes of gender reveal parties are spoofed, and Shelby Criswell’s Astrological Signs as Classic Queer Haircuts.
As is always the case when I read comic anthologies, there were pieces that didn’t resonate as well with me as those I’ve named above. Rather than specify them, I will argue that it is because this book features something for every reader. If a piece didn’t resonate with me, it is sure to resonate with someone else. The queer representation is so varied, with gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, intersex, and ace representation, and with countless intersectional queer identities, that I am confident every queer reader will find something to relate to in this book. Due to its array of art styles and queer representations, I would particularly recommend Be Gay, Do Comics for fans of Iron Circus’s anthologies, like FTL, Y’all, Smut Peddler, and The Sleep of Reason.
Be Gay, Do Comics Edited by Matt Bors ISBN: 9781684057771 IDW, 2020
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Character Traits: Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Intersex, Nonbinary, Trans Creator Highlights: Black, Filipino-American, Puerto Rican Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans
Harley Quinn has become a controversial character in recent years, as some fear the character glamorizes abusive relationships. While different writers have their opinions on whether or not The Joker is capable of feeling love in any capacity, it cannot be denied that he manipulated Dr. Harleen Quinzel to his own ends, regardless of whether or not he did come to care for the woman who gave up everything in her efforts to try and redeem him. Still, the question remains; how did this young doctor, once so full of promise, come to subvert everything she was in the name of what she thought was love?
Harleen is an exploration of that question and it’s a damn good one. Rather than dismiss Harley’s problems as simple Stockholm Syndrome, Stjepan Šejic presents Harleen as a fully-developed and complex character. While Harley’s original background in the graphic novel Mad Love suggested that Harleen Quinzel slept her way through medical school and possessed a mercenary mindset that sought to use psychiatry as a road to fame and fortune, Šejic establishes Harleen as an idealistic young doctor who is good at her job but held back by her own lack of confidence. Yes, she did sleep with one of her professors in medical school, but it was out of an honest attraction to older, intelligent men and a complete naivety as to the problems their relationship would cause, leading her colleagues to gossip about how she’s known as Harley because “every old dude in a mid-life crisis has ridden her.”
As Harleen opens, Harley is trying to find financial backing for her research. Harleen’s theory is that people have a mental auto-immune system which protects them from trauma in the same way that the physical auto-immune system protects the body from infection. Harley’s idea is that psychosis develops when this mental auto-immune system is overtaxed and the ability to feel empathy for others is overridden by the survival instinct. It’s a compelling idea, at least in the mind of Lucius Fox, who arranges a Wayne Foundation grant to get Harleen special access to the Gotham City Police Department and Arkham Asylum. This brings her into the crosshairs of both District Attorney Harvey Dent (who isn’t crazy about doctors suggesting that there’s no such thing as absolute evil) and The Joker, who shares with Harley his own idea that all people are monsters and that most normal people would live like him if they weren’t so scared.
For the most part, Šejic’s script avoids psychobabble, though the medical angle of the story is a compelling one. The main focus of Harleen is upon the characters and Šejic does a phenomenal job of presenting these characters in a new light while remaining true to their classic interpretations. Harleen Quinzel is still a literal fool for love, but the story of Harleen makes a convincing case for how a woman who should know better falls for someone who is no good for them… and just plain no good. The damnable thing is Šejic also writes a Joker who is honestly funny and, at times, charming. However, Harleen does not pretend to be a romance novel on any level, nor does it inspire sympathy for the devil. This is a cautionary tale for every Bella Swan out there who thinks she can find the heart of gold in the brooding bad boy and the final scenes, in which Batman and Alfred Pennyworth debate to what degree Harleen Quinzel fell from grace or was pushed in her journey to becoming Harley Quinn, make that message clear for anyone who missed it when Harleen said her story was not one where “the girl helps the beast regain his humanity.”
Šejic’s artwork is as amazing as his scripting. The linework in Harleen is so fine that one can barely believe it was penciled at all, with everything looking like it was painted. Šejic is also a master at drawing expressions and his knack for subtle detailing results in some pages where one hardly needs the dialogue balloons or narrator captions to know the story. It is Šejic’s use of color that is most astounding, however, and it is unsurprising that Sejic got his start in professional comics as a colorist.
Harleen is a must read for every fan of Harley Quinn and anyone who enjoys a good psychodrama. It was released under DC Comics’ Black Label for mature readers for good reason. While there’s no overt nudity, there are a lot of adult situations, salty language and sex scenes, as well as a number of scenes of an insomniac Harleen Quinzel writhing in her bedclothes or lounging around her apartment in her underwear. There are also several violent scenes, including people being shot in the head and one man being thrown through a windshield. Older Teens should be okay, but this is far more risqué than Mad Love.
Harleen By Stjepan Šejic ISBN: 9781779501110 DC Comics, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 17+
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Character Traits: Bisexual
Doctor Cecelia Cobbina can process thoughts faster than the rest of us. After developing this power during an intense standoff with armed men while working in the Congo for Doctors Without Borders, Cecelia will analyse a situation and develop plans in a split second. She is the ultimate problem solver. So she commits to using this power to help others.
And there are ample opportunities for her to help. People are developing powers after being ‘ignited’. Some use these powers for good and others are lashing out with them. Cecelia travels around the country with her friend Mae looking for others who have been ‘ignited’. While Mae sees this as adventuring, Cecelia views what they do as a medical procedural. She knows something is wrong with their world and believes it is happening on a global scale. Once she understands it, she can help correct the problem.
Omni flirts with being a superhero book, but takes pains to say that it isn’t. Cecelia tells her partner there will be no capes and that she’s not that heroic. Eventually, they connect with a secretive group known as OMNI, who will provide much needed resources to help Cecelia continue her research. There is clearly much Cecelia needs to learn about OMNI as well.
The unique catch about Cecilia’s powers is that they are founded on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. For those unfamiliar, this theory posits that people have nine different intelligences. Cecelia is attuned to all of them. This translates to the comic page by showing her thoughts in multiple colors that correspond to Gardner’s theories, for example: red text boxes are related to bodily-kinesthetic analysis while orange text boxes relate to verbal-linguistic analysis and so on. On the page, these text boxes of various colors are visually appealing and confusing. The reader is constantly trying to remember which color corresponds with which intelligence. Yet it makes more sense the longer you read the book.
Cecelia is an interesting main character. She comes across as the smartest person in the room much like Tony Stark or Reed Richards, yet being an African American woman injects more realism into the plot than you would have in a traditional superhero tale. When she is confronted with a police standoff, one of her intelligences cites statistics on police brutality concerning Black men and women and it informs her actions. The story relies heavily on her intellect and ability to reason with others to get them out of tough situations. If only reasoned speech was as effective in real life as it is depicted in this comic, our world would be a better place.
The artwork by Alitha Martinez tells the story effectively and is very reminiscent of a lot of art from 90s and early 2000 comic books. It is not as detailed as more high profile comic books being published these days, but it does what it needs to do.
Omni would be a good purchase for teen or adult graphic novel collections. It’s an early book from a new universe created by Mark Waid for Humanoids, which usually publishes European comics. It’s got a Black, queer main character, an experienced writer and a Black artist attached. Future stories have a Black writer stepping in to write as well. It deserves to have time to find an audience. I’m concerned that the multiple intelligences angle may drag down the storytelling in the long term as it will have to be explained frequently, but it is definitely a unique plot point and an arresting visual.
Omni, Volume One By Devin Grayson Art by Alitha E. Martinez ISBN: 9781643376196 Humaniods, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: (Teen 13+)
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+) Character Traits: Black Lesbian Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator
After two years, the long-awaited Snotgirl series is back! Fans have become anxious to see new Snotgirl content from creators Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung, as single-issue releases seem to be fewer and farther between. In fact, just after the release of this volume the creators of Snotgirl announced an indefinite hiatus. With that said, let’s take a close look at the latest from Snotgirl, as it may be the last look we get for quite a while.
Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? continues the saga of Lottie Person. Lottie—affectionately referred to as “Snottie” by her beautiful, elusive Coolgirl crush, Caroline—is a fashion blogger, social media influencer, and personal disaster. Lottie’s allergies and runny nose pose a constant threat to her image. After being prescribed a mysterious new allergy medication, Lottie’s reality begins to change. A sequence of strange occurrences turn this series from a millennial melodrama into a supernatural mystery thriller.
Though Lottie is your archetypal vapid, self-absorbed influencer, Is This Real Life? highlights the most growth of Lottie’s character thus far. In preceding volumes; Vol. 1: Green Hair Don’t Care and Vol. 2: California Screaming, Lottie was simply a fun trainwreck. However, Is This Real Life? shows the audience a slightly more likeable, more complex version of Lottie. She is no longer just a fashion sensation with a lot of self-imposed personal issues. Lottie is a 20-something woman dealing with both the mysterious circumstances surrounding her and her overt desire to confront her sexual identity. Though previous volumes have hinted at Lottie’s sexual identity, this volume provides the most in-depth exploration. As Lottie’s relationship (and unhealthy fixation) with Caroline develops, so does the enigma of Caroline’s existence. Is This Real Life? adds a new layer of supernatural mystery that fans will either love or find frustrating due to the lack of substantial answers to readers’ ever-expanding list of questions.
Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? is an excellent addition to the Snotgirl series. Hung’s artwork is consistently high-quality. Her attention to detail is impeccable. Every chapter is filled with beautiful clothing, designed in conjunction with the personal style and social media presence of each character. In addition, O’Malley, notable for his Scott Pilgrim series, writes dialogue filled with colloquial language, quippy back-and-forths, and tons of homoerotic subtext. O’Malley’s writing paired with Hung’s illustrations have earned the Snotgirl series a well-deserved cult following. Snotgirl is a great purchasing choice for any library collection. Given that, thus far, only three Snotgirl volumes have been released, purchasing the series for library patrons is an easy feat. Though fans have no idea when the Snotgirl hiatus will end, Snotgirl, Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? will hopefully tide over both old fans and new until the return of Lottie Person.
Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? By Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung Art by Leslie Hung ISBN: 9781534312388 Image Comics, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Series Reading Order: https://www.goodreads.com/series/182773-snotgirl (Wikipedia or Goodreads)
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+) Character Traits: Bisexual Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator