Tony Price is your average high school track star/rebel looking to prove himself to his absent, overworked father. Eli Hirsch is a meek boy with a chronic illness that keeps him from having a stable social life. Together, they experience the eerie events that plague their quaint New England town of Blackwater, such as a terrifying creature that stalks the woods and a haunting presence in the harbor that only Eli can see. As the two face the horrors of the supernatural, as well as a healthy amount of teen drama, they grow closer as friends and, in time, start to feel something deeper for each other.
While Blackwater delivers on its more horrific moments, creators Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham capture a more down-to-earth, character-driven narrative in which the supernatural elements are there more for the development of the main characters rather than to give the reader a scare. This works in the graphic novel’s favor, as Tony and Eli’s relationship is a major highlight of the story. Their romance builds naturally and is constantly being tested through their actions and how they react to the odd goings on around them. There is a slow-burn aspect to their dynamic, which may disappoint those looking to jump right into the romance, but it ultimately culminates in a satisfying payoff to this slight enemies to friends to lovers build up. Other character ties are explored and gain some depth and/or resolution, though there are a few that gain some focus only to lead to loose ends. Since relationships, whether platonic, romantic or familial, play such a large role in the story this lack of resolution gives off a disjointed feeling at times.
One quality of Blackwater worth noting is the normalized intersectional representation shown through the characters. Tony is bisexual and half Puerto Rican, while Eli is Jewish, transgender, and queer. Both of them are disabled, Tony having asthma and Eli having a chronic autoimmune disorder as well as being an ambulatory wheelchair user. The representation varies in terms of what is specifically addressed, ranging from a few panels showing a menorah in Eli’s hospital room to the boys’ disabilities playing major roles in the story. Regardless, the creators treat each facet of the characters’ identity with respect, refraining from making them sole, defining characteristics.
Without a doubt, Blackwater’s standout quality is its use of multiple art styles. Arroyo and Graham’s illustrations alternate between chapters, aiming for a more “unique and dynamic” experience. Each artist creates a moody, spooky atmosphere for this small woodsy town, as the black and white color palette gives it all the charm of an old monster flick. A constant foggy texture lays within the backgrounds, giving a further air of mystery to each location. Though Arroyo and Graham both enrich the comic in their own ways, it may come down to the reader’s personal tastes whether the desired effect of both styles works or not. For me, I found myself more drawn to Arroyo’s chapters, where characters have such expressive facial features that each emotion is instantly recognizable, sometimes overexaggerated in a cartoony way that I really enjoy. Arroyo uses the entire face to her advantage when having a character emote, giving it such a dynamic malleability and making for a great range of expressions. In comparison, Graham’s designs are more static, more reserved, to the point where their features somewhat conflict with what the character is meant to be feeling. Still, Graham greatly contributes to the comic through their lush backgrounds, enhanced by the monochromatic hues. While each style has its own strengths, they both fit the story and tone perfectly.
Blackwater expertly balances a cute, budding romance with paranormal perils and a dash of teen angst thrown in for good measure, giving it an appeal akin to Heartstopper, Teen Wolf, and Riverdale all rolled up into one. Presenting a somewhat light horror, there is nothing too off-putting for those just getting into the genre, aside from some visuals of blood. The publisher gives an age recommendation of 14-18, which fits well with the teen-centric issues of the main characters and overall aesthetic. Educators and librarians that are looking for representative and diverse materials that also give variety in genre and story should consider purchasing this title.
Blackwater By Jeannette Arroyo, Ren Graham Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2022 ISBN: 9781250304025
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Latine, Queer, , Character Representation: Black, German-American, Latine, Bisexual, Queer, Trans, Chronic Illness, Disability, Wheelchair User, Jewish ,
The third and final book in K. O’Neill’s Tea Dragon series is just as poignant and artfully crafted as the previous two installments. In the first book, aspiring blacksmith Greta meets Tea Dragon Society members Hesekiel, Erik, and Minette; and begins caring for Ginseng, a tea dragon who recently lost her previous owner. Now it’s over a year later, and Ginseng still hasn’t begun to grow new tea leaves, a sign that she is still grieving. Greta is preparing a smithed object for the great blacksmith Kleitos’s test. If she passes, she will move to his forge to become his apprentice. Minette receives a parcel from the monastery where she previously lived with her parents, and where she was training to become a prophet. The parcel contains a tapestry she started but never completed, and seeing it triggers a series of disturbing dreams in which she tries to connect with her ancestors but is unable to do so.
Ginseng’s and Minette’s stories play out in parallel. Greta tries to do everything she can to help Ginseng move on and feel happy again, while all Ginseng wants is time to grieve. Minette wants to focus on the joyful experiences she’s had since she left the monastery, but she keeps getting pulled back into feelings of loss. Both Greta and Minette gradually learn that it’s important to allow oneself—as well as one’s friends—to be sad. As Erik says to Minette, “It’s alright to let those feelings” [of sadness] “wash over you, and give them time to soak into the earth. That’s when things start to grow again.” While Erik means this metaphorically, it could be taken literally, since Ginseng’s leaves begin to grow once Greta makes it clear that she will be there for the tea dragon throughout her mourning period.
As was the case in the previous Tea Dragon titles, the art is beautiful. Humanoid characters are portrayed with a wide range of skin tones, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities, as well as light fantastical elements like horns or antlers. Though the sweeping, border lineless paintings don’t leave a lot of room for facial detail, O’Neill’s illustrations convey even the subtlest emotions with finesse. The colors are earthy and bright, with clear delineation of changing seasons among the background flora. The most memorable and lovable aspect of the Tea Dragon series is the tea dragons themselves, and Ginseng, Chamomile, Rooibos, and Jasmine are all just as adorable as ever.
O’Neill’s Tea Dragon universe is elaborate, and existing fans will be excited to discover that at the end of The Tea Dragon Tapestry O’Neill has included a compendium of essays explaining the universe in more detail. While this book could potentially be read as a stand-alone, readers will benefit from having previously read The Tea Dragon Society, since The Tea Dragon Tapestry continues Greta’s and Minette’s stories first established in that book. Lovers of The Tea Dragon Festival will appreciate the cameos from Rinn and Aedhan. The Tea Dragon Tapestry is a must purchase for libraries where the first two volumes were popular. Recommend this series to pensive kids who enjoy meaningful reads and cute animals. Oni Press has also released related merchandise such as enamel pins, plush tea dragons, and tie-in card games, which may signify an expansion of the fandom.
The original Blade Runner was not a big hit when it was originally released in 1982, yet it has gone on to become a classic of science fiction cinema and inspire a sequel, Blade Runner 2049. While not directly adapting the Philip K. Dick story Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner encapsulated the themes of Dick’s dystopian world, where the best of humanity reached the stars, only to poison the Earth and abandon the poor and the sick to a slow death on a dying world. Yet even that existence is preferable to the life of slavery forced on replicants; artificially made beings virtually indistinguishable from real humans.
Titan Comics’ Blade Runner 2019 is the first original graphic novel series set in the world of Blade Runner. Beyond being officially endorsed as canon to the films, the series is co-written by Michael Green, who co-wrote the script for Blade Runner 2049. That alone ensures a higher level of quality than one might normally expect from a film tie-in comic, even when that writer is an Oscar Nominee for his work on the film Logan. Green is an experienced comic book writer, as is his co-author, Mike Johnson, with whom he previously collaborated on DC Comics’ New 52 Supergirl series. This makes them an ideal team for adapting the world of Blade Runner into a comic book format.
Set in Los Angeles during the same time as Blade Runner, but with none of the film’s characters making an appearance apart from replicant magnate Dr. Eldon Tyrel, the first volume of Blade Runner 2019 quickly introduces us to Aahna “Ash” Ashina. Ash is widely considered to be the best of the LAPD’s Blade Runners; special detectives tasked with hunting down replicants who go into hiding on Earth. However, a lack of replicants to hunt and pressure from City Hall sees Ash temporarily reassigned to investigate the disappearance of Isobel and Cleo Selwyn, the wife and daughter of billionaire Alexander Selwyn. It soon becomes apparent that Ash’s assignment was due to more than a rich man demanding the best detective available, and Ash soon finds herself fighting to protect Cleo from an unexpected threat.
Green and Johnson’s scripts perfectly capture the themes of the original films and the reoccurring idea that the replicants and other artificial beings are more compassionate and noble than the fiendish organics that created them. Ash is a prime example of this, starting out with no sense of sympathy for replicants and unspoken envy of them, given her own dark secret. As a child, Ash was denied the right to follow her mother into the stars due to an unspecified spinal condition that renders her unable to walk without the aid of an implant that requires constant recharging. This makes Ash ironically dependent on the same technology she hates and leaves her needing to hide the truth of her disability from her coworkers in the same way replicants must hide from society.
The artwork flawlessly replicates the neo-noir theme of the films. Artist Andres Guinaldo boasts a gritty aesthetic that offers a detail-driven view of the future. The colors of Marco Lesko perfectly complete the pictures, with vivid reds highlighting moments of action and contrast with the cool blues and greens that dominate the larger narrative. Lesko also manages the neat trick of hiding neon shades in the background that hint at the splendor of the city center, even as the action largely takes place in the dimly lit shadows of the mean streets. Fans of the movies will be pleased, but the comics serve as a wonderful introduction to the setting for those who have not seen the films.
All three volumes of Blade Runner 2019 are rated 15+. I consider that to be a fair assessment. There’s no overt nudity in the artwork, apart from one cover depicting an exotic dancer in the middle distance, though there are several shots of Ash’s bare back that serve only to showcase her implant. Of larger concern is the book’s violent content and some detailed and disturbing images of people being shot and blood being shed. There is nothing that would be inappropriate for older teens, however, and indeed the comics are more restrained in what they show than the films.
Blade Runner 2019: Volumes 1-3 By Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Andres Guinaldo Titan Comics, 2019 Vol 1 ISBN: 9781787731615 Vol 2 ISBN: 9781787731929 Vol 3 ISBN: 9781787731936 Publisher Age Rating: 15+ Only Related media: Movie to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Character Representation: Indian American, Prosthesis, Wheelchair User,