Kismet: Man of Fate

Kismet was the first Muslim superhero in comics. From Algeria, he first appeared in 1944 in Bomber Comics to fight Nazis behind enemy lines in World War II. Created by the pseudonymous Omar Tahan, after four issues, he disappeared from the comics arena as abruptly as he arrived. The character was rediscovered in 2007 by Bostonian academic (and Muslim convert) A. David Lewis, who revitalized and reworked the character to reflect contemporary problems. These problems, unfortunately, are the same issues facing the original Kismet: discrimination, prejudice, ignorance, the newly labeled alt-right, and the upsurge of Nazism. Kismet reappears in Boston, fused with activist Qadar Hussein in a deadly fight, and allied with Qadar’s sister Deena and her friend Rabia. With the death of Qadar, Kismet continues to invest his energies to fighting these unremitting evils. His superpower is his ability to see momentarily and instantaneous into the future, only enough to dodge an attack but not long enough to delve into impending actions.

The city of Boston is an active character in this volume through the contemporary landmarks and activities. Along with the strong and proud Muslim identification of the protagonist, this Boston is filled with citizens that are principally minorities and/or female. This Boston is unapologetically interracial and filled with characters of varied religious and sexual identities coexisting to bring the city alive and operational. There are no stereotypes here. Kismet is a man out of the past, but soon, with the aid of his friends, becomes a fighting force for social and political activism.

I found the illustrations muddy with a distinct partiality to dark backgrounds interspersed with infrequent brilliant splashes of reds and greens. Facial expressions are often hinted at rather than clear and I had difficulty at times differentiating characters. At the same time, however, the story arc was easy to follow and the solid characters rose above the muddiness to deliver a strong picture of today’s American society through the eyes of the past. The graphic novel is action packed and very relevant—public libraries for sure and high schools as well would benefit from having it in their collections.

Kismet: Man of Fate
By A. David Lewis
Art by Noel Tuazon
ISBN: 9781949518009
A Wave Blue World, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

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Character Traits: Neurodivergent, Multiracial, Lesbian, Genderqueer

When I Arrived at the Castle

Recently nominated for the prestigious Harvey Award for 2019 Book of the Year, Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle is a tour de force for those who appreciate Gothic horror, lesbian vampires, and stunning illustrations and story lines. Illustrated in black and white and, with an exquisite touch, brilliant reds, the story follows our heroine, an anthropomorphic cat, as she enters the lair of the countess/vampire with the one express desire of causing her demise. The countess/vampire is humanoid in shape, except when she shape shifts into a half-human snake-like creature, but is at all times otherworldly. Upon entering the vampire’s lair, the protagonist is offered a bath which works as a transition into a more horrific setting than she and the reader may have initially imagined. There is a definite undercurrent of the fairy tale world in the tale which involves magic, transformation, and, in turn, grotesque reality. This is all exquisitely managed in very few pages, with numerous full-page illustrations punctuated by pages of full text among the otherwise panel-less comic book format. The pages of full text briefly relate tragic stories of other heroines who met horrific deaths. These pages resemble pages from age-old decorated collections of fairy tales but, in true Carroll style, the background colour is a relentless brilliant red.

Carroll’s countess is seductive with long flowing hair and a curvaceous body accentuated by sensuous lips and bedroom eyes. Her protagonist, on the other hand, is much more robust and familiar, if you discount her cat ears and tail, of course. Ironically, the story reads as a “cat playing with a mouse” scenario, with the roles reversed. The reader is immersed in the seduction, the resistance, and the dangerous game of the trauma and the absolute abuse of power. At the same time, the reader’s imagination must be fully engaged as there is much left to individual interpretation by Carroll’s deft use of text, image, and layout of the page. As in her previous works, Carroll plays with lettering, pacing, mood, atmosphere as we explore the castle along with the feline heroine. There is a mesmerizing five-page sequence where the Countess is being observed through a keyhole which sets the tone, the pacing, and the knowledge of subsequent horror.

There is much to unpack in this slight graphic novel, as it embraces horror, erotica, terror, unease, and ambiguous characters and points-of-view. Highly recommended for an adult audience.

When I Arrived at the Castle
By Emily Carroll
ISBN: 9781927668689
Koyama Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

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Character Traits: Lesbian, Gay, Queer Genderqueer
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities

Oh, what a delightful little book this is. Witty, engaging, and down-to-earth, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, created by Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg, is the introduction to LGBTQ+ identities we’ve been waiting for. For queer and trans youth, those who know their gender identity and those who are still figuring it out, this guide seeks to answer their questions and validate their feelings. For allies, it’s a window into what it means, and how it feels, to be queer and/or trans, and for everyone else, it’s a great starting point to learning more about these identities. As a queer-identifying person myself, I am sad that there wasn’t anything like this book when I was younger and thrilled that it exists now.

The story begins with a group of curious forest snails. They come across a gathering of queer and transhumans camping in the woods—much different from the humans they’re used to seeing—and are surprised by the snail Iggy, who belongs to one of the humans. Iggy becomes their guide, and our guide, into the wonderful world of queerness, and takes us on a journey through gender identity, sexuality, gender expression, gender dysphoria, and more. Iggy has learned about queer and trans identities by listening to his human, Bowery, a queer educator, and the story shifts back and forth between Iggy’s education-driven narrative and the more personal accounts of queerness discussed around the campfire. A third group, the sproutlings, also play a part in this guide. They are a group of nature-dwelling creatures of all shapes, colors, and sizes, and represent a world in which everyone is free to explore their gender without fear or judgment from others. They are not immune to feelings of confusion or loneliness but are fully supported in their quest to discover who they are and what makes them feel true to themselves. It is a different world from our own, but one that we’re shown is possible.

The concepts within this book are complex, but the chapter format makes them less intimidating and easier to digest, especially for those who may be new to such terms and ideas. Individual segments include coming out, asexuality, gender expression, etc. I’m impressed with the writers’ abilities to tackle them in a way that is easy to understand, yet feels like nothing is left out. For example, one of the most popular ways of describing gender has been as a linear spectrum, with male and female gender binaries sitting at opposite ends of this spectrum, and other identities falling somewhere in between. While this guide acknowledges this view, it also highlights the more inclusive approach to gender as a fluid, nonlinear spectrum that holds space for all identities and allows for plenty of room to explore. The general tone of this guide is thoughtful, clear, and empathetic, with a simplicity that normalizes the queer experience and teaches nonqueer humans how to be respectful allies.

While I typically prefer colorful palettes in the graphic novels that I read, I appreciate that the creators opted for a minimal array of pinks, yellows, and blues. It’s fun, colorful, and pleasing enough to the eye, but doesn’t detract or distract from the information being relayed. All in all, this is a wonderful resource for schools and libraries serving the Teen+ age group. Tweens may also benefit from this guide, although the true meaning of a lot of the concepts discussed may be too difficult for them to fully grasp. If you’re looking to improve your LGBTQ+ collection, or are interested in similar titles, I also recommend A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by the same publisher.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities
By Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg
ISBN: 9781620105863
Limerence Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen and up

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Character Traits: Queer Trans, Agender, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

Chronin, vol 1: The Knife at Your Back

In Chronin: Knife at Your Back, Mirai Yoshida is out of time. Literally. A history grad student from 2042, she has disguised herself as a man and finds herself trapped in 1864 in Edo, Japan.

This gender-bending, time-hopping adventure by writer and artist Alison Wilgus is simply drawn with clean lines and and somber grey shading. But the plot is rich enough to keep the reader heading down the Tokaido Road when Yoshida, in her ronin disguise, is hired as a bodyguard to accompany a tea house owner on a trip from Kyoto to Edo.

Edo (Tokyo) is a political powder keg in 1864. The Tokagowa Shogunate is set to fall, as pro-imperial forces gather, but Mirai has issues of her own to worry about. Besides being disguised as a samurai (a capital offense), she’s dealing with her ex-boyfriend-turned-patriot and the possibility that they might have altered history.

The average reader’s lack of Japanese history is no impediment to understanding the story. Not a lot of time is spent on exposition or explanation of terms (and there are no footnotes). I am a fan of the Edo period, and readers of historical samurai manga like Rouroni Kenshin, Peacemaker, or Kaze Hiraku may be familiar with the Shinsingumi or the Imperial factions of this civil war and the resulting Meiji Restoration.

Chronin’s flashbacks reveal Mirai’s studies in the future and the tale of how she became trapped in the past, as well as her ex’s radicalization that caused him to abandon his studies for a tea house mistress and life in 1864.

The plot reads like an exciting manga and the art is reminiscent of a Japanese woodblock print, with lightly shaded, simple backgrounds. The characters are flatly drawn without shading or a lot of detail. The time travel trope is fairly common and has been explored in comics and fiction—certainly the phrase “Butterfly Effect” applies here. As unexpected events occur and expected events fail to materialize, Mirai (which means “future” in Japanese) is left wondering what the hell went wrong.

This first volume reveals each character’s motivations bit by bit and leaves some secrets left unanswered. It’s an engrossing, fast read, not bogged down by the political or historical plot. These simply serve as a backdrop to Mirai’s own adventure.

Wilgus’ previous graphic novel works include an Avatar: The Last Airbender prequel, Zuko’s Story. Volume 2 of Chronin: The Sword in Your Hand is set to be released in September of 2019. In it, Mirai is forced to concoct a plan to set history to rights, but will face some formidable enemies, and only time will tell if she will survive, let alone make it back home.

The publisher rates it for older teens, which makes sense as the main characters are grad students. The libraries I have checked all list this graphic novel in their adult graphic novel section, most likely due to the plot and the age of the main characters. The simplicity of the art and lack of color reduces the impact of the violent sword fights. But this graphic novel will appeal to teens and adults alike. I eagerly look forward to reading the next installment.

Chronin, vol 1: The Knife at Your Back
By Ben Wilgus
ISBN: 9780765391636
Tor Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T+
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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Character Traits: Japanese Queer Genderqueer
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

Super Fun Sexy Times

Comic book artist Meredith McClaren has inked an adorable, erotic romp through the sex lives of superheroes, sidekicks and villains in Super Fun Sexy Times. It puts the “graphic” in graphic novel.

In a series of five vignettes, various characters work their way through casual encounters, discussions with long-time partners, and sexcapades with wives and husbands. Two rival sidekicks spend their downtime getting to know each other a lot better while talking shop. The dialog is sometimes sweet, sometimes hilarious (“CALL ME!”). A supervillain confronts his girlfriend with a long held, sexual secret. A lesbian couple carefully plans a fantasy fulfillment scenario. A dating couple negotiates the details of a planned sexual tryst. Discussing sexual history, medical status, relationship expectations, and carefully prescribed don’ts may seem awkward and unsexy, but their discussion proves to be anything but.

Plenty of comics and graphic novels have dealt with the sex lives of supers. Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson, Selina Kyle left Batman at the altar. The entire subplot of the Incredibles movies deals with long-term, domestic relationship issues between a superhero husband and wife. Comic superheroes’ sex lives have always fascinated readers. McClaren gives us a glimpse that is appropriate for a new century and a new generation of comic fans.

Super Fun Sexy Times is packed with ongoing consent, active listening, and the importance of admitting one’s needs and desires. It also points out the need to listen to your partner and occasionally leave your own comfort zone. Sex-positive, body-positive, and intersectional, the characters represent a variety of races (and possibly intergalactic species, as well as altered humans). They are homosexual, heterosexual, and genderfluid. The chapters do include helpful, short character bios. The characters, even the villains, are all relatable and likable (even the aging assassin who feels he’s lost his edge and needs reassurance from his husband that he’s still in the game).

The art is a sweet concoction of pastel colors. Sleek, sexy lines and plenty of explicit detail (think Batman: Damned #1, only lighter and cute). McClaren is a seasoned comic book artist with titles like Jem & the Holograms and The Wicked and the Divine on her resume. And while the art may seem frothy, the issues this graphic novel addresses are not. Sexual agency, mutual respect, and LGBTQIA+ representation in comics are issues which should be discussed openly, even if it seems awkward. Sometimes, awkward is sexy.

The rating on this graphic novel is 18+ for explicitness. It is a funny and sexy read and is fine for any adult graphic novel collection. Super Sexy Fun Times is scheduled for print release in August 2019.

Super Fun Sexy Times
By Meredith McClaren
ISBN: 9781620106501
Limerence Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

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Character Traits: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, , Genderqueer, Nonbinary

Open Earth

Sex-positive stories are few and far between. Female-centric sex-positive stories are even rarer. Open Earth by Sarah Mirk is unique in this way. The characters are all young, they all enjoy sex, and they all like to have sex with each other. This is the kind of story that doesn’t necessarily have a ‘point,’ but it’s a fun ride.

Rigo is a young twenty-something who lives with her parents in California, a large spacecraft currently orbiting the Earth. Due to political chaos and the devastation brought on by climate change, Rigo’s parents boarded this ship for what was supposed to only be a year-long scientific mission but ended up never returning to Earth. Rigo and her friends were all born on this ship and have never known life on Earth. They are the First Generation and they are determined to not make the same mistakes as their parents. They all believe in polyamory and everyone pretty much hooks up with everyone. They believe that exclusive couples can be bad for morale because they will isolate themselves. Rigo enjoys vigorous sex with several of her friends but holds a special place in her heart for Carver, a fellow scientist. Carver is looking for someone to share his apartment and Rigo really wants him to ask her. Tensions rise when another friend, Franklin, throws their name into the mix—more for practicality than passion. Instead of harboring bad feelings, Rigo and Franklin talk it out. Honesty is key to keeping everything copacetic. Franklin understands that Carver and Rigo have something special and decides to not stand in her way if she wants to live with him. Carver asks Rigo to ‘partner up’ and live together, but not be exclusive. After their first night together Carver wakes up to all of their friends enjoying breakfast. It’s a happy ending to a story with no real direction.

The language of Open Earth is easy, unpretentious, and bilingual. Rigo herself comes off as little immature despite her fluid sexuality because her dialogue is emphatic with lots of exclamation points. Compared to her peers, she comes off as the least developed despite being the main character.

The artwork is bright and colorful. Despite living in such an enclosed and industrial environment, the characters’ living spaces are cheerful and inviting. The characters themselves are drawn in such a way that the reader can instantly understand their personalities. Rigo is soft and curvy—she is comfortable in her skin and loves her body. Carter is skinny with sharp edges that shows a more serious side. Franklin is non-binary and is confident in their appearance. The artwork works well for the story and adds dimension.

Open Earth is a fun story that centers on the lives of a small, diverse group of friends. The fact that they are in space is not the focal point of the story. The focus is on their personal dynamics, their openness, and their optimism. This graphic novel is appropriate for an older teen and adult audience. It is not appropriate for young children as there are several scenes with fairly graphic nudity and sex. Other graphic novels that with similarly open attitudes toward sexuality are The Pervert by Michelle Perez, Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, and for the those who like the more sci-fi elements, Saga by Brian K. Vaughn.

Open Earth
By Sarah Mirk
Art by Eva Cabrera, Claudia Aguirre
ISBN: 9781620105016
Limerence Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

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Character Traits: Latinx, Multiracial Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Pansexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary

Misfit City, Vol. 2

A quick recap of the first volume of Misfit City: Best friends: Ed, Wilder, Macy, Dot, Karma, Macy’s step-brother Todd, and Pip (the dog) discover a treasure map found in the chest of a long thought dead sea captain. Running from the Captain’s alleged long lost relatives, Luther and Millie Denby, the gang go on an adventure of a lifetime to find the treasure while navigating through friendships, love, trust, and growing pains. Volume 1 ends when Luther and Millie nearly kill Macy, and the gang finds Captain Denby himself by the entrance to a secret cave. What will happen next?

Follow up series volumes are like a band’s sophomore album; they’re not always as good as the first one. This is not the case for Misfit City, Vol. 2. The gang is in full force here, Kristin “Kiwi” Smith and Kurt Lustgarden keep the dialogue and pacing smooth as the story progresses. In an interview with Smith and Lustgarten, the two talk about divvying up the work where Lustgarten handles most of the action sequences while Smith handles the snappy dialogue during connecting scenes. Smith and Lustgarten, partners in work as well as in love, make brilliant co-writers as the transition between scenes is seamless.

The original art team of Volume 1 is also back, with line work by Naomi Franquiz and colors by Brittany Peer. Both Franquiz and Peer are as on point with the art as Smith and Lustgarten are with the writing. The artwork is smooth and crisp. I really appreciate the near sepia tones of the work. Bright colors are used sparingly but effectively as the action and plot progress. This is a difference from the first volume where the colors used were as striking as the gang’s personalities, but that is not to say it’s not effective here; rather the story has grown darker in tone, so the coloring selection seems wise and appropriate.

While my earlier review didn’t go into depth regarding the first volume’s inclusivity, I should clarify that by this I mean the series is inclusive of body type, sexuality, background, and race, to name a few things. Dot is a plus-size asexual girl, Ed is a tall, thin lesbian, Macy and her step-brother Todd are black, and the deputy sheriff is a Sikh. This book has a relatable character for nearly everyone. I personally connected with several characters, and it was nice to see representation of myself in a book which seems to so rarely happen. Smith is known for her riot grrl power writing and pop culture references (she wrote or co-wrote the scripts for the movies Ten Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde), and these tendencies are in full power, which enhance the books’ appeal.

Does Volume 2 answer the questions posed in Volume 1? The short answer is “yes.” Smith and Lustgarten finely tune and solve the original mystery and a few subplots are also tightly closed. However, and this is a big however, in volume 2 they present new story lines and mysteries that open the door to future volumes, except, depressingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be any word on furthering the series. Sadly, Boom!’s website marks issue #8 as the series’ final volume, though we can always hold out hope for a revival.

I highly recommended Misfit City, Volume 1 and the same goes for Volume 2. The endings, as they were, are satisfying and the characters are well developed. Volume 2 is clearly a must-have if you’ve started the series. I would highly recommend the series for teen collections since there is a wide variety of representation in the book that can appeal to many. However, adult readers will also find a lot to love here. The girl power attitude and struggles of being a teen are also well thought out here. I would also consider adding it to lists for LGTBQ+ novels and art.

Misfit City, Vol. 2
By Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, Kurt Lustgarten
Art by Naomi Franquiz, Brittany Peer
ISBN: 9781684151721
Boom! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Black, Multiracial, Lesbian, Queer, Asexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator

The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life

Tom Hart’s new instructional text, The Art of the Graphic Memoir, is a valuable tool for aspiring graphic novelists, with a wealth of examples and exercises. In fact, it is probably as close a simulation as possible to attending a live course on the subject such as those taught through Hart’s Sequential Artist’s Workshop.

In this prose volume, Hart guides readers through a methodical process of creating a graphic memoir. From the early stages of gathering material from personal experience to structuring the story arc, choosing a visual style, and completing the narrative, Hart provides his readers with concrete examples from his own work, as well as thoughtfully-chosen pieces from other published graphic memoirs. Each chapter focuses on a specific stage of the creative process, utilizing several exemplary works to illustrate the ideas presented. The chapters end with exercises to help students work on their own memoirs, suggestions for further reading, and an in-depth “live example,” which traces his own process of creating a graphic memoir.

While this text is primarily instructional, it is at the same time immensely personal for the author. Tom Hart not only guides his readers through producing their own work, but also shares the ways that creating his bestselling memoir Rosalie Lightning, which relates the events surrounding the death of his young daughter, was personally transformational for him. The Art of the Graphic Memoir is as much about why someone can benefit from creating this type of work as it is about how to do it. The book’s subtitle stems from the importance Hart places on the personal transformation to be gained from creating a graphic memoir.

It is important to note that while this book is instructional, it does not teach readers how to draw. The assumption is made that readers are already proficient in drawing, and the focus is placed upon guiding them through making artistic decisions in crafting their memoirs. Hart shares numerous decisions that had to be made in creating his own memoir, such as his choice to show the death of his daughter first and then return to earlier events in her life. Hart gives readers of The Art of the Graphic Memoir a behind-the-scenes look at the processes other graphic novelists have used in creating their memoirs, as well. He quotes extensively from other creators and uses a wide variety of examples of their experiences and techniques. He shows us reference photographs used by Alison Bechdel, an outline from Malaysian graphic novelist Lat, and countless examples of finished works from across the spectrum of graphic novels for children through adults. It is clear that Hart knows the field well, and has a deep understanding of the creative process applied to this medium.

This book will be tremendously useful to aspiring graphic novelists, especially those interested in the memoir format, but the work is versatile enough to benefit other readers. While it is focused on providing instruction for those hoping to create memoirs in particular, many of the techniques and strategies covered would be useful in the creation of other types of graphic novels and even works of prose. As for those not interested in creating their own works, this text still holds value in that it helps readers develop literacy in graphic novels as a medium and insight into various creators and their craft.

The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life
By Tom Hart
ISBN: 9781250113344
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018