Don’t let its cute manga-inspired art fool you. Matchmaker, the queer slice-of-life comic book by Cam Marshall, addresses plenty of serious topics in its compact print volume, such as: staying safe during the Covid-19 pandemic; the stress of being unemployed or underemployed in a capitalist society; work life balance; and asserting and affirming sexual and gender identities.
In six chapters, the book reveals the lives of three young friends struggling through life and searching for romance, with fully realized side characters to round out the story. Transgender, nonbinary lesbian Kimmy attempts to set up gay cisgender Mason with the perfect guy. Meanwhile, Kimmy develops feelings for their mutual friend Marlowe. The relationships unfold at a natural pace while the reader waits to find out if Kimmy’s matchmaking will succeed. Romance is the core of the plot but subplots such as artist Marlowe’s wrist injury; animator Mason’s desperate search for decent paid work; the friends’ thorough efforts to protect immunocompromised Mason from Covid while others remain lax; and Mason’s sister Sam’s questioning of sexual identity balance out what would otherwise be a one-dimensional story.
Marshall’s art is in black, white, and gray. It is arranged in panels with full page artwork at the beginning of each chapter. The dialogue and images fit neatly within the panels and each enhances the other, especially in terms of humor which is depicted textually and pictorially. Exaggerated facial expressions and well-placed onomatopoeia give a fun, goofy vibe to the story. Picture a winking Marlowe handing a receipt with her phone number on it to love-struck Kimmy with a BAM! while Kimmy’s eyes spiral in a classic “knocked out” expression (151). The print book is about 5.5 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide, an unusual size for an adult section book. But it’s conveniently portable and surprisingly, the art and text are not negatively impacted.
The youthful sense of humor, timely existential woes, and art style of Matchmaker will mostly appeal to folks in the mid 20s to mid 30s age range. Recommend this charming book to fans of slice-of-life stories such as Giant Days or Wet Moon.
Matchmaker By Cam Marshall Silver Sprocket, 2023 ISBN: 9798886200294
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Nonbinary , Character Representation: Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Nonbinary, Trans, Depression
Juniper and Hadley are good friends living in Larkspur, a town of fantastical people where horns, gills, and vibrant skin colors are commonplace. Juniper is an apprentice baker, while Hadley is a musician hungry for adventure. After a bakery customer requests an unusual pastry, the two friends volunteer to gather ingredients in the nearby forest. On this errand, they learn that a mystery creature is eating local crops, and they decide to investigate. Soon, Juniper and Hadley are meeting unusual creatures, making discoveries about themselves, and helping to mediate between the townsfolk and a magical new friend.
This is a gentle story full of well-intentioned characters. There are no villains, only misunderstandings, and no one gets hurt. In addition to the main plot, which involves respecting nature and animal habitats, there is an emotional arc in which Hadley becomes more comfortable with their nonbinary identity and Hadley and Juniper finally acknowledge their mutual crush and get together as a couple.
In addition to having no violence, this book has no sexual content beyond a quick kiss. There is a little discussion of gender: Hadley feels insecure about their nonbinary identity, and is reassured by a conversation with a fey who explains that most fey “don’t really relate to gender at all… a rigid binary like that doesn’t exist for us.” The publisher recommends the book for ages 12 and up, but I think it would be perfectly appropriate for kids a few years younger as well.
The art is straightforward and character-focused, with simple backgrounds and sparse detail. The color palette is soft, leaning heavily on earth tones, especially in the settings. The page layouts vary: there are many full-page images, especially when magic is involved or a new location is introduced, but other pages are divided into anywhere from two to six borderless panels. The art matches the relaxed pace and gentle feel of the story, making for an easy, comfortable read.
There is some bonus material at the end of the book; a rough recipe for the mushroom galettes that sent Juniper and Hadley into the forest for ingredients, and some character sketches of the two protagonists. The author’s bio reveals that Fern Haught is nonbinary like Hadley and works in a bakery like Juniper.
Cozy fantasy has been gaining popularity recently, and this book is a great example of that genre. Hand it to fans of The Tea Dragon Society and other readers who like their adventures sweet and not scary.
The Baker and the Bard A Cozy Fantasy Adventure By Fern Haught Feiwel and Friends, 2024 ISBN: 9781250828507
Publisher Age Rating: 12 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Nonbinary , Character Representation: Nonbinary,
The advanced review copy of Dear Body, edited by Lea Bordier, that I read for this review states on its cover: “In Dear Body, 12 women and non binary describe their relationship with their own bodies in their own words.” As Bordier explains in the introduction, the twelve short pieces the volume contains are adapted from a video project that she created. The stories are translated from French, leading to some occasional awkward turns of phrase, but overall, it’s an easily digestible, thoughtful collection of women and non-binary folks’ stories about their bodies. Each story is illustrated by a different artist, offering a variety of voices and styles.
The stories contemplate topics such as pregnancy, rape, illness and injuries, feminine grooming and dressing, being fat, being Black, and being disabled. A common thread throughout several of the stories is how other people react to the bodies of the main characters, and how the words and actions of others towards their bodies contribute to the characters’ perception of themselves. It emphasizes how societal norms and ideals can affect our self-worth, especially when we defy those norms and ideals. Even more so, it questions why some people feel entitled to treat others a certain way based solely on their bodies. The main characters range in age, with some diversity among the dozen: one lesbian, one nonbinary person, one Black woman, and one Asian woman. One character, Camille, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, a walker, and crutches throughout her story.
The deep and introspective stories surprised me with a breadth of topics. Shonah struggled to be taken seriously by doctors and it took years to reach her diagnosis of Vestibulodynia. Blaise asks themself of feminine grooming rituals, “Am I doing this for them or for me?” Sophie took two bullets during a shooting and relates her slow recovery through surgery, physical complications, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mathilde, a fat woman, gets called hurtful names and has trouble finding clothes that fit, but she also sings in a band, has a fun social life, and works out at the gym. Each story is told with lush, beautiful art. “Mathilde”, by Mademoiselle Caroline, reminds me of something you’d see in The New Yorker, with curving, painterly lines and bold pops of color. It also depicts a fat body naked in everyday scenarios such as lounging with a lover and showering at the gym, which complements the story well. “Sophie”, by Karensac, is drawn in a pleasant, cute cartoon style with an orange and blue color palette. Assigning a different artist to each story adds to each one’s unique feel.
The only minor issue with the collection is that the translation from French to English stumbles in some places. For instance, in “Aurelie”, the text reads, “I lost so much weight I had to be hospitalized. I didn’t attend my sophomore or junior year. I was pretty sheltered from comments because I was marginalized until I was 20,” (81). I think by marginalized, perhaps the author meant something closer to isolated. In “Mayalan”, the main character admits, “I had a lot of trouble accepting my body up until one day when I said: Enough!” (91). In the same story, Mayalan points out her faults on a diagram of her own body, with an arrow pointing to her ankles that reads “terrible hemline,” (89). Still, with Lea Bordier’s original video project in French, this may be as good as it gets for an Anglophone audience without French language proficiency.
Dear Body is a decent anthology with some lovely art and an array of themes, though Ivanka Hahnenberger’s translation is awkward at times. Consider it an optional purchase for adult graphic novel collections.
Dear Body By Lea Bordier Art by Carole Maurel, Karensac, Eve Gentilhomme, Lucille Gomez, Mademoiselle Caroline, Sybilline Meynet, Cy, Marie Boiseau, Anne-Olivia Messana, Mirion Malle, Mathou, Daphne Collignon FairSquare Comics, LLC., 2023 ISBN: 9798985927832
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
It’s always difficult when your vision doesn’t translate to reality the way you hope it will. This is what Lika deals with in artist and author Lawrence Lindell’s delightful Blackward. Lika and her pals Lala, Tony, and Amor (they/them) have a club called The Section, “a group for Black folx who a little bit ‘other’”. They want to attract newcomers and establish a community for Black people who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere else. Lika’s vision is a safe space that celebrates differences, but it’s hard to get the word out and it’s discouraging to face down the trolls. As the leader of The Section, Lika relies upon the mentorship of bookstore owner Mr. Marcus and the support of Lala, Tony, and Amor to realize her vision. It’s wonderful to see how The Section succeeds despite obstacles.
Blackward is full of heart. Lindell offers serious themes alongside a playful sense of humor. The bold color palette and dynamic cartoon style make every page pop. The book brings up concepts such as acceptance versus judgment; inclusion versus othering; individual struggles, teamwork, and community-building; being Black and queer; and even just being Black and different. The terrific sense of humor sparkles in interactions between the elder Mr. Marcus and the four young friends, Amor’s revulsion towards children, and the over-the-top White ally who gets it all wrong.
The art is pure fun. From the first pages that depict each character’s house and bedroom in a bright rainbow of hues, I looked forward to a joyful reading experience. Black, toothy speech bubbles chomp into Lala’s dialogue when a toxic instigator interrupts her. On date night, Lindell illustrates the characters getting ready as a silhouetted superhero transformation. The lettering also changes to suit the tone of the panel, using color, style, and positioning to accentuate various moods. Each chapter opens with a word in four different languages. For example, Community, Comunidad, Jumiya, and Communauté are in English, Spanish, Swahili, and French respectively, and the colors of the words correspond to Lika, Amor, Tony, and Lala.
I highly recommend Blackward for all public libraries. Anyone who has felt like a misfit will appreciate it, though I think it will resonate most deeply with Black nerds. Put this book in the hands of older teens and adults who love cartoony art and relish being their quirky and authentic selves.
Blackward By Lawrence Lindell Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770466784
Publisher Age Range: 14+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Black Character Representation: Black, Bisexual, Queer, Nonbinary, ADHD, Anxiety, Depression
Soothe your spirit with Melanie Gillman’s (they/them) lovingly rendered Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales. I first became acquainted with artist and author Gillman with their webcomic-turned-print series As the Crow Flies. I was enchanted by their colored pencil artwork and queer-themed storytelling. They channeled those same elements into this collection of seven original fairy tales, complete with table of contents, introduction, and conclusion.
The stories spotlight LGBTQIA+ characters with a total emphasis on women and nonbinary/transgender protagonists (frequently not specified). Main characters are people of color in 4 of the 7 stories. Instead of tired fantasy tropes, Gillman offers themes such as agency, community, acceptance, romance, and self-reflection, all wrapped up with queerness. The tales still have all the furnishings of the fantasy genre—knights, princesses, magical creatures, quests—with a new, refreshing flavor. The stories are all so strong that I can’t pick a favorite. Maybe “Goose Girl,” in which a princess learns important lessons from the titular peasant and does the unexpected; or possibly “Sweet Rock,” in which we find out what happens to the girls who are annually sacrificed to the giantess. Another contender for favorite story is “The Fish Wife,” where a mermaid and a plain, lonely woman fall in love and make sacrifices for each other.
Gillman’s art is soft, rich, and colorful. They convey emotion and detail beautifully without overwhelming the reader with minutiae. The large, clear lettering is easy to read. The immersive nature scenes are exactly what you’d imagine a fantasy setting to look like. The artwork and story mesh together perfectly. Aspiring artists, take note.
This gentle and cozy collection fits in with the current boom of queer-centered modern fantasy books (think The Prince and the Dressmaker;The Deep & DarkBlue;The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich;Magical Boy). Add it to your library’s young adult comics collection. This book definitely deserves a spot on your shelf.
Other Ever Afters New Queer Fairy Tales By Melanie Gillman Penguin Random House Graphic, 2022 ISBN: 9780593303184
Publisher Age Rating: 12-17 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Queer, Nonbinary Character Representation: Lesbian, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans
The Color of Always: An LGBTQIA+ Love Anthology, edited by Brent Fisher and Michele Abounader, contains 13 short stories by a host of different writers and artists. As a whole, it’s a solid collection that portrays different sexual and gender identities, though it lacks significant representation of characters of color. Some stories stand out more than others. Letting It Fall, Long Away, All That Glitters, and Ever More Myself were my favorite stories of the bunch.
The first of those, by Priya Saxena and Jenny Fleming, pairs an expressive art style with a simple yet effective story of self-discovery. It’s beautifully summarized by a couple panels on pages 41 and 42. We see Padma, our POC protagonist, with a sad, crestfallen expression after sleeping with a presumably cisgender heterosexual man she meets at a party. Contrast this with her look of hopeful excitement on the following page when she locks eyes with Anne on campus.
Long Away, by Tilly Bridges, Susan Bridges, and Richard Fairgray, successfully blends genres as it uses time travel to allow transgender protagonist Victoria to speak with her father. Victoria’s dad passed away before she realized her true self. The shifting color palette separates past from present, the art style is really cool, and it has a positive, heartfelt message of acceptance. Another story in the collection, Sea Change by Lillian Hochwender and Gabe Martini, uses a science fiction premise but doesn’t achieve the smooth, clear narrative that I appreciated about Long Away.
All That Glitters and Ever More Myself focus on the nuances of gender expression. The former, by Michele Abounader and Tench (Aleksandra Orekhova) features a drag queen acting as fairy godmother to Dane as they (no pronouns are used so I’m going with they/them for Dane) chafe against the gender expectations and perceptions of others. Ever More Myself, by Kaj E Kunstmann, tells the story of androgynous Kaj who is still developing their gender expression. While remaining PG-13, it also briefly discusses safe and joyful sexual exploration between two queer people (boyfriend John is bisexual).
Finally, I’d like to mention that Both Sides is the only other story besides Letting It Fall that has a main character who is obviously a person of color, and that person, Zara, is the only Black main character in the entire anthology. It dismayed me that Zara’s was a depressing cautionary tale about a break-up, particularly the risks of being in a romantic relationship without working through past trauma. I would have liked to see more stories celebrating Black queer joy, even though I know queer break-up stories are just as important to tell as sappy/sexy romances are.
The Color of Always belongs on library shelves because it adds to the growing body of work by and about LGBTQIA+ people. It primarily portrays gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender characters although it falls short on POC representation. It is suitable for teenage and adult readers and it was a quick read that people without a lot of graphic novel reading experience can get into.
The Color of Always An LGBTQIA+ Love Anthology Vol. By Brent Fisher, Michele Abounader Art by Elyse Malnekoff A Wave Blue World, 2023 ISBN: 9781949518245
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans,
Batcat, a roly-poly, plump, and pink creature with no tail, pointed ears, and magenta bat wings, lives in a tree house and they are just fine all by themselves, playing video games, eating fast food, and watching the stars. Alone. Just the way they like it.
Then, one day, a ghost shows up. Batcat is shocked, annoyed, and extremely displeased, so they travel to the friendly neighborhood witch for a solution. From there they set out on a quest for ingredients for a potion that will solve all their problems. It turns out to be a difficult and miserable journey, especially when Batcat encounters bats and cats, neither of whom are willing to accept them. Exhausted mentally and physically, Batcat makes it back to the witch with the ingredients, only to be faced with the challenge of deciding exactly what they want to do with the ghost in their house and their life.
Ramm’s goofy cartoon art sends grumpy Batcat fluttering through caves, with a host of purple-black bats who don’t find Batcat quite batty enough, through a cemetery of selfish cats who definitely do not think Batcat is catty enough, and through encounters with skeletons, griffins, and other magical creatures. Along the way there is confetti, explosions, and longings for fast food, jokes, hijinks, and lots of pink, purple, and turquoise puffy art.
Meggie Ramm, who uses they/them pronouns like their creation, which was built from short cartoons they drew for elementary kids during comic classes, makes a central point of Batcat’s duality. They are frustrated and hurt by the bats and cats who insist they be one thing or the other and not their own, unique amalgam of both bat and cat. In the end, Batcat develops empathy for the ghost (whom they have been thinking of as merely obnoxious) and realizes they too might have different sides to their character. It’s difficult to fit a lot of emotional nuance into a short comic book for kids, but I was frustrated that Batcat at no point tried to communicate with the ghost about their feelings, even when they returned, they just suddenly accepted them as a roommate. I think a lot of early elementary books, especially those that push heavily on the “odd couple” friends trope like Frog and Toad, are guilty of one-sided relationships like this and don’t really teach kids that it’s ok to be an introvert, want to be alone, or not be friends with someone who annoys and bothers you. This is definitely an adult perspective, and a somewhat personal one, but it definitely threw me out of the story and made me disappointed with the ending.
Despite my own objections, this is a cute story, specifically encouraging young readers who may feel they don’t fit any single mold, and encouraging everyone to see things from other perspectives. This will be popular with fans of Yi’s Cat & Cat and stories of cheerful grumps like Cranky Chicken, and makes a nice addition to early elementary graphic novel collections.
Batcat By Meggie Ramm Abrams Amulet, 2023 ISBN: 9781419756573
Publisher Age Rating: 6-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Nonbinary Character Representation: Nonbinary
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
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