Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay: A Graphic Novel

If you’ve ever had a disagreement about history, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It was a different time.” On its face, this is a factual statement—people in the past didn’t share our values, and understanding their worldviews requires patience and curiosity.

Yet “it was a different time” is often hauled out to excuse bad behavior—as if all people in the past shared the same mindset, rendering them constitutionally incapable of recognizing cruelty or unfairness. David Lester’s Prophet Against Slavery debunks this commonplace with the true story of an early Quaker activist who articulated a moral case against slavery decades before the emergence of the white abolitionist movement.

Adapted from Marcus Rediker’s 2017 book The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist, Lester’s graphic biography depicts the life of the little-known Lay, who protested slavery at a time when it was neither politically expedient nor socially acceptable to do so. Born in Britain in 1682 and radicalized against slavery during a stint in Barbados, Lay migrated with his wife Sarah to Philadelphia in 1731. Incensed that enslavement was practiced by Philadelphia’s Quaker elite, Lay made it his business to call out Quaker hypocrisy around the institution of slavery.

Benjamin Lay’s activism debunks a second misconception: that protest through direct action was an invention of the twentieth century. In the opening scene of the book, Lay strides into a Quaker meeting, proclaims the evils of slavery, and plunges a sword into a book titled HORRORS OF SLAVERY, spewing fake blood (pokeberry juice) everywhere. Unsurprisingly, a tussle ensues. Born with dwarfism and a curved spine, Lay’s physical difference was probably a factor in the solidarity he felt with other disadvantaged people, while his egalitarian philosophy emerged from his Quaker faith and an early life at sea. His forceful speech and public protests were forever getting him kicked out of Quaker meetings, and later life found him living in a cave outside Pennsylvania, adopting a vegan diet and spinning his own clothing out of flax.

Lester’s grayscale art has a hand-drawn quality that owes something to both old-fashioned printmaking and zine culture—lively and not overly refined, it suits the biography of a man whose politics were fundamentally punk rock. The artist is careful not to caricature Benjamin and Sarah’s dwarfism, and images of the enslaved in shackles—and in one painful image, completing an act of suicide—are sensitively rendered.

Yet wordless images depicting the barbarity of slavery point to a structural problem underlying this book: this story is about slavery, but Black voices are missing from the narrative. Was Lay speaking to enslaved Africans as well as speaking for them? The text is vague: Lay refers to his “dear friend Cudjo,” and states “I have talked with a great many Africans,” but we don’t see these conversations on the page. I counted just one line of dialogue spoken by a character of African descent.

There are obvious reasons that Lay, a white man, would be unable to form meaningful relationships with Black Philadelphians. By the end of the 18th century, Philadelphia would be known for its sizable free Black community, but this was not the case in 1731. Yet I would have liked this book to show more curiosity about the absence of Black voices from the primary sources documenting Lay’s life. We can and should wonder: what was it like to be an enslaved African in 18th-century Philadelphia? What might enslaved onlookers have made of Lay’s theatrical protests and the Quaker elites’ ruthless response?

In Lester’s telling, Quaker attitudes around slavery had begun to shift by the time of Lay’s death in 1759. This, too, is a narrative I would have liked to see Prophet Against Slavery develop more fully—the story of how Benjamin Lay was remembered and then forgotten, and his lasting impact on Quaker political philosophy. Social movements are propelled by communities as well as individuals, and I was sorry that the tight focus on the biographical details of Lay’s life didn’t leave more room for this kind of big-picture analysis.

Despite these caveats, this book is a solid introduction to Benjamin Lay’s remarkable life. It will be of interest to older students and adult readers and is suitable for library collections that emphasize the history of slavery, Quakers, and radical politics.

Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay: A Graphic Novel Vol.
By David Lester
Beacon Press, 2021
ISBN: 9780807081792

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Canadian,  ,  Character Representation: British-American, Disability, Protestant ,

Free Speech Handbook (World Citizen Handbook Series)

This book opens with the free speech portion of the first amendment from the US Constitution, followed by writer Ian Rosenberg, who is Jewish, explaining the events that led to this book. Several events are referenced within the first three pages, including the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, National School Walkout protests, 2017 Women’s March, and Mollie Steimer’s arrival at Ellis Island from Russia in 1913. Steimer’s foundational court battles lead into a key consideration: “Who is truly heard in the marketplace [of ideas]? If women, minorities, and the poor are not granted equal opportunity to enter the market, how can their voices participate in the competition for truth?” This question is immediately followed by talking-head quotes from law professors Charles Lawrence III, who is black, and Catharine A. MacKinnon, who is white.

The second chapter looks at Colin Kaepernick and the act of taking a knee (originally staying seated, but changed to kneeling as a sign of respect to fallen soldiers, an oft-overlooked nuance I was glad to see highlighted). After comparing reactions for and against that act of protest, the narrative shifts to the 1935 case of a child not participating in his classroom’s pledge of allegiance. There, as in Steimer’s case and many others used in this book, Rosenberg quotes and contextualizes judges’ rulings, their immediate fallout, and what they mean for Americans’ freedoms today. In each chapter, Rosenberg cites different scholars, justices, authors, and legal precedents, ensuring that his teacherly perspective is never unilateral or unsupported by facts and expertise. This is important when debunking Donald Trump and Clarence Thomas’s hypothetical rewriting of libel laws to go after the media, for example. Further issues include but are not limited to civil rights protests, propaganda on social media, Westboro Baptist Church’s protesting at funerals, and the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville. There’s a lot to chew on in every chapter!

All of this history and legal analysis needs a skilled cartoonist to weave its various threads into a cohesive whole, and artist Mike Cavallaro is mostly up to the task. There can be paragraphs of dry text on some pages, and Cavallaro makes sure to break up each block of text with a related image, often a picture of someone in portrait. Layouts will include images designed to guide readers across the page; other times, they use broad, straightforward grids. Some metaphorical imagery underlines Rosenberg’s points, but more often than not the art is rather literal, depicting flatly delivered quotes, exposition, talking heads, and book covers. The first amendment appears as an anthropomorphic #1 wearing a red cape, battling laws aimed at restricting it. I can’t help but think back to my previous review of What Unites Us, which used color and figurative imagery more frequently and effectively. That’s not a knock against the arguments presented in this book, only its presentation.

An afterword including quick summaries of first amendment concepts, as well as a glossary of legal terms and chapter-by-chapter bibliography, provide resources for learning and recall. As one might expect in a thorough review of free speech, some of the book’s examples involve swearing, from celebrities cursing at awards shows to George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television” bit, Samantha Bee’s callout of Ivanka Trump over immigration policy in 2018, and “fuck the draft” printed on a jacket during the Vietnam War. A section about Larry Flynt’s legal battles over Hustler, a pornographic magazine, does not include porn. The issues discussed in this book are undeniably pertinent to all Americans, as well as historians and legal scholars. To make another comparison to What Unites Us, this is another powerful teaching tool from the World Citizen Comics line of publisher First Second that demonstrates over and over the impact of people standing up for their rights, even (especially!) if doing so is unpopular. The presentation is scholarly, as well it should be. Close reading and factual analysis should be considered signs of respect for “the most American of virtues.”

Free Speech Handbook
By Ian Rosenberg
Art by  Mike Cavallaro
First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781250619754

Series ISBNs and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Jewish
Character Representation: African-American, Russian, Mobility Impairment, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Protestant ,

Bitter Root, vol. 2: Rage & Redemption

Remember when Bitter Root launched and the buzz was just beginning (including my review of volume 1)? The follow-up is here, and it opens with more swagger than ever. There’s the golden Eisner Award ‘E’ on the cover, labeled “Best Continuing Series Winner 2020.” A note on the rear cover mentions that a movie adaptation is in development. The first page is loaded with four genuflective blurbs, followed by a Sangerye family tree and credits pages for the six issues within, including the Red Summer Special anthology. Can this golden series continue its winning streak, or has it reached a sophomore slump?

That family tree will come in handy if readers have forgotten any of the characters from volume 1, because the Red Summer Special that kicks off volume 2 is a cluster of short chapters from the Sangerye family’s past, going from 1850 to the story’s present in the 1920s. Among the lore is the introduction of Blink’s friend Wu. Wu and her family hunt guizi, the same monsters the Sangeryes call jinoo, suggesting each race has its own classification and means of handling the dangerous transformations of racism. Elsewhere, in a realm known as Barzakh, a multiracial coalition of warriors protects Earth from demons beyond Earth’s plane of existence. The inclusiveness of the campaign against bigotry invites readers of all stripes to feel like they can pitch in, too.

The diversity of skin color is exceeded by the color on the page, which is often bathed in warm yellows and oranges, with plenty of blues and purples used for shadows and nighttime. The vibrant palette fits the continuing supernatural conflict, as a new, more powerful avatar of hatred, Adro, crosses over to Earth. New York’s local leaders, a diverse group of men (I detected at least Black, Chinese, and Irish among them), debate the alliances needed to face it. Wu and Blink hunt monsters and defend neighborhoods against jinoo against the “old-fashioned” wishes of their families’ matriarchs who would rather they contributed from home. “You think Ida B. Wells could’ve done what she did from a kitchen?” Blink asks. Elsewhere, in an elongated flashback, a Black and Indigenous alliance discovers what appear to be Black jinoo, leading to questions of what varieties of spiritual corruption are possible.

Some things haven’t changed since volume 1. The Sangerye family continues to battle jinoo on multiple fronts. Berg, whose vocabulary marks him as “the smart one” in every scene, loves to say “indubitably” and “salubrious.” Now there are also monsters transformed by trauma called inzondo, and characters respond to their existence differently, right down to hunting methods and even empathy for them. The faith and community afforded by a Christian church represent sources of support. Berg observes as part of his own inzondo infection: “There is a grief that cries out so loud it drowns out all sound. But when the screams fall upon deaf ears, the soul becomes tormented.” Physical self-defense is as significant as reaching out and curing people before they attack anyone. The versatility of this condition as a metaphor for various social ills means the story has as many hooks as the reader brings to it.

The multiple perspectives from the first volume continue here, plus a couple more, leading to an overstuffed plot. It’s hard to summarize the juggling act of a story in digestible terms, not because it’s too complex, but because the context shifts a lot. Almost every scene takes place in a different time, place, and character perspective. Some readers may need to flip back and forth to keep the timeline straight as it bounces across years, days, and hours. Scenes do not always transition smoothly, with action left hanging and feeling disorienting upon return. The Tulsa race massacre, sunset towns, church burnings, and lynching are all salient plot points, and anyone who would object to such charged imagery would have to also reckon with the history behind them.

While the buildup in this volume is interesting and even compelling at times, it leads to an action-packed finale in which heroes verbally refute Adro’s hunger for hate and narrate their feelings out loud. On top of all this, little animals that had been used to sniff out demons make their own transformations and crowd out both the page and story. Sanford Greene and Sofie Dodgson’s talented visual work extends from the frequent martial arts action pages (there is no small action here) to heartfelt monologues. It seems like David F. Walker and Chuck Brown try to stack too many elements at once, resulting in a precariously teetering historical action / horror / mystery hybrid in need of greater focus. Big does not always lead to epic.

Hooray, then, for the back matter, where a multitude of scholars use the comic as a platform for exploring the Tulsa Race Massacre, Zora Neale Hurston’s speculative fiction, epigenetic trauma, creative resistance, oral tradition, Bitter Root’s logo design, whiteness, and power fantasies. Variant cover art pays homage to the films Do The Right Thing, Purple Rain, Boyz In The Hood, New Jack City, and Juice. There are also some process pages of roughs, inks, and colors to demonstrate how the book came together. This comic practically contains a whole class about itself, and the digging is fruitful. I just wish the story was as masterfully executed as all the lofty examinations extracted from it.

Is Bitter Root still worth collecting? Absolutely. This is a continuation and fulfillment of characters and settings established in volume 1, and should work fine for teens and up who can handle violence and some fantasy gore. There are plenty of story threads to pick up in the third arc, on its way in 2021. Language-wise, a character from Mississippi says “sumbitch,” and a sign outside a sunset town in Georgia uses the N word.

Bitter Root, vol. 2: Rage & Redemption
By David Walker Chuck Brown
Art by Sanford Greene
ISBN: 9781534316607
Image, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: M (17+)
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: African-American, Chinese-American Protestant
Creator Highlights: African-American
Related to…: Book to Comic

Manga Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

This manga adaptation of Twain’s classic novel recounts the adventures of small-town rascal Tom Sawyer and his cohorts growing up in St. Petersburg, Missouri in the mid-nineteenth century. This volume in the manga classics series stays true to the plot and themes of Twain’s work, following Tom, Huck, Becky, Aunt Polly, Injun Joe, and the other residents of St. Petersburg on a series of adventures. The flow of this manga version is episodic, including all the memorable scenes of Twain’s original. We see Tom trick Ben Rogers into completing his work painting a fence, Tom’s tumultuous relationship with Becky Thatcher, and the drama as Tom, Huck, and Joe Harper witness their own funeral.

While the majority of the manga consists of these loosely-connected episodes, Tom’s eventual decision to come forward after he and Huck witness Injun Joe commit a murder, and the implications of that decision, is a thread running through much of the novel. The story continues in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has also been adapted by Manga Classics.

Manga Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has been classified as a Young Adult title for ages twelve and up by the publisher. This designation is fitting, not due as much to mature subject matter as to the fact that the novel is a challenging read both textually and visually. The adapters have been faithful to Twain’s novel, which captures the dialect of the American South in the mid-1800s, including, as they acknowledge, racist language. Characters also use expressions and syntax which differ greatly from the speech patterns of today. In addition, characters who appear out-of-frame may still speak, so readers must connect a speech bubble to its unseen owner in order to follow a conversation. The episodic nature of the story can make transitions between scenes somewhat abrupt. While the novel is divided into chapters with each chapter number labeled, the numbers appear at different places on each page, which can make them difficult to spot. Finally, the fact that this book reads in typical manga style from right to left makes it a more challenging text for Western readers.

The gray scale illustrations are done in traditional manga style—characters have large eyes and thin, angular frames. Huckleberry Finn actually looks Japanese with straight black hair and dark eyes, while the other characters have various hair, skin, and eye colors. Manga conventions are often used, such as when characters express surprise and their eyes grow wide with large pupils. Characters are clearly distinguishable from one another, though there’s not much distinction between the way children and adults are drawn, apart from the older adults such as Aunt Polly. Inanimate objects can also be a bit difficult to discern. The panel structure is quite variable in size and function. Some panels introduce setting, while others introduce characters and character details. Each character is introduced for the first time with a large-scale captioned portrait standing apart from the panels on the page where he or she first appears. End matter includes notes from the text adapter and illustrator which provide insight into the adaptation process as well as sketches of key characters.

Manga Classics: Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an enjoyable way to experience Twain’s classic novel. The drawback to any graphic format of this book is that it must leave out large amounts of the narration that is a hallmark of Twain’s work. This is certainly noticeable here, and the flow of the story does appear a bit jumpy in places as a result. However, Chan and Chan have still done an admirable job adapting the work to the manga format.

Young adult readers, manga fans, and those interested in adaptations of classic literature will find this piece enjoyable. Adept middle grade readers may be able to tackle it as well, and it has potential for use in classrooms as part of a comparative study, along with its companion Manga Classics: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Manga Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
by Mark Twain, Crystal Chan
Art by Kuma Chan
ISBN: 9781947808027
Manga Classics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 12+


Whether or not you come from a conservative Christian upbringing like me, you probably know the story of Judas Iscariot—the man who betrayed Jesus for 30 silver shekels. Regardless of your religious background, you may have also questioned whether our paths are already chosen. Are we pawns in a chess game, moved by a methodical hand? Judas by Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka takes on the story of the villain in the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” considering predestination and the implications of an omnipotent God who allows really crappy things to happen.

Loveness begins the four-part series with Judas questioning why Christ had chosen him to be the betrayer. As Judas drops the noose around his neck, he says, “I tried so hard… to believe. To be good… but you knew. From the beginning. I never had a chance.” As life leaves Judas, he arrives in Hell, where he eventually meets the source of the voice who spoke to him while he was alive and with Christ. It is Lucifer, the fallen angel, the devil. Lucifer encourages Judas to question the goodness of a man who could so easily condemn other people to an eternity in hell. Lucifer retells the stories of people like Pharoah, Lot’s wife, and Jezebel as all victims of a merciless God. He tells Judas that, “there is no escaping your story,” but then he offers Judas hope to “break the story.”

Loveness uses Bible verses and stories to create an alternative version of the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and with a twist that I was actually surprised by. While the added detail of a dead mother to Judas’s background did not give me more reason to sympathize with his plight, Loveness did successfully make Judas more of a human and less of a villain. Both Judas and Jesus become fully developed characters; while God, the Father remains a distant chess player and Lucifer is barely given enough credit for his ability to manipulate the “truth.”

Loveness has chosen ideal creative partners with illustrator Jakub Rebelka and letterer Colin Bell. Rebelka swaps the expected color palette, illustrating Judas’s memories of his life and his time with Christ in reds and browns, while hell is in cool shades of blues, teals, and greys. Rebelka gives Judas a medieval halo, but in solid black rather than gold, depicting his status as anti-saint. He brings to life the creatures of Ezekiel’s nightmares with their many eyes, wings, faces, and hands. Bell strategically uses font and color in the dialog boxes, recalling similar use of red font in Biblical texts to indicate the speech of Christ. Bell also depicts Lucifer’s insistence on his version of the story as truth with Lucifer’s dialog penned in white letters on black backgrounds. These and many more details combine to create a visual experience that complements the story without detracting from the dialogue and its heavy subject matter.

This comic will probably best be appreciated by older teens and adults who are familiar with the Biblical story or with philosophical conundrums in general. While Catholic or Protestant readers with traditional or conservative viewpoints might view this story as bordering on blasphemous, the comic merits a read from people of all faiths and backgrounds. It offers another opportunity to consider whether there is an omnipotent Being who dictates our behaviors and if that Being offers mercy and redemption.

By Jeff Loveness
Art by Jakub Rebelka
ISBN: 9781684152216
BOOM! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Germany in 1906. He had a great childhood with a big, wonderful family, a good education, and a strong faith. By 14, Dietrich declared himself a theologian, an aspiration that shaped the rest of his life.

By all accounts, Dietrich was a normal, decent, faithful man.

Then the Nazi party rose to power, his beloved Germany became unrecognizable, and everything changed. Dietrich remained a normal, decent, faithful man—even while planning the assassination of Adolf Hitler.

In John Hendrix’s The Faithful Spy, the life of this little known historical figure is explored with captivating prose and beautiful illustrations.

I had never heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer before picking up this graphic novel, which probably made the book even better. I didn’t know the fate of Dietrich and I was rooting for him the whole time. Even knowing that the assassination attempts fail didn’t take away from the suspense. I enjoyed following Dietrich through all the events in his life and seeing how one man played a big part in the German resistance during World War II. It shows how much one person can contribute, but also how resistance and revolution is the work of many people working together.

It is obvious that Hendrix did his research and this story is steeped in historical fact. He doesn’t over embellish or put his own opinions into the prose. Instead, Hendrix explains how Hitler came to power, breaking down the politics into an easy to follow and understand story. Everyone knows Hitler and knows about the Holocaust, but Hendrix was able to show what caused these terrible things to happen and how the normal, everyday Germans were blindsided by the atrocities.

Although filled with illustrations, The Faithful Spy is definitely wordier than the average graphic novel. It easily could have been a regular novel and still would have been enthralling. But Hendrix’s art adds so much to the story, even while only utilizing four colors—green, red, black, and white. It’s almost like the doodles on the side of your history class notes, but if you had enormous talent.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life story captured my attention from the start and I loved every page, often taking my time to really study Hendrix’s illustrations. This is a gorgeous book that made me seek out more of John Hendrix’s work (he has several children’s picture books about other historical figures).

The Faithful Spy would make a great addition to World War II lesson plans. We often wonder how someone like Hitler and the Nazis could come to power and do these awful things. We often wonder how the German people didn’t stop him. Well, this book shows how it happened and that there were people trying to do something.

I highly recommend The Faithful Spy. It would be a great addition to libraries for teens and adults.

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler
by John Hendrix
ISBN: 9781419728389
Abrams, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14

Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography

Graphic memoirs are a great way to relay historical information to audiences who may never pick up a giant prose biography. Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography takes a deep dive into the life of Martin Luther, the instigator of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. While I knew many of the significant facts of his life, this biography covers details that I wasn’t aware of, and thus paints a more complete picture of this significant historical figure.

The first thing one notices is that this is a ‘dark’ graphic novel, both in tone and look. Italian artist Andrea Ciponte uses dark oil paints to show that life 500 years ago was not easy. Author Dacia Palmerino begins the tale with disease, hunger, poverty, leprosy, and executions. Ciponte helps her tell the story with dark tones and blurred lines to convey the feeling of the time. Luther is raised in a devout, religious German family that is strict and punitive. He eventually goes to university and decides upon a life as a monk after a near-death experience involving a lightning strike. As he studies the Bible and finds that scripture diverges quite a bit from what the Church is teaching, he starts to agitate for change. Travelling to Rome and observing the corrupt practice of ‘indulgences’ sets him on a path of revolution. Soon he is posting his “95 Theses” on the door of a church in Wittenburg and initiating the Reformation. Luther goes into hiding, translates the Bible into a common language, gets married, has children and reckons with the forces that his actions unleashed.

While the narrative is linear and straightforward, the artist adds flourishes and fanciful images periodically to convey a message. The devil is often painted when Luther is contemplating evil or temptation. When Luther is feverishly writing, he is depicted walking through halls made of pages and words. Some pictures look like they are out of a Salvador Dali painting or Dante’s Inferno because of their odd shapes and distorted perspective. These images are powerful when they show up because they are used sparingly. The artist also effectively uses color, close ups and various perspectives to move the narrative along. Care is taken to differentiate the look of the historical figures and it’s pretty easy to follow who is doing what, no easy task considering how many important individuals appear in this book. The text is well resourced and uses research to back up the events depicted. This book is quite an achievement.

So who is this written for? The Italian authors are academics and educators. They clearly want people to learn more about Luther, but this is a book for adults, not kids. The dark topics that are covered depict a realism and nuance that some might not appreciate, particularly if they are looking for a sanitized version of Luther’s life. But for those looking for an imaginative yet well researched look at a seminal historical figure, this book will fit the bill.

Renegade: Martin Luther the Graphic Biography
by Dacia Palmerino
Art by Andrea Ciponte
ISBN: 9780874862072
Plough Publishing House, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (16+)

As the Crow Flies, vol. 1

Thirteen-year-old Charlie; a black, queer teen, finds herself in the middle of a Christian backpacking retreat for girls. As the only black camper, Charlie feels like an outsider. From the start, the camp leader, Bee, describes redemption as a “whitening.” As Charlie listens to her, she grows uncomfortable, but chooses to stay quiet and wrestles internally with herself and her choice to come here, which she believes was God’s answer to her prayer.

The group soon sets off on a pilgrimage inspired by a similar one a group of women took in the 19th century. As the hike goes on, Bee tells the story of these women and preaches about feminism, but it becomes clear to Charlie that this feminism only included the white, straight, rich women of the time. A girl like Charlie would never have been included in this first pilgrimage. Feeling more and more out of place, she pleads to God, questioning why she came and begins to doubt herself.

Fortunately, Charlie befriends an outspoken girl named Sydney, who is also an outsider in the camp. Sydney confides in Charlie that she is transgender, but is keeping it a secret for fear of ridicule from the other campers. They find comfort in each other as they discuss their lives, religion, and thoughts, realizing they both are left out of the history of the hike. The story ends before the hikers reach their destination, leaving some questions, but ultimately is still a satisfying conclusion. (As the Crow Flies started as a webcomic and was published after a Kickstarter campaign. Melanie Gillman continues to work on the story of Charlie and Sydney, and a second volume is planned.)

With realistic and detailed colored pencil illustrations and several wordless pages showcasing the scenery of the hike, the book has a strong sense of setting and place. You can feel the sun beating down on Charlie as she struggles up the mountain. The enormity and beauty of the environment make it easy for Charlie to believe in and talk with God. A feather seems to be following her around and she feels it is a sign from above. This splendor also makes the casual racism and homophobia feel like a slap in the face. The juxtaposition of such beauty with ignorance is startling, pulling Charlie and you away from the nature.

The characters are dynamic and diverse. Charlie interacts with mean girls, who tease Sydney for wearing skirts, but by the end one of them has a change of heart. The kindness of Bee’s daughter helps Charlie along the way as well. For such a short and concise story, a lot is addressed; including race, religion, sexuality, and feminism.

With heart and humor, As the Crow Flies makes you think and consider what you’ve been taught about feminism, religion, and history and consider who has been left out of the story.

Appropriate for tweens and older, this is a must-have for diverse and inclusive collections.

As the Crow Flies, vol. 1
by Melanie Gillman
ISBN: 9781945820069
Iron Circus Comics, 2017