If there was a list of rules for what not to do in a horror story, there would be a rule about not using a magical or cursed item, especially one that grants wishes (in such a list, that particular rule would be in the top twenty). To see why this is an important rule, read W. W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw” or simply think back to any story that involves wishes magically granted and see how well that works out for someone. Writer David M. Booher looks at the dangers of wishing through glasses colored with ‘80s nostalgia in his latest graphic collection Specs, which is illustrated by Chris Shehan.
In 1987, best friends Kenny and Ted were outcasts in their small Ohio town, but they could be outcasts together. Both were dreaming of a way out of their small town when Kenny receives a special pair of x-ray specs, which allows their wearer to wish for virtually anything. They both enjoy the sudden power they have until Kenny wishes for their bully to disappear. This poorly conceived wish leads to circumstances that threaten to pull the boys apart while giving the specs more opportunities for people to make terrible wishes.
The heart of Booher’s tale isn’t the evil x-ray specs but the relationship between the two protagonists and what makes them outcast. Kenny is struggling with how to come out to everyone, including his best friend Ted, and Ted, the only black kid attending their school who constantly faces the town’s prejudiced views. Having the wish-granting specs doesn’t help that situation, either; in fact, it only makes it worse. One moral of this story is the old adage about being careful what you wish for, but what Kenny and Ted learn through their own individual experiences helps this book stand out from other “bad wish” stories.
The x-ray specs, however, decide the overall tone of the book, along with Shehan’s artwork. Much of the composition and design choices are aesthetically similar to horror comics of earlier decades but in particular to Creepshow, an anthology comic series that had a resurgence thanks to the Creepshow movie by Stephen King and George Romero. The faces are realistic, especially when they are horrified, and the dead things in this book, of which there are a few, do indeed look dead. However, those expecting the violence of a Creepshow might be surprised. There are ghosts and there is the tiniest amount of blood, but there is actually little violence in this book. The scares it does provide are from the creepy atmosphere and the banal evil of the townspeople. Horror graphic novels might find their way into the adult collection but this title definitely skews young adult because of its protagonists and because of the issues the still-relevant social ills it discusses that don’t involve wish-granting specs.
Specs By David M. Booher Art by Chris Shehan BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684159185
Publisher Age Rating: 13 years and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Gay, Character Representation: Gay,
Dr. Songsakdina “Bun” Bunnakit is a respected coroner. He is 31 and a closeted gay man who has kept his orientation a secret since his first and only attempt at romance with a man ended badly. Apart from some token attempts at retaining a girlfriend for appearances sake, Bun Is largely devoted to his work, with no real friends apart from the prosecutor Pued.
When Dr. Bun is brought in to investigate a young woman’s death, he is quick to dismiss the police theory of suicide. Bun is also suspicious of the young woman’s boyfriend, a teacher named Tan, who hardly seems upset at his girlfriend’s passing. However, as Dr. Bun is writing up his report, he is attacked in his home by a masked man, who says everyone around Dr. Bun will suffer if he doesn’t declare the death a case of suicide.
When Pued disappears shortly after Dr. Bun confides in him about the threats, he once again becomes suspicious of Tan, who is one of the few who knew of his involvement with the investigation. To Dr. Bun’s surprise, Tan comes to him with a solid alibi and wants to help find his girlfriend’s killer. Yet, there is still evidence Tan is involved in the case. More worrying, however, is the growing attraction that seems to be forming between Bun and Tan.
A graphic novel adaptation of a novel by Thai author, Sammon (which has also been adapted into a successful Thai TV drama), Manner of Death, Vol. 1 proves an exciting start to what promises to be an interesting thriller series. I hesitate to call it an erotic thriller, however, as this opening chapter is more focused on the logistics of Bun’s work as a coroner and his amateur detective work with Tan than it is the sexual tension between them. There are sex scenes, but they are tame things compared to the lion’s share of modern yaoi.
Manner of Death, Vol. 1 works equally well as a police procedural story or a romance, depending on which aspect a reader might be more interested in. The opening chapters lean more heavily upon Bun’s work, showcasing his analytic mind as he instructs a medical student in his charge on how a dead body can tell a story as vivid as one by a living person regarding how they died. The focus shifts more toward romance as the story progresses, with Bun battling his feelings for Tan, his own paranoia regarding loving a man, and his logical reasons to take anything Tan says at face value.
The artwork by Yukari Umemoto is good and matches the story. Umemoto utilizes varied character designs to keep the characters from being confused for one another. They are also very good at blocking the book’s many fight scenes.
This volume is rated for ages 16 and up. I feel this is an appropriate rating, given the mature subject matter. There is no outright nudity, and the sexual elements of the romance are relatively tame for this sort of comic. Yet with a storyline centered around violent deaths and flashbacks dealing with suicide and child abuse, this is not a comic for the weak of heart or of stomach.
Manner of Death Vol. 1 By Sammon Art by Yukari Umemoto Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975352080
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Thai Character Representation: Gay
Cade is a shy, horror-movie-obsessed teen living in rural Texas. Surrounded by homophobia, he figures he’ll never be able to come out as gay, let alone find a boyfriend. Anyway, he has other things to worry about. His family is low on money, so his parents insist that Cade get a summer job at a ranch, which pays better than the more comfortable indoor jobs he would prefer. It’s hard labor, but on the plus side he gets to work with Henry, the teenaged son of the ranch owner. Henry is attractive, mysterious, and possibly interested in Cade. But there are rumors swirling around the ranch. People have died. In fact, the whole situation reminds Cade of a horror movie. Will he be the next victim?
This is a retelling of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey, in which a young woman allows her love of Gothic novels to color her perception of the real world. Like the heroine of that novel, Cade sees and hears a few strange things and lets his imagination fill in the gaps with terrifying theories. Changing the Gothic novels to horror movies and the setting to a lonely ranch in modern-day Texas makes for a creative update. Cade’s unease and sense of being in danger are supported by encounters with racist and homophobic locals—a situation based on the author’s own experience growing up queer, closeted, and Latine in rural Texas.
Cade comes from a class background that is underrepresented in teen fiction: his blended, multiracial family is struggling financially, living in a rural area where military service and religion play a large part in many people’s lives. This adds to Cade’s isolation, as there is a lot of homophobia in the local culture. Even his generally well-meaning stepdad casually uses homophobic language. Henry, too, has struggled to reconcile his identity with his church’s condemnation of queer people.
A content note at the beginning advises that the book contains “moments of homophobia, misogyny, racism, domestic violence, animal cruelty, and confronting death.” There is a character whose past includes becoming suicidal and spending time in a mental health facility, and another character uses stigmatizing language about it. And although he is seeing a therapist and working on his anger issues, Henry can be violent, which is an alarming quality in a love interest. There are also a handful of swear words, up to and including the f-bomb. Despite all that, though, this story is not grim throughout. It is, after all, a romance, with plenty of sweet moments and—eventually—a hopeful ending.
The art is cute and expressive, with a simplified realistic style reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks. The book is two-color, with shades of red and pink punctuated by bold black and lots of deep shadows, especially in the creepy parts. Horror movie fans may notice a few classic film posters in some of the panels.
This is a creative retelling that stands alone. Sometimes sweet and sometimes gripping, it addresses tough topics but also brings humor and smooches. Hand it to fans of Kevin Panetta’s Bloom and Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper.
Northranger By Rey Terciero Art by Bre Indigo Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2023 ISBN: 9780063007383
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
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,
Everyone loves the archetype of the gentleman thief, the anti-hero who makes their living by breaking the rules with panache and a dry wit. These archetypes mainly steal from those with money, power, or both. Sebastian Harlow, also known as the Black Flamingo, certainly fits that mold while standing out among other rakish rogues. An expert in the acquisition of mystical artifacts and looking good while doing it, his latest job could change his whole outlook on life, provided he survives, in Sins of the Black Flamingo, written by Andrew Weaver and illustrated by Travis Moore.
Sebastian has made it his business to infiltrate the seedy underbelly of Miami’s occult items market in order to rob it blind. Like Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel, he wears a mask—a glittering masquerade mask—that hides his identity while also being his signature look. However, his life as a gentleman thief is a lonely one. There is his one friend, Ofelia, who serves as his mystical advisor and reluctant conscience, trying to direct him to do more good works. But Sebastian has mostly lived by his wits and according to his whims until a new assignment, and a truly rare acquisition, has him questioning his role in the universe.
Sebastian is a gay man who doesn’t mind being a little flamboyant, hence his uniform of sparkling mask and feathered collar, but Weaver never lets him descend into parody or become one-dimensional. He jokes about finding a handsome detective with which to have the cliched game of cat and mouse, and openly flirts with the chiseled male specimens he encounters. But he also has a very nihilistic view of humanity that gets brutally questioned and reaffirmed throughout the story. Most of Sebastian’s worldview is thanks to a supernatural encounter, but it could also be a byproduct of his existence as a gay man in this current political climate, which Weaver displays in all its ugly, dog-whistling glory. In the first part of the series, Sebastian steals from the Museum of American Heritage and Culture, which is just as racist and repugnant as it sounds.
Setting this story in Miami lets this story be sexy while also giving a chance for Moore’s artwork to shine. Nearly everyone who exists in this world could have been borrowed from fashion catalogs and, thanks to Miami’s warm climate, there are plenty of opportunities for them to show their bodies. Indeed, Moore shows he can draw a svelte male body in the same way many other artists can showcase women in pinup poses. Miami might be a pastel wonderland full of beautiful people, but Moore also shows he can reveal the supernatural horrors that prowl alongside the real world horrors.
Sins of the Black Flamingo definitely belongs in the adult section, with its portrayals of sex and violence, but this book is much more than titillating eye candy. It offers readers a very compelling hero and it shows him fighting in a world too close to our own that desperately needs him.
Sins of the Black Flamingo By Andrew Wheeler Art by Travis Moore Image, 2023 ISBN: 9781534324725
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Gay Character Representation: Gay
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
Blue is absolutely smitten with his best friend Hamal, a kind, soft spoken gardener with a heck of a green thumb. There’s just one problem: Blue is, well, kind of dead. Thankfully, Hamal also has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts, though lacking a physical form naturally prevents Blue from deepening his connection with Hamal. To make matters worse, something odd is happening to the local spirits who suddenly find themselves briefly flickering between a dark, decaying forest and the living world. To protect the one he loves, Blue must solve this mystery even if it costs him everything in the process. Keezy Young’s sweet, yet delightfully spooky romance, Taproot, presents a look into the delicate balance between life and death and all the love and sacrifices therein.
Taproot provides an engaging enough concept to pull readers into this mismatched couple’s story. Blue and Hamal’s dynamic is playful and endearing, but the story’s fast pace and short length prevents any sort of natural development of the relationship, the progression ultimately coming off as superficial and rushed. The overall story suffers from being somewhat frustratingly vague with certain scenes lacking a cohesive flow from one to another, all coming to an incredibly anticlimactic end. Even the “One Year Later” segment feels tacked on, as it felt narratively needless other than to show the reader what the characters are doing after the main conclusion. Though epilogues can feel welcome in other literary scenarios, here it only adds to the slight disconnection between events. While a struggling read at times due to these elements, I can still appreciate the emphasis of queer joy and acceptance in this comic, which also features a refreshing multiracial cast and non-white leads.
Despite the somewhat underdeveloped narrative, Young manages to create an inviting, memorable world through richly illustrated landscapes and characters. The character designs immediately provide a good sense of personality, whether it’s found in Hamal’s rounded, gentle features or Blue’s angular, expressive face complete with a cheeky grin. Opting for a bluish green hue to distinguish the ghosts from the living adds more stylistic and visual intrigue as Young incorporates a good amount of framing to ensure they do not blend into the similarly colored, detailed backgrounds where Young shows off the natural wonders of this setting. Images of flora thriving around every corner exude a cozy, magical atmosphere, as we see the entire town covered in fluffy moss and colorful flowers. Even the mysterious forest has a gothic, ethereal charm to it, with its twisted, gnarled trees housing skulls and listless, chalky plant life. The environments function almost as characters in and of themselves, experiencing the same trials of life and death as our main characters, and are just as severely affected by its imbalances. Taproot’s visual style perfectly complements the tone and message of its story, marveling at the beauties of life while also stressing the inclusion of death and rebirth as a necessary part of it.
As a blend of a heartwarming queer romance with a paranormal edge, Taproot will interest fans of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series and Suzanne Walker’s Mooncakes, both of which share friends-to-lovers relationships and distinctive styles that enhance their stories. Those looking for a quick, character driven comic may enjoy this title, though the lack of worldbuilding and disjointed plot threads may be a turn off for some readers. Young states that Taproot is intended for audiences of all ages, though it would likely appeal most to ages thirteen and up due to its romantic focus, as well as its more mature handling of the themes of life and death. This rereleased edition comes with a brand new cover, an afterword from Young, and backmatter material including original concept art. Librarians and educators looking to include more inclusive and diverse paranormal romances should consider purchasing this title.
Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost By Keezy Young Oni Press Lion Forge, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150733
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Gay Character Representation: Bisexual, Gay
What does an English major college graduate, a chef at a restaurant, and a pig with fine tasting aesthetics have in common? For a studious bookworm like Ben Cook, this unlikely combination may lead him to a future career or even his life’s destiny. A bit of soul-searching propels him into an unexpected culinary extravaganza in Jarrett Melendez and Danica Brine’s artfully charming graphic novel debut Chef’s Kiss.
The story begins with a group of four twenty-somethings straight out of college who move into an apartment to start the next chapter in their lives. Ben in particular tackles multiple interviews and fails to hit the mark repeatedly until one day he spots a want ad at a restaurant. There his entry-level roasted squash soup dish wins the approval of Watson the pig, the head chef’s ultimate taste test for evaluating the quality of gourmet concoctions, thereby landing him his first job after college. Along the way, Ben befriends his partner-in-cooking, sous-chef Liam, and thus begins a crush relationship between the two, steering them into uncharted territory beyond mere culinary creations. But are they prepared to take their relationship to the next level? And what other adventures lie beyond the life that Ben is just starting to explore after college?
Melendez’s characterization of Ben, his roommates, and Liam combined with Brine’s character designs and vibrant colors of Hank Jones engenders a synergistically compelling storytelling experience. Facial expressions and subtle mannerisms amongst the characters add emotional nuances to each of their distinct personalities. Single-shot panels delineating food ingredients, prep work, and cooking tasks unfold in a montage style, animating the narrative sequences to produce a gastronomical feast for the eyes. While navigating variant pathways through life, Ben relies on the advice of his longtime best friend Liz Brooks, who serves as his conscience and guides him through the labyrinth of decision making.
A light-hearted and humorous yet constructive soul-searching quest through the afterlife of college, replete with uncertainties and serendipitous discoveries, Chef’s Kiss navigates the meandering currents of maintaining friendships, exploring queer relationships, making life choices, and finding one’s identity. Variant covers, standalone artwork, and character profiles are included as bonus extras. This graphic novel adds an enriching adult coming-of-age story to the nebulous period between graduating from college and entering the real world. Bristling with colorful panels and winsome characters makes this an engaging read for all library collections.
Chef’s Kiss By Jarrett Melendez Art by Danica Brine Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781620109045
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Character Representation: Gay
Three teens named Sam (Samuel, Samir, and Samantha) go for a walk in the woods and discover a gooey cocoon hanging from a tree, in Alienated by Simon Spurrier. When they take a classmate, Leon, to see their discovery, one thing leads to another and Leon vanishes. The three Sams learn that the cocoon is an alien creature they name Chip. Chip has feet, but tentacles for arms and he wears armor on his face and chest area. Chip syncs his brain with the teens’, allowing the teens to share their thoughts and feelings through their minds. Each of them is hiding secrets and Chip will be the one to bring them out.
The story appears as if it is telling a science fiction tale that will either turn out to be a version of E.T. or War of the Worlds. Instead, it turns into a story about teens struggling with personal demons and Chip being the catalyst to help them find closure. What I liked about the group was the diversity among the three leads. Samantha is Latinx and Samir is a Muslim Pakistani. Samir also struggles with being gay and coming out to his family. Samuel on the other hand was a character I had conflicting feelings over. I didn’t find him to have an issue that I related to. He seemed more like a misguided youth who felt that his views were the only ones that mattered. Another character, Chelsea, is an antagonist to the main three. She’s an influencer, always taking videos of herself and posting them online. There is the face she projects to her audience, that of being a concerned friend of the missing Leon, where in private she only cares about fame, attention, and how many clicks she will receive.
The artwork stood out and so many sequences popped for me. The artist, Chris Wildgoose, knows how to draw your eyes in and make simple scenes stand out. For instance, one scene has all the school kids hanging out in the quad. You have Chelsea in the foreground wearing purple and a greyish blue. In the background, you can see the three leads wearing orange, green, and blue. The trees and grass are yellowish-brown. I love how the artist mixes and matches colors to contrast the action that is going on in the frame. Another thing I like is that the teens look like real teens, not in an exaggerated form. In other graphic novels I’ve read you might have contorted body shapes or eyes. Realistic-looking teens are easier to identify with and it’s easier to believe the story is taking place in a more grounded world.
I can’t recommend Alienated enough. I think it’s one of the best graphic novels I have read this year. The artistry is amazing and the story is one that any teen or adult can relate to. I would rate this work for older teens 16+. This story features storylines about alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide. These are heavy topics to grapple with individually, let alone all at once in one story. Trigger warning, there is a storyline that features a graphic depiction of self-harm. I found it quite unsettling and feel the artist lingered on it for way longer than I liked.
Alienated By Simon Spurrier Art by Chris Wildgoose BOOM! Studios, 2020 ISBN: 9781684155279
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18) Character Representation: Hispanic, Pakistani, Gay, Catholic, Muslim
How does it feel to fly? To soar above the world, nothing but you, your plane, and the sky? Would that be enough?
For pilot Jay Corvidae, it has been. Flying for AVO, the country’s aviation guild, with his best friend and fellow pilot and engineer, Sable Auliya, is what he knows, and what his future seems to hold. Until the day his plane is chartered for a flight by the mysterious Fix Vulpes, who certainly knows quite a lot about radio operation for a no-class thief.
As AVO asserts their power and takes control over international governments, Jay and Fix’s adventures take a turn for the dangerous (and the amorous), while Sable charts her own course as she rises through AVO’s ranks. With war looming on the horizon, the truth can shift and change in an instant, and Jay, Fix, and Sable must all face the same question: what does freedom really mean?
With Eighty Days, A.C. Esguerra has built a world very similar to our own. Though the world they created is purely fictional, with countries named things like Easterly and Northerly, and no year adjacent to our timeline is specified, the setting and character design emulate a 1930s-esque Europe on the brink of WWII. AVO, then, could serve as a stand-in for any fascist government in Western history, though the style of their uniforms (and much of how the high ranking AVO officer side characters look in general) will likely have readers associating them with Nazi Germany.
Similarities to our world aside, Esguerra’s world-building is strong and highly detailed. Teen readers will be thrust immediately into the world of Eighty Days with background information coming out slowly throughout the graphic novel’s 300+ pages. It is divided into four “books”, and takes turns centering the three central characters’ journeys. This deep end approach to storytelling may be daunting for some readers, and some may even get a bit lost as they try to follow the intricacies of the plot. But it may also serve to help immerse some readers and keep the stakes high.
It is impossible, however, to separate Esguerra’s textual storytelling and world-building from their absolutely stunning artwork. Rendered completely in black and white with shades of grey, their swooping, sweeping line work evokes the beauty and grace of flight. This style works well to create a sense of place and tone for this quasi-historical tale, and is especially effective in the many wordless sequences of train travel and flight. Esguerra’s stylistic choices do fall short, however, in some of the action and fight scenes, where the loops and swirls that worked so well in skyscapes become muddled and harder to decipher when characters moving at high speeds are being depicted instead.
That said, the characters in general are beautifully drawn, and each has their own vibrant personality that shines through in their character designs. Jay has a more guarded, yet cocky look behind his glasses, and it’s clear how he was unable to resist Fix with his unruly curls and sweet but impish smile. Sable, a young woman of color (perhaps their world’s equivalent of South Asian?), exudes both strength and elegance in equal measure.
Aimed at teens 13 and up, Eighty Days will challenge readers to question what they know about the world around them, especially regarding oppressive governments, and will show what a difference just a few people can make. It would be a solid additional purchase for collections where adventures, slow burn LGBTQIA+ romances, and alternate universe historical stories are popular, and where the art aspect of graphic novels is especially appreciated.
Eighty Days By A.C. Esguerra BOOM! Archaia, 2021 ISBN: 9781684156573
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Filipino-American, Nonbinary Character Representation: South Asian, Gay