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
Ben Cook is fresh out of college, excited to be living with three of his good friends, and ready to use his English degree in some writing-related field. But his optimism falters as job after job turns him down, all of them requiring previous professional experience. Soon, he’s desperate (and broke) enough to consider any job at all just to keep living with his friends and avoid moving back in with his controlling parents.
Enter Le Cochon Doré, a gourmet restaurant that needs a new cook. It’s a weird gig: the owner has hired Ben on probation, requiring him to prove himself with cooking trials over three weeks—and he tests Ben’s dishes by offering them to his pet pig! Luckily, Ben has always been good in the kitchen, and he’s up for a challenge. Besides, he only needs to work here until he can find a writing job, right? Except that Ben finds himself getting more and more invested in this job—and in cute, good-natured Liam, one of the other cooks. Is he letting a crush cloud his judgment, or is it possible that writing isn’t his one true path after all?
While the cover and title suggest this is a romance, it’s actually more about Ben starting to find his way in life. He does have a crush on Liam, but spends most of the book being much too shy to bring it up. They go on one date, which is ambiguous enough that Ben and his roommates have a debate afterward about whether it was even a date, before getting cozier at the very end. Meanwhile, lots of time is spent on Ben’s friendship with his roommates and his struggle to decide on a career path. The romance subplot really is a subplot, not the point of the story.
In addition the coming-of-age arc of Ben learning to defy his pushy parents and choose for himself, there is a slice-of-life feel to much of this book. We get a lot of Ben’s angst and conflict, and a couple of long play-by-play scenes depicting mundane activities or conversations. There is also, naturally, a lot of time spent on food and cooking. Co-creator Melendez is a food writer, and the dishes in this book sound delicious, and their preparations are portrayed in enough detail that you could almost use the comic as a recipe.
Most of the story is down-to-earth, with one distinct outlier: Watson the pig has unexplained, cartoonish abilities. For instance, after eating one particularly delicious dish, he shows his enjoyment by kicking back with a cigarette. His behavior startles Ben and the other characters, but certainly not as much as it would if a pig did these things in real life. Visually, Watson and other slightly surreal elements, like Ben’s daydreams, can be a little jarring next to the straightforward realism of the rest of the art. The characters’ expressions tend to be understated and don’t show a lot of variation, but the art is clear and easy to read, and the characters and settings all distinct from each other.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the book follows characters in their early twenties, there is some drinking, references to pot, and a little swearing. The reader sees Ben and Liam shirtless in nonsexual situations (e.g. changing clothes), and occasionally a daydream image of a scantily-clad Liam strikes a sultry pose in Ben’s head. There is a single kiss, and a few mildly suggestive comments.
If readers go into this book expecting lots of romance, they will likely be disappointed, but if they’re interested in a quirky story of a young man figuring out his life (and cooking a lot), then Chef’s Kiss will hit the spot.
Chef’s Kiss By Jarrett Melendez Art by Danica Brine Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781620109045
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Gay Character Representation: Gay
The year is 2009 and robot evolution has just entered the Nexus phase, with robots that can pass for human becoming more and more commonplace on Earth. The Tyrell Corporation, manufacturers of the Nexus 4, are justly proud of their achievements and have money and power aplenty. Money and power enough, at least, to make the LAPD stand at attention when they ask for a detective to come in and fast-track an investigation into the death of one of their scientists, confirming their belief that she committed suicide.
Enter Cal Moreau, one of the few honest cops left in a dishonest world, who joined the LAPD to try and make the slum he grew up in a safer place. Already on the outs with his bosses, Moreau is an ideal patsy for a job that could quickly send heads rolling. Unfortunately, there are too many details that don’t add up: a brother who insists there is no way his sister would ever kill herself, a lab assistant who knows more than she is saying, and indications that the Tyrell Corporation’s next model, the Nexus 5, may have escaped and started turning upon the humans that created it.
Titan Comics’ exploration and expansion of the world of Blade Runner continues, this time taking a trip into the past and exploring the world before robots became illegal on Earth and the first Blade Runners began hunting Replicants hiding among the human population. This prequel series perfectly captures the aesthetic of the original films in both its story and its artwork.
Cal Moreau is an immediately strong protagonist, cut from the same hard-boiled cloth as Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. He is notable for having a sick sister in a coma, whom he visits and reads to on a regular basis. It is hinted that he’s gay, as he frequents a bar run by a drag performer named Divina, who chases away a woman who flirts with Cal, saying that she couldn’t “let the poor girl go on thinking you have time for her. Or money.” Despite this, Cal doesn’t show much interest in men or women. Instead, he’s married to his work and the duty he feels he has to save lives, having joined the force after serving in the military, and still suffering PTSD flashbacks from his time in space.
The artwork by Fernando Dagnino suits the film noir feel of the story and of the original films, with quite heavy inks. The colors by Marco Lesko are also duller than one might expect given the vibrant neon hues employed throughout the movies. Despite this, every panel of this book feels true to the core aesthetic of Blade Runner. This is sure to please fans of the original movie and purists like myself, who might doubt the ability of a comic book to match the tone of the film.
Blade Runner: Origins is rated 15+ for Older Teens and I feel that is a fair rating, if a bit conservative. The action of this book is intense, but there is surprisingly little bloodshed. There are some disturbing images and several on-page deaths, but most of what is seen would probably make the cut for a Teen-rated manga. There is also little sexual content, apart from one scene with implied nudity where everything is concealed in the shadows.
Blade Runner: Origins By K Perkins, Mellow Brown, Mike Johnson, Michael Green Art by Fernando Dagnino Titan, 2021 ISBN: 9781787735873
Publisher Age Rating: 15+ Related media: Movie to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Character Representation: African-American, Gay, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Sometimes a family can be made up of a fairy godfather, a beast man (a troll variant to be specific), and a baby they found in the woods. Or, at least in this case, a begrudging family. After a brief spat over who should take care of the child, Razzmatazz, the fairy, and Bon, the beast man, come to an agreement to raise her together, donning the guise of a perfectly normal human couple. Despite their initial hostility, they eventually grow closer and open up to one another, slowly coming to the realization that perhaps there is more to their relationship than just a simple ruse. Originally a Patreon-exclusive webcomic, Life of Melody makes its print debut with a charmingly domestic story about found family and the lengths one may go to be with the ones they love.
Mari Costa’s comic thrives as a humorous, and at times extremely emotional, romantic comedy. Razzmatazz (honestly, how awesome a name is that?) and Bon stand as the ideal odd couple, one being erratic, high-strung, and only a little awkward, and the other more down-to-earth, composed, and rational, though still able to comically point out the eccentricities of his partner. Their dynamic is one of the highlights of the comic, as it comes off as equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. Since the story spans a handful of years, we get to see their bond develop naturally over time despite the short page length. Due to the length, however, the pace seems somewhat rushed at the beginning, as Costa sets up their first meeting, co-parenting agreement, and moving in together all in the first chapter. Beyond that, the pace thankfully evens out once we see the two acquire jobs, make friends, and cement their places in the community as they find the best way to raise their daughter, Melody.
Costa expertly weaves emotional and comedic storytelling through her artistic style, whether it’s through expressive facial features or the lighting of a certain frame. When a character experiences a strong feeling, such as fear, stress, or anger, the panel is flooded with shades of red, making the character’s emotions immediately transparent and usually evokes an amused response. The same technique is also apparent when a character is more downcast, as the panel grows noticeably darker. This gives a feeling of visual diversity, as the entire comic is filled with a wide range of colors that perfectly capture the mood of each scene. The fact that the story takes place over a long period of time only heightens this quality, as it also gives Costa the opportunity to showcase each season in her style. I particularly enjoyed seeing the characters interacting with the lush greens of spring and summer, the rich orange tones of autumn, and the crisp blues and whites of winter. Overall, the use of color gives the comic its own versatile identity and only draws us in more to the beauty of the passage of time and emotional growth of the characters.
One aspect that I truly admire about this story is its LGBTQ+ representation, especially since this particular title is recommended for ages 13 and up. Typically, in comics targeted towards this age group, the characters in question are teens themselves, dealing with their own age-specific issues or even the ever present “coming out” narrative. While it is important for queer teens to see themselves represented on the page with characters their own age, it is equally important to show that there is hope for them in the future. Very rarely are there LGBTQ+ comics for teens that focus on adult protagonists dealing with adult issues, since there is the fear that they will not connect to the older characters or themes, or the material may not be entirely appropriate for the demographic. The only one that immediately comes to mind is Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, which is about two older women rekindling a romance they had in their teen years. With Razzmatazz and Bon’s relationship, it shows teens that queer relationships are sustainable and that it is possible to settle down and have a family, should they want to pursue a domestic life. It also helps that their relationship is normalized in this world, and that there are queer side characters as well. For so many queer teens, just being able to survive into adulthood is a major achievement, and comics like Life of Melody help them believe that they can make it there.
For that reason alone, I would heartily recommend it to audiences 13 and older. The story incorporates certain tropes that they may be familiar with and enjoy if they are interested in romantic comedies, such as odd couples, enemies-to-lovers, and a slow burn romance, as well as a captivating visual style. Librarians wanting to diversify their young adult comic collections or add more genre or content variety to the queer stories already on hand should consider purchasing this title.
Life of Melody By Mari Costa Seven Seas, 2021 ISBN: 9781648276491
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Brazilian, Portuguese, Lesbian, Character Representation: Not Our Earth, Gay,
Agent Cole Turner has seen a lot of strange things; when you study conspiracy theories for the FBI, it just comes with the territory. But then he’s faced with what seems like validation of one of those conspiracy theories, and shortly afterward, he meets a woman with Xs for eyes. Then he’s recruited into the Department of Truth, a secret government agency dedicated to preserving the truth despite the evolution of popular belief. But are they actually the good guys? Cole’s world continues to pull out from under him, the deeper he gets into all of this.
What hits first with this comic is the art. It is incredible, strange, and distinctive, making it the perfect accompaniment to the story. It’s strongly reminiscent of David W. Mack’s work (check out Kabuki to get an idea of his style), with dreamlike swirls and heavy textures that make everything feel surreal. In The Department of Truth’s case, the art flexes with the story, sometimes looking like an old tape recording that’s maybe a little burned from exposure to light, or a nightmare sequence inside Cole’s mind, or capturing the righteous rage of a right wing pundit. It captures emotions like rage and fear beautifully, though sometimes misses a bit with quieter moments.
And on that note, there are some things to consider with this comic. It deals in conspiracy theories, and is set in the last year or so, meaning that things like the Sandy Hook shooting are referenced, as are figures like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones. It examines what makes people think that way, and it’s not delicate about it. This comic is pretty hard-hitting about the kinds of people who believe things like the “birther” conspiracy that Obama isn’t a natural born US citizen, and why those people might want that to be true. There are a lot of ethical questions raised, really, and the comic uses Cole well to explore them, but that doesn’t make it easier to read. As such, the comic could be subject to some community upset, depending on your library’s makeup. There are also references to pedophilia and the Satanic Panic, with its related theories.
That being said, The Department of Truth is absolutely worth reading and adding to your collection. It’s a fantastic addition to the government conspiracy/spy genre, and the writing is phenomenal. The reader is falling down the rabbit hole with Cole as he uncovers more and more layers to what may or may not be the truth. The narrative weaves so many classic and new conspiracy theories together, creating a horrifying and believable story (to a certain degree of course). It does rely on the reader knowing a lot of context though, because as I mentioned earlier events and people aren’t named, which is a smart choice for multiple reasons, but means there’s more inference for the reader to make.
The Department of Truth is a fantastic choice for an adult graphic novel collection, and a great suggested reading option for fans of true crime and spy media, especially if they liked the more morally difficult options in those genres. Because it is an intense read, I can’t say I’d recommend it to everyone, but it would be great for fans of series like Lady Killer or Stillwater as well.
The Department of Truth, vol. 1: The End of the World By James Tynion IV Art by Martin Simmonds Image Comics, 2021 ISBN: 9781534318335 Publisher Age Rating: M Series ISBNS and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Character Representation: Gay
Pearl, Tooth, and Eez are a pod of three mermaids who have a taste for the alcoholic beverages they find in underwater shipwrecks. Fresh out of booze, Eez uses her magic to turn the members of her pod human so they can get alcohol from the source—dry land. As kismet would have it, they stumble upon a bar called The Thirsty Mermaid, where they imbibe to their hearts’ content, paying for their drinks with a credit card they “foraged” from some cargo shorts on the boardwalk. The following morning they wake up in the alley outside the bar, hungover and suddenly aware that Eez might not actually know how to turn them back. Their friendly bartender from the prior night, Vivi, takes pity on the ex-mermaids and offers them a place to crash and help getting assimilated. As Pearl and Tooth each find jobs and adjust to life on land, Eez becomes increasingly distressed with her inability to turn them back.
Unsurprisingly, considering Kat Leyh’s previous work on Snapdragon and the popular Lumberjanes series, Thirsty Mermaids has a delightfully diverse cast of characters. There is gay, trans, and nonbinary representation, as well as BIPOC representation. Additionally, the mermaids are surprisingly diverse in appearance, which is refreshingly different from most existing mermaid media. Pearl is chubby and curvy with a purple-and-black-striped fishy tail, and her long black hair has an undercut. Tooth has sharp teeth, a narwhal-like horn, and pointy ears, paired with an orange shark fin tail on her tall, broad body. She wears strips of fabric as a post-apocalyptic bra top, her hair in a messy mohawk, and, as her sole accessory, a necklace she made out of teeth from the sharks she’s defeated in battle. One look at Tooth makes it clear that she is not a mermaid to be messed with. Eez is lithe with red eyes, a gaunt face, and white hair. She has a series of geometric tattoos running across her arm and chest, and an ethereal touch that indicates that she is the powerful spellcaster of the bunch.
The full-color illustrations are lovely. Each full-page spread has a dominant background color for its panels. One page taking place in The Thirsty Mermaid may have dark magenta backgrounds, and the next page will be at Vivi’s apartment and be predominantly mustard yellow. Since Thirsty Mermaids is a beach story, extra care is taken to bring in a vibrant summer color palette, so most pages feature lots of bright orange, blue, yellow, or pink. This aesthetic and setting will please Steven Universe and Adventure Time fans.
In general, Thirsty Mermaids feels like an adult Steven Universe in its themes of chosen family—known in this book as “pods” —plus the meeting of fantasy and real-life worlds. The significant amount of nudity and rampant drinking puts this squarely in the adult section, though the themes and story are likelier to appeal to tweens and teens than adults. Purchase where the Boom Studios comic adaptations of irreverent cartoons are popular, namely the aforementioned Steven Universe and Adventure Time, as well as where older Lumberjanes fans are looking to move on to a more adult title.
Thirsty Mermaids By Kat Leyh Gallery 13, 2021 ISBN:9781982133573
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Gay, Character Representation: African-American, Gay, Nonbinary, Trans,
The front cover of Flamer has a lofty quote from Jarrett J. Krosoczka: “This book will save lives.” It may seem like an overstatement, but when one finishes reading Flamer, they will invariably agree. Flamer may be a devastating read, but it provides a much-needed update to Dan Savage and Terry Miller’s It Gets Better Project that feels current in spite of its mid-1990s setting.
Aiden Navarro is spending his summer earning badges at Boy Scout camp. In the fall, he’ll start at public school, choosing not to return to the Catholic school he’s attended—and where he’s been relentlessly bullied—for years. Aiden is chubby, Filipino, and effeminate, all qualities that render him an easy target for the aggressively masculine white boys at his school (and, for that matter, at Boy Scout camp). Unfortunately, Aiden’s home life is difficult as well. His father is verbally abusive, and his mother leans heavily on Aiden for emotional support after their fights. At its best, Boy Scout camp provides Aiden a refuge, a space where he and fellow campers are free to rank their favorite X-Men characters and where friends value his thoughtful perspectives about how to treat their girlfriends with dignity. At its worst, though, Boy Scout camp is a hotbed of daily micro and macro-aggressions. One camper targets Aiden with a relentless stream of racist comments, and another holds Aiden down to pull out his ponytail, ripping out some of his hair in the process.
In spite of his discomfort with the homophobic jokes other campers make, Aiden is convinced he’s not gay. After all, as he puts it, “Gay boys like other boys. I HATE boys.” But after daydreaming that he is Jean Grey to his bunkmate Elias’s Cyclops and experiencing a handful of other clues—like an accidental erection in the boys’ shower—he begins to suspect he is different from his girl-obsessed peers. He writes to his BFF Violet to express his concerns. After a particularly embarrassing moment with Elias, and suspecting that Violet’s lack of response to his letter means she’s ashamed of him, Aiden reaches a breaking point. He contemplates suicide and is confronted by a humanoid manifestation of the fire inside him; a flame, often used as a pejorative for queerness, is literally his savior. This powerful moment is likely to resonate with anyone who has tried to push away an aspect of their identity only to realize it is integral to who they are.
Curato’s art, in colored pencil and ink wash, is predominantly drawn in thick, pastel-like black and white lines. Curato uses fiery spot colors to indicate particularly emotional moments, such as scenes where Aiden is being bullied or where Aiden feels conflicted about his Catholic background. There are three particularly powerful panels of artwork I’d like to highlight. In one, Aiden is sinking into a deep pool of water created by his mother’s tears. Another is reminiscent of the Rider-Waite tarot deck’s Nine of Swords: Aiden is covering his eyes in his bed in one corner of the full-page spread, while the walls around him are scrawled with his own negative self-talk. The third depicts Aiden, saved by the fire inside him, reborn as a phoenix in flames.
Curatoincludes a handful of practical resources alongside the narrative. Since the story takes place at summer camp, Curato seizes the opportunity to teach the reader about aspects of camping, such as different knot shapes, orienteering, hemp bracelet stitches, and how to find and use good firewood. Additionally, after Curato’s afterword, in which he details how Aiden’s story is similar to his own experiences, he shares information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the TrevorLifeline.
Flamer doesn’t sugarcoat its subject material, so readers who enjoyed the similar handling of tough subjects for tweens in Tillie Walden’s Spinning and Kacen Callender’s King and the Dragonflies are sure to love this book. With its soft-edged illustrations and frequent daydream sequences, Flamer retains an otherworldly quality even while grounded in the real world’s brutalities. This truly intersectional queer graphic novel is a must-have for all libraries serving teens and adults.
Flamer By Mike Curato Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2020 ISBN: 9781627796415 Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
Title Details and Representatio NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Filipino-American, Gay, Character Representation: Filipino-American, Gay, Catholic
Students in over their heads, death, sexual intrigue, dismemberment, and bickering coming to a head with a threat to the whole world; The Magicians: New Class is full of these touchstones from its parent franchise, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. We’re introduced to a handful of hedge magicians in a house in New Orleans before seeing them on a stage at Brakebills Academy for Magical Pedagogy where Dean Fogg unveils an initiative to incorporate hedge magic into the august school. Hedge magic is traditionally taught outside of institutions, passed down in informal houses and has existed for millennia. Hedge magician Keshawn Warren will be joining the staff and three of his students will be admitted as 3rd year students, the first hedge magicians to practice at Brakebills. The new students, Pat, Emily and Audrey, find themselves in a special class with three current third year students, Brian, Sophie and Andy. Andy is outspoken in his disdain for hedge magic and is only mollified upon learning the supposed history of magic traditions class is really for learning illicit battle magic. Deadly mistakes are made. A super villain is revealed. To avoid spoilers I’ll stop summarizing now. Taking place sometime after the events of the novels and TV show, the story and characters stand separate from those. Prior experience just gives the reader a fuller sense of the world. I have seen all of the TV show but have not read Grossman’s original novels.
I have read criticisms of the novels’ narrow male focus and problems with their depiction of homosexuality. This comic is a refreshing break from this, centered on a woman, peppered with sexual tension between Andy and Pat, with a nonbinary supervillain. We spend the most time with Emily, a hedge witch who hands over her prescription meds when she starts at Brakebills and is instead given a noxious green potion that she’s told will cause her body to start producing the proper hormones. I did not pick up on the importance of that scene until 30 pages later when she’s wearing a t-shirt that says “Trans Rights”, in part because I wasn’t familiar with the names of the prescriptions and there are a number of conditions (magical and not) that could be affected by hormone imbalance. It is later specifically stated (during a discussion of crushes) that Emily is trans. I thought this was a clever way of revealing this aspect of her character and a clear benefit of writer Lilah Sturges’ perspective that makes own voices books richer. Emily is the only hedge magician really interested in the formal, academic Brakebills experience, and like the previous novel/TV hero Quentin Coldwater, she feels that magic and Brakebills represent the only chance she has left at life.
The art by Pius Bak is sketchy and insubstantial, backgrounds are only hinted at, often only one or two faces are shown with strong emotional detail and any other faces are inscrutable or blank. I have to wonder if readers without a prior knowledge of Brakebills can get much of a sense of the setting from the occasional antiquated architectural fragments. Gabriel Cassata provides a wonderful moody color palette of muted browns inside the school, with the battle magic practice made visible as columns and circles of neon green and blue energy. When the students sneak out at night to show off to each other the panels are cloaked in heavy blue grays, crackling gold sparks of magic illuminating the scenes.
I loved TheMagicians TV show because it was charming, inhabited by fascinating characters with deep emotional journeys and lots of hijinks. I did not find much of that in this miniseries. We don’t learn a lot about the characters, other than who they’re crushing on and what kinds of magic they’re interested in. This felt like an introduction and I was disappointed to find the series was only 5 issues, I would have enjoyed seeing the characters develop in future volumes. When they’re showing off to each other, the hedge magician Pat does a particularly meta comics trick, turning Andy’s dialog into a Mylar balloon on a string. I wanted more of that humor and playfulness that acts as a great counterpoint to the serious themes in the TV show.
I would put this in the adult section at my library but wouldn’t be surprised to see older teens heading for it, given the crossover popularity of the original novels and show. It has strong language, gore, and sex, with Audrey’s bare back the only nudity. The violence is in a fantasy vein but still made me squirm. It may appeal to fans of Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Buffy, or any other world where young adults have to save the world. For another outstanding comic about a woman exploring the nexus of magic and trans issues, try Sex Death Revolution by Magdalene Visaggio.
The Magicians: New Class By Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges, Pius Bak, Gabriel Cassata, Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios, 2020 ISBN: 9781684155651 Publisher Age Rating: 15+ Related media: Book to Comic
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Nonbinary Character Representation: Gay, Trans