Heathen: The complete Series Omnibus Edition

Aydis is the finest hunter and warrior in her tribe. This is something of a problem as her people believe that the role of women is to marry early and start having children. (Preferably boy children, of course.) Her father was allowed to indulge her, however, up until she kissed another girl in the village. Aydis spared him the pain of marrying her off or killing her, however, declaring herself outlaw and leaving all she ever knew behind.

Now, Aydis is on a quest to build a better world, for she knows that the edicts that prohibit women from being warriors or loving other women were delivered from on high by the All-Father Odin. Thus she will free herself and other women like her, starting with the Valkyrie Brynhild, who defied Odin’s whim and was cursed to wait for a mortal to claim her as their bride.

Heathen offers a new view of Norse mythology, which, it must be admitted, is predominantly conveyed through masculine voices. This is largely due to what few stories of the Norse gods have survived to be passed down into the modern era. While the Vikings had a pantheon as rich as that of the Ancient Greeks, we know very little about deities like Eir the goddess of medicine and Saga, who is presumed to be the goddess of poetry because of her name. This is ironic given how relatively progressive their culture was regarding the rights of women.

In this, Heathen is not a historically accurate work. It does, however, take ample inspiration from the Völsunga saga, bringing in Brynhild and her would-be husband Sigurd as members of the ensemble, alongside the Norse gods. The script by Natasha Alterici puts a decidedly feminist spin on these sagas and characters.

Heathen’s portrayal of Freya is a fine example of this. In most of the surviving myths involving Freya, the Viking goddess of love and war is either reduced to the role of a bargaining chip in the games between the male gods and various giants who want her as their wife in exchange for some service or as a greedy harlot willing to prostitute herself for the sake of some fine dwarven jewelry. The Freya of Heathen is lusty and bisexual, as one might expect from a love goddess, but she is also a warrior who offers Aydis her support, even after Aydis rejects the offer of a place by her side.

The artwork by Alterici and, in the final four chapters, by Ashley Woods perfect suits the mood of the story. Rendered in muted earth tones with simple line work, the reader is reminded of the woodcuts that accompanied many classic manuscripts. In this, Heathen perfectly emulates the feeling of the old Norse sagas, presenting itself as some lost tale only recently unearthed. Fans of dark fantasy are sure to find it enthralling.

Heathen is rated 16+ and I consider that rating to be a fair one. There is a fair bit of nudity and sexual content, particularly when Freya’s realm is revealed, and the story does not shy away from depicting the violence of Viking culture. The story also involves some frank discussion of religion that make it more suitable for older audiences that can fully appreciate the nuances of Aydis’ quest.

Heathen: The Complete Series Omnibus Edition
By Natasha Alterici
Art by Natasha Alterici, Ashley Woods
Vault, 2022
ISBN: 9781638490906

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Queer
Character Representation: Lesbian

M is for Monster

Shaken from the accidental death of her sister Maura, the grief-stricken Doctor Frances Ai vows to bring her back to life with all the scientific and magical power at her disposal. And it works. . . supposedly. The being that rises from the slab has no memory of Maura’s life, nor does she share any of her interests or quirks. This is someone entirely new, though Frances is willing to do anything to bring her sister fully back, even if that means taking the new being apart and trying again.

Fearing her own unmaking, the creation, who deems herself M, attempts to slip into Maura’s old life, aided by Maura’s spirit still wandering among the house’s mirrors, visible only to M. However, that life comes with Frances’ high expectations, ones that M has no interest in pursuing as she discovers her own passions and desires. Once masquerading as Maura starts taking its toll, M must decide who she wants to be, her own person or the pale shadow of someone else. Talia Dutton’s Frankenstein-inspired debut, M is for Monster, expertly navigates through the topics of grief, self-discovery, and the importance of self-expression, as M strives to become the most comfortable and authentic version of herself.

M’s journey with forging her identity, Frances’s struggle with her grief and guilt, and Maura’s frustration of having to live vicariously through M give the story a resonating and relatable weight. Each character receives just enough focus for their arcs to develop and conclude satisfyingly, while also having their own moments to shine and make their mark on readers. M, with her hiccups of having to adjust to life in general, Frances’s overexuberance towards science, and Maura’s wit and dry attitude all add a lighter side to the story, allowing it to breathe in its more relaxed moments. Personally, I found myself invested the most in M’s progression, which naturally lends itself to a queer allegory. While not explicitly queer herself, M goes through many experiences that one does when first discovering that part of themselves: the uncomfortable nature of having to put on a persona to conform to others’ expectations, of trying to distance oneself from a past version of themselves, and finding oneself growing beyond the vision other people have of them. In the end, it becomes a lesson in allowing one to be themselves for their own benefit, something M tries to come to terms with over the course of the comic.

Along with this allegory, there is some LGBTQ+ representation in the form of Frances’s partner, Gin, who goes by they/them pronouns, and their neighbors who are in a sapphic relationship, all of which are normalized.

With a calm, cool palette of white and teal, the comic exudes a sense of thoughtfulness and reflection that distinguishes it from the more horror-based aspects of its story. It reminded me somewhat of Bloom, a comic that, while completely different in terms of plot, utilizes a similar coloring motif to enhance the mood and atmosphere of each panel. In Dutton’s work it serves as an emotional hook for the reader, pairing well with the paneling that becomes an additional storytelling device. There are multiple instances in which the layout of a scene provides subtle indications of developing character dynamics or adds subtext to the overall plot and character motivations. A spread that particularly stands out is a page of Frances and M conversing, with Maura appearing in a bubble to the side, slowing inching closer and closer with each panel as a result of her speaking through M, until she is completely between them with M uncomfortably pushed to the side as Maura’s influence becomes more prevalent. In a scene with no dialogue, it speaks volumes to M’s plight, perfectly summarizing the overall conflict of the story.

M is for Monster will no doubt please readers who enjoy engaging, emotional stories with an evocative art style and a smidge of the grotesque. Due to its more mature handling of these themes, this title is most suitable for audiences 14 and up. Librarians and educators who have a high circulation of character-driven and low sci-fi titles and aim to include more representative and diverse materials should consider purchasing this title.

M is for Monster
By Talia Dutton
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9781419762208

Publisher Age Rating: ages 13-17

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Chinese-American, Bisexual
Character Representation: Assumed Asian, Lesbian, Queer, Nonbinary

The Real Riley Mayes

Riley doesn’t feel as if she fits into the social world of her 5th grade class. No one seems to understand her and perhaps she doesn’t quite understand herself, either. She does know that she loves to draw, tell jokes, and watch the comedian Joy Powers. Riley hopes to attend art lessons, but her parents require that she improve her grades and stop getting in trouble at school. This might be tougher than it sounds with a class full of cliques and a teacher that seems to find fault with everything Riley does. Riley’s mom encourages her that if she reaches out, she’ll find people who get her. A girl named Cate recognizes Riley’s drawing talents and asks her to illustrate some stories for her. But Cate’s behavior seems to depend on whether mean girl Whitney is around. The new kid at school, Aaron, has two dads which Riley finds interesting, but Aaron gets upset when Riley accidentally lets her classmates know about Aaron’s dads before he was ready to tell them. When Riley cuts her hair short, Whitney spreads the rumor that Riley is a lesbian, and Riley starts to think her interest in comedian Joy Powers might be more like a crush. All of this makes for a very confusing time at school. Through many ups and downs and with the help of a supportive family, Riley comes through it all feeling as though people are starting to see who she truly is, and that she has friends who like her for her real self.

Author/illustrator Rachel Eliott includes an introductory letter to the reader explaining the semi-autobiographical nature of the story reflecting her own childhood love of Carol Burnett. She encourages readers to reach out and find others who get them, just as Riley does. This message is prevalent throughout the story. The Real Riley Mayes has strong messages of LGBTQIA acceptance, but beyond that, it speaks to the child who may feel different or unaccepted among their peers for any reason. The book’s conclusion, while not tying everything up too neatly, still encourages readers to seek out connections with others and to meet them half-way. Riley doesn’t find another student with a Joy Powers obsession, but she does find friends with whom she can share common ground. At first, Riley thinks Cate’s fascination with Nyan cats is weird, but she learns to understand it, just as Cate learns to understand her. In the end, Riley collaborates with both Cate and Aaron on a comic book about all of their interests, and this pulls other students in, as well. 

The full-color illustrations in muted shades are reminiscent of a young girl’s drawings, with childlike whimsy and imagination. The illustrations contribute greatly to the humor of the book with an honest portrayal of Riley’s unusual clothing choices and many dream sequences, as well as some physical comedy in Riley’s real-world experiences. The reader can understand why Riley doesn’t quite fit in with the other girls at school, but she’s also shown with sympathy and endearing spunk. 

The Real Riley Mayes is a good addition to youth and elementary school collections. It not only provides another title in an area where more representation is needed, but it’s also a story with a strong young adolescent at an age where many kids struggle. Riley has the courage to be herself, even when it would be much easier to pretend. Riley is a good model for young tween readers. The response of Riley’s family, while not always perfect, is a great example, as well. Hand this fun book to the kid who’s struggling to find themself, and to the kid who might be waiting to be their friend. 

The Real Riley Mayes
By Rachel Elliott
Harper Collins, 2022
ISBN: 9780062995742

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation:  Lesbian
Character Representation: Lesbian

Coming Back

Coming Back is a romance adventure about magic, family, and the journeys we go on to find ourselves. A mythic sensibility and appealing artwork in dreamy, saturated earth tones makes this young adult title by creator Jessi Zabarsky a contemporary fairy tale to look out for.

Valissa and Preet are young and in love. According to the customs of their island of magical women, the next step in their relationship is straightforward—wait for a seed to wash ashore, plant it, and tend to it until it hatches a child. (Wait, where did you think babies came from?)

But Valissa goes off-script when a dangerous enchantment infests the village library. Valissa is a rare non-magic user, and she’s tired of being the dependent one in her partnership with magically talented Preet. She volunteers to descend into the library catacombs alone to safeguard the village from danger. Before she departs, a seed comes ashore for her and Preet, but they make the heartbreaking decision to return it to the waters—the village won’t allow Preet to raise a child without a partner at her side.

Time passes without any word from Valissa, and Preet is visited by the seed again. This time, she impetuously decides to raise the child by herself. Soon the community discovers her transgression, and she and her daughter are exiled. Even as Valissa descends into the library and excavates its uncanny secrets, Preet and her daughter go on their own surreal journey of self-discovery. What both women uncover will test their relationship—and the foundations of their society.

I loved the strangeness at the heart of Coming Back. Zabarsky’s artwork is cozy and accessible, with folksy scenes of homemaking and village camaraderie and a queer, multiracial cast. Yet its cottagecore charms are paired with odd, pleasantly incongruous images: tending to a leafy seed-child, exploring an otherworld of weird creatures, traveling through Wonderland-like portals in a magical library. Sometimes this dream-logic approach to plot makes for a puzzling read, with story beats that don’t seem entirely congruous with what’s come before. Still, my emotional investment and the pleasure of spending time in this world made for an engaging reading experience with a heartfelt resolution.

Coming Back is a bold, delightfully queer reimagining of what it means to be a family, as well as a parable about the power of questioning the expectations that are placed on us. At a disruptive time when many of us are forging our own paths in the face of self-doubt and dislocation, both teen and adult readers will find magic and affirmation in this book.

Coming Back
By Jessi Zabarsky
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9780593125434

Publisher Age Rating: 12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Lesbian,

The Legend of Auntie Po

Borrowing from the world of an invented lumber camp hero and his blue ox*,the author re-frames the familiar narratives of Paul Bunyan as a Chinese tale, told by the thirteen-year-old protagonist to the appreciative children in the lumber camp. Mei’s concocted Auntie Po is a Chinese giantess guardian who, aided by her blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, protects them from giant mosquitoes as well as outside devious enterprises. The children, both white and black, find these tales soothing as well as amusing. Alas, there are no Chinese children allowed in the camp other than Mei herself. The young protagonist, Mei, lives with her father in a Sierra Nevada lumber camp in 1885. Her father is the camp cook and Mei helps out by baking the most fantastic pies. Ah Hao, a Chinese immigrant, cooks for the white workers who have board as part of their salary and the Chinese workers who live outside of the camp itself and are not provided with board or part of the camp life.

The power of the tales’ characters and the telling of the stories become the backbone of this moving graphic novel. Within the storytelling and outside, in the historical recreation of the lumber camp itself, Shing Yin Khor delves into weighty and relevant matters such as identity, grief, loyalty, gender issues, privilege, racism, and family in an uplifting and honest manner for young readers. This is a tale where the telling of stories and the power of storytelling shine!

Mei and her father’s life are filled with hard work, but there is joy and friendship within the camp until they experience severe repercussions from the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. This piece of legislation renders their quiet life style amuck.  Not even the famous pies seem to calm matters down, but the stories of the adventures of Auntie Po and her blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, help both Mei and her listeners navigate the muddy waters that are the result of decreed prejudice. During this time of introspection Mei realizes that her close friendship with Bee, the white daughter of the camp manager, is not quite as she hoped since Mei looks to Bee as a romantic partner, but Bee has a different future in mind. The honest and nuanced portrayals of friendships between both Mei and Bee and their two fathers highlights the distinct levels of privilege afforded the two families.

Khor’s digital pencil and hand-painted watercolor illustrations are as straightforward as her text. The illustrations of the camp scenes are factually accurate and those of the fantastical characters in the stories of Auntie Po intermingle with the historical world, alluding to their possible existence for Mei in times of stress. The backgrounds of the frames are predominantly white, while the bulk of the illustrations are infused with colour and emotion. The efficient use of diverse sized frames embodies the emotional pressure of the main characters when dealing with various degrees of grief, death, anger, discrimination, anxiety, and joy. The fresh, dramatic line work and muted watercolors depict both the perilous realities of logging and the occasional moments of serenity successfully. The openings to the individual chapters are illuminated with the thematic collections of tools of the logging camp and of their kitchens, offering the young reader further knowledge about the activities of loggers and cooks.

The back matter includes a brief bibliography and an author’s note where Khor acknowledges the Indigenous peoples on whose traditional lands this work of historical fiction takes place. “If history failed us, fiction will have to restore us.” – Shing Yin Khor, Afterword (286)

Highly recommended for all library collections.

*Although the story of Paul Bunyan mostly originated as advertising for logging companies, it eventually entered oral tradition in America.

The Legend of Auntie Po
By Shing Yin Khor
Penguin Random House, 2021
ISBN: 9780525554882

Publisher Age Rating: 9-13

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Chinese-American
Character Representation: Chinese-American, Lesbian, Genderqueer


In her new home of Piedmont, Becca yearns for what every high schooler desires: a place to fit in and a squad to call her own. Much to her surprise, the most popular clique in school immediately accepts her into their fold, bonding over shopping trips, gossip, and… bloodlust? On a full moon’s night, Arianna, Amanda, and Marley reveal their secret: they are werewolves, preying on skeevy boys who target unsuspecting girls at parties, and they want her to join the pack. Filled with a need for acceptance, Becca embraces the transformation, feeling a kind of strength she never had before. But with this power comes a dangerous hunger that rattles her to her core and tests her morals. Tensions only flare higher as longstanding rules are broken, authority in the pack is questioned, and one wrong kill threatens to expose them all. In this fast-paced, strikingly illustrated graphic novel, Squad perfectly balances its elements of drama and horror, though unfortunately does not live up to the full potential of its story.

Personal tidbit about me, I love werewolves, they’re my favorite monster, star in my favorite horror films, and can be abundantly diverse in terms of storytelling and design. I also love the girl gang trope found in films like Heathers and The Craft, which this comic utilizes perfectly, as I found so many parallels between this comic and the latter film. Naturally, I was excited to dive into a story about a pack of female werewolves taking a bite out of the patriarchy in a way only werewolves can, but was ultimately disappointed once I reached the final page.

Most of my issues with this comic comes from its story and how certain elements do not receive any development that would have made it more memorable. The themes of Squad, such as finding community, reclaiming agency and control from potential aggressors, and challenging oppression towards women are all there, but become muddled due to its fast pace and short page length. Standing at around two hundred pages, this does not give Squad the time it deserves to properly flesh out its message, characters, or lore and, as a result, its impact is compromised significantly. Though the comic strives to highlight female empowerment, the internalized misogyny shown by the main characters, exhibited through fatphobic remarks and moments of victim blaming, is seldom addressed or even combated. There are also several microaggressions committed against Becca, who is Asian, that receive the same treatment, which is odd considering they mainly come from her eventual love interest. Seeing this, I was waiting to see how the climax would handle these moments, if they were to serve some purpose for a more nuanced message about feminism or the effects of, as Ms. Norbury so eloquently put it in Mean Girls, “girl on girl crime.” Unfortunately, those scenes just sit within the story, unanswered for.

Some of the characters and their dynamics almost exist as afterthoughts, appearing through the uneven character development of our main cast, or the tacked-on romantic relationship between Becca and Marley that begins nearly fifty pages before the end of the comic. While it is always wonderful to see more LGBTQ+ representation in young adult graphic novels, it still needs to be quality representation that has enough time and focus devoted to make it truly resonating. What is truly disappointing about Squad is that its lacking elements could have worked, if only given a little more time to breathe, develop, and not feel so constrained by its own page length.

The saving grace of the comic would definitely be Lisa Sterle’s illustrations, which evoke an engaging atmosphere that revels in the story’s horror aspects. In the more suburban scenes, the colors are flatter, more evenly toned to match the domestic setting, but, in moments of high emotion or violence, Sterle incorporates a startling scarlet red, making these scenes stand out in a perfectly visceral way. The character designs are memorable, giving off a more modern Archie Comics vibe while having their own identity. Sterle deciding to give the squad’s wolf forms a leaner, more emaciated look is a good touch, tying in nicely with their insatiable appetites, though having them all mostly be different shades of brown makes it difficult to tell who is who at times.

Fans of series like Riverdale, Teen Wolf, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will appreciate the dramatic and horror elements of the story, and for teen readers there is the additional appeal of connecting with a high school setting and the social issues brought up in the story. As Squad has multiple instances of gore and violence, along with one moment of near sexual assault, I would agree with the publisher-given age rating of 14 and up. While I would not recommend this comic as a must have for a collection, it may interest librarians and educators looking to include titles that share the appeal of the previously mentioned series or have a high circulation of female-centered, character-driven stories.

By Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Art by  Lisa Sterle
Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2021
ISBN: 9780062943149

Publisher Age Rating: 14+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese-American, Bisexual, Jewish
Character Representation: Black, Japanese-American, Lesbian

Sunstone, Book One

Sunstone may be one of the few comics that can boast that most of its readers first read a few pages at a time on social media. It is also a comic many fans will deny having read. This is because Sunstone is a work of erotica. It is also, in equal parts, a coming-of-age story, a rom-com, and a slice of life sitcom.

Sunstone is, by the admission of author and artist Stjepan Sejic, largely plotless. This is because the story that became Sunstone started out as a side project Sejic posted on DeviantArt to amuse himself and to keep from burning out on other projects. Sejic relates the full story in this volume in the afterword, but the short version is that he started out drawing short, funny comic strips about a pair of women in a consensual BDSM relationship and then started wondering how these two nerdy, funny women wound up meeting.

The two women in question are Ally and Lisa. Ally is a computer programmer and something of a loner, with no friends apart from her ex-boyfriend Alan. (The relationship ended after they both realized they were Dominants after several years of experimenting in college.) Lisa is an aspiring erotica writer who has yet to act on her submissive fantasies in real life. As Sunstone opens, the two women agree to meet in person after a long flirtation online and what they intend to be something fun and light quickly becomes more serious, to the surprise of both women, neither of whom has ever had a female lover or a dominant/submissive relationship before.

This could have become sleazy or exploitive quite easily, but Sejic’s sense of humor shines throughout, even in the parts of Sunstone that are meant to be purely erotic. As Lisa notes in the book’s introduction, Sunstone is a love story, first and foremost. The fact that it is also full of “hot lesbian bondage sex” is incidental to the fact that the story is all about who Lisa and Ally are as people and why they fall head over heels in love, despite their mutual reluctance to get involved in something serious. For those who aren’t into romance, Sunstone is also a hilarious comedy which mocks those people who think the BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey was at all accurate to how the subculture truly works.

Sejic’s artwork is as strong as his scripting and dialogue, with each character having a memorable and unique appearance. This is rather important as most of the characters, male and female, are redheads. (A fact which Ally jokes about as she looks around at her friends at one point.) There are a variety of body types on display—literally so, in some pages. Despite the many splash pages and pin-ups, Sejic has a tremendous gift for story flow and guiding the reader’s eye to where it needs to go on pages without clear panel structures.

Sunstone is rated for audiences 18+ and rightly so. This Is not a graphic novel for the prudish, which should not be surprising given the subject matter. However, while this is an erotic comic with men and women in various states of undress throughout and frank discussions of sex, sexuality, and kinks, it is still a story about people and love.

Sunstone: Book One 
By Stjepan Sejic
Image Top Cow, 2017
ISBN: 9781534301504

Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Bisexual, Lesbian,


GraveneyeThe sentient mansion of Graveneye is more introspective than haunted. It feels protective, fond, proud, and curious. But it tells us it does not feel remorse. The house tells the story of its beloved owner Isla. Even though Isla’s lifetime is only a quarter of its own, you get the impression that the house loves her best. No one understands Isla the way the house does. No one else hears her red voice and embraces her hunter nature. A new maid, Marie, is hired to care for the house and her timid presence pricks the interest of Isla and her home. We see her before we see Isla, a keyhole filled with bright red leads to the front door opening on its own. Marie’s entrance is marked by a bite from the house, the door’s strike plate cutting her hand open and spilling bright red drops across the greyscale panels. The relationship between Isla and Marie blooms slowly, keeping pace with Marie’s transformation from a woman curled inward by domestic abuse to one open to warmth and comfort. It’s impossible to resist being enchanted by the story, to feel the love of the house.

Even though the house is showing you Isla’s history. Even though you know Isla is foremost a hunter. Even though you know it’s a horror story, not a romance. 

The writing is spellbinding. While the subject matter is very different from Leong’s award-winning YA sports story A Map to the Sun (to label it too broadly), there’s a similar sense of the story taking just as much time as it needs to be told. With a languorous pace and gothic flourishes, it meanders through the story, showing flashbacks of Isla’s life, her hunting trips in the surrounding woods, and even speculates at Marie’s terrible home life. The house uses imagery of trees and buildings in its narration: Isla has “skin that looked not unlike the lightning struck oak in the courtyard. She was as regal as a maple” and Marie is a “young spruce-white wisp of a girl”. It reads like a fairytale. Isla is a powerful, darkly flawed character. Leong doesn’t pull any punches, we see some of the most horrifying parts of Isla’s past early on, but she remains fascinating. Marie seems to believe she’s in a different kind of story. The contrast is jarring and almost as violent as the action. 

Anna Bowles provides the art to Leong’s script. Unlike Leong’s kaleidoscope-hued A Map to the Sun, the grayscale pages of Graveneye are filled with the shades of a stormy sky. In flashes of blood and the copious gore, bright red pierces the gray. It also appears as an accent to intense emotional moments. The lines are sketchy and the backgrounds lush. The house’s finery and architecture looms large. At times the character faces can be indistinct and lacking the polish of other moments, though the various anatomical sections show a lot of skill.  The art carries a heavy load, fleshing out the characters. Seeing the emotion flit across the faces of the women makes broad changes to the house’s words. Isla is first shown in a full page splash, standing bold and strong, her clothing lining every muscled curve and angle of her body, juxtaposed with Marie’s tense body broken up by jagged panels, in a messy sweater and sneakers. There are no dialog bubbles, the house rarely feels the need to tell us what the characters are saying. Its narration comes in neat boxes or floating freely on the page. Every visual element serves the mood and motion of the story, it joins the writing perfectly. For a story told entirely in voice over narration there is a delicately balanced ratio of text to page. This is an incredible graphic novel debut for Bowles and I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

Any adult library collection where horror comics circulate well should pick this up immediately. Its closest graphic novel relative is Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle, but horror classics like The Shining, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle also share a lot of DNA with it. In case the blood red cover and the woman with blood coating her chin and neck didn’t tell you, there’s a lot of gore and violence in Graveneye. There’s a scientific context surrounding it in the book that makes it feel less gratuitous, but it should still be noted for content and to keep this in the adult category. There is also a lot of female nudity, but no sex. 

Open the cover to Graveneye, step into its welcoming halls, but be warned that this is a story that will linger in your mind long after the last page.

By Sloane Leong
Art by Anna Bowles
TKO Studios, 2021
ISBN: 9781952203176

Publisher Age Rating: 15 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Chinese, Mexican,  Native Hawaiian
Character Representation: Lesbian

The Goddamned, vols 1-2

“A stick of dynamite.” I remember, at a conference, a librarian using this metaphor to describe graphic novels that were sure to cause controversy, whether with their visual depictions of sex and/or violence, or tackling situations that were sure to offend at least a few patrons. Her words, even after all these years, stuck with me because she described how many graphic novels gather reputations of being too taboo for a library to even consider purchasing them. The stick-of-dynamite metaphor sprang into my mind as I read Jason Aaron and r.m. Guéra’s series of stories drenched in blood and religion, The Goddamned, which includes Vol. 1: Before the Flood and Vol. 2: The Virgin Brides.

Many are familiar with the story of Noah and the Ark, but Aaron’s story shows why God decided to flood the land: basically, it was a brutal world full of viscerally depicted depravity and violence. Navigating this land in Before the Flood, is Cain, brother of Abel and the first murderer. He wanders this barbaric landscape searching for a way to die, and there are plenty of marauders and zealots with axes and swords who will happily oblige him. What Cain ends up finding among the carnage in this world is a reason to live. The Virgin Brides depicts a seemingly more idyllic place where there are only women, an order of holy sisters who prepare young girls to accept their place as being Brides of the Sons of God. But two girls, rebellious Jael and obedient Shaari, soon suspect that the nuns are keeping secrets, including what happens to the girls once they are married, and what lies beyond the mountain.

These tales seem to be at least a few sticks of dynamite, beginning with the setting, a reimagining of Biblical times that’s dialed up the Old Testament savagery. The celestial beings in this story, though not shown, are depicted as more monstrous than the humans who serve them, even connecting them with this realm’s monsters. The graphic depiction of these times may offend many of your more religious patrons, but these stories are also very solid. The first looks at how even a man whose existence is inexorably tied to violence can find redemption. The second looks at the dangers of groupthink, as well as presenting a coming-of-age narrative that, although present in a book full of very adult situations, is no less meaningful. Aaron shows an aptitude in creating villains who are truly despicable. Vol. 1’s villain, Noah, the architect of the Ark, is portrayed as a controlling zealot, and the nunnery that keep Jael and Shaari prisoner feel their actions, no matter how heinous, are not only justified but noble. Aaron shows he can create both heroes and antiheroes as Cain and the two girls fleeing captivity are ones the reader can root for no matter how bloody their hands get.

The fights in these stories take place in a primitive world gorgeously illustrated by Guéra, full of casual nudity, scarred flesh, and blood-soaked spears. Battles are bloody, wounds will induce wincing, and readers with sensitive stomachs may find them flip-flopping. Guéra’s skill with depicting expressions also helps the reader develop empathy with the characters, especially considering the physical and emotional wringers Aaron puts them through.

The Goddamned can seem like a book ready to explode into a selector’s face, but this series is also a great example of graphic novel storytelling. Aaron shows his understanding of a redemption arc as Cain finds something to fight for in this savage era. The writer also evokes many elements of the best high fantasy as Shaari and Jael trek away from a life they’ve always known. Guéra’s art depicts epic, foreboding landscapes and the anguish in the faces of these characters. I’m thinking that perhaps a more apt metaphor for this series might be a jalapeno pepper, or perhaps a ghost pepper. It’s guaranteed to have a spicy kick, there could even be a little bit of pain, but there’s also a good chance that people who try this book will end up greatly enjoying it.

The Goddamned, Volumes 1 & 2
By Jason Aaron
Art by R. M. Guéra
Image, 2017-2021
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781632157003
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781534317208
Publisher Age Rating: Mature

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Lesbian

The Greatest Thing

The Greatest ThingWinifred is alone and lost. It is the first day of her sophomore year of high school, and her two best friends (well, only friends) transferred to a private school. Hidden under baggy clothes and behind her shyness, Winifred starts the year alone and friendless. 

Sarah Winifred Searle wrote and illustrated The Greatest Thing, a graphic novel based on her own high school experiences that explores mental health and the importance of relationships.

Searle uses beautiful and lyrical text through Winifred’s inner dialogue as she explores her depression, eating disorder, and sexuality. A pattern of wavy lines flows like water over Winifred when she is at her lowest and most lonely throughout the book, but through genuine friendships and the help of a mental health professional, Winifred finds her way back to the surface. 

Second to Winifred’s own self-exploration, the relationships between Winifred, Oscar, and April is central to the story. Each one is struggling to find themselves and their place. Oscar is bi and love-sick over a recent ex, and despite his intelligence, he struggles in school when teachers often dismiss what he has to offer. April has parents who are often absent but also controlling. Together they help Winifred accept her body and herself. She still feels alone and struggles with her depression, but the encouragement from her friends gives Winifred the courage to find the support she needs. 

The three decide to collaborate on a set of zines. Oscar writes the story through poetry and Winifred illustrates. April then publishes the zine with the help of a photocopier. The zines explore the book’s themes of depression and isolation through the story of a cursed prince who is locked in a tall tower with no means of escape. 

The zines look exactly as they are supposed to, something done with heart by talented high school students. Searle also includes a 3-page spread that describes, step by step, April’s process for making a zine.

Winifred is fat and ashamed of her body. She often avoids eating in front of other people, and at one point has a panic attack because someone gifts her sweets and is paralyzed in how to respond. She doesn’t want to be the fat girl excited about sweets. She regularly eats dairy despite being lactose intolerant and gets horribly sick each time: “A dark feeling inside me told me that if I was going to act gross and fat, might as well eat something that would punish me later.” It is not until later in the book that she recognizes these patterns as part of an eating disorder. 

Searle has a simplistic illustration style with distinct but soft lines and colors. She uses purple for many of the outlines and shadows, a choice that mirrors her writing. Few things are spoken directly, or drawn with harsh contrast, but instead handled with a light touch. I think the purple lines might also help remind us that things are not as bleak as they feel to Winifred. 

This book includes depictions of eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and suicidal ideation. While this book is a story of fiction, Winifred’s pain and experiences are based on Searle’s own high school experience. I am not qualified to speak specifically to the ways these issues are handled, but from my point of view, it felt authentic.

Many of our students and teens struggle with depression, their identity, feelings of isolation, eating disorders, and much more. They might find comfort in Winifred’s story. These stories are important to include in our collections, but it is also important that these stories are told authentically and with hope. I recommend this for high school and teen graphic novel collections. 

The Greatest Thing  
By Sarah Winifred Searle
First Second, 2022
ISBN: 9781250297235

Publisher Age Rating: 14-18

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Lesbian,  Eating Disorder