Gender Queer: A Memoir

Gender Queer Deluxe EditionGender Queer: A Memoir begins with an arresting image. As a student, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, taped over two pages of eir sketchbook with blank pieces of paper. The pages concealed an autobiographical comic about gender created for a school assignment, a topic that filled Kobabe with discomfort. In the opening of Gender Queer, we’re shown the censored pages—then, with an immensely satisfying “RIPPP!”, Kobabe tears away the paper, revealing the title page of Gender Queer itself.

Gender Queer is the self-portrait of a queer artist developing the confidence to tell eir story, in eir own words and on eir own terms. Narrating Kobabe’s gender journey from early childhood to the present, this graphic memoir chronicles eir efforts to build a life that affirms every piece of eir identity. There isn’t a single pivotal coming-out scene; instead, Kobabe embarks on a slow, continuous project of self-expression and self-knowledge, with results as precise and dazzling as the constellations that decorate the cover of this deluxe edition.

Maia Kobabe’s story begins with a California childhood spent catching snakes, making art, and feeling completely out of step with eir peers. A series of early crushes helps Maia to realize e’s bisexual, but this doesn’t explain the deeper discomfort e feels with eir body and assigned gender. Confused and discouraged, Maia catches hold of a pair of lifelines—coming to books as a late reader, and joining a Queer Straight Alliance at eir high school. Discovering stories that reflect eir own experiences, e begins to feel less alone.

Entering adulthood, Maia finds a word—genderqueer—that reflects the complexity of eir experiences. Just as important, e continues to collect touchstones that affirm eir sense of self instead of eroding it. There’s the first time e listens to David Bowie; the male figure skating costume that fills em with gender euphoria; the queer fan fiction that sparks eir sense of the erotic, yet ultimately makes em realize that e prefers reading about romance to experiencing it firsthand. Kobabe’s sophisticated artwork explodes to life in these moments, expressive full-color panels featuring inventive imagery such as Maia’s gender leafing out like a young seedling, or Bowie’s music as a full-body, cosmic experience (complete with rocketship). 

Yet as Maia pieces together identity labels—nonbinary, mostly asexual, queer—and builds a network of supportive friends and family, the obstacles grow. Maia knows that as long as e minimizes eir gender, eir relationships and sense of self will suffer. But loved ones offer pushback when e tries to explain nonbinary identities; Pap smears are a source of trauma that medical professionals rarely take seriously; and everyday interactions come with a cost: Maia must stand up for emself, over and over, just to feel comfortable in eir own skin. This is the Maia who censored eir own sketchbook, and at the close of the memoir, this self-effacement is still palpable. Now a working artist, e hesitates over whether to share eir pronouns with students. “I think I’m carrying more fear than I need,” e realizes.

If Gender Queer is an act of bravery, it’s also a funny, sophisticated, deeply relatable coming-of-age story about charting your way alongside books and best friends into adulthood. Accessible but never didactic, Kobabe’s deft storytelling and polished, appealing artwork excels at communicating with a broad readership. For a queer and trans audience that has rarely encountered nonfiction centering nonbinary experiences, Kobabe’s memoir delivers affirmation, while for readers who are new to learning about queer identities, it educates and invites empathy. Gender Queer is also smart about the way it presents sexual material; this book doesn’t shy from frank discussions of sexuality, masturbation, and sexual health, but the content is contextualized in a way that is sensitive to the needs of younger readers, and Kobabe takes care to avoid explicit sexual depictions of underage characters.

The 2022 deluxe edition collects process pieces and select issues of the original Genderqueer comic strips, providing a snapshot of Kobabe’s creative process. An introduction by She-Ra and the Princesses of Power creator ND Stevenson reflects on the impact of Gender Queer since its initial publication in 2019. Stevenson writes about the book’s significance to himself and queer loved ones, as well as, briefly, those who have sought to remove it from public schools and libraries in “a last, desperate attempt to hammer an infinitely complex world into a small, unthreatening shape.”

Maia Kobabe’s introspective, joyful memoir is an important contribution to comics literature. It is highly recommended for any library collection serving adult and older teen readers.

Gender Queer: A Memoir, Deluxe Edition
By Maia Kobabe
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781637150726

Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Asexual, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary

Silk Hills

In horror, any writer can go through the standard list of monsters, such as vampires, ghosts, Frankenstein-made monsters, and craft their own unique story from them. There are, however, a multitude of monsters that simply haven’t gotten as much exposure (or overexposure) as, say, fast and/or slow zombies. One creature that deserves more love is the Mothman, a bizarre creature of Appalachian folklore that brings to mind deserted country roads and the distinct flapping of monstrous wings. Luckily, there are some good Mothman stories if one knows where to look. One such story is Silk Hills, a Mothman-centered mystery full of offbeat nightmare images.

Silk Hills is a lot like many tourist towns that have a local legend, but it has also seen better days. Once a thriving town, the only trades that make money now are selling Mothman merchandise and psychotropic moth dust, which is the center of the local drug trade. It is here that Beth Wills, a war veteran and private detective, has come to find a business owner’s son. She soon discovers that Silk Hills isn’t like other towns. Along with the moth dust drug trade, there are other animals unique to the area, like deer that might be hunting you instead of the other way around, and of course, there’s the Mothman.

Readers who are fans of supernatural strangeness will find a lot they love about writers Ryan Ferrier and Brian Level’s story. It’s a standard tale of a stranger entering a small town and suddenly finding themselves in over their head. But having Beth as the main protagonist means she will guide the readers through this strange place while also bringing along her own emotional baggage, from her disintegrating love life to moments of PTSD. There are some real internal struggles going on within Beth that are just as fierce as the supernatural and human protagonists who want to keep Silk Hills’ secrets secret.

Kate Sherron’s artwork serves Ferrier’s and Level’s story well. The figures aren’t really drawn in a realistic way one sees in a lot of horror comics, their shapes befitting more of a Saturday Morning cartoon, but Silk Hills is a place, and a graphic novel, that is always slightly askew. Many times the book segues into nightmare territory where the environment and the people in it twist like taffy (even the deer that permeate the book are not immune to becoming nightmare fodder). The psychotropic properties of the moth dust allows Silk Hills to melt and warp into funhouse mirror reflections, even as it draws heavily on hallucinations/symbolism to keep the reader guessing as to what is real, what is not, and which images are up to interpretation.

This book will definitely appeal to fans of X-Files and Twin Peaks, television shows full of paranormal mysteries and stomach-tightening unease, even as it deals with some very adult issues like economic hardships and PTSD. This might even be a book tailor-made for rural libraries with a dedicated horror fanbase, which might be rare. However, somebody has to be out there buying Mothman merchandise and they might just enjoy a trip to the strange and wonderful town of Silk Hills.

Silk Hills
By Ryan Ferrier, Brian Level
Art by Kate Sherron
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781637150382

Publisher Age Rating: O for older audiences

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost

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

Chef’s Kiss

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

Orcs in Space, vols. 1-2

When a couple StarBleep officers decide to land their state of the art ship on a strange planet and go for a stroll, they inadvertently unleash a wildly unpredictable force on the rest of the universe—orcs, in space!

Orcs in Space from Oni Press is a sci-fi/fantasy mashup from the co-creator of Rick and Morty. Finding themselves unwelcome among their own people, the orc trio of Gor, Kravis, and Mongtar stumble into the untended StarBleep ship where they quickly befriend the AI D.O.N.A. and launch themselves into the great unknown. Our orcish heroes have simple desires—violence, killing what they eat, and then a good brawl to wrap it all up. But far from home and with the most advanced StarBleep technology at their fingertips, they’ll soon discover that there is more to life in a vast universe than they could ever have imagined.

Guided by D.O.N.A., the future looks bright for the three friends, especially since StarBleep can hardly imagine that anyone would lie to them or steal their prized property. Unfortunately, other denizens of space are not so friendly. Space rats and fluffy biker gangs—bounty hunters, robots, and one very angry StarBleep officer—it doesn’t take long for the orcs to ruffle some feathers. And as maybe not so peaceful D.O.N.A. questions where she came from, the orcs may find themselves in for more adventure than they bargained for. If the orcs manage to survive the troubles they come across, then only one question remains, will the rest of the universe survive the orcs?

Unsurprising for a co-creator of Rick and Morty, the story of Orcs in Space is bursting with humor and mayhem. While maintaining a loose overall plot, the first two volumes of the series mostly take the orcs from one adventure to the next as they try to understand their new surroundings and find their place—in space! The jokes are silly and sometimes immature, but often entertaining. The worlds and characters are imaginative and the blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements delivers an excellent mashup that genre fans are sure to appreciate. With this series, what you see is pretty much what you get. Orcs go to space—complications ensue. But the creators know what they’re aiming for, and the deliver on that point consistently from start to finish with a pace that charges forward while never getting ahead of itself.

Matching the tone of the story, the cartoony style of bright colors and fast action is well-suited to both the tone and the content of the comic. Characters and plot are clear, the large panels are engaging, and the visual humor serves the story just as much as the writing. From exclusive clubs to desolate planets, there is never a dull moment from page one onward.

Oni Press does not list an age rating for this title and the target audience is honestly a little unclear. Between the barf jokes (excuse me, ha-lorp jokes) and the straightforward, humorous storytelling, much of this series could be suitable for younger teens. However, a few moments of cartoon, albeit graphic violence, nudge the target audience a bit higher. Regardless, Orcs in Space remains suitable for younger readers of Rick and Morty while still holding enough similarity to entertain existing fans of these creators. Anyone who enjoys comic space fantasy with a sometimes low sense of humor will find plenty to enjoy in these pages. And there are enough nods to existing franchises that genre fans can enjoy the elements of parody as well. On the other hand, if you’re looking for sophistication, this probably isn’t the series for you.

In summary, Orcs in Space is nothing revelatory, but it delivers on its promise of genre mayhem and wacky fun and would be a worthy addition to any collection with teen or adult genre readers looking for some light entertainment and orcish misadventures through an unwitting galaxy.

Orcs in Space Vols. 1-2
By Justin Roiland, Rashad Gheith, Abed Gheith, Mike Tanner
Art by Francois Vigneault
Oni Press, 2021
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781620107560
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781637150177

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)

Tiny fox and great boar, vol 1: There

This collection of gentle, thoughtful stories paired with skillful watercolors will be visually appealing to certain audiences.

The first story is titled simply “Here.” With a burgundy leaf and a swipe of rich brown the reader is introduced to Tiny Fox who lives happily alone under an apple tree. Then Great Boar appears and Tiny Fox has to learn to share, but it is only when they are separated at the end of the chapter that Tiny Fox comes to appreciate his new companion. In the following brief stories, “Together,” “Apart,” and “There,” the two experience the beauties of autumn and the cold and hunger of winter, Together they find the courage to travel to find new adventures.

Tiny Fox’s coloring changes from pale browns to rich orange, but Great Boar retains his reddish brown hue throughout the story. Their comparative sizes vary; on the cover, Tiny Fox sits daintily on Great Boar’s snout, but throughout the story he appears at only a fraction of Great Boar’s size, curled in a disconsolate ball, or trotted cautiously behind his new friend. Great Boar, shown with a scattering of bristles and a fang-like tusk, trots about on short, stubby legs, but nevertheless is able to scale a tree, roll down a hill, and curl up comfortingly beside Tiny Fox.

There is no translator listed, although the text appears to have been translated from the Polish; an edition was also published in Spanish in 2021. Besides the illustration for a picture book, That Night, A Monster, this appears to be the first appearance of award-winning artist Kolomycka in a mainstream US press. The beginning of each story has text boxes with simple explanatory sentences, explaining that Tiny Fox is happy alone, that winter is coming and it is cold. The large panels and full-page spreads transition to smaller panels, sometimes wordless, showing the two friends navigating the seasonal challenges and quietly discussing whether they should leave their apple tree, where to find food, and which direction they want to travel in. Only one other creature, an owl, appears near the end of the story to offer advice after they quarrel. Both Tiny Fox and Great Boar use male pronouns.

There’s a gentle humor in the illustrations of Great Boar and Tiny Fox rolling down a hill, their wary, sidewise glances, and their scrambling attempts to climb a tree, but this is more of a gentle story of friendship and the changing seasons. Readers who are more familiar and comfortable with the raucous humor of Dog Man or the clear-cut art and brief text of beginning graphic novels like Cranky Chicken and Narwhal and Jelly are unlikely to be drawn towards this more European conception of comic art, but those who enjoy quieter, more reflective stories and the slow passage of seasons will find this a restful and satisfying story.

Hand this to young readers who enjoy the variety of art styles seen in Toon Books or the quirkier stories of Graphic Universe. This would also pair well with units on art styles and watercolors and the timeless, philosophical story will appeal to some older readers as well.

Tiny Fox and Great Boar, vol 1: There
By Berenika Kolomycka
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781637150207

Publisher Age Rating: age 6+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Picture Books (3-8)
Creator Representation:  Polish

Witchy, Vols. 1 & 2

In volume one, Nyneve is just trying to get through school without exploding any buildings or attracting the military’s attention during the conscription trials. Unfortunately, both happen within the span of a few days. While the building is easily repaired with magic, the Witch Guard will not be dissuaded from conscripting Nyneve into service even though she had a poor showing in the trials. In a panic, Nyneve rushes home and cuts off all her ankle length hair, which she has been hiding under a shortening glamour. But cutting your hair is a punishable offense since it diminishes your magic power, so Nyneve finds herself on the run. Her mother stays behind to slow Nyneve’s pursuers and is captured and placed under house arrest. Nyneve travels into the wilds and finds herself rescued by a raven. Ravens are usually spies for the Witch Guard, but Banana can speak without the aid of magic and wants Nyneve to join the resistance. 

In volume two, Banana and Nyneve meet new friends and allies as Nyneve continues to question her future and place. Briefly finding a place with a small section of the resistance, Nyneve feels out of place and decides to leave in the night, telling no one. After almost being caught in a city and being reunited with her school friends who were conscripted, Nyneve is willing to follow Banana’s suggestion that she visit a remote broom maker to craft her own transportation. 

Full of Asian and Oceanic cultural references, Witchy is sure to bring more diversity to your graphic novel collection. The unique magic system power measured by hair length, is sure to delight readers looking for something different than the prominent magic school or wand wielding tropes. Since the themes of witch burning, on-page misgendering, and violence are included, this series is intended for teenagers and older teenagers.  

The illustrations have a blended watercolor quality to them and the curvy lines do an excellent job at creating motion and capturing emotion. The care and attention to detail is clear on each page and the creator makes good use of close ups and landscapes to aid the storytelling. The second volume seems to have less action, especially in the second half of the book, but the pacing allows Nyneve to reflect and grow without being rushed in her decisions. 

Witchy is a webcomic and can be found at witchycomic.com. According to the website more volumes past the first two are forthcoming but are currently on hiatus until a different project is finished. 

Witchy, Vols. 1 & 2
By Ariel Slamet Ries
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: vol 1 ISBN: 9781549304811
vol 2 ISBN: 9781637150184

Publisher Age Rating: 13-18

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Australian

Dryad volumes One and Two

In Dryad, twins Rana and Griffon discover a shared magical power, seek their place in the world, and connect to an older extinct magical race. Their parents Morgan and Yale ran away to a secluded and rustic fantasy town, Frostbrook, early in the twins’ life to afford them something close to normalcy, but they are hiding secrets of their own that can and will redefine the world as the twins know it. 

Volume one includes a small-scale invasion on that tiny fantasy town, an escape to a big city, and magic both great and small. Volume two includes plenty of magic but dials back the physical confrontations in favor of drama involving family secrets and opposing schemes. To say more would spoil the big twist at the end of volume one, but I would recommend this to readers of Saga and Wiebe’s own Rat Queens.

Barcelo’s art flourishes in big nature spreads, alien environments, and in depicting magic. Thankfully, the script plays to these strengths repeatedly, treating the reader to pages filled with entwining trees and sparkly spells. Scenes of characters sitting or standing in a room talking are decent enough to do the job, but don’t flow as well as the action sequences. I was also impressed with the coloring from Francesco Segala; different areas have very different tones, so that it’s possible to tell the difference between Frostbrook and the large city of Silver Bay with a glance at the color palette. 

The writing of this book is where I see the most similarities with Saga. The parents are ex-soldiers or mercenaries with a hardened persona beneath the loving surface. An early sequence involving a diaper change finds the same humor in parenting babies that Saga did as well. The dialog is easy to follow and at times quite moving, even if different characters’ motivations can get a bit confusing in volume two. The plot of the book evolves quickly, and the settings vary widely. For me, while I still enjoyed both volumes, I enjoyed the beginning of volume one the most and wish it had continued in the vein of “retired fantasy adventurers as parents,” but other readers may enjoy the plot twist more than I did.

Dryad‘s success lies in how well the twists and tonal shifts are received, which sets it apart from Saga and Rat Queens. I would recommend both of those books for your collection ahead of Dryad, but if those are already in your library this is a good addition to that shelf. The publisher marks these books for an adult audience and I would agree with that, as there is blood, swearing, and brief nudity. 

Dryad Volumes One and Two
By Kurtis Wiebe
Art by  Justin Barcelo
Oni Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781620109359

VolumeISBN
Two9781620109359
One9781620107904

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

Agents of S.L.A.M.

A new challenger has entered the ring! Katie Jones, Black twelve year-old wrestling vlogger extraordinaire, is taking on her heroes—the Agents of S.L.A.M.! Well … she’s interviewing them, that is. She’s been invited to the White House by the president of the United States (who just so happens to be the head of S.L.A.M.) to do a livestream with her idol, Bruno Bravado, and the rest of the team!

But when the World Domination Society threatens S.L.A.M. mid-stream, Katie is suddenly thrust into the top secret side of S.L.A.M. operations: protecting the world from all kinds of dangerous threats. Allegiances and trust are tested as the agents of S.L.A.M. wrestle their way all over Earth and into outer space! Will the team’s prowess be enough? Or will it be down to Katie’s superior wrestling knowledge to save the day? 

From the luchador who never takes off his mask to the intimidating, scary wrestler who’s really just a sweet mama’s boy at heart, middle grade readers will have plenty to enjoy in this story filled to the brim with both wrestling and superhero tropes. The familiarity of the tropes is what helps to make the story entertaining and easy to read. After all, what good is a villain without bumbling henchmen and a secret lair? Can a team of heroes really band together to save the day if there isn’t a plucky young newbie thrown into the mix to help guide them? What about the wise grandma who’s been around forever, but can absolutely still throw solid punches in a space suit? And of course, what about a magical object that can give ultimate power to those who wield it?

Agents of S.L.A.M. has all of these and more, thanks to Dave Scheidt’s fun, engaging writing style. Scheidt’s narrative decision to have the story begin as if readers are watching one of Katie’s vlogs was a smart move, as it brings readers into the story with her from the start, and they’ll want to stick by her to see what happens next. The dialogue throughout is quick and quippy in an age-appropriate, superhero movie way that will appeal to readers looking for something fun and funny. And sprinkled in amongst the adventure and action are beats of deeper emotion, focusing on things like hero worship, sibling relationships and family bonds, and making difficult choices. 

This graphic novel is taken to the next level, of course, with Scoot McMahon’s illustrations. McMahon’s thick, smooth line art combined with the incredibly vibrant, lively palette used by colorist Heidi Black leads to an overall look and style that evokes a kid’s cartoon. This fast-paced, animated vibe makes it feel like you’re really watching the action (especially the wrestling matches) come alive on the page, and is perfectly suited to the narrative Scheidt has created. The character design and body shapes for this diverse cast also feel quite superhero comic book-esque, almost like a more kid-friendly version of a Marvel or DC universe, which works well in combination with the many superhero tropes being evoked here.

TV wrestling is already a campy, over the top form of entertainment, so why not add, “but what if they were superheroes?” to the mix? It certainly pays off for Agents of S.L.A.M., and middle grade readers will enjoy it whether they know anything about wrestling or not. A solid addition to any library collection, hand this book to readers who enjoy graphic novels that are funny and action-packed, with super cool girls leading the way.

Agents of S.L.A.M. Vol.
By Dave Scheidt
Art by  Scoot McMahon
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781637150221

Publisher Age Rating: 9-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: African-American,

A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality

A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality is the latest title from Oni Press’s Limerence imprint, which tries to break down complex topics related to sexuality in 100 pages or less.

It opens with cartoon renditions of the artist/co-author Will Hernandez and co-author Molly Muldoon, who both identify themselves as asexual and set out the premise of the book. They serve as our on-page guides through the title as they explain how dating, sex, growing up, and other topics relate to asexuality. Molly warns the reader that they are not experts, but rather have lived experience and have done their research. 

Asexuality is simply about not feeling sexual attraction. This seems like a fine definition until aromanticism, or until the idea of wanting sex without romance, is brought up. Then we start to discuss the gray-a, or gray-area, term for asexuality and it begins to slide from there. I actually felt like I needed a guide to the guide, so thankfully the authors include links at the end.

For those worried about the placement of the book in a library setting, it does discuss potential content warnings and triggers within before you even meet ‘Molly’ and ‘Will’. For example, it is hard to discuss researching asexuality without also discussing online comments that may be found during this research. Some may be turned away by that content, so Hernandez and Muldoon smartly include that warning before the guide begins. 

I do think this title has a few faults due to trying to fit so much content into 71 pages. While they do a great job discussing most topics, because they jump from topic to topic rather quickly, it is hard to follow. That could be intentional, as I found myself re-reading sections multiple times to make sure I understood them before moving on. The art itself is rather plain, with not much on the page aside from the characters themselves or whatever they are talking about. Again, this could be intentional so as not to distract from the heavy subject matter. 

Finally, I, as a queer librarian, found it a little strange that the authors did not want to take a hard stance about asexuality’s placement in the LGBTQIA+ community. They bring up how in the past ‘A’ has been used to mean ally, but it was likely meant to mean asexual, agender, and aromantic. This is more of a personal fault I had with the title, as I would welcome the opportunity to clear up something asexual people contend with in the queer community.

That being said, A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality mostly offers what the title says it does. I think it would be welcome in any library wanting to add more resources on sexuality that are easily accessible to readers of any age, but that it should really be an additive to an already present collection.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality
By Will Hernandez, Molly Muldoon
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781620108598
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
Series ISBNs and Order

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