Love comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s between adventurous pirates, burgeoning demon hunters, smooth spies, or even your average couple trying to make it all work. Young Men in Love, edited by Joe Glass and Matt Miner, showcases all these relationships and more, containing twenty stories from queer creators devoted to exploring the romantic hurdles and queer joy of male/masculine couples. This graphic novel boasts a variety of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal romance, contemporary slice of life, etc., ensuring that each reader will be able to find at least a story or two to enjoy.
Typical of most anthologies, not every story is going to be as hard hitting as the next one. With an average length of four to eight pages, there are some that struggle to break beyond their concept, leaving the reader more with an idea rather than a fleshed out narrative. The majority of contributors, however, manage to pace their stories so that, though we may not spend much time with these characters, they still leave a great amount of impact. Despite the varying appeal of each story, there is an admirable amount of honesty, vulnerability, and love interwoven within them all. An immense sense of pride lives in these pages that comes from an unwavering self-acceptance and the ability to love openly without shame or fear. Moments of loneliness, depression, and doubt play roles in multiple stories, but they always come around to love in the end, whether it comes from a partner or within themselves.
Given the graphic novel’s notable range in terms of content and themes, there are several stories that display aspects of queerness that are rarely discussed in the community. Ned Barnett and Ian Bisbal’s “Another Name” deals with a trans man realizing his identity and coming out to his partner in what was once a heterosexual relationship, highlighting the fears and anxiety that may come with such a discovery. “Act of Grace,” written by Anthony Oliveira and illustrated by Nick Robles, follows a teen expressing religious guilt to his priest, afraid of how his feelings for a boy may conflict with his Catholic upbringing. Editor Joe Glass, along with Auguste Kanakis, throw in a moving inclusion in “Love Yourself,” which has a character experience the fetishization of plus sized men in the community and how validation and love for someone comes from appreciating and celebrating the whole of them rather than a singular aspect. These are all facets to the queer experience that I have seen firsthand, but seldom are they reflected in media tailored to those they are meant to represent. Seeing these conflicts approached and resolved with such depth and respect allows the reader a touch of hope and comfort, even if they may not entirely relate to it.
Intent on including as many voices and experiences as possible, Young Men in Love also gives a tremendous amount of diverse representation in terms of ethnicity and body type. It shies away from solely depicting the stereotypical skinny, white, gay man, as there are several stories with black, brown, and plus-sized protagonists. What’s so refreshing about these depictions is that, aside from “Another Name” and “Love Yourself,” none of the stories make the characters’ backgrounds the focal point of their conflict. They exist as people foremost, without their identities being a source of added trauma.
As there is a separate artist accompanying each installment, there is a vast variety in art styles, ranging from charmingly cartoonish to engagingly realistic. I will forever throw praise onto Nick Robles, who puts so much life into his textures and instills a healthy dose of emotion and drama into “Act of Grace” through his use of lighting and character expressions. There is something Leyendecker-esque about his style where he captures the male form exceptionally well, making it the perfect fit for this collection. I also really appreciated the yellow tinge given to the palette and borders of Paul Allor and Lane Lloyd’s “The Way Home,” producing a nostalgic effect reminiscent of those old comics that had probably been left in the basement for too long. Overall, there is a vibrant rainbow of color throughout the graphic novel, as the reader is treated to vibrant pastels to moody, atmospheric shadows. Each story, as a result, becomes visually distinct and memorable, even if its content may not have lived up to the one that preceded it. None of the art in this graphic novel disappoints, which brings a certain coherence to all the differing perspectives within.
For fans of uplifting romantic stories with happy endings or layered depictions of queer experiences, Young Men in Love will hit that emotional, sappy spot in spades. As a romance comic, the content is fairly clean, with nothing going further than the occasional cuddle or kiss. The featured protagonists range from being young teens to full adults, so it may appeal most to readers fourteen and up. Librarians and educators looking to obtain graphic novels with positive and varied queer representation from queer creators should consider purchasing this title.
Young Men in Love Vol. By Joe Glass, Matt Miner A Wave Blue World, 2022 ISBN: 9781949518207
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Black, Brazilian, British, Canadian, Greek, Latinx, Malaysian, Mexican-American, Bisexual, Gay, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans Character Representation: Black, British, East Asian, Latinx, Gay, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans, Catholic
Every January, the American Library Association winter conference (now LibLearnX) hosts the announcements of the Youth Media Awards, featuring the selections of the many hard-working committees of the best titles for young readers from babies on up through teens. For...
Canciones from NBM Graphic Novels brings to visual life selected poems from one of Spain’s outstanding literary figures, Federico García Lorca. Drawn from Lorca’s poetry collection of the same name, each piece is combined with fantastic and dreamlike illustrations, creating a striking blend of visual and poetic artforms.
Federico Garcia Lorca published his Canciones in 1927. The title simply translates to Songs in English. Widely influential in his time and beyond, Lorca’s poetry spends much of its time just outside of everyday reality. From a tree lamenting its own inability to grow fruit to a boy searching for his voice which is now with the king of the crickets, the dreamscapes of Lorca’s work nevertheless ring true with lines of striking observation and beauty.
“Day, it’s so hard for me / to let you go away! / You leave filled with me and you return without knowing me,” he writes in “Canción del día que se va” (Song of the Departing Day). Many of Lorca’s poems are filled with longing and regret, while others find their way to whimsy or celebrations of art and beauty. Abstract without being inscrutable, imaginative without losing their grounding in real life, each invites the reader to slow down, to linger, to wander with Lorca’s verses across landscapes real and imagined. They are powerful in their brevity and simple even as they peel back corners of experience and invite the reader to look at the world from a new angle.
This version of Canciones is more than just a collection of Locra’s work, however. Dutch artist Tobias Tak has crafted a visual journey to accompany each selected poem. Weaving both the original Spanish and the English translations into each page or panel of art, the result is a true fusion of writing and illustration. Tak’s style is highly reminiscent of older children’s book imagery, particularly fairy tales. Across these pages, people who look like trees move among anthropomorphic animals while sun and moon look down in pleasure or judgment. Elevating the fantastic dream elements of the poems even higher, Tak demonstrates a clear appreciation for the poetry while simultaneously crafting his own visual narratives to supplement Lorca’s words. Tak delivers us prologues and epilogues, taking these characters on wonderous journeys across land and sea. In his capable hands, each poem flowers into its own narrative while a broader sense of story arises from across progression of each piece, from the opening “Preludio” (Prelude) to the final “De Otro Modo” (In Another Manner). There is no true story here, but as Tak brings a version of Lorca’s vision to life, the collection reaches for a higher meaning than any one of these poems would achieve alone.
The publisher does not appear to assign an age rating to this volume, and there is certainly nothing troubling in the content of the poems or illustrations. That being said, the book will likely appeal most to an adult audience. Younger readers may be intrigued by the imagery, but the sometimes abstract nature of Lorca’s work will hold greatest value for older audiences willing to tease out the complexities of lyrical poetry.
Overall, Canciones is a worthwhile read for any lover of poetry, art, or more literary graphic novels. A relatively quick read, it nevertheless is worth spending time with to absorb the full detail of Tak’s illustrations and ponder the resonance of Lorca’s poetry. While either of these artists is worth appreciating on their own, Canciones is a wonderful blending of the two, finding tension, beauty, and meaning in the melding of two rich, artistic visions.
Canciones By Federico Garcia Lorca Art by Tobias Tak NBM ComicsLit, 2021 ISBN: 9781681122748
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Spanish, 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
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
“Solar punk,” an optimistic, greener version of the steampunk genre, tackles environmental and social issues when envisioning the future. In the future depicted in No One’s Rose, the environmental is the social, as humanity has holed up inside a biodome called The Green Zone, in an attempt to ride out the apocalyptic conditions raging outside. Two white-presenting siblings, Tenn and Seren, are involved with opposing factions within The Green Zone. Is life under protection of the ruling PELU (Post-Environmental-Liberation-Union) as safe as it really seems? How will each of them handle revelations to the contrary?
This self-contained volume collects five issues into a single trade. The first three issues are great at building up The Green Zone as a place full of lore and history, including class tensions and misinformation. Tenn and Seren are bright, observant, and want to help make society the best version of itself. Their methods, however, are polar opposites. Sister Tenn is on the socially stable path of helping a government laboratory research breakthroughs in plant health while brother Seren organizes public demonstrations against the ruling and upper classes. Conspiracies abound, as Tenn’s supervisors recognize her scientific talents as well as unique scapegoat position for their own misdeeds. Meanwhile, Seren’s black boyfriend with the dome’s security force is aiding an approaching coup.
Alberto Alburguerque’s illustrations and Raul Angulo’s colors fill each page with lush scenery. This almost-utopia is full of plants in all modes of life, from the enormous, bio-engineered tree that supports all life in the dome to vegetarian meals to agricultural portrayals. The relatively clean urban life of the upper and lower dome classes contrasts heavily against the dirty, violent outside world of mud, pollution, and lightning storms. The speculative sci-fi nature of the story leads to futuristic props such as multi-legged vehicles, plant-powered breathing masks, and hover carts. Layouts are similarly lush, with plenty of panels and dialogue/monologue bubbles to navigate in some sequences.
What sets No One’s Rose apart from other sci-fi tales about overthrowing a deceptive dystopia is that there are few genuine villains. There are genuine quality of life gaps between the classes, and the dome’s official leadership can be shady, but nobody wants the dome’s residents or its life-sustaining tree to die. The central conflicts are about how the dome can address its shrinking window of opportunity to either invent a new solution or migrate to a new location. An away mission takes characters to an offsite, agrarian town that represents an alternative, more adaptive mode of living. This idea-centric approach means a back half that can feel anticlimactic to anyone expecting a big, conclusive showdown against a clearly coded antagonist. It also means a constructive finale that emphasizes grassroots efforts and community support.
No One’s Rose is one of a kind among sci-fi graphic novels, or at least I haven’t read much else like it. Comics fans don’t often read a story that starts with disruptive protests and leads to conversations about non-human rights and fertilizing techniques. There’s plenty of visual sumptuousness to keep readers following along with all of the ideas presented. Where content matter is concerned, there are four-letter words, some guns and punching, and a bare butt, but they are not the core of the book. I would recommend this series for teens and up.
Additionally, I wrote about the storytelling techniques of the first issue for Comics Bookcase a while back. You can see more about how the book looks and works here.
No One’s Rose By Zac Thompson and Emily Horn Art by Alberto Alburquerque ISBN: 9781939424747 Vault Comics, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus (16+) Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18) Character Traits: Gay Related to…: Book to Comic
You Brought Me The Ocean is not your average coming-of-age and coming out story. Sure, our protagonist, Jake Hyde, lives in a town too small for his aspirations. And, yes, Jake has not yet come to terms with his sexuality. And, of course, his best friend, Maria is tragically in love with him. You Brought Me The Ocean has all the makings of a generic YA novel. But this graphic novel is different for one reason alone: the universe of this story is inhabited by superheroes and villains.
Jake is not only struggling to come out as gay to his family and friends, he is also trying to come to terms with his superhuman ability to control water. Though this is an interesting, and certainly unique, concept the execution of the story falls flat. Unfortunately, You Brought Me The Ocean is not the intricate story of sexual identity wrapped up in themes of self-discovery, defining the “superhero”, and magic realism it deserves to be. Instead, it is a shallow depiction of both the coming out story and the superhero origin story. Neither plot line gets the attention it deserves and, quite frankly, the two concurrent plot lines are not the only victims of this narrative.
Aside from Jake, the characters in this book are all woefully underdeveloped. Jake’s best friend, Maria, is resigned to being identified solely by her unrequited love for Jake and the fact that, unlike Jake, she enjoys living in the desert. Similarly, Jake’s love interest, Kenny, has few defining characteristics. And, as is often a problem with underdevelopment, the dialogue throughout the story is stilted and unrealistic. Let’s look at the following lines of dialogue spoken between Jake and Maria, as they head out on a hiking trip:
Jake: Ready to journey to the ends of the Earth? Maria: So long as we’re back by dinnertime.
The dialogue throughout the entirety of You Brought Me The Ocean carries this same tone. Namely: awkward and cliched.
The artwork is, regrettably, as disappointing as the text. Artist Julie Maroh is perhaps best known for her work on Blue is the Warmest Color; a famous French graphic novel about the tumultuous relationship between two young women. Aside from the fact that Maroh has previously published LGBTQA+-themed work, she seems an odd stylistic choice for You Brought Me The Ocean. Maroh’s often monochromatic coloring washes out pivotal scenes throughout the story. Take, for example, a scene in which Jake uses his water-bending powers to part a flash flood. Rather than bright, deep blues and a menacing, stormy sky painted with grays, the reader gets a wave of neutral colors. Maroh is clearly a talented artist, but her work here clashes too much with the story to be ignored.
Ultimately, this is a disappointing book with an incredibly promising premise. However, I hesitate to discourage adding this to your graphic novel collection entirely, given the dearth of LGBTQA+ representation in the superhero genre. Though You Brought Me The Ocean does not exactly live up to its premise, one can only hope this book is an indication of better—and more LGBTQA+ representative—superhero comics that are yet to come. For now, You Brought Me The Ocean may have to suffice.
You Brought Me The Ocean By Alex Sanchez Art by Julie Maroh ISBN: 9781401290818 DC Comics, 2020
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16) Character Traits: Black, Chinese-American, Gay Creator Highlights: Latinx, Gay
America’s least favorite girl and her infamous bodyguard are back in the second volume of Crowded: Glitter Dystopia, and the action is still as crazy as the things Charlie decides are good ideas. This time, they take a quiet tube trip to Las Vegas, meet up with an old friend of Charlie’s, and hit the road to meet one of Vita’s old friends. Nothing goes wrong and everything is quiet. No, not really; the combination of Vita and Charlie means that nothing goes right, and there’s a whole lot of shooting. Dog is okay though, don’t worry.
With high action series like this, there can be a problem of keeping up the energy without having to constantly up the ante or getting repetitive. Crowded does a fantastic job of pacing in this volume to keep things moving even when the protagonists are facing gunfire. And this volume has a lot of what could be considered downtime, which could really drag, but it manages to stay engaging. Something fantastic about the writing of Crowded is that though yes, there is interpersonal drama, it doesn’t end up just becoming the same story of people not communicating or blaming others for their problems. There’s definitely still a lot to learn about these two, and their complicated lives means they have complicated relationships.
One of the distinctive things about Crowded is its visual style; the art is dynamic, the color palette very strong, and the paneling inventive. Something that really stood out with the first volume was the sense of motion this comic manages to have, and the team kept that same sense in this volume. It can be easy to feel detached from the action since it’s not moving, but Crowded pulls the reader in, partially due to the fantastic use of expressive onomatopoeia. Words like “krak” or “kaboom” aren’t just shaped to follow the line of the action they’re describing, they’re also textured and colored to simulate that action. A similar dedication to detail is seen in the backgrounds, where things like stickers on Vita’s trunk are always in the right place, text on newspapers is there, shop names are readable. This is then supported by the great color palette and paneling, making a very cohesive whole.
There aren’t really content warnings to speak of for this comic that aren’t typical of action films, but yes there is blood and violence. Lots of guns, but also knives and more inventive or unusual weapons on occasion. This volume also has implied sex, though no visible sex acts other than characters straddling others while fully clothed, cuddling while clothed, and kissing. Some mild cursing, but nothing extreme or unusually offensive, either. One of the other great things about Crowded is that it avoids fatphobic comments and heteronormative assumptions, and seems to actively pursue showing diverse bodies.
One problem however is reading this volume digitally; there are several cases of paneling that crosses both facing pages (the pages the book is open to) which translates very choppily into a digital format, since speech bubbles get cut off only to finish a page later if the ebook is set up just to scroll down rather than page across. Not a huge issue, and of course not specific to this series in particular as many comics like to periodically do a full page spread, but something to consider when purchasing physical versus digital.
Crowded is great for fans of action films, parodies, and criticisms of capitalist culture. Seriously, though this comic is very true to the action genre, it is also incredibly clever and funny. It’s an excellent addition to an adult graphic novel collection to round out offerings that involve action without the grit and grimdark of titles like The Boys or Atomic Blonde, while still definitely being inspired by the genre. Also fantastic for fans of the John Wick franchise, because it also has a bit of that wink and nod to the audience and awareness of the genre it exists within.
Crowded, Vol. 2: Glitter Dystopia By Christopher Sebela Art by Ro Stein, Ted Brandt ISBN: 9781534313750 Image, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: T+
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+) Character Traits: Gay, Queer,