Danika reviews Goldie Vance Vol. 1 by Hope Larson (Author) and Brittney Williams (illustrator)

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Aahh, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book with surprise queer content. It’s such a great surprise.

Goldie Vance is an all-ages comic that has been described as Lumberjanes meets Nancy Drew, which I think is a pretty solid assessment. It also gave me hints of Veronia Mars, but that may just be because I haven’t been exposed to many girl detective characters. Goldie works at a hotel with her father, but she also attempts to act as a detective on the side.

For some reason, I kept being surprised that the main character of this is a teenager. I shouldn’t have been: she acts as a valet, so she’s clearly old enough to drive. I think it’s because teenagers are usually drawn in comics as if they were twenty-somethings, so I assumed that this teenager was a preteen.

I really love the art in this volume. The colours are vibrant, and the character designs are distinctive and engaging, and the cast is diverse. The plot lost me a for a little while, just because I was expecting it to be aimed at a younger audience and wasn’t thinking about it having any sort of political aspect.

But, of course, what stuck with me was the queer content. This is an all-ages comic with a girl who likes girls at the centre of it! She meets Diane and is immediately enamored with this girl rocking the James Dean look. It’s not subtextual. It’s not treated any differently than any other romance in the text. But I’m so unused to queer characters in a book for young people that I could hardly believe what I was reading. Was I wearing queer goggles? Was I projecting?

I’m so glad that with comics like this and Lumberjanes, and with shows like Steven Universe, we’re getting queer representation in kids’ media, too. It’s so important, both for queer kids and for making society in general more accepting. This is a really fun comic, and it would make a great gift for fans of Lumberjanes and similar comics.

Danika reviews The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

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I have to start this with my Goodreads status update from 5 pages in:

I literally cannot handle how much I like this book. I can’t get through a page without cackling or exclaiming. The art! The narration! The surreal worldbuilding! The f/f couple in the middle of it!!! The feminism! The cleverness! Like, I actually can’t handle it. I have to read it a couple pages at a time or I get overwhelmed. I don’t think this has ever happened??

I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddy from the first pages of a book. I was already hooked from the premise: a graphic novel retelling of the Arabian Nights featuring a woman who has fallen in love with her maid. Once I had it in my hands, I was stunned by the cover alone. It looks even more gorgeous in person, with the text in shining gold letters. And best of all, the two women reaching for each other: no attempt to disguise the queer content.

I’m a sucker for experiments in story telling, and I love how this book is structured. From the page layouts to the narration, the design and writing of this book perfectly fits its story, even when it deviates from the norm. A book that starts with a creation story of “In the beginning there was the world / And it was weird” is going to immediately jump in my estimation. I haven’t read the previous book, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, but this book stands on its own–while dropping enough hints that I want to pick up the earlier book to get an even richer understanding of this story.

The framing device here is that Cherry’s husband has made a bet with another man, Manfred, that he can’t seduce Cherry in 100 nights. In order to save Cherry from being forced into this arrangement, Hero (her lover and maid) tells Manfred stories over the course of these nights, with the promise that once he seduces Cherry, the stories will end. These stories are engaging in themselves, and resemble folk tales. They revolve around women, often sisters, and as those characters tell their own narratives, the nesting story structure grows.

Although there’s a timeless, folk lore feel to the story, there’s also some moments of great, clever humor thrown in, including the narrator cutting in for commentary, and Hero and Cherry using vocabulary I was not expecting! Mostly the humor is dry, feminist wit.

And, of course, there’s the romance. The unapologetic, unshakable love between Cherry and Hero. The moment that really made me trust this story was when it describes the two women getting into bed together and then cuts to after, with the narrator interjecting “No! Of course I’m not going to show what happened then! What kind of a book do you think this is?” It was setting up for a voyeuristic look into two women’s sex life, then makes a hard left and questions the reader’s expectations.

This a beautiful, epic love story that centres on two women. That fundamentally respects women and their love. This is a story that respects storytelling, that believes that stories can change the world.

This is the queer feminist mythology we deserve.

Danika reviews SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

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I read most of SuperMutant Magic Academy when it come out in webcomic form, but I’d heard that the collected version added content to make it into a more continuous story, and it had been a while since I first read the comics. The comics themselves are just how I remember them: irreverent, funny, and just a little bit sad.

SuperMutant Magic Academy takes place at a boarding school for disaffected, superpowered teens. The stories are more high school drama than superhero comic, though. My favourite character is Frances, a guerilla artist who relishes in disturbing the comfortable and is only ever shaken by one panel where a teacher coolly observes that her art is “a little 70s”.

Although a few pages were added to give the thread of a narrative, these are mostly disconnected, featuring a large cast (including Everlasting Boy, who attempts to come to grips with immortality throughout all of time). Each page is great in itself, but they don’t really flow together, and I did find it a little tiring as a reading experience when I read big chunks at a time.

The plot that does exist surrounds Marsha, a sarcastic, often apathetic psychic student, and her best friend Wendy, a fox girl who she has hopelessly fallen for. Marsha is closeted and debates about whether to tell Wendy about her feelings. Marsha is acts superior about Wendy’s naiveté and optimism, often criticizing her about it, despite the fact that those are clearly the traits that made her fall in love with Wendy.

This isn’t a romance, and Marsha and Wendy’s friendship doesn’t take up a lot of room in the book, but it is at the heart of it. There might be a lot of supernatural elements in the story, but the experiences and characters are heart-achingly realistic–Marsha most of all.

I think that I preferred SuperMutant Magic Academy as a webcomic just because I absorbed it better page by page instead of binge reading, but I’m glad I got to read the extra content. If you’ve got a bit of a pessimistic sense of humor, you’ll love this one.

Aoife reviews Always Human by Ari (aka walkingnorth)

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Always Human is a sci-fi webcomic set in 24th century Australia, where people now use ‘mods’ to essentially continually genetically engineer themselves – ranging from anti-cancer mods to fashion mods. People who don’t/can’t use mods are at an automatic disadvantage, particularly in terms of schooling – they can’t use memory mods and focus mods like the rest of their peers. Suntai is 22 and interning at a virtual reality company, while Austen is an 18 year old genetics major at uni. They meet at a train station, and the story goes from there.
I love this webcomic. It’s adorable, the art is amazing, the concept is great, it’s really diverse… I just love it. It’s really refreshing to read something set in Australia, even if it’s not exactly my Australia – it’s set in future WA, for one thing. (We still have vegemite, it’s all good). The vast majority of queer literature I’ve read is set in America, which is fine, but it’s not a culture I’m super familiar with or 100% comfortable in.
While the story is a romance, it’s also a meditation on how humanity interacts with technology, and an exploration of the pros and cons of that relationship. The worldbuilding is so good. It’s evident that Ari’s put a lot of thought into it, and there are some great little details, like the debugging scene, which makes her world seem very realistic. I’d be interested in knowing what mod access is like in terms of money and class, but it’s set up so issues like that can be explored in the future. If not, Ari does answer questions both on her tumblr and in Q&A pages.
One thing I particularly love about this comic is that future Australia has a lot of diversity – just like current Australia – but it’s accepted and normalised and lovely. Lots of the cast are racially and ethnically diverse, including our two main gals; we have an asexual character, and at least two non-binary people. The technology fits in with gender diversity really nicely: instead of needing surgery and hormone treatments if you want to transition, you just buy a mod – which is even cooler for non-binary or agender people because, while the majority probably couldn’t afford to do it daily, if you feel like changing it up, or become dysphoric, you can go right back.
I’m not going to go much into the details of the relationship, because I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s adorable and I love Suntai and Austen. Their friends are really sweet as well. I also love the way Ari uses their relationship to explore their world, and how problems are dealt with in a healthy and communicative way. It’s lovely. So far, it’s what Danika would call a cotton candy comic. AND I LOVE IT. I spent my read going “ugh it’s SO CUTE I WANT A GIRLFRIEND”.
Always Human updates on Saturdays, and is currently two chapters into its second season. If you’re looking for a lovely, light read with beautiful visuals, this is for you.
No trigger warnings I can think of, unless you’re a little leery of discussions of hospitals and chronic illnesses.
This and other reviews by Aoife can also be found at https://concessioncard.wordpress.com/.

Danika reviews Darlin' It's Betta Down Where It's Wetta by Megan Rose Gedris

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I’ve been following Megan Rose Gedris’s work ever since her webcomic YU+ME: Dream was in its early days. The only comics of hers that I hadn’t read were the ones hosted on Filthy Figments, an adult comics site with a subscription fee. So when the book version of Darlin’ It’s Betta Down Where It’s Wetta came out, I was eager to snap it up. Lesbian mermaid porn comics! And by Rosalarian, who is notorious for love of (weird) mermaids.

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Like this anglerfish mermaid. Is it included in the comic? You’ll have to read to find out!

Down Where It’s Wetta is made up of short arcs, all featuring the same characters. This is definitely a porn comic, so it’s light on plot, but there is enough variety in setting to keep it interesting. The book begins with Pearl, a mermaid, encountering a naked and horny girl on the beach. Pearl decides she wants to have a vagina of her own, so she tracks down the sea witch to try to make a deal.

After that, the plot mostly compromises of Pearl and Chloe (the human) trying temporarily to be responsible and quickly deciding to have sex instead. It can get a little repetitive read as one volume (instead of the individual spaced out, as they were originally on the site), but they’re still enjoyable.

I love Gedris’s artwork, and this volume is no exception. The subtle watercolor-like shading in the full-color edition really adds interest to the pages, I thought. Although the focus is definitely on sex, I also really enjoyed the humor in Down Where It’s Wetta. The author makes a few appearances in the pages, including defending her use of a half-page detailed illustration of shoes as definitely pornographic. Chloe, especially, makes for a ridiculous (and entertaining) character to read. She makes the kind of choices that you wouldn’t be able to stand in a friend but lap up in a fictional landscape.

For a fun, quick, and sexy read, I really enjoyed this collection. My only complain would be that there isn’t much of a variety of vulvas in this collection: they all look pretty much the same. That’s a shame, because Gedris excels at representing many different body types in a more general way. That’s a pretty small drawback, though, so it’s still definitely one I’d recommend.

Buy the book from Rosalarian, or subscribe to Filthy Figments to read it online!

Danika reviews 100 Crushes by Elisha Lim

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100 Crushes is a collection of excerpts from different pieces that Elisha Lim has done over the years, including Sissy, The Illustrated Gentleman, Queer Child in the Eighties, and 100 Butches. Most of these works focus on queer people of colour, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was such a celebration of qpoc lives. There are interviews and short bios of “butches”, “sissies” and “sissy inspirations”, all with evocative illustrations.

Because these are just excerpts, it did feel disjointed at times, but that is the only complaint that I have. Having just a taste of these makes me want to dive into Elisha Lim’s back list in full. I love the range of queer experiences given voice in this collection, and it made me think about all the ways that we interpret our own gender and sexuality. I wish I had prints of some of these pages to hang on my walls. For anyone looking for more diverse representations in comics/graphic novels & memoirs, I definitely recommend giving 100 Crushes a try.

Danika reviews Snapshots of a Girl by Beldan Sezen

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Snapshots of a Girl is a graphic memoir that follows Sezen in her coming out process–to the world at large, to her Turkish family, but mostly to herself. As the title suggests, we get glimpses into different stages in her life, titled things like “The Denial Years” (including “Boy #1” – “Boy #3”) and “Coming Out To My Mother” parts 1-3.

I enjoyed the different illustration styles throughout this memoir. They range from metaphorical and vague images to detailed portraits of various people in her life. Although at some points the short sections and varied styles could feel disjointed, I could see how these were the pivotal moments in this story that really didn’t need the in-between to support them.

My favourite section is near the beginning and really sets the tone for the story. Sezen is 18 and has fallen in love with an older female coworker. She doesn’t dwell on this and instead tells her coworker, unexpectedly finding that this leads to  them in bed together. As she is sleeping with a woman for the first time, she gets completely overwhelmed and abruptly gets up, gets dressed, and leaves without really saying anything to the other woman, and then she just doesn’t really consider her sexuality again for years. (Thus, “The Denial Years.”) It makes for such a comic scene, for her to suddenly backpedal on this whole process, but it’s also refreshing for breaking up the usual linear coming out storyline. Sometimes you come out of the closet and then go back in, and sometimes you embrace and identity temporarily and spend years trying to regain it. Coming out–and also growing up–doesn’t happen the same way and in the same order for everyone.

This was a quick and interesting read. It reminded me of a zine in style (though it is almost 150 pages long), so if you’re a fan of that medium, I think you’ll really enjoy this one. Definitely worth picking up for graphic novel/memoir fans!

Danika reviews Hayate X Blade Omnibus 1 (Volumes 1-3) by Shizuru Hayashiya

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I’ve only read a handful of manga, but every time I do I find them completely engrossing. So of course I’ve been trying to make my way through the yuri manga that is available in English. I know, though, that there is context to manga in general as an art form and yuri in particular that I am missing, because I’m not very familiar with Japanese storytelling tropes. That’s my disclaimer: I can only approach this from my own perspective.

With that in mind, I found this story a little baffling. From what I understand, it’s fairly common at least in Japanese stories for girls to have crushes on each other and even romances that aren’t taken seriously outside of school.  And for the most part, that seems to be the sort of relationships that are happening in Hayate X Blade. Girls are teamed up in a school dueling competition, and they may develop a sort of relationship, but those are mostly treated lightly or as jokes in the story. There are also constant jokes about girls being “pervy” for wanting to sleep in the same bed as another girl, or really wanting any sort of physical relationship. On the other hand, the main character has lots of women who want her to be their wife, so who knows.

There is a lot of slapstick humor, though the duelling plot takes itself pretty seriously, and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. What really grated for me was that the main character teams up with an older girl who treats her like dirt most of the time. This is used for comedic effect, but basically she’s constantly getting punched out by this girl. I was willing to overlook that as hyperbole for the sake of the joke, but I’m still not personally a fan of reading one-sided relationships. It became harder to ignore, though, when one volume has a subplot about a girl who’s also being beaten up by her older duelling partner, except that her storyline around violence was taken seriously, completely glossing over the earlier instances. (Until suddenly that violence was also seen as comedic?)

There are a lot of characters introduced, and I was intrigued them. Clearly the next volumes will have this larger cast moving together in a more complex way, and I appreciated that despite new characters being added often, they were all distinct enough in personality and appearance that I was able to remember them and tell them apart. And though distinct, they’re not over-exaggerated or stock characters: they seem dynamic and rounded despite not getting a lot of time on the page.

I can tell that the series is going to improve from here, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing, because I don’t really want to read about relationships between girls being the punchline.

Lena reviews No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics edited by Justin Hall

I probably should start off by addressing my biases.  I’m one of those people who thought Allison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” actually was one of the best books of the past ten years, one of those people who knows all the staff at the local comic book store and, although I try to smile and nod sympathetically, I’m one of those people who can’t figure out why someone would say, “Comics just don’t do it for me.”  There are pictures and words and sometimes superheroes – anything can happen.

With those disclaimers, “No Straight Lines” is kind of a literary wet dream.  It’s a queer comic anthology that does an impressive job of not only showcasing the best of the last forty years of queer comics, but also giving an sensitive and interesting look at the development of the queer identity.

We begin with a fascinating introduction by editor Justin Hall.  While addressing the conceit of the book, Hall’s introduction also serves as a crash course for those of us, myself included, who don’t know much about the origins of queer comics.  It creates a nice frame of reference for the comics that follow.

The body of the book is divided into three sections: “Comics Come Out: Gay gag strips, underground comix, and lesbian literati,” “File under Queer: Comix to comics, punk zines and art during the plague,” and “A New Millennium: Trans creators, webcomics, and stepping out of the ghetto.”  From there the comics are presented without comment as they were originally published.

In the first section we see the early uses of the comic medium to express a queer voice as well as some really amazing Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas paper dolls.  Although lesbians are openly depicted, it is obvious that the cartoonists were still grappling with the sense of “wrongness” associated with the lesbian identity.  Lesbian characters in these comics are shown living within the gothic trope of the madwoman in the haunted castle, imprisoned by a society with satirically harsh laws against homosexuality or having to flee or escape from conventional society.  While these scenarios are all painted in a humorous light, often reclaiming the tropes, there is also a serious attempt to address the mainstream perception that lesbianism is something wrong.

This process is best illustrated by the short comic by Joyce Farmer in which a young girl has a crisis of identity when she realizes the knight she has been fantasizing about is really Ingrid Bergman in drag for the movie “Joan of Arc.”  I myself had a similar crisis at around the same age, except there was no suit of armor to skew Ingrid Bergman’s gender identity in “Casablanca.”  But unlike me, the girl in Farmer’s comic only finds herself in crisis after she is attacked by a friend for her interest in Ingrid.  In contrast to most of the comics in this section, in the last panel we see her wondering what could be wrong with her.

Moving from general perceptions of the queer community, the second section deals specifically with the AIDS virus and its catastrophic effects.  The section begins with one of the few color spreads of the volume, a beautiful and heartbreaking piece from “7 Miles a Second” about the sheer rage that transforms the speaker into a giant, depicted smashing through the steeple of a church.  In the pieces directly relating to the impact of AIDS, there is an increase of shadows and darkness in the art as well as breathtaking honesty.  For someone like me, who was too young to know the worst of the AIDS crisis in America, these comics felt incredibly real and demonstrated how important it is to keep telling those stories.

The act of telling these stories also brings an increase in the first-person narrator.  The earlier comics were often narrated by an outside voice or without a narrator, but as the subject matter becomes more internalized, we see the development of a queer autobiographical voice.  These first-person story-comics were some of my favorites in the book including a gay man’s experiences in Israel (“Weekends Abroad” – Eric Orner) and a beautiful retrospective of a relationship (“Emile” – Fabrice Neaud).  The lesbian comics featured use this voice to explore the creation of  lesbian space; a place were a lesbian identity could flourish away from the rules and moulds of heteronormative society.  There is an effort to define and redefine lesbian stereotypes in comics such as “Bitchy Butch, the world’s angriest dyke” (Roberta Gregory) to give them more depth and clarity.  But such redefinitions often fell flat for me because those stereotypes have morphed in the years since those comics into something else entirely.

The move towards re-identity and re-definition of a lesbian or queer experience carries us out of the second section and into the third.  Allison Bechdel gets straight to the point of the with her comic, “Oppressed Minority Cartoonist,” in which the lesbian label is limiting rather than defining and she would rather simply be a cartoonist.  New voices emerge in the form of trans and genderqueer creators and we see an exploration of new ways to be queer and their impact on the preexisting queer community.   The trans voice is fascinating, but I felt like a lot of the comics dealt with issues that I had just seen comics exploring in the first part of the book.  There is a return to the justification of a queer identity against societal pressure and an anxiety about being gay that hadn’t felt as prevalent in the comics of the eighties and nineties.  I don’t know if this is a product of today’s society as being queer is often fetishized by mainstream media while at the same time our social and political rights continue to be jeopardized and attacked.

As Hall readily admits in his introduction, it is always hard for an anthology to cover everything.  Many of the comics included are selections from longer works and I was often left with a feeling of missing a larger story.  They also struggle with alienating younger readers such as myself.  While stories from the early years of AIDS brought me clarity there were plenty of references and scenes that simply went over my head.  But comics Hall has included present the artist growth and development of a community through four decades and a wonderful piece of queer history.