Danika reviews As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

Melanie Gillman is one of my favourite artists (tied with Megan Rose Gedris, who did the Lesbrary banner!), so of course I had to buy a physical copy of As the Crow Flies as soon as it was available. I had been following along with the webcomic, but reading it in a physical version, in one sitting, was a whole different experience.

I cannot express to you how beautiful these illustrations are.

Gillman uses coloured pencils in their illustrations, and I am floored by the intense detail and time put into every page. As the Crow Flies takes place at a feminist Christian summer camp, and the details of the wilderness that they’re hiking through transport you there. Putting aside the pure aesthetic value, I also loved the story and characters. Charlie is a queer brown kid who was hoping to regain her closeness with God (not necessarily the Christian conception) during this trip. Instead, she’s found out that the camp is almost entirely white (there’s an indigenous camp counselor and Charlie, and then every other person there is white). She doesn’t feel welcome, and there seems to be no way to get out of this now that she’s hiking through the woods with them.

Luckily, the finds companionship with another camper, Sydney. Sydney also feels like an outsider at camp, and later we find out that’s because she’s trans. Sydney gets the distinct impression that if the camp leader knew that, she wouldn’t be welcome at this white feminist-y retreat. Sydney and Charlie get closer by commiserating and joking, and they plot to interrupt the camp plans.

I also appreciated that the other campers start to get a little more depth later in the story. Originally, it seems like everyone fits in and belongs except for Charlie (and then Sydney). As Charlie gets more comfortable, we start to see that a lot of that is a front, and all the kids have their own insecurities and issues.

Honestly, I only have one problem with this book: it’s only volume one, and I want the second one right now. (I also wish that it indicated more obviously that this is one half of the story, because even though I knew intellectually that it wouldn’t be wrapped up in this volume, I was still surprised that I didn’t get a neat ending.) I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

Susan reviews Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill

Princess Princess Ever After is an all-ages graphic novel by Katie O’Neill about two princesses joining forces to rescue people and save the kingdom from an angry sorceress, and it’s really cute.

Sadie and Amira are very different styles of princess; Sadie is a traditionally feminine princess with an adorable pudgy dragon, who’s been locked in a tower by a wicked queen, and Amira is an action princess with very cool hair and a cookie-loving unicorn. It’s fun to see their different styles work together for solving problems, and I enjoyed seeing them work together to solve problems like dancing ogres and grumpy princes and wicked queens, and rescue each other!

They also solve problems without violence, and by gathering friends and supportive acquaintances! I don’t know if it’s supposed to be commentary on stereotypically feminine methods of resolving conflict or the tropes of magical girls and princess stories – but also I want stories that have all of the tropes of magical girls and princess stories, but with queer leads, so it worked for me. Plus: the drama is based on sibling relationships, rather than wicked mothers or stepmothers, and that’s a very welcome change. (Especially for me; complicated sibling relationships are my kryptonite.)

The art is very cute (and impressively different from her other all-ages graphic novel, The Tea-Dragon Society). Sometimes it’s maybe a little too simple, but it does work for the story being told, and the last page makes up for it.

It’s a light and fluffy story that reads very quickly, but it feels like a fairytale, and to be honest: that’s all I wanted. If you’re in the mood for a fluffy queer fairytale, this is a good place to start.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Danika reviews Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings by Sarah Graley

Part-time Grim Reaper. Full-time cutie.

WELL. If this isn’t one of the cutest things I’ve ever read. Becka is an art school student who is crushing hard on Kim, a gothic girl in her class. Little does she know, Kim is a part-time Grim Reaper, and instead of heading off to the pub after class with a cute girl, Becka ends up being pulled into some dangerous undead shenanigans.

This is so much fun to read. The plot is silly (they fight a bodybuilder and his army of cats!) and the art is super cute. I also found the interaction between Becka and Kim really interesting. At first, Becka is pursuing Kim, fully convinced that she, too, is Goth As Hell and that they would be perfect together. Kim at first pushes her away, but they are stuck together on this adventure, and she soon warms up. In the meantime, as Becka gets to know Kim, she is frustrated by her recklessness–the only reason she even ended up here is because Kim opened a portal in the middle of the hallway!

Kim has to grapple with the fact that her attempts to impress Becka have just put them both in danger, and that not everyone finds running from death (figuratively and literally) a fun way to spend the afternoon. Becka walks away when she feels that their relationship isn’t a healthy one for her, and Kim has to figure out whether she wants to keep going on this path. That’s mostly in the background, though, and it never gets too dramatic. It just adds a layer to this mostly fluffy and fun read!

Also, I have to mention: Becka is the most adorable main character I’ve ever seen. The hair buns! Her cute little tummy!! Honestly, I couldn’t believe how much I appreciated that there is an outline of Becka’s tummy. And I actually learned that “visible belly outline” (or VBO) is a thing! That there’s a term for! So this book made me happy not only because a) the illustrations are adorable, b) the plot is silly and fun, c) Becka and Kim are cuties together, but also d) seeing Becka–a character whose silhouette does not look entirely dissimilar to my own–depicted as cute, confident, and desirable makes me feel happier in my own clothes.

If you need a boost of cuteness in your reading life, I can’t really recommend Kim Reaper highly enough. This was one of my few 5 star ratings this year!


Danika reviews Motor Crush Vol 1 by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr

There are plenty of good reasons to like Motor Crush. The world is intriguing: Domino races by day in motorcycle races that serve as the main source of entertainment in this society. She’s tracked by a floating camera asking for constant updates and interviews. By night, she races gangs, where there is no limits to the lengths you can go to in order to win the pot. (You can see Domino’s weapon of choice on the cover.) While others race for Crush because it boosts their engines (and apparently motorcycles can get addicted to it??), Domino needs it to live.

And Domino is a great main character. She’s a little rough around the edges and doesn’t always treat the people she loves the way they deserve, but she’s passionate, and beneath the prickly facade, you can see how vulnerable she is and how she wants to be better. She resents her adoptive father for keeping secrets about her parentage (and how she can consume a stimulant made for engines), but she hides her condition from the people who care about her.

The plot balances the high-paced motorcycle races (both gang races and official ones) where crush (the drug Domino is dependent on) is on the line and debts must be repaid with Domino’s more introspective journey, where she struggles to unearth the truth about who (and what?) she is while simultaneously reaching out and pulling away from the people who are trying to support her.

I haven’t even mentioned the art, which details a world subtly different from ours in beautiful layouts, and conveys the action and speed of the races without being cluttered and confusing. The characters are distinct and frankly gorgeous, if with very small waists.

Those are all good reasons to like this comic! But what really sold me on it was Lola.

Who can resist a beautiful, curvy, femme woman with hot pink hair who’s on a motorcycle? Did I mention that she’s a mechanic, too? Swoon.

             Shout out to Steven Universe for establishing this as my type

Lola is Domino’s ex-girlfriend, and it’s not hard to see why they split: Domino refuses to let Lola in, and without knowing about her dependence on crush, her lifestyle seem inexplicably reckless. Still, they clearly both deeply care about each other and do make a good team, so I hope that they are able to work through it.

Even if you don’t share my swooning for Lola’s design, there’s a lot to like about Motor Crush, and I’m really excited to see what volume 2 brings.


Marthese Recommends: Kickass Comics for This Valentine’s!

Not everyone likes Valentine ’s Day: some feel lonely, some have too much work, some don’t like the crowds, some just don’t like the capitalistic commercialisation of romance while others just don’t like the mushy stuff in such quantities. It’s okay! We can all unite by reading something kickass while letting the romantics have their time.

Here are some graphic novels and webcomics sure to distract you until The Time passes. Be warned though – most of them have sappy romance too!

The instant gratification (finished or finished-for-now):

Heavy Vinyl (formerly known as Hi-Fi Fight Club) by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva and published by BOOM! Box is–for now–a stand alone comic about a group of teens (and 20s) who works at a record store but are also members of a fight club that fight injustice. Chris is the ‘new’ employee and the story is told from her point of view mostly. Then there is Maggie, Chris’ crush and Dolores, Chris’ ‘archnemesis’ and Kennedy, who kicks ass, and Irene, their boss.

Chris is a very insecure character but she definitely does some growing up. Her initiation in the Fight Club happens after her idol goes missing. She becomes determined to solve the mystery and what lies beneath is interesting. All the while, some tensions in the group are resolved. It’s definitely a half-kickass, half-sweet read and it looks like there will be more of the story.

Power Ballad by Molly Brooks is a complete and free webcomic and can be read here. Power Ballad has 26 chapters and follows Meera, the power assistant to Superstar Carina. It follows Carina too, who apart from being a famous superstar, is also secretly The Skeleton, a vigilante!

This is a really not stereotypical–it has diverse representation of queer women and power dynamics (work and relationship) and also another great representation of masculinity. Go Todd, also poor Todd. (Count all the ‘hypothetically speaking’ in the comic). Power Ballad isn’t just about Carina and Meera’s feelings but is centered also around a mystery: a designer’s works keep getting stolen. This is a really super cute webcomic that is definitely kickass–and to show how kickass it is, it starts with a fight scene. The pages are really long and so the movements look like it’s a movie.

Esmé by Steve Stivaktis is a comic that I discovered thanks to Malta Comic Con (Malta as in the country) and oh did I ever wish there were more queer fantasy books/comics that make use of mythology and folklore! Esmé is more of an adventure and quest kickass type of book.

Esmé follows Elena on her journey on the Road of No Return to find the Esmé bird because, of course, her father offended a divinity–that’s a classic Greek Mythology move. Elena is joined by Achilles (love him!) and Antigone (also love her!). It’s definitely a quirky, but realistic-ish tale full of cute stuff, quests and misunderstandings. The graphic novels is originally in Greek but there is an English translation available on etsy!

 

The long-term commitment (series not finished):

Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings by Sarah Graley, published by Oni Press is the first in a series and focuses on Kim’s and Becka’s beginning. The plot the two fine arts students. Becka has a huge crush on Kim and follows her to ask her to the pub…then falls into a portal that Kim had created–because Kim is a Reaper. What follows is a series of shenanigans, rule breaking, adventure and supporting each other.

Kim is at first annoyed at Becka for disturbing her job–her job has MANY perks, as we get to know about it. Becka is annoyed at what Kim does. In fact, while the story is cute and shows promise, I’m not sure about Becka and Kim, but there is definitely funny kickass moments! Bonus points for Tyler, who portrays great non-toxic masculinity and protective-best-friend vibes towards Becka. The art is awesome as well.

Batwoman Vol.1 : The Many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, Steve Epting and Ben Oliver, published by DC comics is a rehashing of the Batwoman series in the Rebirth Universe–keeping Kate the same as the 52 series, as in she’s still a lady-lover. This story is about many things. It’s about the present, the past and the future. As someone that was not following the Rebirth and the Fall of the Batmen arcs, the latter story was a bit confusing but I think it will be made clearer later on.

Kate visits a place from her past: Coryana, and island that looked a bit like my country (and my country was actually mentioned in the comic…no one mentions Malta). There is a new threat to humanity and Kate needs to know them and stop them. The art was simply amazing, especially in some issues. What I liked best was how real it all felt. Yes, the majority of it takes places in invented places, but the threats to humanity are very contemporary. I have hopes for this series and it’s definitely kickass, but don’t get too much invested, just in case! The second volume will be available mid-year.

Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess series by Jeremy Whitley, published by Action Lab Entertainment is a spin-off of the Princeless series. I confess to not having read that series, but I absolutely devoured this one, and a new volume should be out soon! The series focuses on Raven, who was deprived of her ship and crew by her own brothers. But she has half the problem sorted because Raven has stolen a ship. She has no crew, so she sets off to find one!

Raven gets pick-pocketed by Sunshine, a half-elf dancer (not the stripper kind). Turns out Sunshine works for Cookie, an ex-crew member on Raven’s father’s ship! So he helps and she find the rest of her crew, including Katie who’s been waiting her whole life for adventure and justice, Ximena who was Raven’s ex-best friend and Jayla who’s a scientist-in-the-making. And a whole guild of geeks! I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Lots of adventure ahoy–I mean, ahead. Lots of kickassing, half of which is fumbled. There are three volumes for you to catch up on, while waiting for the fourth one!

Not enough kickass comics? In general, I recommend BOOM! Box publishers, they have a lot of queer kickass comics. Have recommendations? Leave a comment!

Whitney D-R reviews Motor Crush Volume 1

Domino Swift lives Nova Honda, a city where almost everyone lives and breathes racing.  You’re either a sponsored racer in the World Grand Prix or racing at night against biker gangs.

If you’re Domino Swift, you do both.

From the very first page, you’re rooting for Domino.  You want her to “crush” the competition, even if you’re first introduced to Domino when she’s racing a slew of biker gangs– and kicking all their butts.  These night races, called cannonballs, are a new definition of racing for pinks.  Instead of the pink slips to cars one would win at the end of a race, Domino is racing for a neon pink substance called crush.  Crush is mostly used to give a biker’s engine a boost, but Domino needs it to survive.

Domino must lead a double life and it causes contention with the people she loves, namely her ex-girlfriend, Lola.  (Though I hope they’ll get back together in the next volume.) Even though they’re not together, you can tell the love is still there between them.  Domino still tries to protect Lola when she’s get in trouble with some loan sharks.  They initially broke up because Domino kept Lola in the dark about her nightly activities and who she really is.  Lola wanted an all-open, honest relationship with Domino or nothing at all.  But how can Domino be honest when she doesn’t even know who she is or where she came from?

How can you tell the woman you’re in love with that when you take a neon drug meant for motors, you become one with the speed force?  Is she some human-machine hybrid?

There’s more questions than answers so far in this series, but you’ll be instantly sucked into to this high-stakes world.  The art is vivid and gorgeous, the storyline easy to follow, and I can’t wait for the next volume.


Danika reviews Lumberjanes series (Vol 1-6) by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke A. Allen

Lumberjanes is a series that’s been on my TBR for ages. I had read the first volume, and I’ve been recommending the series, but I’ve been saving the other volumes for some unknown reason. I’ve finally corrected that error and binge read volumes 1-6! (I’m still on hold at the library for volume 7.)

You’ve probably heard about Lumberjanes before, but just in case: this is a comic that follows a group of girls at summer camp, where they get into fantastical adventures. The strongest part of the series is the dynamic between the 5 main characters. They all have different personalities, strengths, fears, priorities, etc, but they are a tightly-knit group. They support each other. And we get to see each one spotlighted at some point.

As for the queer content, it is subtle, but it’s there. Later in the series (issue #17), we find out that Jo is trans. Throughout the series, there’s a romance between Mal and Molly. It starts off pretty subtle and in the background. There’s a lot of blushing. But they get their own arc in Volume 3, where they go on a picnic date. By volume 6, they kiss. The romance is never the focus of the story, and at the beginning, it’s a little bit ambiguous, but it’s there throughout the narrative, and becomes hard to miss that they have a romantic relationship.

This is such a fun series! As an adult, it was entertaining to binge read, but I’m also really glad that this exists as an all-ages/kids’ comic. It’s fantastic to have queer, trans, and poc representation in such a successful series. This is one that you can give to pretty much any kid from–I don’t know–9 to 17? The ages of the characters are fairly ambiguous, and it’s pretty easy to read, so it appeals to a wide range. Plus, it’s a way to get that representation in the hands of kids who may not have access to it otherwise.

Danika reviews Sugar Town by Hazel Newlevant

I knew I would like Sugar Town from the cover alone, and from the first page, it didn’t disappoint.

This is a queer, polyamorous, BDSM fluffy love story. Hazel is in an open relationship with her boyfriend, and she bumps into Argent, a confident and kind domme, at a party. They click instantly, and Argent helps Hazel learn more about negotiating polyamorous relationships. All of the relationships are so caring and gentle.

My favourite scene was probably the BDSM scene (which is pretty tame and mostly off-panel, if it concerns you). Argent is using a whip on Hazel when Hazel says “Hang on,” and Argent immediately stops, checks in, and finds out that Hazel pulled something in her back, though she was thoroughly enjoying the scene. They cuddle and watch cooking shows instead. It’s BDSM as a completely consensual, mutual, and even kind activity for partners to enjoy together. That’s something I very rarely see.

Do I keep using the word “kind”? I can’t help it. Sugar Town is a sweet, soft story. Everyone in it treats each other with respect and caring. They check in. They talk about their feelings. Hazel is still figuring out jealousy and other aspects of polyamory, but that’s okay. They’re not simmering underneath, they’re freely discussed. They’re not perfect–Argent mentions experiencing suicidal thoughts, Hazel is self-conscious and doubts herself–but they  are supportive of each other and the rest of the people in their lives, whether they’re friends or partners.

I also loved the art style, which reinforces that warm and welcoming feel. I want to crawl inside the pages and curl up there. This is definitely one of my rare 5 star ratings: I loved every panel, and I know I will return to it when I need something hopeful to dive into for a little while. What a treat.

Susan reviews Spinning by Tillie Walden

Spinning is a graphic memoir by Tillie Walden about the ten years she spent as a competitive figure skater. It’s beautiful and compelling, but in some ways it’s a hard read.

Everything I know about skating I picked up from Yuri!!! On Ice fandom, so I couldn’t speak to how accurate it is, but her explanations of how figure skating, jumps, and synchronised skating works are fascinating. Especially because she does touch on the explicit feminine coding and potential toxicity of enforcing that on kids! But learning how different moves are structured and how much work goes in is fascinating! Especially because while it structures and shapes Tillie Walden’s life throughout Spinning, it’s not the only thing going on.

The narrative is very narrow in its focus – it’s very deeply into Tillie Walden’s experiences and feelings in a way that works well with the structure of the narrative. The afterword specifically says that it was deliberate; it was about “sharing a feeling” rather than the specific events, and it is definitely successful at that. It frees her from doing a linear chronology, and lets her group events by feeling or what makes sense, which means that it’s more of a coherent story despite being a memoir.

The specific events swing between hopeful and exciting to bleak within the space of pages – the demands of skating and Tillie Walden’s coping strategies to deal with exhaustion and despair are really well depicted. The bleakness and monotony of her feelings towards skating are really well contrasted with her feelings for art and music as her interests change and move; the fun she has with her friends and the validation she gets from winning contrast with her feelings of fear. Her relationship and and coming out also come under this, but neither of which go well so brace yourselves for on-page homophobia. The way that Tillie Walden talks about her first relationship bringing her fear as well as everything else young love is supposed to bring is heartbreaking.

Tillie Walden’s regrets – that her bully left the school before she found the courage to stand up for herself; that she wasn’t a better friend, that quitting skating was so anticlimactic – were all completely understandable and relatable, and the way the art conveyed them made me feel for her. The art is great, and it has a lot of the things that I loved about “i love this part” – it has a limited pallet of dark blue, grey, and yellow, which was used to great effect to convey the mood without words. I especially love the way that she’ll give a quiet moment an entire page to itself to let its emotional weight rest, especially because most of the book has a very regular page structure.

Spinning is a really interesting, emotional, and compelling memoir that works really well with the art to tell its story. It also left me completely emotionally drained by the time I was done with it, which is a recommendation if that’s what you’re in the mood for!

Caution warning: sexual assault, homophobia, bullying.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.


Danika reviews Mara by Brian Wood, Ming Doyle, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles

Mara is a comic trade about Mara, a 17 year old who’s been trained as a professional athlete since she was 4 years old. This is her whole life, and in this future world, athletes are the peak of celebrity, and Mara is at the top of it all. When a broadcast of her game reveals her manifesting super powers, though, the life that’s been set for her starts to crumble.

I have to admit, I felt conflicted about MaraWhen I was midway through, I though the ending would help me resolve my feelings, but that didn’t help. It wasn’t until I was flipping through it again and notices the very first page, which has just the text “A COMING-OF-RAGE STORY” that I began to understand what this story is doing.

Mara has had her whole life decided for her. When she was 4, she was sent to a training camp, and since then, all of her time has been dedicated to training and securing sponsorships. She has a relationship with a teammate, Ingrid, but that isn’t explored much in the narrative, other than the press speculating about it. The super powers she acquires are wide-ranging, incredibly powerful, and entirely unexplained. It is quickly obvious that she is now on a completely different plane from other humans, and she tires of the military (and society in general) trying to control her.

She’s a teenager, and she’s justifiably furious at a world that has stripped her of choice and of the people she loves. It’s interesting to see a character with super powers who becomes apathetic to the world. She’s not a villain or a hero: she’s completely disinterested in human beings. She’s not prey to their judgments anymore, and she never will be again.

This is a very quick read, and Mara’s journey has a lot of similarities to Doctor Manhattan. Also, to admit my own bias, and I’m sure the bias of most Lesbrary readers, I wanted more from the Ingrid/Mara relationship than a few pecks and everyday conversations. I didn’t get a sense of emotional closeness from them, and if they weren’t close, what was the point of the relationship at all?

It made for an interesting afternoon’s read, but I wanted more from it. It felt more like a thought experiment that anything. If this was a continuing series, I’d be interested as to how it would play out, but as a stand-alone volume, it felt weak.