Danika reviews Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

Stage Dreams by Melanie GillmanI love Melanie Gillman’s art. The use pencil crayons, and the detail is incredible. I always spend half the time reading their books just admiring landscapes. In Stage Dreams, Grace is in a stage coach, on the run. The coach is being driven through an area that’s being haunted by the Ghost Hawk, a supernatural giant hawk that swoops down on carriages and robs them! When Grace’s coach is targeted, she discovers that the Ghost Hawk is, in fact, Flor: a Latina woman who robs coaches, with her (regular-sized) pet hawk–not the story stagecoach drivers like to tell about the experience!

When the stagecoach fails to produce any worthwhile goods, Flor takes Grace instead, in the hopes of getting some ransom money from her family. Her plan falls apart when she finds out that Grace is trans and is running away from her family. Instead, the two end up hatching a plan together to pull of another heist–one that could set them both up for life.

This is a short, snappy story: I got to the end and felt like I must have skipped something, it was over so fast. Once I considered the book as a whole, though, I had to admit that it told a complete story. I just wasn’t willing for it to be over yet! My favourite part was a surprise at the end: Gillman includes endnotes that explain the historical context of many of things on the page, including their research about trans historical figures at the time. It added a lot of depth.

Although I would have liked for this to be a little longer, I really enjoyed the art, characters, and historical context. Westerns are not usually my genre, but I was sucked into this story. Definitely pick it up for a quick, engaging read with a diversity characters not often seen in this setting.

Susan reviews On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie WaldenTillie Walden’s On A Sunbeam is a beautiful f/f science fantasy graphic novel that started life as a webcomic. The first half is split between Our Protagonist, Mia’s, present, where she’s part of a crew that restores old buildings IN SPACE, and her time at boarding school where she has a fledgling romance building with the sweet-but-unusual Grace. The second half shifts up a gear into Perilous Adventure as the crew of the Sunbeam go looking for closure.

I’ve mentioned how much I like Tillie Walden’s art before, and On a Sunbeam keeps up the tradition. I love her use of colour and space, and the way her art carries so much of the world building and storytelling. Everyone lives on tiny chunks of land in space and spaceships are fish, it’s never explained, and I am quite happy to roll with that because it looks really cool! (Please recommend me more stories where space is treated like the sea, I’m always here for them.) There is a real sense of history and age to the buildings that Mia and the Sunbeam’s crew work on, and different architecture across the galaxy. Plus, Tillie Walden’s use of limited palettes across the entire story means that it’s always clear what time you’re in and which characters you should be expecting.

I was so fond of all of the characters – they all felt realistically complicated and had tangled relationships with each other, and I love them? And they all have their own things going on, or their own secrets in their pasts, and I like that! Especially the non-binary non-verbal badass, who is an actual force of nature. (As fair warning: for the most part, everyone’s really respectful of Elliot’s pronouns and not speaking, but there is one minor character who doesn’t even try, despite how upfront Jules is about making sure people know. She does get dressed down for it, and only has maybe three scenes total, but it is a factor.)

Spoilers in the next paragraph!

There’s something so realistic in the way that Mia talks about her life after Grace – it went on as normal, and the way she talks about that is refreshing and warming. Yes, there is life after whatever dramatic events happen to you, and sometimes they are ridiculously normal and boring! And the way the story opens up in the second half is like a magic trick; the Staircase comes across as a weird space full of culture and dangers that are completely alien to everyone. A lot of it went unexplained, but I thought that worked with the style of the story itself. We get bits and pieces from Mia’s memories of Grace, and from Elliot. It’s very character focused, even in the section that’s most full of action and drama, which means that we get the pieces of information most relevant to the characters, rather than getting all of it in chunks. And the ending is so hopeful, to me. I appreciated that Mia and Grace don’t fall straight into each other’s arms; they’ve grown into different people, and now they’ve got an opportunity to work out who the other one is!

End spoilers!

And because I’m me, I would like to take a second to wail about the families in On a Sunbeam! There are families of origin, families of choice, families who love each other and drive each other up the wall and will do whatever it takes for their family! It’s delightful and sweet, even with all of the drama and peril.

Basically, I adored On A Sunbeam in all its weird space-fish glory, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

[Caution warning: bullying, misgendering]

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 as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for SFF Reviews and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She brings the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Danika reviews Bury the Lede written by Gaby Dunn and illustrated by Clare Roe & Miquel Muerto

Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn

This is the third book I’ve read by Gaby Dunn, all back to back (to back). There are some similarities: I Hate Everyone But You and Please Send Help… also have a bisexual intern reporter whose moral compass may be a little bit off. But while the novels have an unshakable friendship at their core, which keep them feeling light, Bury the Lede sinks into noir territory, with a protagonist willing to follow a story wherever it goes, even if it means bringing down everyone around her.

This collection immediately sets the tone with dark, sometimes off-putting colours and shading. There will often be unnerving details like jam on a butter knife that looks like blood, or splatters in the background of pages. It’s not just the tone that’s noir: the content gets pretty gory, including depictions of a mother killing and dismembering her child. We see the same murder play out multiple times as different versions are proposed.

This mystery is what drives the story: Madison attempts to interrogate a suspect and had hardly begun before Dahlia gives her a gruesome account of her guilt. Madison keeps coming back to get more details, and although she doesn’t trust Dahlia or the possible wild goose chases she keeps sending her on, Madison becomes increasingly obsessed with her. The story spirals out, encompassing politics and other, seemingly unrelated crimes. Dunn doesn’t spoon feed the reader: at times I had to stop and reread panels a few times to keep up with the information being presented, and it definitely kept me guessing.

As for the queer content, Madison is a bisexual Asian-American woman, and her love interests include a queer butch black woman and a bisexual white cop. There are f/f sex scenes on the page–and I have to add that on a recent Buffering podcast, Dunn shared that she got to give her favourite note on this page: “No, the femme is the top.” I also appreciated that Madison is chubby. She’s clearly desirable, and she also has a belly. I can’t get enough of positive fat representation in comics.

I recognize that Madison is meant to be complex, and possibly even “unlikeable.” Usually, I love an “unlikeable” female character. This time, though, it was pushed far enough that I no longer wanted to root for her. [Spoilers] She roofies a woman to get information out of her, for one thing. [End spoilers] I’m sure that this is consistent from what we’d expect from a classic noir detective: pursuing the truth no matter who it hurts or what gets in the way. But while most times I can see where a flawed character is coming from, in this case it felt like she was willing to throw absolutely everyone she knows under the bus to get a byline.

Having said that, maybe I don’t need to be able to relate to this character to still find her story compelling. I was sucked into the story, and I am curious to see what happens next. Despite having no interest in male noir detectives, I keep being drawn to similar stories with female main characters. If you’re looking for a gritty graphic novel with a femme fatale, questionable ethics, and a bisexual chubby Asian main character, Bury the Lede should be at the top of your list.

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.