Audrey reviews Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

honorgirl

Mild spoiler warnings–nothing you wouldn’t get from reading the jacket copy, though. Reading Honor Girl is painful in the way that reading your old diaries is painful. Not the “Wow, I was stupid-shallow” parts, but the moments of earnest hope where you can see the younger you before your first real, crushing heartbreak, before you knew what it was like to feel hollow inside because of another person.

Maggie’s 15, spending her summer in Kentucky as she always does, at the same camp her mother attended, participating in the same rituals and traditions. During the school year, she lives with her upper-crust family in Atlanta. She floats between these worlds, and her most solid anchor is her love for one of the Backstreet Boys.

This summer is different, though. This summer she’s finding her place, finally, on the shooting range. And this summer, there’s Erin. The shooting might be okay, but at this very Christian, very Southern camp at the beginning of the new millennium, the slow realization that she’s attracted to Erin–and that Erin returns the feeling–is very not okay.

Maggie’s not terribly uncomfortable with her feelings, but she’s deeply uncomfortable with other people’s reactions, especially when they seem to get Erin in trouble. Maggie’s choices during that summer make this book feel in part like an expiation, and the ending is quietly devastating. This is being touted as a book about a girl going to summer camp and discovering she’s a lesbian, but what she discovers about her character, and how that knowledge informs her life afterward, is crucial.

Having been one of those kids who got along better with adults (i.e., I found camp traumatizing in and of itself), I did a little looking around. Maggie Thrash considers that summer to have been an “idyllic bubble” and a quick Google search for Honor Girl turns up adjectives like “hilarious” and “heartwarming.” In the same interview linked above, Thrash notes that the memoir isn’t about being held down by her peers, but crushed by older people.

Because this is a graphic memoir, it’s pretty much a one-afternoon kind of deal. There are more memoirs coming out in this format now. This story is particularly suited to it. Thrash clearly remembers what it’s like to be 15. It’s exciting, terrifying, funny, boring, fleeting, excruciating, and brilliant. Sometimes within the space of a few minutes.

Two people read this in my house. My fiancee borrowed it from the library and read it, then told me I should. How was it? “It was okay. It was good. Quick. You’ll finish it in like an hour and a half,” she said. I finished it and was, as I phrased it earlier, quietly devastated. This is definitely one of those books that, once set free in the world, is going to mean different things to different people, regardless of what its creator/subject intended. Good on its own; excellent conversation starter. Great for book clubs (teens and adults). Book is currently cataloged as adult bio. I’m moving it to where the YA crowd will swarm.

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

darlin its betta down where its wetta cover

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.

angler_fish_mermaid_by_rosalarian-d2zrakn

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

100crushes

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 Kashimashi (Girl Meets Girl) Omnibus Collection 1 by Satoru Akahori, art by Yukimaru Katsura

kashimashi

Kashimashi is a yuri manga about Hazumu, a boy who is turned into a girl by aliens. Lesbian hijinks ensue? I’m torn on how to talk about this book, because of course the whole premise is cissexist. The idea that changing your body automatically would change your gender is cissexist, and in fact despite being all about Hazumu adjusting to another gender, there is no acknowledgement in the story that trans people exist. At the same time, however, it was interesting to see how gender is explained and expressed in the narrative. We don’t really get to see into Hazumu’s thoughts of swapping bodies and being expected to live up to a different gender role. When pressed, she* just basically shrugs and says “There’s nothing anyone can do about it.” She seems to roll with it pretty easily, however. She is confused by the rigid expectations of how women should behave, but other than that she doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with it. (Except that it comes with the expectation that she will be attracted to men.) And the first time we see Hazumu pre-transformation, he is told he seems “really feminine”. Hazumu rebuffs the girl’s subsequent apology by smiling awkwardly and saying “It’s okay. I get that a lot. Everybody says I look like a girl.” [mild spoilers, highlight to read] Later, we find out that as a child he wanted to be a bride. [end spoilers] So I wonder if Hazumu ever was 100% comfortable with his gender pre-transformation. [mild spoilers] We even get hints that Hazumu was looking to transform and escape his reality in some way–that the transformation may not have been nonconsensual. [end spoilers]

I can completely understand people not wanting to read Kashimashi because of the cissexism, or not enjoying it because of that. But I admit that I still found it a really fun read. The bulk of the story, apart from everyone trying to teach Hazumu how to be “appropriately” female, is a love triangle between Hazumu, the lesbian he was rejected by pre-transformation who is now interested, and Hazumu’s friend who was interested in him pre-transformation and is now completely confused by her feelings. It’s silly and dramatic even without the alien aspect. (The aliens stick around, observing Hazumu and putting her in awkward situations.)

I have read very few manga stories, so I’m not sure how this compares to the rest of the yuri genre, but I really enjoyed it. It induced quite a bit of eye-rolling around cissexism and heterosexism (“Girls… liking girls???”), but I liked the characters and their unique relationships (oh, except the creepy incestuous dad and… well, most of the male characters), and it was mostly just a fun ride. I would definitely put some caveats in place with a recommendation, but it’s worth picking up if it piques your interest. Personally, I’ll be reading the next omnibus and hoping for more of an insight into Hazumu’s personal gender identity.

*the book uses she pronouns post-transformation and he pre-transformation, which is what I’m using here

Danika reviews Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 by MariNaomi

kissandtell

 

Right off the bat I have to let you know that this isn’t a lesbian book. MariNaomi seems to be attracted to more than one gender, but the vast majority of this book deal with her relationships with boys and men, with the occasional experiment with girls, though there are hints throughout the book that she accepts a queer identity later in her life.

Kiss & Tell is a graphic memoir that spans MariNaomi’s life from childhood to 22, with brief (usually only a page or two, sometimes a handful of pages) stories about each of her romantic interests, whether they lasted a day or years. The art style is similar to Marjane Satrapi’s in Persepolis, and the style and storytelling really grabbed me, even though each story is so brief. By following these romantic interests through the years, we get a sketchy look as her life in general, and it’s one that’s intriguing and occasionally melancholic. Although the art style is usually fairly basic, there are sequences that receive a lot of detail and are even more affecting for the contrast.

Although I’ll admit that I was expecting a little bit more queer content from this collection, I still ended up really enjoying it. This was a really quick read and totally engrossed me; I read it in two sittings. Despite the book chronicling dozens of characters, each was drawn distinctly enough that I never mixed them up, and the stories never felt repetitive. I’ll definitely be picking up more of her books in the future.

Danika reviews War of Streets and Houses by Sophie Yanow

warofstreetsandhouses

 

An American artist witnesses the Quebec spring 2012 student strike on the streets of Montreal. The brutal police response and their violent tactics trigger an exploration of urban planning and its hidden connections to military strategies. Marshal Bugeaud’s urban warfare tactics in Algeria, Haussmann’s plan for Paris, planning and repression in the New World; theory and personal experience collide into an ambitious and poetic cartoon memoir.

I don’t usually post the blurb for books, but I don’t think I can describe what this book is any more concisely than that. I was both excited and a little bit intimidated to pick this one up. I love a lesbian political book, and I have a soft spot for queer graphic novels, so this promised to be a good read, but it also seemed very… smart. And it is a little bit academic for a comic memoir: there are even endnotes that cite sources! These ideas are presented pretty accessibly, though. War of Streets and Houses is a series of vignettes, not a continuous narrative. Some focus on Yanow’s witness of and participation in the Quebec student protests, while others ruminate on the nature of the city and how it can affect what social change is possible.

The art style is usually loose and undetailed, but it varies. Some pages show the city as an overwhelming force in the background. One of my favourite sections of the book describes Yanow’s adjustment to living in the city by erasing this background, showing Yanow as a small silhouette against the expanse of white. Some of these drawings show more of her own internal landscape than the physical architecture, which is an interesting contrast, because a lot of the book does focus on the physical layout of the city.

Yanow briefly touches on lots of ideas that are really fascinating, mostly around urban planning and control. She shows the link that urban planning has to military tactics and now police enforcement, and how wide, modernist spaces are also conducive to controlling the masses, while winding, narrow streets can help protect resistance. She also talks about feeling an inevitable draw towards the city because she is queer, because the city is supposed to be a place where being queer is a realistic possibility. We also see glimpses of Yanow’s queer community, and a small acknowledgment of how Yanow’s whiteness factors into her activism and feeling of safety.

This is a very short read, only a 64-page graphic novel, but it will leave you thinking. If the blurb sounds at all appealing, you should give War of Streets and Houses a try.

Danielle Ferriola reviews Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

BlueIsTheWarmestColor

Goosebumps formed on my skin the moment I began reading Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh. Aesthetically pleasing and beautifully written, Maroh immediately captured my attention and my heart. The story begins with Emma reading diary entries written by her love, Clementine. Although Clementine has passed, her memories are very much alive. Clementine was 16 years old when her life had changed. On one particular day, headed to a date with a boy from school, she caught sight of a young woman with blue hair. This image remained vivid in her mind for many days to come.

Clementine’s heart raced every time she saw something blue, with anxious hope she might see this woman again. Never having experienced such strong feelings for women, Clementine did not know what was happening to her. As a result, she struggled with accepting herself for a considerable time. Her parents referred to homosexuality as wrong which likely contributed to Clementine’s conflicted view of herself. Suppressing one’s true nature does not make the situation go away; quite often denial leads to negative feelings and further upset. This story is relatable to anyone who has had a difficult time coming to terms with who they are –unfortunately, we live in a society that is very heteronormative and many parents are not appreciative of their children expressing non-heterosexual tendencies. Even more so, fellow students are not always open to diverse sexual identities, especially in middle and high school settings. Friends Clementine thought she could count on did not want to associate with her anymore once they had suspicion she was a lesbian.

As Clementine felt more comfortable with her newfound self, her life became full of color. Her path crossed with the mysterious woman with blue hair and she became excited about the world again. As it turns out, Emma would play a very significant role in Clementine’s life. As the title so mentions, blue really does become the warmest color for Clementine. It is amazing how we as readers can feel such empathy in response to Clementine’s feelings –almost as if we were a part of the story, experiencing love for the first time with her. Blue is the Warmest Color is a must-have for any personal library as the graphic novel can easily be appreciated in one sitting and feel just as moving each time it is read.

I watched Blue is the Warmest Color a few months ago, very excited that a foreign lesbian-protagonist centered film hit mainstream media. After finishing the movie, I discovered that the story was inspired by the graphic novel, which was originally printed in 2010 in French. Thrilled that Maroh has since published an English version of Blue is the Warmest Color; I had made it my mission to find the book. Kept by my bedside for convenient reading, Blue is the Warmest Color has become my favorite graphic novel.

Danika reviews On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin

onlovingwomen

 

On Loving Women is a graphic novel made up of several short stories. The artwork is all done in the style of the cover: simple, clear illustrations depicting all the characters as animals. Each story is short, and most of them don’t have an arc. They are just snippets from their lives. Basically, although this collection doesn’t have any official framing device, they all seem to be answering a set of questions, dealing with, of course, loving women. These aren’t necessarily “coming out stories”, but they deal with the first loves, first kisses, and realizations about being queer.

The language in this book, like the illustrations, is simple and pared down. It reads to me like a group of queer women sitting around, trading anecdotes. They seem like a conversation. Coming out stories are still so essential to queer narratives, and to queer identities. They can easily become our defining stories. It becomes traditional to trade them, and despite the emotional weight attached to these questions (“When did you know? When did you come out? When was the first time…?”), by telling them so often, they become almost like small talk. On Loving Women reads like those honed answers to these questions. Like a story you’ve told quite a few times, so you’ve got it pared down to the essentials. And they’re simple, but powerful because of that. Because the practiced casual nature of telling these stories almost makes them more raw.

So this conversational nature explains why the stories don’t have a narrative arc. They are real life stories, and they are very small portions of people’s lives. These glimpses are fascinating, though, and they suggest a lot about the person telling them. A couple of stories do have a continuing theme within them, which adds to the story, but isn’t essential to enjoying them. Because the artwork is the same throughout (though different stories use different animals), the stories do run together, especially since the writing is similar, as well. There are differences between the characters, but they are all Obomsawin’s friend group, so they share similarities as well. I liked that there were stories about falling in love with a woman for the first time at four years old, and a few that took place much later in life.

I think this collection is almost impossible to not read in one sitting, but it would benefit from being read slowly. I highly recommend picking this one up.

Danika reviews Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

BlueIsTheWarmestColor

Honestly, after Casey’s review of this title, I feel like my whole review could just be “I agree!” But that would be a bit of a cheat. Besides, I did read the English translation, so we do have that difference.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is a graphic novel structured so that Emma is reading her recently deceased girlfriend’s high school diaries, which then show us flashbacks, which make up most of the narrative. It is set in 90s France, and most of the art is in black, white, and grey, like watercolours, but with occasional splashes of colour. The artwork is definitely the best part of this collection (you can see panels in Casey’s reviews). I especially appreciated how Maroh draws faces, which portray subtle expressions. Although the text is translated, there is also some untranslated French in the background, like on banners in the panels, and things like sound effects. Obviously, if you are able to read French, I’m sure the original publication is the best way to read this book.

This is both a sexy and angsty book. Clementine sees Emma on a crowded street and passing and begins dreaming about her. Emma is a mysterious and captivating figure, her blue hair the only spot of colour in the panel. I could definitely see where Clem was coming from in her attraction to this anonymous figure with the sly smile. Emma grows into a more full character by the end of the book, but this might have been my favourite part, with the thrill of potential. There is more angst and sexiness, though, including beautifully drawn sex scenes, and all the drama of coming out. We know that Clementine is dead from the first few pages, and yet the narrative manages to only up the melodrama. Everything seems to be as difficult and painful as possible, including a few moments that seemed implausible. [spoilers, highlight to read] Really? You’re staying over at your closeted girlfriend’s house and you go downstairs (in the night) naked? I don’t care if you think everyone is asleep, that seems pretty far-fetched. And the circumstances of her death seemed more dramatic than necessary. [end spoilers]

Really, I felt very similarly to Casey on this book. The artwork is so beautiful, and with the hype around the movie version winning the Palme d’Or, I wouldn’t try to dissuade anyone from picking this one up, but do be prepared for some over-the-top melodrama.

Jill reviews Strangers In Paradise: Volume One by Terry Moore

strangersinparadise

I’ve heard so much about Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise over the years, especially this year as he released a special box set edition of the entire series for its 20th anniversary, that approaching it started to seem intimidating, and also complicated. I’ll probably lose some nerd cred for saying this, but compilations of long running comics have always confused me: there are so many different volumes, and different versions of those volumes, that I never know which are the best or right ones to get. My library’s holdings of it are shoddy at best, and I obviously can’t afford the $100 box set. But last month when I was perusing the graphic novel section of my local bookstore and found a $4 copy of Strangers in Paradise: Volume One, there was pretty much no excuse for me anymore.

It’s a thin collection, including the first three comics in the series, along with a short vignette and some of Moore’s sketches and original inspirations for the characters. We’re introduced to our two main ladies: Francine, dark haired, curvy, heart of gold, and Katchoo, scowly but funny, angry, artsy, with a mess of blonde hair almost always covering too much of her face. Best friends since high school, the story really begins at some indeterminate point of their adulthood. Roommates, Katchoo is clearly in love with Francine and always has been, and has to gut wrenchingly watch as Francine, clueless and naive, clings from one horrible guy to the next. The plot in this first volume mainly deals with the latest bad egg in Francine’s life, who is really, really a bad egg, and the revenge Katchoo takes for messing with her girl. We also meet a couple of side characters, including the adorable and lovable David, a fellow artsy type who wants to woo Katchoo until she not so politely informs him that he’s not her type, but who sticks around anyway, because that’s the kind of guy he is.

While I enjoyed this volume, it’s hard to review it on its own because I know that it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and all I’m left feeling is that I want more! I want Francine to get some sense knocked into her; I want Katchoo to have to stop pining. But it is remarkable that in such a short book, less than 100 pages, I already do feel attached to these characters Moore has so lovingly crafted: while Francine’s misdirected clinginess is excruciating, you somehow still like her and root for her to get over all of this, and while Katchoo’s rage can be over the top, you see her heart and know that you’re on her team from page one. Plus, in one of the very first scenes, we see her sleepily take out a gun from her bedside table and literally shoot her ringing alarm clock. It’s hard not to like a girl like that.

But my favorite thing about the story so far is actually Moore’s illustrations. While done in black and white and not overly complex–most of Strangers in Paradise was self-published–his depictions of both women are realistic in a wonderful way I can’t completely describe. We see Francine in particular in various shades of undress, and each time, her body is imperfect–thick thighs and bum, a perfectly normal stomach–but yet she is still completely and utterly sexy. It’s refreshing, and lovely, and I look forward to much, much more in my near future when I get my hands on Volume Two.