Marthese reviews The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance edited by Melanie Gillman and Kori Michele Handwerker

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“Anyway, I’m pretty sure malevolent spirits wouldn’t scrub your bathtub”

The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance is, as the name implies, a queer paranormal romance comic anthology, published in July 2016. I had donated to a crowd-funding campaign for this anthology and I’ve been meaning to read it since it arrived in my inbox.

The anthology starts with some words from Melanie Gillman on the importance of representation in literature. A little disclaimer from my end; this is not a lesbian anthology, it’s a queer anthology which represents various genders. The stories are all non-explicit and quiet romantic.

I cannot go into much detail since the stories are short by my favourite stories were “Ouija Call Center”, “Shadow’s Bae”, “Till Death” and “Yes No Maybe”. “Ouija Call Center” is about a client that uses an Ouija call center to contact someone diseased and the operator! “Shadow’s Bae” is about a monster that becomes friends with a human and they stand up for each other. “Till Death” is a cute story and critical comic about an elderly couple and ghosts that stand up for their community against gentrification. Finally, “Yes No Maybe” is a comic about a tenant who tries to contact the ghost that’s in the apartment and is really adorable.

The art in the anthology varies from piece to piece; they are all so different from each other but this helps to distinguish one story from the other. The length on the story, I believe, is just right–not too long or too short.

The anthology as a whole has a lot of diversity in its representation of gender, ethnicity, culture and age. This collection does not shy away from using different cultures and mythologies for its base and does not include just stories with young characters. Many characters were people of colour. The relationships in the different stories are usually between a human and a supernatural being. Overall, most of the stories are really fluffy and cute so be warned! Although some had a darker tint.

What I like about this anthology are two things: its general cuteness and its queerness. There is a lot of representation for people out of the gender binary spectrum. This book is like a safe space, to enjoy a story rather than who is in the story. I’d recommend this book to those interested in comic anthologies, quirky criticism, cute stories, paranormal and overall stories that go beyond gender.

Elinor reviews The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

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The Argonauts is an amazing book. It is a memoir but not a neatly narrative one. It’s been called “genre-bending,” which it certainly is. I’d describe it as a meditation of family, queerness, gender, love, bodies, connection, and a whole lot more. Nelson quotes academic theorists as readily as she shares visceral, personal details from her life. The book primarily focuses on Nelson’s relationship with and marriage to genderfluid artist Harry Dodge, being a stepmother to Dodge’s son from a previous relationship, and being pregnant with, giving birth to and parenting the couple’s younger son. Each of these topics is examined thoughtfully through multiple lenses, giving the reader plenty of food for thought.

This book offers up many intriguing questions without giving easy answers. Everything from assumptions about pregnant women, reified identity, personal expression, death, and the act of giving birth get a turn. I find it hard to summarize such an eclectic and fascinating book while truly doing it justice. It’s creative nonfiction at its best.

I’m also grateful that I read it exactly when I did, just after I finished graduate school and nearly at the middle of my pregnancy. It was the only book I’ve found that spoke about the personal experience of pregnancy, let alone queer pregnancy, in a way that rang true for me. The questions about parenthood and marriage that it raises were extremely relevant to me and I found myself jotting down references for further reading.

It can be fairly academic in places. I appreciated this, but others might not. It’s short but dense with ideas, and I’m glad I took my time reading it. Going slowly with it allowed me to absorb the subject matter and I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much if I’d read it in a rush.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in queer family and partnership, or just a truly unique memoir.

Marthese reviews Band vs Band by Kathleen Jacques

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Ever wanted a regularly updated webcomic to cater for your fluffy and drama needs in the long term because short things are not the best when you get attached to the characters? You’re in luck!

Band vs Band is a cute and bright webcomic by Kathleen Jacques. For those that prefer physical copies, there is a volume of 150 pages out as well.

Band vs Band follows…you guessed it, two bands that are ‘rivals’. The first band is the Candy Hearts, fronted by Honey Hart. In Candy Hearts there are also Honey’s best friend Cherry Cola (her real surname is Kirsch! For those that know German this is a fun fact(, Coco who always hides her face and Zero who doesn’t appear so often and reminds me of Fred from Scoobie Doo with that scarf.

The second band is the Sourballs fronted by Turpentine who like Honey also plays the guitar and sings. In the band there are also Foxy, who reminds me of Luna Lovegood with her character, Atomic Domme who is the level headed, intellectual feminist in the group and Arsenic, Turpentine’s best friend since childhood who’s always hooking up with people. The Sourballs’ motto is ‘’Hedonism, Nihilism, Petty vandalism’’!

The names are fitting to their bands. The Candy Hearts are all very bubbly, idealistic and sweet and always try to teach lessons to children, take part in charity and so on. The Sourballs are trouble makers who mess with the Candy Hearts. This is especially true for Turpentine to Honey; Honey sometimes retaliates especially when it comes to drawings and letters.

Turpentine and Honey have different personalities. Honey is very sweet, bubbly and caring while Turpentine seems not to have a care in the world (though she’s secretly also caring especially towards Nick aka Arsenic and Honey). They are also rivals but there is romantic and sexual tension between the two. I mean, they share a dessert right after the first confrontation. It doesn’t take a long time for them to start looking out for each other apart from being rivals. This includes late night phone calls, trips to hell and facing impostors. The plot basically revolves around this rivalry, sweetness and simple life moments where they drive each other crazy but stick out for each other.

The two bands and the two singers often have band offs and duets. Indeed, there is a whole lot of songs in this webcomic. It’s like a musical, someone is doing something irrelevant, then someone calls for a song and bam, you have a song that’s quite catchy.

The colours in this comic are all reds, blues, whites and blacks and the typographs is very varied. Apart from short episodes, there are also side-stories of side characters, magazine pages, activity sheets that includes colouring pages, album art covers and so many other creative additions. I really liked the pages that are basically song lyrics and interpretations especially when Honey and Turpentine sing together or against each other. The ‘up next’ after each episodes are funny, so take notice of them.

Sometimes, the plot seems a bit detached as it’s not one continuous timeline but episodes after each other and sometimes there is too much extra content that you forget the main plot. If you binge read though, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Although the main plot is about Turpentine and Honey, the other characters also have their things on the side. I found all characters engaging and liked the side characters side-comics since I tend to want to know more about each character shown.

The webcomic, although not finished is updated every Monday at this URL: http://bvbcomix.com/ and I suggest if you like the premise to read it and not the afraid of the fact that it’s not finished because it’s regularly updated and there is content from years ago that you need to catch up with! I suggest starting from the about section first.

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Marthese reviews Adijan and Her Genie by L-J Baker

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I love queer fairytale retellings! Although I do not think this is much of a fairytale. It’s set in the Arabian Nights fantasy world and has a few elements of the folktale Aladdin, in the sense that there is a poor messenger who’s however a girl and there is a genie, who’s not really a genie.

Adijan is a messenger girl, who dreams of having her own business and is a bit too fond of drinking despite being really hard-working. She’s married to Shalimar, a very kind woman who is always happy and yet always thought of as simple, much to Adijan’s annoyance. It is evident that Adijan loves Shalimar, but she is also slave to vices and wasn’t such a good spouse. This book, full of adventure and Adijan being kicked out from countless places, follows the journey of Adijan to try and get back Shalimar from where she is being kept by her brother Hadim.

While set in an invented Arabian country, Adijan and Shalimar’s relationship is accepted and legitimate. The problem lies in wealth not in their orientation and love. Something that really bothered me was that Adijan was continuously misgendered and most times she did not correct these assumptions where from her gender expression and clothing her gender was judged.

Adijan and the ‘genie’, don’t really get on at first. However, I thought it was great that even though they did not like each other, they were respectful, using correct names, considerately describing time and place and consoling one another. They eventually come to understand and care for one another. Nonetheless, you also see two people battling their wills against each other because they both have big and fundamental dreams.

Injustices to the social system, especially in courts and wealth are addressed. It’s a book that says a lot about non-materialistic values. For someone that was looking to get rich, Adijan got that freedom and love were priceless. Privilege was understood as it was lost. For being a fun book, it also has serious themes.

I really enjoyed the characters of Zobeidé once she stopped getting on my nerves, and of Adijan’s aunt Takush who owns a ‘friendly house’ and her suitor Fakir. A bonus in this book were the insults which often contain some form of ‘camel’ to them.

I liked how Zobeidé did not forgive simply because her old tutor apologized and said he was set up to do what he did. Stripping freedom from someone is inexcusable.

This book ended on a great note. Something that was lost, even if in a land of magic, was still not magically made better and in that it was realistic. To end, you find yourself being angry at Adijan, then pitying her and then laughing at something. This book is a fast read and a true adventure.

Danika reviews Drag King Dreams by Leslie Feinberg

I loved this book. I still have yet to read Feinberg’s classic novel Stone Butch Blues, but I definitely am motivated to now. I read Drag King Dreams for an English class of mine, and I can see why it would be assigned: there is a lot here to tease out.

[mild spoilers] On the one hand, and probably the reason I enjoyed it so much, Drag King Dreams is a deeply political novel. Not just because it deals with subjects that are always politicized (trans* people and racialized people, especially), but because it is about Max’s political reawakening.

Max, as a visibly gender nonconforming person, spends the beginning of the novel just attempting to survive, just trying to get through day by day in a world that is largely hostile to hir. Throughout the novel, however, Max reconnects with hir activist past. I totally understand that there’s sometimes when the only thing we can do is just try to survive, but when that’s all you’re doing, every day, it becomes nearly impossible to do without losing momentum. In rediscovering activism, Max finds a reason to do more than just struggle to survive day-to-day, and I feel like that’s such an important message. [end mild spoilers]

There is more than just queer politics in Drag King Dreams, however. Max’s aunt, despite not being there physically, is a constant presence in the novel. Max’s experiences with virtual reality weave throughout the novel–though, arguably there are never really resolved. Max’s Jewish identity is explored. The war in Iraq plays a part in the novel.

It is odd that, despite Max playing on a computer, and despite the prominence in the novel of the war in Iraq, Drag King Dreams still felt like a timeless story to me. It explores, I think, the endless struggle in being part of an oppressed group. I really recommend this one, as long you’re okay with your fiction having a heaping dose of political opinion, and now I can’t wait to read Feinberg’s previous novel.