A Dream Introduction to Nia Nal: Bad Dream by Nicole Maines and Rye Hickman

Bad Dream cover

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On October 14, 2018, transgender actor and activist Nicole Maines made history by appearing as Nia Nal/Dreamer, the first transgender superhero on TV, in Supergirl. She has since gone on to pen Dreamer’s comic debut in the DC Pride #1 in 2021 and Dreamer’s mainline DC continuity debut in Superman: Son of Kal-El #13 in 2022. This year, Nicole and artist Rye Hickman teamed up to create the YA graphic novel Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story. This graphic novel provides a beautiful and moving origin story for Nia Nal that will resonate with queer readers of any age. 

Teen Nia Nal spends most of her free time alone reading and drawing superhero costumes. She’s always idolized her mom, a former powerful seer from the planet of Naltor who relocated to Earth to raise a family, and supported her sister, who has been training to inherit her mother’s powers. When a freak dodgeball accident awakens Nia’s precognition powers, Nia is shocked. Her sister, as the sole AFAB child, should be inheriting the powers. Worried about what her mother and sister will think, she runs away to Metropolis. It’s there that she meets Taylor Barzelay, another transgender superhero (main character of Galaxy: The Prettiest Star), her girlfriend, and an entire community of queer people and aliens. She begins to feel like she can find a home in this supportive community of people like her. However, events will soon force her home and into a confrontation that will force her to reckon with her new powers and the responsibilities they entail.

Nicole Maines and Rye Hickman do such a great job creating a story that reflects the very real painful and hopeful experiences that so many queer people go through. Through fantastic writing and evocative artwork, readers are made to feel Nia’s pain at being ostracized by the people in her hometown because she is transgender. We can feel the guilt she carries for, as she sees it, causing problems for her mother and her sister. These are things that so many queer people have gone through in their own lives. Queer readers will relate to all of these feelings so much and empathize with Nia, while cis and heterosexual readers will, hopefully, come away with a greater understanding of our experiences.  

At the same time, Nicole and Rye infuse so much hope into this book. Through putting Nia into contact with characters like Taylor, her girlfriend Katherine, and their friend Yvette, they show readers that there is always a community to find. They show that no matter how dark it may feel, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s also a beautiful message about the power of community. It tells readers that haven’t found their community yet to keep looking and those of us who have to keep fighting for it. 

Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story is an origin story worthy of this groundbreaking character. Nicole Maines’s writing, coupled with Rye Hickman’s gorgeous art, make this book another fantastic inclusion in DC’s line of graphic novels as well as the wider canon of queer young adult literature.

A Celebration of Sapphic Love & Loss: Something, Not Nothing by Sarah Leavitt

Something, Not Nothing by Sarah Leavitt cover

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Something, Not Nothing (September 24, 2024) is a stunning graphic memoir by cartoonist and educator Sarah Leavitt (she/her). In April 2020, Leavitt’s partner of twenty-two years, Donimo, died with medical assistance after years battling chronic pain. After Donimo’s death, Leavitt turned her immense grief and loss into incredible art.

Through impressionistic imagery and poetic prose, Leavitt takes readers through her deeply personal and painful experience of Donimo’s suffering and death. In bleak black and white panels, she explains how Donimo came to make the “terrible and courageous decision” to end her life. As I read, I could feel Leavitt wrangling with the reality of Donimo’s “grievous and irremediable medical condition”—Canada’s criteria for someone to be eligible for medical assistance in dying. I could see her struggling to witness the love of her life in pain, but also terrified to let her go. My heart ached as I imagined her standing alongside the rushing river where Donimo took her last breaths and wondering how she could possibly go on.

But Leavitt’s story did not end there. 

Something, Not Nothing traverses the unpredictable terrain of Leavitt’s profound grief after Donimo’s death, but also her tremendous resilience. Leavitt’s transformative journey is palpable, brought to life by her brilliant use of color and vignettes, which give readers a glimpse into her and Donimo’s beautiful relationship. Her memoir demonstrates that grief is non-linear. In one frame, she is reminiscing about the night she and Donimo first met. In the next, she is angry at Donimo for letting her fall in love with her and then leaving her.  It is raw and devastating, heart-wrenching and hopeful, all at the same time.

This memoir is a treasure worth your time and your tears.  I am no art aficionada, but Leavitt’s work made me feel something. I was blown away by her generosity of spirit in sharing the tenderest parts of her life and her love with the world. Something, Not Nothing is truly a gift.

Leavitt lives in Vancouver, BC. She is an assistant professor in the School of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she has developed and taught undergraduate and graduate comics classes since 2012. While you wait for Something, Not Nothing to come out this fall, check out her other graphic memoir Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me. You can also find Leavitt on Instagram at @sarah_leav.

Trigger warnings for chronic pain, medically assisted death, loss of a loved one, and grief.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey.  She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

A Book and Herb Review: Basil and Oregano by Melissa Capriglione

the cover of Basil and Oregano

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Basil and Oregano is a sweet, safe, very cute and inclusive graphic novel about two girls who fall in love while competing to become top student at their magical cooking school. While chock-full of softness and cuteness, the story also includes serious themes that keep the stakes high. I never exactly worried while reading the book—I knew things would turn out well—but I often wondered, because how would they?

Each main of the main girls faces challenges during the story. Basil has attended the same school for years, but must become top student in at least two quarter-finals to keep the scholarship that lets her follow her dream, knowing her dads can’t afford tuition. Oregano is a new student whose famous magic-using chef mom expects only the best. Luckily, between their budding relationship, excellent friends, and adorable plant-puppy, the girls have a strong support network.

The Aesthetics

Biggest warning: do not read this book at the start of a shift when your lunchbreak isn’t until four hours from now, because you will be looking at drool-worthy food!

I don’t have the strongest visual literacy, and often the deeper meanings of artwork are lost on me. Luckily, this graphic novel mixes a literal setting with amplified elements to tell even a reader like me the important pieces of the story. The food, as mentioned above, looks delicious. The familiars—a mix of magical and realistic, like a puppy growing a leaf of a cowlick or a kitten with dragon wings—are beyond adorable. In some ways, the art style cranks up to eleven. But it also stays safe. Even when danger looms, something stylistic assures you: it’ll be okay in the end.

The Relationship

“Relationship” is a better descriptor than “romance,” because this isn’t exclusively a romance. This is a story about two competitors with mutual crushes who become friends and how that develops into something more. It’s sweet and gentle. Anyone who does any sort of cooking knows basil and oregano get along, and these two are no exception! They work well together. They help each other through different challenges, such as family stress and educational burnout.

I appreciated the lack of relationship drama. The girls sometimes worry about each other, but resolve matters with communication and kindness. It was just what I like in a story.

At the same time, other relationships shine throughout the story. Basil and her besties, Villy and Addy, are friends and competitors at once. Her dads love her, even if they can be so embarrassing sometimes. Teachers at the magiculinary school are tough, but not without compassion for their students.

The Conflict

If I have a criticism of this book, it’s that its conflicts are resolved too tidily. That might sound both silly and expected—haven’t I been going on about how sweet and cute and gentle this book is? Well, yes, I have. But to me, the mean girl crosses a line that is just not addressed when she eavesdrops and blackmails Oregano. Oregano’s mom is cruel, and it’s sort of shrugged off with a hug. This may be more of a flaw in myself as a reader. In a way, the book does challenge me to consider that: everything has worked out well, so why can’t I be happy with that? But I do wish some of the themes that challenge characters throughout the book were less simply concluded.

That’s my perspective, though. Maybe you want to read a fluffy book with a fluffy ending. Either way, I strongly recommend Basil and Oregano. Is it perfect by the standards of a nitpicky reader? No. Is it still a five-star read? Definitely!

The Herbs

Since I brought it up, both are delightful! Basil has a lovelier taste and oregano is easier to grow.

A Manga About Love of All Kinds: Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon by Shio Usui

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Vol 1 cover

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Last month, I raved about She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki. It was a pretty solid guess that I would also enjoy Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon by Shio Usui, as they’re both slice-of-life manga about adult women who fall in love while eating plenty of food (with less of a focus on cuisine in Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon, to be fair). Both titles also explore the characters’ family lives, develop a strong ensemble, and feature asexual characters discovering who they are and who they love. Possibly my favorite shared aspect, however, is how each series presents the theme of acceptance. That isn’t to say the two series are the same—in fact, having some overlap in topics can make contrasts in execution stand out—but nonetheless, I would happily read other slice-of-life manga in this vein.

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon is a complete four volume series following Uno Hinako, an office worker who fixates on being “normal” in hopes of attaining the acceptance of her coworkers, her mother, and herself. To her, this means maintaining both her makeup and her smile, as well as finding a boyfriend. Despite this, she doesn’t develop feelings for any men, nor does she experience sexual attraction to anyone—but when she grows closer to her seemingly aloof coworker, Sato Asahi, she develops romantic feelings for her. Asahi, however, has been too focused on raising her little sister to foster her own relationships. After the first volume, an additional wrinkle occurs when Asahi’s long-time friend shows up out of the blue.

My favorite part of this series was definitely how the relationships unfolded. Even when the characters don’t understand their own wants, or when their desires conflict, they wade through those murky waters. This series celebrates love of all kinds, demonstrating that no type of love is lesser than any other, while acknowledging the heartache and complexities that love brings. Conflicts between characters are not introduced and drawn out for the sake of pointless drama, but exist to explore these complexities and push the characters to grow more fully into themselves. Without spoiling anything past volume one, I wasn’t initially sure whether I would enjoy the addition of the final character I mentioned, but her arc ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the story. 

As I said, this series focuses on the idea of acceptance. While She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat uses the motif of cookie cutters to represent that people come in all forms, Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon posits that like both doughnuts and phases of the moon, people don’t have to seem whole in order to be worth cherishing. As also stated, both series feature asexual protagonists. In She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat, the words asexual and lesbian are used and defined on the page. While of course there is a place for works that explicitly label and describe sexuality, I appreciated how Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon manages to show the characters working through their feelings without having to break out an infographic. Having words for your identity can be incredibly important, but it can be equally important to show characters simply experiencing these feelings and being able to create their own happiness, regardless of what terminology they have access to. 

To be clear, none of these comparisons are meant to undermine either work. I do, however, have to say that after reading Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon, I had renewed appreciation for how the art and storytelling in She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat managed to feel grounded in a way that suited the maturity of its characters, while maintaining those classic shoujo blushes and warm fuzzy feelings. At times, the execution of Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon didn’t feel particularly distinguishable from a high school manga. The mangaka even mentions in one author’s note that the characters are almost like teenagers at times, so perhaps it was intentional to bring this youthful feeling to a story about adult characters. 

Ultimately, this series may have based its motifs around the idea of not being whole, but it certainly didn’t leave me feeling empty.

Content warnings: one instance of homophobia from a family member, depictions of pressure for women to conform to femininity and heteronormativity, and an occasional appearance from a boss who is a bit of a creep

The Magic of Community: Brooms by Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall

cover of Brooms

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Brooms is a YA graphic novel created by Jasmine Walls (writer) and Teo DuVall (illustrator) and published in 2023 by Levine Querido. It is set in an alternate 1930s Mississippi where magic flows all around, but is heavily restricted. Only certain people are allowed to learn certain types of magic to be used only in certain situations, with offenders punished by having their magical abilities locked away. Native American children showing magical abilities are rounded up and sent to government schools where they can learn “proper magic”. 

Despite the law’s best efforts, there’s one type of magical activity that continues to thrive: underground broom racing. Every weekend, teams of thrill seekers meetup to see who can take home the prize money for being the best. One such team is the Night Storms. Led by their captain Billie Mae, the team includes her best friend Loretta, Cheng Kwan, Mattie, and Emma. Together, they hope to make enough money to make their dreams come true.     

The greatest strength of Brooms is its worldbuilding. The setting of a magical 1930s Mississippi feels unique as it’s not a setting that has often been explored. By emphasizing history accuracy, Jasmine Walls shines a light on the queer communities that existed at that time but have long been ignored. The diversity of characters is also phenomenal. Mattie and Emma are mixed Black and Choctaw. Luella, their cousin who introduces them to the rest of the team, is mixed Choctaw and Mexican. Cheng Kwan is transgender and Chinese American. Emma is Deaf and speaks Indian Sign Language. Billy Mae and Loretta are Black and suffer from chronic illness and disability. Billie Mae and Luella are in a relationship with one another. Other broom racing teams include characters who are nonbinary, amputees, or come from other cultural backgrounds. Through this diversity, Jasmine Walls succeeds in showcasing people who have long been underrepresented in the media, including fantasy media. It gives every queer, BIPOC, and disabled reader the chance to see themselves as a part of the magical community of Brooms

Brooms also does a great job of developing its main characters and their relationships. The main cast is fairly large, consisting of the five racers and Luella. Through a combination of the main story and flashbacks, we get to see how this small chosen family came to be and how they continue to support each other. Luella and Billie Mae also get these really sweet moments together that show how deep their love for each other is. This made for characters and relationships that felt fully fleshed out. I was able to feel a strong connection with each and every one of them. It also made it harder for me to put the book down. I just had to know how their stories ended! 

I appreciate how Jasmine Walls was able to convey an overall hopeful tone while also clearly conveying the danger the characters are facing. Throughout the novel we are shown the very imminent threat that the girls and their community are under without ever slipping into a darker tone. We see racism and oppression, but never in its full brutality. These scenes are balanced with ones that show that, despite that oppression, the characters’ spirits never falter. They continue to support each other and their community in the face of overwhelming bigotry. To me, this feels like the perfect balance to aim for in a YA graphic novel. The people most likely reading this book may be dealing with real bigotry in their daily lives; they don’t always need to see it in their books too. They need hope and, in that regard, Brooms succeeds in giving them that. 

I found the story’s focus on the power of community incredibly resonant. Brooms isn’t a story about a group of people coming together to overthrow racist and bigoted power structures. Instead, it’s a story of how finding and building a supportive community can help people survive and thrive in spite of the dangers that surround them. It shows the reader that there is hope in community as long as its members stick together and look out for each other. It’s a message that we need more than ever. 

Brooms is also a really pretty graphic novel. The contrast between the earthy tones of the daytime scenes and the vibrant colors of the magical night races give these events a wondrous quality. It provides a nice contrast between a world that shuns non-White magic and one in which everyone is welcome and loved. The broom races also have this dynamic quality in their rendering that helps convey a sense of speed and danger, making for a thrilling read.

In the end, I enjoyed my time with Brooms. It is a well written and beautifully illustrated story that showcases the power of hope and strength of community. Through its historical setting and diverse cast, it highlights the simple fact that queer communities have always existed and will continue to exist into the future. It’s a message that every queer person, no matter their age, needs to hear.

A Slice-of-Life Manga Good Enough to Eat: She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki

the cover of She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Yuzaki Sakaomi

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When I was younger, I wasn’t aware of many f/f manga about adults, so I’m glad to be able to enjoy series like She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki. After reading the first three volumes of this ongoing series, I’m gobsmacked by how exponentially my investment in it grew over the course of just three volumes. 

Usually, if I find it difficult to express why I like a work without spoilers, it’s because the initial premise is in some way flipped on its head. She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat is exactly what it says it is: a story about two women who bond over food, with one providing for the other. It remains a slice-of-life series focused on their relationship as they cook and eat various meals together. That premise builds on itself beautifully as their routines develop new layers of significance. 

The first volume introduces Nomoto, a woman with a passion for cooking that outmatches her appetite, who dislikes the societal pressure to use that interest to provide for a man. When she meets the woman who lives two apartments down, Kasuga, and happens to learn that she has a large appetite, Nomoto offers to cook for her. The two enjoy this so much that they continue meeting up to cook and eat. 

I was already charmed by this premise, especially with how Nomoto outright swoons over Kasuga voraciously eating her food; it usually isn’t depicted as desirable for women to have big appetites. However, at that end of volume one, I still felt that the series had a chance to become somewhat forgettable or repetitive. I’m rarely this glad to be wrong. By the end of volume three, this series had thoroughly gripped my heart. 

As said, it’s difficult to get into why. What I’ll say is that the characters begin to open up about their lives outside of their time together, which adds new context to their interactions. By the time the reader learns why the main characters’ dynamic is particularly meaningful, that dynamic is well established, letting the reader sit with the implications of that meaning as it continues to deepen. Over time, new characters are also introduced as effective narrative foils to the protagonists, and a delightful ensemble dynamic develops. 

What really struck me about this work is how affirming it is. It affirms that women should be allowed to have whatever relationship to food suits them, and explore that in their own way, without judgment. Ultimately, it’s a story about how special it can be to share space and time with others, and the importance of being able to choose who you share that with—specifically, people who accept you for who you are and accommodate whatever needs come with that. 

The food itself is, of course, rendered in many drool-worthy panels. I also appreciated the depiction of asexuality within the lesbian community, and how sexuality is portrayed as something with no one-size-fits-all mold. I’ll definitely be gobbling up the rest of this heartfelt series as soon as more volumes are localized.

Content notes: This manga includes content warnings before the relevant chapters. As a general overview, I’ll warn for one chapter depicting homophobic language, as well as depictions of familial abuse, food-related trauma, and misogyny. These topics are brought up thoughtfully rather than gratuitously. 

Murder by Crowdfunding: Crowded Vol. 1 by Christopher Sebela et al.

Crowded Vol 1 cover

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The Crowded comic book series tells the satirical story of a dystopian world not too far in the future where the gig economy has become unhinged. In this world, everything has a price, including putting out hits on someone’s life through an app called Reapr. Anyone can be a target and anyone can crowdfund a kill, and loopholes in technology laws make it easy to get away with it while law enforcement and government officials look the other way.

Following the antics of Charlie, the hit in question, and her hired protector, Vita, the story unfolds into outrageous mayhem. It all seems so farfetched, yet in light of our reality, perhaps it’s not too far off target. Live streamers become famous for their Reapr kills and their followers can become patrons of their feeds for exclusive content and other rewards.

The vibrant and oversaturated artwork lends itself well to the story and characters. It creates a sense of inauthenticity and fabrication that makes everyone so fake. It feels fitting that the story takes place in Los Angeles, infamous for being filled with disingenuous people. It also adds to the fast-paced action as Charlie and Vita fight their way out of sticky situations (caused by Charlie’s reckless choices).

Neither Charlie nor Vita are likable characters, but Charlie especially makes it hard to root for her as a heroine. Despite her constant careless behavior and terrible treatment of others, including her bodyguard Vita, she has moments of humanity and vulnerability that make you not want to give up on her. But much like Vita, you also can’t trust her. Their bickering dynamic points the story toward these two possibly getting together. However, the shared moments in this first volume feel forced, so it doesn’t seem like that relationship has been earned yet.

Charlie is openly and unapologetically bisexual. She has no problem talking about her many conquests, man and woman alike. There’s even a sequence at a club called Bifurious where the artwork is entirely done in “bisexual lighting” in case it hasn’t been made clear until then. She flirts shamelessly with Vita, which Vita doesn’t directly engage in at first, but she doesn’t discourage it either.

Vita is revealed to have had an ex-girlfriend in the police force, making her solidly sapphic. However, it hasn’t been made clear or stated outright that she is a lesbian. As the story progresses, she gets close to Charlie, and it’s hard to tell if she flirts with her client to gain her trust or if she genuinely likes her.

Overall, this first volume is a fun and zany read. And the plot twist at the end (which I won’t spoil here) left me wanting to find out what happens next.

Content warning: extreme violence

Manga-Curious: 5 Yuri Manga for First-Time Readers

For the longest time, I found manga intimidating, especially with the stereotype of manga being either sex fantasies for men or action-packed sagas. However, once I got past that initial fear (thanks to a coworker who helped me find some calmer titles to start off with), I found that manga, just like most formats, is more than just one genre. There are subgenres that where the plots are geared towards specific ages, with examples like:

  • kodomomuke (cutesy manga meant for young children), 
  • shonen (adventure stories marketed to teen boys), 
  • shojo (stories centered around exploration of relationships geared towards teen girls), 
  • seinen (adult fiction geared towards adult men), and 
  • josei (adult fiction centered around relationships marketed to adult women). 

Nowadays, I love narratives that center around personal relationships (platonic or romantic), which can be found more typically in shojo and josei works. If you want to get even more specific with it, there are sub-subgenres for romantic/sexual identities, such as BL (boy love) and yuri (sapphic). I think that is so cool, especially since I had started reading manga thinking that it was entirely centered on what men wanted to read and wouldn’t feature much, if any, queerness. If you want to get into manga, but don’t want to start with One Piece, never fear! Here are five of my favorite yuri manga that are great for people who haven’t read much manga before! 

Monthly In The Garden with My Landlord series by Yodokawa

Monthly in the Garden with My Landlord, Vol. 1 cover

After getting out of an unhealthy relationship with her ex-girlfriend, Asako Suga wants a completely fresh start and decides to move to into a cute house. The only thing she didn’t count on was that the house came with a cute live-in landlord, who seems to be hiding a secret about her past. As the two live together and learn more about each other, Asako and Miyako become closer in this cozy story. Monthly In The Garden with My Landlord is a fantastic beginner manga for people who love forced-proximity stories and new adult protagonists. The second volume just came out on March 19th, so be sure to get your copy here!

Just Friends by Ana Oncina

Just Friends cover

As a teenager, Erika was forced to go to an overnight camp by her mother, in an effort for Erika to make more friends. While there, she met a girl named Emi, who changed her life forever with their relationship. In this dual timeline manga, Erika and Emi are now adults, who remember that summer together as they engage in an affair marked by nostalgia and secrecy. Just Friends will make you long for the simplicity of your youth, even as you see how it can be weaponized into something unhealthy. I particularly enjoyed Just Friends because it didn’t feature a “good” relationship—it showed the spectrum on which relationships can reside, making this perhaps the most realistic of these titles.

The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This, Vol. 1 by Takashi Ikeda

The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This Vol. 1 cover

If you are a fan of the “they were roommates” trope, then you will want to read The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This. Scriptwriter Ellie and voice actress Wako are roommates, mentor and mentee… and lovers! This cozy manga covers their day-to-day lives as Ellie deals with writer’s block, Wako struggles with auditions, and the two hang out with friends. 

The Two of Them Are Pretty Much Like This is a four-volume series and is a delightfully quiet and charming example of slice of life manga. 

Our Teachers Are Dating series by Pikachi Ohi

Our Teachers Are Dating! Vol. 1 cover

If you like workplace romances, then you will like Our Teachers are Dating. Gym teacher Hayama and biology teacher Terano work together at an all-girls school and are crushing on each other hard. Their students and fellow teachers ship the two of them and work together to get the two teachers to confess. The rest of the volume covers the beginning of Hayama and Terano’s relationship, from stolen kisses at work to their first overnight trip. Our Teachers Are Dating is the first of four volumes in which we get to see this coworkers-to-lovers story, and the two protagonists are SUPER adorable. You’ll want to read this manga if you enjoy fluff stories, tender moments, and awkward (yet perfect) comedy. 

I Don’t Know Which is Love, Vol. 1 by Tamamushi Oku

I Don't Know Which Is Love, Vol. 1 cover

When Mei graduated high school, she was determined to leave behind an unfulfilled crush and to get a girlfriend in college. If only it was that simple… Mei is confronted with a variety of women at college and cannot decide who to pursue. With love interests like the older professor, the physically affectionate roommate, the voice-obsessed theatre techie, the sweet model, and the gregarious theatre ingenue, how will Mei ever choose? I will say, I Don’t Know Which is Love is verging on yuri harem territory, so be aware if you are not comfortable reading that kind of content. That being said, I loved reading this manga as it was super cute and played with the concept of having casual sapphic relationships. Definitely read it if you enjoy why-choose stories, romance, and college settings!

As always, you can get any of these books through your local library, indie bookstore, or through the Bookshop links above! Happy reading!

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, he acts in local community theaters and plays role-playing games. You can find them on GoodreadsTwitter, or Instagram.

A Land of Gods, Monsters, and Talking Cats: Monstress Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress Vol. 1 cover

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Oftentimes bleak but consistently awe-inspiring, Liu’s world of steampunk, art deco fantasy is a marvel to behold. This is definitely one to check the trigger warnings for.

Set in a world where humans and Arcanics (a cross between humans and a mystical race called Ancients) are at war, Monstress is the story of one Arcanic, Maika Halfwolf, who is searching for answers about her life whilst others threaten to end it. It is a story of oppression, war, and survival, weaved together with astounding detail and riveting lore.

What struck me during my time with this is its unabashed brutality. It is astonishingly dark, with violence akin to something like Berserk and worldbuilding which verges on lovecraftian: giant, cosmically horrifying gods; slavery, torture, and experimentation; and more than a few mentions of cannibalism. Coupled with the breathtaking art, we’re thrust into a world that is so visceral it becomes addictive. I could easily draw comparisons to a Miyazaki game such as Bloodborne with its grand aesthetics and remorseless atmosphere, but Monstress is wholly unique in its blend of mythology, magic, and feminine power. It is a story that not only features a female main character, but creates a world of deliberate female rage, with all of the important characters being female in the war-torn matriarchal society.

The story itself is unapologetically cruel with very few moments of respite. There are countless moments of violence, death, and suffering, points where you may think “surely not…”, but yes, it happens anyway. The intensity of the characters radiates off the page, each one fully realized and very believably capable of the atrocities which they commit. This is inclusive of our main character, Maika, who performs her own share of bloody vengeance as she attempts to uncover her past whilst dealing with an unknown force that threatens her life. Liu’s cast is filled with flawed, relentless characters who are almost all women—a rare treat in the world of comics. 

Despite the horror of it all, however, there’s also a grand sense of wonder within the pages. Liu draws from a slew of Asian mythologies to create the world of Monstress, populating the world with a number of magical creatures (including talking cats!). The dichotomy between these fantastical elements and the otherwise horror-esque ones only lends to expand what fantasy can be, and is all I could hope for as a fan of both genres. I also greatly appreciate it as an outlier in the genre of dark fantasy; too often in said genre are women used as props, only written to serve as a victim and experience assault at the hands of male characters to prove the “darkness” of the world, or to further the male character’s story. 

Overall, if you’re looking for a brutal, enchanting, sapphic fantasy comic with enough horror and violence to leave you feeling uneasy, then you will love Monstress as much as I did. 

Content Warnings: Graphic depictions of death, violence, gore, body horror, starvation, dismemberment, mutilation of corpses, child abuse/murder, animal abuse/murder, war

Lizzie is a femme non-binary (they/she) reader who loves anything weird, fantastical, and queer. You can find them predominantly on their instagram @creaturereader where they share pretty books and diverse recs.

Stories About Brave Women Who Don’t Take Shit from Anyone: The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

the cover of One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

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We all have our preferred coping methods. Mine is returning to comforting favorites: books that changed me, those old familiar stories that still move me, no matter the intervening years. 

These last seven years, Isabel Greenberg’s graphic novel The One Hundred Nights of Hero has been waiting quietly for me to pick it up again. The book itself is oversized, a choice I like to think foreshadows its impact, but let me tell you more about its insides first.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero is a collection of stories set within a love story about two women defying a patriarchal empire. The art is sketchy but striking, with a limited color palette of red, gold, and teal, enhancing black, white, and gray. The prose conveys the same style—simple and striking—with the added zing of snark, allowing the story itself to shine. 

The prologue opens with a world creation myth. Early Earth was perfect, but this soon changes due to a God’s meddling. This God, Birdman, fanatically desires worship and adoration. “See these humans Kiddo has created… Happily breeding. Left, right and centre. NO MORE! I shall give them ME. They will learn to fear me, they will learn to do my bidding… They will worship me.” 

Properly furnished with this context, we arrive at the city of Migdal Bavel in the midst of a fireside conversation between Manfred and Jerome. Here, devotees of Birdman hold sway and women are seen as little more than amusing possessions, forbidden from learning to read and write.

We learn of Manfred’s difficulties with women. Alas, after he killed his first wife for being assaulted, he’s unable to find a woman who meets his highly specific criteria: “Beautiful. Clever enough to have a conversation, not clever enough to disagree with [him]. Obedient. Chaste. Good at mending socks. NOT ambitious. Marriage to [him] must be the height of her ambition. Interested in [his] passions. Falconry, battlements, maps, etcetera. But not as good as [him] at those things.” Hearing this, his friend Jerome points out that his wife, Cherry, is all of those things. And so he sets a ludicrous wager. He will give Manfred one hundred nights to attempt to seduce his wife Cherry, who is so incredibly chaste that even he has not “taken her virtue.” 

Years before this shameful fireside chat between Manfred and Jerome, Cherry fell in love with her maid, Hero. They shared a single wonderful summer together before Cherry was forced into marrying Jerome. Now, faced with a similar seemingly inescapable situation, they come up with a bold plan. They will distract Manfred with an enchanting story every evening for the next one hundred nights, in the grand tradition of One Thousand and One Nights

The graphic novel unspools from there, Hero telling story after story to a rapt Manfred and an anxious Cherry. We learn mysterious and tantalizing tidbits about Migdal Bavel and Hero. Some stories are familiar but end in a new way, such as the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Others are wholly new, like the story of the Secret League of Storytellers, a group of women who resolve to tell “…all the stories that are never told…And above all, stories about brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.” The guards are enthralled too, and soon the entire city of Migdal Bavel whispers about Hero’s stories. 

(Spoilers, highlight to read) When Jerome returns home on the one hundredth night and Cherry’s virtue remains intact, Manfred screams witchcraft, and the women are taken to the tallest tower… You can imagine the end that awaits them there. I refuse to spoil it for you, but know that I cried in queer despair and joy.

There is so much to love in Greenberg’s graphic novel. There are beautiful repetitions and throughlines, like women not being sorry, not even one bit, like brave women who don’t take shit from anyone, and recurring devices like a magic pebble. These stories unfurl, less in a linear progression and more in a self-referential spiral, all adding up to inform the gorgeous ending. 

I’ve carried the bold and unrepentant spirit of The One Hundred Nights of Hero’s love story with me since the first time I read it in 2017, and I hope you choose to do the same.

Warnings: misogyny, nudity; mentioned but not depicted: sexual assault, violence