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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Susan reviews Mahou Josei Chimaka by Kaiju

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Mahou Josei Chimaka by Kaiju is a graphic novel riffing on all of the magical girl stories you know and love: as a teenage magical girl, Chimaka collected all of the artifacts she needed to save the world, went to battle her Destined Foe… And lost. Badly. After that, she broke up with her Destined Boyfriend From Their Past Life, failed most of her classes, and now Chimaka works as a Somewhat Bitter chemical engineer – at least until her Destined Foe wakes up again, and she is called upon to try to reclaim the magical powers she had as a teenager.

The core of the story revolves around Chimaka and her best friend/coworker, Pip; Chimaka confesses that she’s a magical girl to Pip (in a scene that made me laugh quite a lot) that she was a magical girl and now can’t access her magic, which Pip takes as a challenge to introduce Chimaka to the magic in the life that she is living right now. It’s really sweet and becomes a slow building romance of Pip putting so much thought and effort into impressing Chimaka, and Chimaka realising how much she appreciates Pip and her efforts. It’s really cute and sweet, and I enjoyed how it progressed!

To be perfectly honest with you, this is what I wanted from Sailor Moon: a consideration of how a character’s past life does not necessarily affect who they are in their present one. Plus, it explicitly engages with the idea of fulfilling a destiny and whether that is something that works for the character. It was so nice to read! (Although, without spoilers: I’m not sure how I feel about the creator’s use of a real world religion in the ending, even though I do enjoy the trope that they use when it’s in the context of a fantasy religion. Your mileage may vary!)

A quick word on the art – I quite liked it! The best parts for me were probably the costumes (very cute) and the facial expressions, because this comic has such a great sense of humour, and a lot of that is carried off visually. Chimaka makes exactly the right right faces for having to get her reports done and deal with the end of the world.

In summary: I think that this is a really cool take on magical girl tropes and on the question of “What do you do after you’ve saved the world?”, with a sweet queer romance holding it all together. Definitely recommended.

I read the paperback version of this, but it can also be read for free online. My copy had a misprint that lost page 26 from chapter one; if you end up in the same boat, it can be found here.)

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-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Katelyn reviews Wet Moon Volume 1: Feeble Wanderings by Sophie Campbell

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I must start this review by saying that I never read graphic novels—not for any particular reason besides that I never felt drawn to any—but this one intrigued me. The cover itself looked so ethereal yet dark and gave off the same vibes as the Southern Gothic stories I loved so much as a teenager, which is funny since the series is about a group of goths in the South.

Wet Moon Volume 1 follows Cleo Lovedrop and her friends as they begin their freshman year at an art school in the fictional town of Wet Moon, Florida. There is romance, mystery, and something even more sinister just beneath the surface of this swampy town…at least I think. Even after reading through the first book three times, I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to be happening, mostly because nothing seems to be happening yet. It is clear that some of the characters are not straight though, so I do know that much.

It seems to me that Campbell meant for this book to be an introduction to the series, but it’s a hazy introduction at best. It’s clear that there are issues between certain characters (like Cleo and the mysterious guy she keeps bumping into) but it isn’t clear enough to build suspense necessary to keep me reading.

The lack of plot and clarity are part of a bigger issue: the writing. Campbell’s writing is the biggest downfall. Writers who say can a lot in a few words are hard to find, and that’s what this book needs to have the same impact that the artwork has.

However, even without much of a plot or much clarity, the book probably could have been saved with well-rounded, interesting characters. Unfortunately, the characters seem more like middle-schoolers than college kids, and none of them are very likable; when they aren’t at each other’s’ throats (they don’t seem to have healthy or even pleasant friendships) they come off as generally uncaring toward other people, or in Cleo’s case, whiny and needy. The most likable character seems to be Audrey, but she still isn’t very interesting.

Reading this book was a bit of a struggle, not just because of the writing quality, but also because the words themselves were sometimes hard to decipher. They seem to be written in Campbell’s handwriting, which means that when one character has a lot to say, the words are crammed in one giant bubble. The journal entries were especially hard to read; I found myself spending a long time trying to read  them, and then when I finally did, I was frustrated to discover that they added very little to the (almost nonexistent) plot.

The one saving grace of this book was the artwork; it is absolutely gorgeous, and all of the characters are unique and diverse in terms of race, body type, etc. My favorite panels are the ones where Cleo and Myrtle look at themselves in the mirror. In some comics, they would have been drawn to look sexually appealing, but instead they looked like real women in the privacy of their bathrooms.

I only wish Campbell had hired someone else to write the book or to work with her on it. The artwork deserves much better accompaniment.

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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Danika reviews Snapshots of a Girl by Beldan Sezen

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Snapshots of a Girl is a graphic memoir that follows Sezen in her coming out process–to the world at large, to her Turkish family, but mostly to herself. As the title suggests, we get glimpses into different stages in her life, titled things like “The Denial Years” (including “Boy #1” – “Boy #3”) and “Coming Out To My Mother” parts 1-3.

I enjoyed the different illustration styles throughout this memoir. They range from metaphorical and vague images to detailed portraits of various people in her life. Although at some points the short sections and varied styles could feel disjointed, I could see how these were the pivotal moments in this story that really didn’t need the in-between to support them.

My favourite section is near the beginning and really sets the tone for the story. Sezen is 18 and has fallen in love with an older female coworker. She doesn’t dwell on this and instead tells her coworker, unexpectedly finding that this leads to  them in bed together. As she is sleeping with a woman for the first time, she gets completely overwhelmed and abruptly gets up, gets dressed, and leaves without really saying anything to the other woman, and then she just doesn’t really consider her sexuality again for years. (Thus, “The Denial Years.”) It makes for such a comic scene, for her to suddenly backpedal on this whole process, but it’s also refreshing for breaking up the usual linear coming out storyline. Sometimes you come out of the closet and then go back in, and sometimes you embrace and identity temporarily and spend years trying to regain it. Coming out–and also growing up–doesn’t happen the same way and in the same order for everyone.

This was a quick and interesting read. It reminded me of a zine in style (though it is almost 150 pages long), so if you’re a fan of that medium, I think you’ll really enjoy this one. Definitely worth picking up for graphic novel/memoir fans!

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

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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.

Marcia reviews Stumptown Vol 1 by Greg Rucka, illustrated by Matthew Southworth

Stumptown

Dex Parios may be a down-on-her-luck gambler who has put a few too many dollars on the house tab, but she is a talented investigator – and it’s those investigative skills that will get her out of debt, and, unfortunately, into trouble. The volume one of the graphic novel Stumptown, written by Greg Rucka (Gotham Central, Queen & Country) and illustrated by Matthew Southworth (Ares, Infinity, Inc.) is a modern noir taking place in familiar Portland, Oregon – but instead of the whimsical Portland we may be familiar with from IFC series Portlandia, this is a grimmer place filled with real people, not caricatures, more reminiscent of The Killing than “Put a Bird on It.”

When Parios’ debt is called at the Wind Coast, head of operations Sue-Lynne hires Dex to find her missing granddaughter who appears to have left in a hurry, taking just about every important thing she owns but her car. While on Charlotte’s trail, Dex stumbles onto the dark crime underbelly of Portland, a mystery that may end up getting Dex herself killed in the crossfire.

Stumptown is drawn in blues and yellows, with realistic figures and pacing. Those familiar with Rucka’s writing know he is no stranger to the competent-yet-full-fleshed-and-flawed female lead. Parios is no exception. She also happens to be bisexual. There is no underestimating the importance, for me, to be placed on lesbian and bisexual characters in mainstream media. These are stories not necessarily marketed only to us, but giving our stories (as humans who lead full lives, a portion of which involve sexual and emotional attraction to those of our same gender and sex) to an audience that may have them before.

With the release of Stumptown’s second volume just around the corner, I considered this an apt time to recommend the first volume, and Rucka’s work in general. Greg Rucka is one of the few male authors I trust to write not only lesbian and bisexual characters but true feminist narratives. His previous gay-relevant awards are the 2004 Harvey Award for Gotham Central (in which Renee Montoya, Gotham Latina cop and lesbian is outed by a co-worker, and the 2010 GLAAD Media Award for Detective Comics introduction of Batwoman Kate Kane, veteran, Jew, and lesbian.

For those not familiar with the DC Comics universe, Stumptown – which features neither superheroes nor super powers – is a great introduction to graphic novels and to Rucka’s work. For those wanting a great way to ease into the world of Batman and capes, Gotham Central works much like a procedural that just happens to exist in a world where the weekly villains sometimes fly.

Lena reviews No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics edited by Justin Hall

I probably should start off by addressing my biases.  I’m one of those people who thought Allison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” actually was one of the best books of the past ten years, one of those people who knows all the staff at the local comic book store and, although I try to smile and nod sympathetically, I’m one of those people who can’t figure out why someone would say, “Comics just don’t do it for me.”  There are pictures and words and sometimes superheroes – anything can happen.

With those disclaimers, “No Straight Lines” is kind of a literary wet dream.  It’s a queer comic anthology that does an impressive job of not only showcasing the best of the last forty years of queer comics, but also giving an sensitive and interesting look at the development of the queer identity.

We begin with a fascinating introduction by editor Justin Hall.  While addressing the conceit of the book, Hall’s introduction also serves as a crash course for those of us, myself included, who don’t know much about the origins of queer comics.  It creates a nice frame of reference for the comics that follow.

The body of the book is divided into three sections: “Comics Come Out: Gay gag strips, underground comix, and lesbian literati,” “File under Queer: Comix to comics, punk zines and art during the plague,” and “A New Millennium: Trans creators, webcomics, and stepping out of the ghetto.”  From there the comics are presented without comment as they were originally published.

In the first section we see the early uses of the comic medium to express a queer voice as well as some really amazing Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas paper dolls.  Although lesbians are openly depicted, it is obvious that the cartoonists were still grappling with the sense of “wrongness” associated with the lesbian identity.  Lesbian characters in these comics are shown living within the gothic trope of the madwoman in the haunted castle, imprisoned by a society with satirically harsh laws against homosexuality or having to flee or escape from conventional society.  While these scenarios are all painted in a humorous light, often reclaiming the tropes, there is also a serious attempt to address the mainstream perception that lesbianism is something wrong.

This process is best illustrated by the short comic by Joyce Farmer in which a young girl has a crisis of identity when she realizes the knight she has been fantasizing about is really Ingrid Bergman in drag for the movie “Joan of Arc.”  I myself had a similar crisis at around the same age, except there was no suit of armor to skew Ingrid Bergman’s gender identity in “Casablanca.”  But unlike me, the girl in Farmer’s comic only finds herself in crisis after she is attacked by a friend for her interest in Ingrid.  In contrast to most of the comics in this section, in the last panel we see her wondering what could be wrong with her.

Moving from general perceptions of the queer community, the second section deals specifically with the AIDS virus and its catastrophic effects.  The section begins with one of the few color spreads of the volume, a beautiful and heartbreaking piece from “7 Miles a Second” about the sheer rage that transforms the speaker into a giant, depicted smashing through the steeple of a church.  In the pieces directly relating to the impact of AIDS, there is an increase of shadows and darkness in the art as well as breathtaking honesty.  For someone like me, who was too young to know the worst of the AIDS crisis in America, these comics felt incredibly real and demonstrated how important it is to keep telling those stories.

The act of telling these stories also brings an increase in the first-person narrator.  The earlier comics were often narrated by an outside voice or without a narrator, but as the subject matter becomes more internalized, we see the development of a queer autobiographical voice.  These first-person story-comics were some of my favorites in the book including a gay man’s experiences in Israel (“Weekends Abroad” – Eric Orner) and a beautiful retrospective of a relationship (“Emile” – Fabrice Neaud).  The lesbian comics featured use this voice to explore the creation of  lesbian space; a place were a lesbian identity could flourish away from the rules and moulds of heteronormative society.  There is an effort to define and redefine lesbian stereotypes in comics such as “Bitchy Butch, the world’s angriest dyke” (Roberta Gregory) to give them more depth and clarity.  But such redefinitions often fell flat for me because those stereotypes have morphed in the years since those comics into something else entirely.

The move towards re-identity and re-definition of a lesbian or queer experience carries us out of the second section and into the third.  Allison Bechdel gets straight to the point of the with her comic, “Oppressed Minority Cartoonist,” in which the lesbian label is limiting rather than defining and she would rather simply be a cartoonist.  New voices emerge in the form of trans and genderqueer creators and we see an exploration of new ways to be queer and their impact on the preexisting queer community.   The trans voice is fascinating, but I felt like a lot of the comics dealt with issues that I had just seen comics exploring in the first part of the book.  There is a return to the justification of a queer identity against societal pressure and an anxiety about being gay that hadn’t felt as prevalent in the comics of the eighties and nineties.  I don’t know if this is a product of today’s society as being queer is often fetishized by mainstream media while at the same time our social and political rights continue to be jeopardized and attacked.

As Hall readily admits in his introduction, it is always hard for an anthology to cover everything.  Many of the comics included are selections from longer works and I was often left with a feeling of missing a larger story.  They also struggle with alienating younger readers such as myself.  While stories from the early years of AIDS brought me clarity there were plenty of references and scenes that simply went over my head.  But comics Hall has included present the artist growth and development of a community through four decades and a wonderful piece of queer history.

Danika reviews The Abandoned by Ross Campbell

I learned about The Abandoned from Good Lesbian Books’s Lesbian Fiction list. A lesbian zombie graphic novel?! Sounds too good to be true! I tried to brace myself before reading it. Maybe there would just be gay undertones. Nope! It’s established from the first couple of pages that Rylie is into girls, though romance isn’t really a big plot line in the book. And when I actually got The Abandoned in my hands, it looked even better. A fat lesbian PoC protagonist?! And the art is amazing. Rylie is just as awesome as she looks. She and the other characters in The Abandoned have their own interesting personalities and interactions with each other. Rylie is the only person of colour character, but there are other queer characters. Honestly, the only complaint I have is that there isn’t more! I read The Abandoned in one sitting. Apparently, there were supposed to be two additional volumes, but they got cancelled. I wouldn’t say, as some reviews do, that this volume ended on a cliffhanger, exactly, but it is open-ended. The Abandoned also has some hardcore zombie gore. You do see people torn apart. So if you like zombie gore and lesbians, I highly recommend this!