I definitely had a honeymoon period with comics. Back when I first started reading comics in January, I could not devour them fast enough. I was reading close to a comic book per day, and although I did not love them all as much as Saga, each new book felt like an entry into an entirely new and miraculous world.
Three months and fifty-one comic books later, I’m still completely in love with this art form, but already, reading comics feels deeply familiar–and therefore I’ve become more critical about what I choose to read. Comics are now part of my usual reading repertoire, and I’ve started to treat them the way I treat any other book: if it’s not wonderful, if it doesn’t challenge me or change me or open me or make me laugh out loud, then I don’t have precious time to waste on it.
It’s also been fascinating to look at the ways in which reading comics has affected my overall reading patterns. I’ve read almost as many books so far this year as I read during all of last year–mostly because I’ve read fifty-one comic books!
The most interesting pattern on the spreadsheet, however, is that of the 112 books I’ve started this year, sixty-five of them had a main character of color, and forty-eight of them had a queer main character. This is almost entirely due to the comics I’ve been reading, which tend to peopled with diverse characters, are often self-published or started out as webcomics, and frequently have radical political undertones.
This has me thinking about representation and accessibility, both in comics and in literature in general. There are thousands of books out there written by diverse authors and with diverse characters. Yet since I started reading comics, I’m reading more stories about people who are not white and straight. Maybe it’s a numbers things–more books equals more opportunities for a wider range of stories. Or maybe there’s something about comics that makes it easier for me to find and read those stories. Maybe it’s because I started reading comics at a particular time in my life, when I was already thinking critically about my own reading, and so I’m drawn to comics that are by and/or about queer folks and folks of color, or comics that have a definite feminist or radical political tilt.
I realize that the comics industry has a long and white-male-dominated history. What’s interesting is that for me, comics are almost inherently the opposite of patriarchal. Maybe there’s a renaissance going on in comics right now, and I just caught the wave. Or maybe this is what all literature would like to all of us if this is how we were introduced to books: not by what the industry deems worthy, but by all the books that are out there, telling the varied and beautiful stories of the world as it truly is.
Without future ado, this week’s Comics Gobble. Happy reading!
Top Comics of the Week
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
When nine-year old Phoebe, smart, sassy, awkward, and a little bit lonely, skips a rock across a pond, she doesn’t expect to encounter a unicorn that will change everything. The unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (best name ever), grants Phoebe one wish, and thus Phoebe and Marigold become best friends. Their friendship is honest and funny and tender, but there’s nothing sentimental or cloying about it.
This comic is so funny that I laughed out loud on nearly every other page. It’s warming and witty, but the sarcasm is never so sharp that it feels mean. It’s also one of those brilliant books that both kids and adults can enjoy—some of the humor will be a bit old for younger kids, but there’s so much magic and silliness beneath it. Anyone—of any age—who’s ever felt different or alone will be able to relate to the magic of the blossoming friendship between Phoebe and Marigold.
I did not expect to love this comic as much as I did. I’ve read three volumes now and I’m so glad I have two more to look forward to!
Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Mulligan and Molly Ostertag
Superhero comics aren’t my favorite, but I’d heard a lot of great things about this one, so I decided to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did, because it was superb. Alison Green is one of thousands of teenagers around the world who discovered, overnight, that they’d become “biodynamic”—physically or mentally transformed into superheros (or super villains). For years, Alison fought crime as Mega Girl, one of the most powerful superheros around, invincible and with incredible strength. However, after a meeting with her arch enemy, she quit the business and attempted to go to college like a normal twenty-year old.
I won’t get into the plot, but I loved the way this comic dealt with questions of identity and morality—what does it mean to be a superhero and what’s really the difference between a hero and a villain? Alison questions everything from her own worth to the morality of the work she used to do so easily to whether the world is worth saving at all. The story grappled with big ideas but it never felt tired or cliched. Alison’s character didn’t exactly feel like a superhero, but more like a young woman with extraordinary powers, struggling with big—but ordinary—questions. I found this both relatable and interesting.
Throughout the book, the authors chime in with footnotes spoken directly to the reader. At first I found these annoying, but I actually grew to love them. The story itself was serious, but the footnotes were almost always funny or frivolous. After I got used to it, I enjoyed this contrast, which added to both my enjoyment of the comic and the overall honesty and complexity of the story.
Not-Quite-Gobble-Worthy Comics I Enjoyed
Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology, edited by Sfe R. Monster
This was a wonderful collection of short comics celebrating the varied and wonderful spectrum of LGBTQ identity. I loved the range of imagination on display—the sheer vastness of the various worlds, planets, kingdoms, creatures, ships, technologies and magics drawn and explored. Some of the stories were strange and wonderful; some strange and unintelligible to me; some straightforward and sad, others joyful. Some were about aliens, some were about humans, some were about monsters, some were about families. They all celebrated queer characters—whether in magical realms, distant planets, or living on spaceships.
I’m still getting used to short comics, and that’s why I didn’t fall head over heels in love with this anthology. It takes some time to warm up to each artist’s style, to fall into the specific world they create. I found myself wanting these stories to go on longer. I’m planning on rereading this anthology and I think I may like it even better the second time around.
Artifice by Alex Woolfson and Winona Nelson
Essentially, Artifice is a love story. Deacon is an android solider, and Jeff Linnell is a nineteen year old human, part of a group of men Deacon was sent to kill. When Deacon doesn’t kill him, it creates suspicion among the people who made him and use him.
I loved this comic. It was an interesting love story about two men in a not-completely-unique but still interesting universe people by androids and the corporations that own them. The art was gorgeous. I was especially blow away by the detail and precision in the facial expressions of even the most minor characters. So much emotion and subtext came through in the art. At times it felt rushed, and there were moments when I wanted the story to delve further into the relationship between Deacon and Jeff—but overall, it was a satisfying, moving, and engaging story.
I’m slowly working my way through Lumberjanes issue by issue, as I’ve finished all the currently available volumes. It’s also one of the few comics which is readily available through the library, which is big plus. Lumberjanes is a truly wonderful comic, but here’s the thing: about halfway through, Carolyn Nowak replaced Brooke Allen as the illustrator for the series. I wish I could say it didn’t matter…but I just don’t like it. At least not yet. There’s something about her style that feels much more cartoony to me; the characters are not as expressive, and even more distracting, they don’t feel like the same people to me. I take it this is a fairly common occurrence in the comics world, but as a new reader of comics, it’s throwing me off. Lumberjanes feels like a completely different book.
March, Books Two and Three. I read the first book of John Lewis’s civil rights graphic memoir, and the only reason I didn’t include it in my top comics this week was because I wanted to read all three books before writing about it. I can’t wait, because the first book was fantastic!