As a comics scholar and an instructor who often teaches comics, I was delighted to digitally attend this year's Teaching and Learning with Comics panel at the San Diego Comic-Con@Home event. (Big ups to the SDCC for facilitating such an engaging set of panels so seamlessly during this pandemic!) This panel's lovely and lively moderators include Peter Carlson (of Green Dot Public Schools), Susan Kirtley (of Portland State University), and Antero Garcia (of Stanford University). The panelists include Nick Sousanis (Unflattening), Ebony Flowers (Hot Comb), David F. Walker (Naomi), and Brian Michael Bendis (Naomi). Due to the pandemic, this panel takes place in three distinct "conversations" between two panel moderators and each respective creator (Walker and Bendis appear together, having both worked on Naomi.), rather than in standard "panel" format. Though I do think that these four creators might have had a lively, engaging conversation were they able to be in the same space together, I commend all involved for putting together a great panel despite those challenges.
Amid rising tensions between Hong King and China, and especially given that this year was the first in thirty years that Hong Kong was not allowed to hold vigils commemorating the violence in Tiananmen Square, Tiananmen 1989 seems especially prescient; it seems to speak both to the memory of the violence itself and to mourn the recent losses in the ongoing struggle for Democracy that Hong Kong has engaged in for decades. Not only does this text feel especially of a moment, but it's also both an excellent primer for younger readers who may not have learned about Tiananmen Square in school and a nuanced account of the political, social, and cultural upheavals preceding that attack.
When I started playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in December of 2017, I was immediately entranced by the beautiful, open-world design of the game, the immersive storyline, and the intricate character design. For me, the game mechanics were (and remain) secondary to the more narrative elements of the text. I was thrilled to receive a review copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Creating a Champion, because it allowed me to further indulge in the rich fantasy space of the Zelda universe.
Little Guardians: Volume 2 - Bandits and Betrayers opens in media res, partway through the attempted robbery of Verdo the Whole-Saler by a group of unidentified ruffians, setting the reader up to expect troubles for Verdo (now with only half of his stock), as well as the return of the ruffians and the treat of lawlessness they bring. Good thing for Subira’s mentor and guide who expertly cons their way out of the village for Guardian training, so that Subira can earn her spirit orb. Or, this is the story that is forecast in the opening pages; we don’t get much exploration of Subira and her story in this installment. Instead, we get a bit of movement in her storyline. She is well on her way to Guardian training by the end!—and a lot of stage-setting in her home village of Yowza that helps to build stakes for her eventual, triumphant return.
After I arranged to review this book, the publisher sent me a physical copy of the second installment of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband. This is the first time I’ve received a physical review copy of a text, making My Brother’s Husband: Volume 2 a bit of an outlier in my review experience. The decision to send a physical book is eminent, as it drew my attention to several features and oddities inherent to the text. My Brother’s Husband is a manga, which means that it is meant to be read from right to left (the reverse of traditional left-to-right page and book orientation in most of Western publishing). For a Canadian reader who is broadly unfamiliar with Japanese publishing, and with manga in particular, the experience of reading this text was different; my awareness of page layouts and pacing was heightened, and I was vividly reminded of the text’s form every time I turned a page. The decision, then, to send a physical copy of the text was pragmatic, as it enabled me to make a closer, more detailed account of the ways that My Brother’s Husband is, at its core, a queer text.
Minority Monsters is an extremely cute, fun, accessible guide to sex, gender, and power. It may sound like I’m being flippant, but I mean nothing of the sort. Minority Monsters takes the reader through the fabled Alphabet Soup Land alongside our curious, well-intentioned guide— Frank Aura, the explorer— as he meets, observes, and interviews a wide variety of gender and sexuality non-conformers who are cast as a wide range of mythical beasts. From Sir Fabulous the bisexual unicorn (who is not invisible, thankyouverymuch) to Vlad the Vegan Vanilla Vampire, the text covers as full a spectrum of expressions of gender and sexual identity (and their various intersections) as one could hope to see in a comic. Each of the monsters is centered in their own right: Each is able to tell their own identity story and sometimes answer Frank Aura’s misguided questions— always with grace and often with humor.
If you enjoyed the unsettling deep dive into Allister Ward’s presumed psychosis that was Knight in the Snake Pit #1, the second installment is sure to please you. Allister remains trapped between the dark world of the asylum and the fantastic quest—complete with a king, a dragon, fellow knights, and an unnamed, yet harrowing, enemy-- that invades his reality, with no further clues to aid him in deciphering between reality and fantasy (Read: psychosis.) than he is left with at the end of volume one. The plot, nevertheless, progresses; the stakes are raised right off the bat when Allister is left to take the fall for several dead bodies, and all of the various sides that seem to be wrestling for both his body and his mind approach him with an added urgency. To make matters worse, it seems that the question of trust is muddied on all sides; Allister must learn who he can trust, but also prove that he is trustworthy, all with a limited grasp of his world and an inability to ground himself fully in either space.
In his introductory note, David Petersen describes Mouse Guard: The Black Axe as a creator’s quest, a text that challenged him to produce more detailed characters and worlds alongside a standard quest narrative. Two mice, Em and Celanwe, discover that they are distantly related and the last living members of their bloodline, and they go in search of the Black Axe - a prized family artifact. Their quest takes them to distant lands and into the kingdom of dangerous enemies, and it is well balanced with character development and worldbuilding.
Hazel and Mari are each other’s one true love in a time when same-sex attraction is seen as repulsive, and even sinful. Torn apart by their families, they each find socially suitable partners (men), marry, have children and grandchildren, and build their careers. When they eventually reunite, they find their love has remained over time, and this time, they can’t let it go. Bingo Love is a tale of heartbreak, social change, and redemption.
Knight in the Snake Pit #1 is a chilling comic that tells the beginning of the story of Allister Ward, a man who wakes up in an asylum with no memories and no concept of why he’s there. Madness is the only constant in Allister’s life, and the text follows him as he moves between a confusing, maddening reality and paranoid episodes with narrative coherence and structure far beyond what he experiences otherwise.