Title: Woman World Author: Aminder Dhaliwal Rating: ★★★★ Summary: When a birth defect wipes out the planet’s entire population of men, Woman World rises out of society’s ashes. This infectiously funny comic follows the rebuilding process, tracking a group of women who have rallied together under the flag of “Beyonce’s Thighs.” Only Grandma remembers the distant past, a civilization of segway-riding mall cops, Blockbuster movie rental shops, and “That’s What She Said” jokes. Incorporating feminist philosophical concerns into a series of perfectly-paced strips, Woman World skewers perceived notions of femininity and contemporary cultural icons into a meditation on unrequited love, anxiety, and that whole “survival of humanity” thing.
Woman World is a highly original tale of what happens after global catastrophe, wherein biological men don’t survive (for…reasons) and women band together and create the most utopic, inclusive post-apocalyptic vision I have ever read. (Aminder Dhaliwal makes it very clear that all genders, sizes, races, and abilities are welcome, both in Woman World the society and Woman World the book. One of the main characters has a leg prosthetic! Another has double-mastectomy scarring! There are trans individuals! A monochromatic rainbow of skin colors! Fat ladies! Thin ladies! Pubic hair!)
Although I sped through the book—and laughed out loud at jokes that only a critique on gender norms can bring to the surface—I still wanted more. I went into Woman World thinking it was going to be a narrative graphic novel, but it’s more of a vaguely linear collection of panels that very slowly move the story forward. (If I had known Dhaliwal originally posted this on Instagram, would that notion have changed?) Some of the panels more fully flesh out the broader world while others are individual character studies, but most of the book consists of humorous asides that serve to poke fun at the patriarchy with which readers (and Grandma) will most identify. (Like how bad-ass women are with respect to their own pain or a book-spanning joke on Paul Blart Mall Cop.)
Woman World is a very short read and, although almost every installment can stand on its own, the collection as a whole is just so darn cute and wonderfully refreshing that you’d be remiss to pass it over.
Title: On a Sunbeam Author: Tillie Walden Rating: ★★ Summary: Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken structures, painstakingly putting the past together. Two girls meet in boarding school and fall deeply in love, only to learn the pain of loss. With two interwoven timelines and stunning art, On a Sunbeam showcases an inventive world, breathtaking romance, and an epic quest for love.
On a Sunbeam was a fantastic coming-of-age lesbian romance sandwiched between stunning artwork, but I got so lost trying to figure out how things were happening that I couldn’t fully appreciate the story. The main character, Mia, has a soft and sweet relationship with Grace, a new student at her boarding school, but then, five years later, she’s part of an all-female crew planet-hopping through space to restore crumbling architecture. Cool! But like… where does this book take place? A teacher mentions interplanetary colonization (“there was a large movement of young people to the rural fields area around Jupiter in the early ’50s”) but is it our Jupiter? Which “50s”? Is this the future or an alternate timeline? Does Earth exist? Are they living on it right now?
One of the best parts of the book is how natural and easy the f/f pairings are. Practically everyone we meet is female, and any disparaging comments made about Mia and Grace’s relationship happen because of regular ‘ole teenage bullying instead of their gender. Feminine pronouns are explicitly used save for one character, Elliot, who is non-binary using they/them pronouns. So the gender binary exists… but not men? Like, do men just not exist in this story or do they not exist in this world? Characters use terms like girlfriend, mother, sister, and aunt but do they know that they’re using gendered pronouns? If yes, why enforce the dichotomy by having Elliot break it?
I know that most readers absolutely adored this story, but being thrown into a fantasy world with little to no explanation just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t help but question everything–which I knew was taking away from my own enjoyment, but my mind wouldn’t quit. Like, why are the spaceships shaped like fish? How do the buildings float and keep their inhabitants alive? What the heck does Mia learn in her boarding school? Cellphones exist but I guess not email or the internet? Mia literally “want[s] to infiltrate one of the most deadly and secluded areas of space… to talk to” Grace but she can’t, I don’t know, look her up somewhere???
Walden’s illustrations were seriously gorgeous, with even the coloring contributing to the narrative, but I didn’t even have the patience to stare at the background details because I remained confused for literally the entire novel. My focus drifted among characters who looked the same and gave important backstory through quick dialogue. By the end, though, I was quickly flipping pages, hoping that maybe the next one would give me some clarity. (Spoiler: it never did.)
Title: Spill Zone Author: Scott Westerfeld Rating: ★★★★★ Summary: Nobody’s ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one’s allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world.
A mind-bendy, trippy exploration of an unexplainable (and unnatural?) phenomenon and its physical and emotional aftermath,Spill Zone is a truly wtf-is-going-on-here start to a fantastic series. Although it measures over 200 pages, this graphic novel feels like nothing short of a whirlwind introduction to main character Addison’s life post-Spill — sneaking into the containment zone and navigating the physical realities of the Spill to take pictures of who-knows-what and providing for her (probably traumatized) sister. I literally had to force myself to slow down and admire the gorgeous illustrations by Alex Puvilland and coloring by Hilary Sycamore because all I really wanted to do was speed-read fast enough through Westerfeld’s narrative.
And then I got to the end of the book and blinked a lot and thought, “Well, that sucks” because it just ends and I NEED MORE. Honestly, if I had known this was merely the start of a series, I would have waited to read the entire narrative arc — because right now I am itching for Westerfeld to finish this goddamn masterpiece and July can’t come soon enough for The Broken Vow.
Title: Lumberjanes, vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Authors: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen (illustrator)
Summary: At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together… And they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.
Title: Ms. Marvel NOW! vol. 1: No Normal, vol. 2: Generation Why, and vol. 3: Crushed Authors: G. Willow Wilson (author vol. 1-3), Adrian Alphona (artist vol. 1-2), Elmo Bondoc (artist vol. 3), Humberto Ramos (illustrator vol. 3), Jacob Wyatt (artist vol. 2), Mark Waid (author vol. 3), and Takeshi Miyazawa (artist vol. 3)
Summary: Kamala Khan is just an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm!
For me, reading graphic novels acts as both a palate cleanser and a productivity boost: something to reinvigorate a reading slump after a couple of disappointing choices (I’m looking at you, Modern Romance) and allow me to finish a self-contained work in an afternoon (gotta pump up those Goodreads counts, y’all). What I did not plan, however, was falling completely in love with both Lumberjanes and the new iteration of Ms. Marvel. Thinking I would just casually flip through my copies of Beware the Kitten Holy and No Normal and then scurry off to something else was a rookie mistake. After reading the last panel of Lumberjanes, vol. 1, I slowly savored each page of extra content, unwilling to close the flap and declare the journey over. What were Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley up to and how soon would their adventures arrive in the next trade edition? I was able to satisfy my thirst for more “hard-core lady-types” with Kamala Khan, but diving into her world only allowed a binge session of No Normal, Generation Why, and then Crushed… followed by the inevitable position of being caught up with a finite number of issues. (Like bingeing on Netflix only to be faced with one new episode weeks apart. PURE. AGONY.)
Both Lumberjanes and Ms. Marvel are quick studies in supernatural and speculative fiction (respectively), showcasing kick ass females, body positivity, and self-reliance. Kamala might wear a dress and be an über fangirl toward Wolverine (he exists irl okay, and it is awesome), but she still knows how to throw an epic punch and battle a robot Thomas Edison – ’cause exhibiting stereotypical feminine characteristics does not mean a person is weak, thank you very much, and G. Willow Wilson makes sure we know that just as much as Kamala does. Then there’s the graphic novel equivalent of actual female bodies peppered throughout Lumberjanes – tattooed and soft and short and tall and leggy and masculine – paired with an “everybody is strong in their own way” message that never feels forced or heavy handed. Even if I can’t be any of these girls, I want to at least know them and soak up their self-esteem and feminism. (Because any good reader knows that a journey of self-empowerment does not end in the pages of the book.)
There’s a reason each paperback is aimed at teens and tweens – hello high school politics and post-puberty body shame – but there’s also no good reason why the totally rad (yet sadly fictional) exploits of five teenagers or Kamala’s journey of self-discovery can’t also apply to twenty- and thirty-somethings grasping at their own self-identity. Being kind to yourself and celebratory of your own strengths is hard, y’all, but the hardcore ladies of Lumberjanes get it. And so, too, does Kamala: developing the ability to be her own hero, Captain Marvel, comes with its own disappointments, and Kamala soon figures out that she’s physically stronger when she doesn’t change, and that instead of feeling liberated by the blonde hair and legs, the whole thing leaves her feeling exhausted. It’s a major plot point, but, hell, it’s also great life advice. (You go, girl.)
And, even when Stevenson and Wilson tackle afternoon special-style “real issues,” we’re never taken out of the story to question just what the junk is going on. Crushed features analogies to victim blaming, but we’re right there with Kamala, grimacing at how squicky the whole thing feels. Wilson isn’t preaching to us about why it’s terrible that victim blaming is still a thing. (BECAUSE WHY IS IT EVEN STILL A THING?!) We’re angry at Kamran for taking advantage of Kamala. We’re angry that he’s actually kind of a dick and not the heart emoji type of Muslim boyfriend Kamala swore she wouldn’t date. We’re angry for Kamala and at Kamram. (Just as it should be.)
These graphic novels tackle current issues with grace and over-dramatic Tumblr-worthy flair, and they’re funny and poignant and I NEED MORE, OKAY?!
(If none of the above convinced you to pick up your own copy of either Lumberjanes, vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy or Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No Normal, what in the Joan Jett are you doing on this blog. Here’s some sassy Loki for you to enjoy before you skedaddle: