A while back I made a holiday shopping list of graphic novels from only indie/small(er) press publishing companies. Ranging from middle-grade lit to YA to even touching into erotica comic territory–it was a fun list to make. This year, as W-I-L-D, as it has been, has produced some great graphic novels, many great debuts in this genre as well!
I wanted to honor some of them with another spotlight as we dip into the part of the year where the gift-giving holidays start appearing. As someone who believes that books are essential, graphic novels are real books–here’s another shopping guide of comics to recommend, purchase, read, and share!
Banned Book Club
By Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada & Illustrated by Ko Hyung-Ju / Publisher: Iron Circus Comics/ Age Range: YA
Oh. Banned Book Club certainly sits in the “favorite memoirs of the year’ category for me. When I reviewed it earlier this year, I wrote that it is the ” Daring Memoir That Comes Once A Generation.” Banned Book Club presents the true story of a South Korean woman’s student days in college in the early 1980s. Under an authoritarian regime, she found — through the rebellion of reading — her purpose and learned how powerful tool censorship can be. Narratives about rebelling young people who are not the default Caucasian or American are needed. These stories outside of America are so important and worthy of our attention and our admiration.
Narratives about persons of color who get centered in their own stories for their own selves and their hopes for the future are necessary. Narratives about girls and women in student movements who get to be fully fleshed out individuals and not just love interests, secretaries, or pushed to forgotten corners are valid and always worth a read. The creative team nails it with Banned Book Club–art and story all around. As a graphic novel, a memoir, a learning tool, Banned Book Club does so much, As a love letter to those times, Banned Book Club is an ode to the rebellion of reading and how change must be worked for continually, never having an ending, always present. Find this book on the Iron Circus Comics website.
What We Don’t Talk About
By Charlot Kristensen /Publisher: Avery Hill/ Age Range: YA
What We Don’t Talk About is a heavy hitter of a debut for a graphic novel. The book follows Farai who, has been in a relationship for two years and has never met her partner’s parents. Until this weekend. She’s not prepared for the crap show that awaits her. Neither does her significant other even try to prepare her for the folks who raised him. Taking a train with her lover out the city to her parent’s impressive home means a weekend with his parents that doesn’t turn out great. Their home becomes an oppressive place where Farai finds herself the target of racist jokes, sly generalizations on people who are different, and the feeling of simply being unwelcomed. Tragically, it is also a place where she finds her boyfriend Adam quiet, subdued, and not willing to find his voice to support her.
What We Don’t Talk About is a graphic novel that carries great weight– tackling issues of being in an interracial relationship and of what it means to be non-White outside the United States. Set in the UK, this is a compelling read that is both timely and relevant. Even at 100 pages, there is enough social commentary and narrative meat on being different, on being brave enough to talk about the things folks don’t want to talk about, and how your skin will present you as unworthy to some. The art is gorgeous, and she vividly paints with color to express different moods and create a world that looks like ours. This is a compelling read and a hell of a debut for a new, heavy hitting graphic novel. Buy a digital copy here, purchase physical copies of the graphic novel here and here.
Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology Volume 1 & 2
By: Various Creative Teams/ Publisher: Power & Magic Press / Age Range: Older Teen/Adult
I wanted witchy content. Power and Magic Press delivered original comics about queer witches of color as they master their abilities, discover their traditions, and navigate love as beings with incredible power. I loved the first volume, and volume two also receives a warm welcome in my house. VOLUME 2 is 216 pages, black and white, and features the work of 26 women of color and woman-aligned, non-binary people of color. Power & Magic Press is one of those publishers that I really want to see thrive so we can see future anthologies and comic projects from womenfolk and also other marginalized folks who make comics–stories about heartbreak, friendship, grief, belonging, and more! Here you have themes of bravery, life transitions, and challenging the norm (and I love that each volume has a page of content and trigger warnings).
There’s a lot of love in these stories by different voices, with different art styles and different characters. To quote Eisner-winning Cartoonist and Editor, Joamette Gil: “Every story is about queer witches of color running the gamut from romance, comedy, tragedy, adventure — you name it. The core of the series is the symbolism of rebellion, transcendence, healing, feminine monstrosity, deviance, and interconnectedness attached to witches.” Check out the Power and Magic store here!
Surviving The City Vol 1 & 2
by Tasha Spillett | illustrated by Natasha Donovan / Publisher: Portage & Main Press/ Age Range: 8-12 Years old
This graphic novel series features two best friends, Miikwan and Dez, and chronicles their struggles not only being young, but being Indigenous young women navigating a world that historically hasn’t been kind to those who look like them. In my review of the first volume, I wrote that it was a love letter to Indigenous girls and women. How often do we see graphic novels centering these women and handled by a female creative team: both members with an Indigenous background? With artwork that is somewhere between dreamy and definitive, the graphic novel tackles big issues like generational trauma, #MMIWG, sisterhood, and connecting with your people, your ancestors, your found family.
The second book in the series, the sequel–From The Roots Ups is a worthy addition and another book I loved reading. This book is a Heartfelt Reclaiming for Indigenous Youth picking up Miikwan and Dez’s stories and adding a few more characters who add to the tapestry of the narrative. This offering touches upon grief and trauma, youth in foster care/ group homes, and even an individual struggling to navigate their sexuality, by way of their Two-spirit identity. Volume two: Up From The Roots, focuses on a close-knit group of young, Indigenous people reclaiming their futures by finding ways to overcome the obstacles in their way. Check out the books in the Portage Main Press website here.
BUUZA!! VOL 1 & 2
By Shazleen Khan /Age Range: YA
The tagline for this web comic with volumes printed from crowdfunded is : “Set in an Urban Fantasy 90’s Middle East, Buuza is a slow burn, slice of life comic about found family, diaspora and religion.” Little did I know that I would soon be immersed into this world of charming characters and the many ways that they find themselves caught up, entangled in the lives of others. Set in a sprawling, urban fantasy Middle East, it follows Zach as he struggles to balance a shaky living situation and his unconventional day job. However, a misdialed number leads to an unexpected new friendship- or maybe, something more.
The more and more I read–I found myself reading a narrative about family–the good and the bad. I found myself screaming into my pillow about nontraditional meet-cutes–too good for rom-coms. I found myself teary-eyed seeing folks about with their inner lights dimmed because of societal expectations and because of family relations. There are siblings, friends, flatmates, co-workers, and everything else in between. The artwork blows me away presenting everyday life and the fantasy elements that get weaved in so gracefully. The graphic novels’ greatest appeal? The lives of the many characters connecting ever so slowly and how everyone is changed, even if we don’t immediately see it. The Award-Winning LGBTQ Slice of Life Urban Fantasy Webcomic, BUUZA!!, has returned for a second volume! Pick up one of both volumes at the creator’s online pop up store, open from the 9th to 15th of November.