The cover of this graphic novel, Topside is what first drew me in. The brief synopsis reeks of sci-fi and a possibly timeless message featuring a girl of color. I was intrigued and wanted to give this middle school appropriate book a go. Topside by J.N. Monk and Harry Bogosian (co-creators of the web-comic StarHammer) opens to one Jo Wilson in a dimly lit room peering into a brightly lit pod, signing off her shift as a repairperson. In the following pages, we learn that Jo is seen as a through, dependable worker. She’s a little too serious and when she puts her mind to it, headstrong.
Jo is a technician in a society that lives under the surface of her planet. Like so many of us, Jo lives in a society where infrastructures and systems are in desperate need of some TLC. She understands that she somehow contributes to the destabilization of the planet core, so she is swift to fix things as so much is at stake. Her working this particular day is the one action needed to proverbially burst the dam. What follows next is an adventure that takes her to the “topside” of her planet, a trip seemingly no proper person takes to find a fix for the problem that she accepts as her responsibility. Leaving her underground home means leaving everything she knows to a place that’s dangerous, unfamiliar and just maybe a bust for what she needs to find. Billed as a “wild outer-space fantasy about fixing your mistakes and the friends you meet along the way,” Topside lives up to that description.
The author, J.N. Monk, develops a strong, fascinating narrative about accountability. Jo, feeling responsible for her error, takes the burden upon herself to fix it and throws herself into this task, no matter where it brings her. I became invested in her journey and her by any means necessary drive to get it done. Monk strives to write this as the main theme: With accountability, comes endurance and purpose. Jo wants to right her planet and prove herself. She knows that there will be too much red tape that will slow up any real progress. If she successfully brings back what she needs, she knows she can fix a problem that needs more than a band-aid — and save her home. She’s talented. She’s also steadfast in calculating, sketching out and putting it all together because she knows it will really be an end of the world type scenario if she doesn’t act and act now.
On one hand it really is Jo’s journey. On the other hand it is a journey for the forces that work with and against her. The allies she gains don’t have squeaky clean reputations. Further on any other day they — the core and topside — are separated. As she fights this arrangement, there are those looking to keep the status quo and stop this foolish expedition. Jo becomes so much more with help from others to kill tradition and become the champion her planet needs to fix itself.
The idea that the responsibility of the world lies with any one person isn’t true; it’ll take all of us to see things through. And that’s something Jo has to discover for herself.” -writer J.N. Monk
The Look of Topside
Bogosian’s art is the gift that keeps giving. There are pages that I stared at for moments long and deep, just soaking everything in. It is my sincere declaration that if you’ve never seen his work before, there is a good chance it will grow on you from here on out. From the pages earlier on of Jo at work, at home, and leaving the underground place she calls home, I got a really good feel of the cramped, tight places and the limited lighting. Besides all the strange and amazing sights Jo comes across, those in the supporting cast are fun and are a highlight to see of the pages. The trip away from the core and up to topside brings allies that don’t always operate in black or white areas — it gets more or less gray — as the areas are full of con artists and bounty hunters.
Still that doesn’t take away from their appeal: Karina is a giant shark head attached to a mechanical body who loves a cute sundress. Her partner Lumi is more or less a walking light bulb. Bogosian is committed to coloring this world in and out through dust storms through forests to locked away rooms in the heart of the planet. How the coloring details, flatters and sets the mood for certain scenes through this book is an incredible task all of its own and this graphic novel is better for it. Jo, also, in my opinion, has some of the best comical expressions. There are a bunch of fun moments that made me belly laugh — from discovering huge creatures to being surprised by new folks on their trial. Jo is drawn in such a way that constantly reminds me that she’s such a likable character that I am rooting for.
I want to be able to create worlds that people find themselves believing in, and wanting to visit,”- artist Harry Bogosian
Middle Grade and Beyond
My main criticism of Topside is that the narrative feels rushed going into the second half. While reading I couldn’t help but feel a bit lost, two steps behind gearing up towards the end. While I did enjoy reading Topside, the plot felt muddled before the bright and beautiful ending rights things back in place. I also wanted to feel a deeper kinship with the supporting cast of super cool characters and personalities but that fell flat. A little more backstory would have done wonders as I feel I didn’t really get a chance to get to know them.
If you have some young adults in your life that are at least middle school grade readers, love science fiction and girls in charge leaving home for adventure and to make things right, Topside just might be up their alley. This graphic novel is very much a sci-fi infused trip about a girl with lots of expectations that ultimately get undone with help of the those that end up helping her along the way.
7.9 Personal Auto Bio-Logs out of 10
J. N. Monk is a Midwesterner with a song in their heart. They’ve lived in a lighthouse, an active volcano, and Florida but always return to the heartland. They love travel, superheroes, food, and cats and wish that everyone knew the lyrics and steps to the musical number in their soul. They live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. See more of them on Twitter.
Harry Bogosian is a freelance Illustrator and comic artist from New York City. Since graduating Pratt Institute in 2009 he has drawn monsters for video game companies, done freelance work for books, and nowadays primarily makes comics and graphic novels. There is nothing he enjoys more than making new fantastical worlds, and filling them with his creations. See more of him on Twitter.
— CRYPTsten BLOODsnuk 🎃🧛🏻♀️ (@henchgirl_comic) October 12, 2019