hey gamers! this will be a shorter book review than my last one, but i wanted to go over the books i bought at this year's Toronto Comic Arts Festival! i didn't spend as much time there as i wanted due to it being so crowded, and also me forgetting that most people preferred cash, but i'm happy with the books i did get.
Gorgeous by Cathy G. Johnson
TL;DR: Sophie Azul runs into a couple of punk kids -- quite literally. their roguish, carefree behaviour reminds Sophie of her bygone youth, but not without consequences.
i first learned about cathy g. johnson through her tidy, clean work in The Breakaways, a middle-school graphic novel. with this in mind, i'm very impressed in her wide range of talent! Gorgeous is rendered in a pencilled, sketchy hand with dreamlike smudging of graphite, while still keeping her visuals clear and concise.
johnson's short comics often have undercurrents of the supernatural alongside top-level themes of relationships between people. in Black Hole Heart for example, the obligation Beck is held to, to drive Sally to her hospital appontments, appears to be linked to a strange corpse the two girls encountered in the woods as young friends. here in Gorgeous, the supernatural element is Short Punk (as far as i can tell the two punks in the book go unnamed) seeing a strange something across the lake, transfixing her with its gorgeousness. johnson did a really good job of getting the reader (me) to sympathize with the follies of youth as the two punks do some seemingly-needless-but-unimportant rebellion, and then complicating it with sophie's run-in with them; you get a hint early on in their meeting that the two punks don't necessarily mean sophie the best when they help her. sophie herself is also a compelling character, caught between her present practicality, past poetry-writing, and uncertain future.
Call Me Bill by Lynette Richards
TL;DR: a historical graphic novel about one of the victims of the 1873 SS Atlantic disaster just off the coast of Nova Scotia -- William "Bill" Armstrong, who assumed his male name and identity when he left home in New Jersey.
prior to the start of TCAF, the organization put on some pre-festival online panels. i attended one of those panels, Cartooning in the Pandemic with Conundrum Press. one of the people at this panel was Lynette Richards. when i saw her tabling at TCAF, i told her i enjoyed the panel and she was delighted! apparently she didn't expect many people to attend that online panel, which makes me glad i did. take this as your sign that you should also attend online panels -- in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's useful for people to take advantage of these things, to show that they are still needed.
about the book itself... like Gorgeous, it's also done in pencil, but with the addition of grey watercolour washes as well. it works well with the nautical and historical settings, all sea spray and city smog, as foggy recollections through Bill's waterlogged journal. there's ample use of both first- and second-hand evidence, with quotes from people who knew Bill in newspapers and accounts of people who worked through the night to tend to victims and recover bodies from the SS Atlantic. Richards takes Bill's quote of "my name is Maggie Armstrong, though I called myself Billy when I put on pantaloons" at face value when she discusses his gender; it's the age-old "you can't impose modern terms on historical figures" chestnut. which, true, you can't! i find Richard's solution of "use she/her when the protagonist goes by Maggie, and he/him when he goes by Bill" quaint, but i can't lie and say i have a better solution. such is the nature of telling the stories of history in the modern day.
i also quirk an eyebrow at stories where the protagonist's family has a servant, in this case Cicely, who in the narrative is positioned as an unquestioning supporter of the protagonist and is then promptly discarded, which is something i neglected to mention in my Persepolis review but is relevant there as well. this is brought up in the foreword but i think it also bears a mention here. race and slavery do not go unaddressed in the book -- Bill's mother was a Quaker who wanted to "build peace with the Natives" and attended anti-slavery meetings, and Bill chastises a man for taking part in blackface minstrel shows -- but how does this square, narratively and irl, with the Armstrong's employment of Black servants where the relationship between them is blurred by them "being family"?
my view of this book is not as dour as my questions and critisisms here make it out to be! i think this is a well-researched book, and has a lot of insight into how a young person may have navigated the world when set loose on their own. i would definitely recommend picking up this book if you're interested in the history of someone who lived as more than their assigned gender.
Be Kind, My Neighbor by Yugo Limbo
TL;DR: Wegg the travelling busker rolls his way into the town of Baths, and is swept up into a supernatural romance by the odd-but-charismatic Mr. Neighbor, amidst a string of strange murders and cult happenings in this 70s-inspired graphic novel.
full disclosure: my copy of BKMN started falling apart as i read it, likely due to its publisher/distributor Silver Sprocket suffering from flooding earlier in the year, so my review may be a little short on details because i don't want to damage it further by going back and re-reading too much.
Yugo Limbo's artwork and cartooning is very compelling to me, and is one of the things i enjoy the most about this book. in many places, there's a sense of flatness that reminds me of a more refined, intentional version of Max Graves' work, but it works with Limbo's whimsical style. i also love the use of brown paper for the pages, giving the whole thing a very antique feel. each character is a fun little adventure to look at, taking inspiration from their puppet-making for unique designs. the art helps the story easily slide between psychadelic dream sequences, steamy sex scenes, and gruesome horror. after my current reading streak of colour-minimalist, mostly-grounded graphic novels, it was a treat to read BKMN with its odd colours and shapes.
story-wise, my favourite part was the relationship between Wegg and Neighbor. quelle suprise to those who know me from TTON, of course i like the relationship of two guys where one commits murders for the other, with themes of death and rebirth and religion and appearing to be good on the surface when there's more going on! the pacing felt a little stilted and/or meandering at times to me and left me wishing we had more time to see these two get to know each other, but what we did see was enjoyable. i won't say too much about the ending, but the slasher-setup from the beginning of the book does get put on the backburner by the end for a different kind of horror. i think maybe a little more editing could take this story even tighter and give room to some of the stronger aspects of the story -- it's already a hefty 500 pages that, like mentioned above, has a hard time physically staying bound.
outside of the gruesome twosome of Wegg and Mr. Neighbor, Tillman the mailman is a fun guy as well! love me a neurotic guy who's Right but never listened to. overall i'd definitely recommend picking up this book.
and that's about it for my TCAF haul! apologies about this being late, life happened. personal updates include:
- graduating from my uni with a BFA + minor in Work and Labour (sucked, was filled with blinding hatred every second the president was on stage, but at least it's over)
- turning 23 on my birthday (sucked)
- having my 9 year Transiversary (pretty good even if i didn't do anything for it, considering that's mostly just 7-ish years in the closet and 2 years half-out)
- more looking after my grandma (eh)
- dealing with more sciatica/SI joint pain (bad)
- going swimming for the first time in years (outdoor pool, was fun even if we had to leave after 30 minutes due to thunder)
- still jobhunting (fingers crossed the cool job i applied to last week calls back)
- slowly getting back into making art (neither here nor there so far)
see you in a couple months for my next blog post probably, which i have no idea what it'll be about!