The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard adapted by Sarah Airriess

“The Worst Journey in the World” tells the story of the Terra Nova expedition, Robert Falcon Scott’s final attempt to reach the South Pole. The memoir of expedition survivor Apsley Cherry-Garrard, it has been a source of fascination for many, including artist Sarah Airriess, who has now given us a lovingly drawn and carefully researched graphic novel adaptation. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to discover that the final third of book was panel by panel annotations of historical, research and craft notes, particularly since, as Airriess notes in her introduction, there is some abysmally shoddy research that exists regarding the expedition. 

A spread of two pages of panel by panel annotations for the prologue of "The Worst Journey in the World" graphic novel. The Snapchat caption reads, "End notes galore for every panel!"

Volume 1, “Making Our Easting Down” takes us from leaving England to sighting the Antarctic continent on New Years. A journey that includes everything from the serious to the silly to the ‘that sounds made up.’ They contend with towering waves and storms that flood the ship but also spend their time getting menaced by crabs in the pursuit of science, making the most of the insanity that is the line crossing ceremony, and playing a game that involves running around and trying to tear each others clothes off. 

In addition to laying the groundwork for the time spent in Antarctica proper, what volume one does a superb job of doing is introducing us to the men of the expedition. Cherry, of course, introduces us to everyone in his book, but adding a visual element changes things. There is quite the cast of characters to keep track of, but between an illustrated glossary of our leads in the front and gorgeously stylized character art, it’s refreshingly easy to orient yourself as to who’s who. I believe I only had to cross reference the list in the front once. 

Two panels. In the first Lieutenant Henry Pennel, Cherry and Dr. Bill Wilson are setting down various specimens and tools. Wilson says, "Right, let's depot this stuff here so it doesn't get —" the second panel is all three men getting completely obliterated by a giant wave. The Snapchat caption reads, "You were saying" followed by three cry laughing emojis.

Airriess also makes it very easy to fall in love with everyone. Having been somewhat familiar with the expedition going in, I’d already begun to develop favorites and was shocked by how easy it was the become invested in people who I previously hadn’t really thought about one way or another. I feel like this also makes apparent just how much love and respect Airriess has for the source material and the men it concerns. 

A series of panels. In the first three, we see the whole of the Terra Nova's deck laid out between the three panels, each one shows the small figure of Cherry as he moves forward in an enthusiastic run across the deck to the front of the ship. Below, we get a small panel of Cherry hands outstretched and backed by wind lines before cutting to a panel of his view of the clear blue ocean ahead of them. The Snapchat caption reads, "Sarah Airriess is really a master of depicting motion in 2D"

All in all, the “Worst Journey” graphic novel makes a fantastic introduction to Scott’s Terra Nova expedition, both as a story in its own right and as a jumping off point to learn more. In addition to the comprehensive annotations, the back matter also includes a “further reading” section. Lastly, it’s a fun read that can be tackled in a variety of different ways. I opted to do my first read by bouncing back and forth between the graphic novel itself and the annotations so I could get all the details as I went, but that’s hardly the only way and may not be what’s right for you. 

Last I heard, the first print run of “Worst Journey” had sold out, but there should be more copies on the way. I ordered mine through the publisher, Indie Novella, but you can also order from The Children’s Bookshop and Ink@84 Books, and if you happen to be in Cambridge, the gift shop of The Polar Museum also has copies. To follow Sarah Airriess on the journey of working on Volume 2, you can join her on Patreon. 

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Im Eisland: Band 1, Die Franklin-Expedition

Image ID: A panel of a man seated on the ground, taking notes. He has a thick beard and is dressed in an Inuit style coat. His internal monologue reads, in German, "Was gescha damals vor 20 Jahren wirklich, als die Franklin-Expedition in der Arktis zugrunde ging? Ich, Charles Francis Hall, werde das Rätsel lösen!" The Snapchat caption reads, in English, "'I, Charles Francis Hall, will solve the puzzle!' Fuck, that is so very Hall." End ID.

Kristina Gehrmann’s “Im Eisland” trilogy has been on my radar for a long time and I’ve owned it for almost as long. It’s the story of the Franklin Expedition and its disappearance in the Arctic in the mind 1800s. If you’re a long time follower, you probably recognize the name as I’ve had at least three reviews on FE related fiction appear on this blog. Due to the mystery of the expedition, however, each piece of fiction brings something new and “Im Eisland” is no exception.

Volume one starts with Charles Francis Hall interviewing a group of Inuit about discovering the remains of the expedition before flashing back to just prior to the expedition sailing and getting to know our key players. It then ends with the death of the first of the Beechey Boys, the trio of men who died during the first winter when the ships were frozen in at Beechey Island.

Something I really loved was how seamlessly we are introduced to new, frequently similar looking, characters without the narrative grinding to a halt. I also enjoyed how we got an even split between scenes with the officers and scenes with the men, which we are given through John Torrington, Thomas Evans, and John and Tom Hartnell, being point-of-view characters. (Note: The two Johns here make up two of the Beechey three, so it makes a lot of sense to make them early POV characters.)

Image ID: A panel of a man, First Lieutenant Graham Gore, playing the flute. He has dark hair with muttonchops and a freckle on his left cheek. Behind him is a string of music notes. The Snapchat caption reads "Gore on the flute!!!" End ID.

It’s also very clear that a lot of care went into the research. For example, we see Graham Gore playing the flute, which he did historically, but it’s such a small detail and one I’ve never seen in FE fiction before. I also love the art style, and how Gehrmann has adapted the few images we have of the officers to create visually dynamic characters. I am particularly fond of her Le Vesconte, Fitzjames and Crozier. The art also really drives home just how young a lot of these men were, Fitzjames was 31 to Franklin’s 59 and Crozier’s 49.

Image ID: In the wardroom, Sir John Franklin stands flanked by Captain Francis Crozier on his right and Commander James Fitzjames on his left. The age difference is very apparently between them, Sir John is graying and portly at 59, Crozier is younger, but still showing his age at 49 and Fitzjames is a fresh-faced 31. Sir John has his hands out and is saying, "Wunderbar! Heute Abend lasse ich die besten Delikatessen servieren, die England zu bieten hat! Sie werden sich wie zu Hause fühlen, Gentlemen!" The Snapchat caption reads, Fuck, the art really drives home just how young James was. End ID.

Now, I read “Im Eisland” in its original German, both because I need to refresh my rusty skills before grad school and because I do better reading from hard copies. However, there is an English version, “Icebound,” that has been published online as a webcomic. If you are thinking, “My German is rusty/bad/limited, but I’d like a hard copy,” I can tell you that it’s not impossible to read with rusty/limited German provided you have the determination and a dictionary. Ultimately, my biggest problem was unfamiliar vocabulary.

A few words of warning, everyone from the expedition dies. This is historical fact, but reading about graphic death in a novel is different than seeing it drawn. Volume one sees on page animal death, and later volumes will see deterioration from scurvy and a variety of other deaths. There’s also some period typical reactions to gay characters, and I believe volume two has a lashing for sodomy, but nothing I would define as uncomfortable/excessive levels of in canon homophobia.

If you enjoyed “The Terror” show (not the book, never the book), I would definitely recommend “Im Eisland”/“Icebound.” I got my copies straight from the press website, however, you can find it on Amazon if shipping costs are an issue.

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Phoenix Song: Echo, written by Rebecca Roanhorse

When the Phoenix Force is given a host that isn’t a mutant you tend to get a lot of unhappy X-Men fans. Being wildly unfamiliar with the Daredevil comics, I picked up two random middle issues of “Phoenix Song: Echo” thinking that she might be a new X-character. I saw that Echo, aka Maya Lopez, was deaf and indigenous and said “Yes, please!” without really investigating further. It wasn’t until I mentioned my find to a friend that I realized she wasn’t an X-character and promptly went through the five stages of grief. 

However, I am now here to encourage all disgruntled/suspicious X-fans concerned about a non-mutant Phoenix Force host to give Echo a chance. We actually see that same sort of suspicion play out in canon with Forge, who decides, based on past familiarity with the Phoenix Force, that he knows best and that Maya needs to give up the Phoenix Force. While Maya is having trouble with control, Forge should frankly know better. I can’t think of a single time that trying to forcibly subdue the Phoenix Force has gone well, like… that’s literally how Jean Grey went Dark Phoenix. 

Image ID: A comic panel. The X-Man Forge is walking out of a bunker where Echo, aka Maya Lopez, Phoenix host, has been immobilized in a chair with psionic restraints. Forge says, over two speech bubbles, "I have to act, for the sake of...well, everyone. These psionic restraints are matched to the Phoenix's energy wavelength. They will hold you until I can investigate your powers more, understand how the Phoenix bonds to you and how to uncouple it." The Snapchat captain reads, "Hey Forge, Mr. so called Phoenix expert? When the fuck has forcibly restraining the Phoenix Force ever ended well." End ID

“Phoenix Song: Echo” is all about the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of Maya and the Phoenix. Who is Maya that the Phoenix felt she was the right host? With the Adversary looming large and wanting the Phoenix Force for himself, Maya has to go back through the past to figure out who she is as the Phoenix and if her ancestors can help her. But it’s not that simple, because it never is. Maya is being helped by River, the adopted grandson of a family friend, and River… River is all tied up with the Adversary. 

Image ID: Two comic panels. In the first Maya stands on some stairs with a Mayan village behind her and asks, "War games? Who are you, exactly?" The second, larger panel, shows a woman in a dress that combines both Mayan aesthetic and the pattern and color of the original Dark Phoenix costume. She says, "My name is Ohoyo Luak. but you may call me... the Phoenix!" End ID

I found Maya’s journey of self/Phoenix discovery to be incredibly compelling, and it was compelling even before we get to the reveal of her (spoilers) Phoenix host ancestor. The Phoenix Force has long been tied to questions and dilemmas of self and personhood, from Jean Grey to Quentin Quire, and Maya Lopez slots very neatly into this.

This mini-series was also a breath of fresh air for me regarding indigenous and disability representation. Marvel has historically not been particularly good about either of those things, Native characters get reduced to stereotype and disabilities get ignored. Maya, as she is portrayed here—I cannot speak to earlier iterations of her character—is well written to both points. Key for me, is that her ability to read lips isn’t perfect, even bolstered by her powers. She struggles with unfamiliar accents, can’t read lips in the dark, and knows sign language when lip reading is impossible due to language barrier. 

I will say that I would have liked to have seen more of Maya learning from her ancestors, particularly the Phoenix Force ancestor. The narrative jumped very quickly through Maya’s past, her talking to her ancestor about the Phoenix powers, and then to Maya fighting the Adversary and a weird hallucination, which I think boiled down to the fact that there was a lot to cover for a five-issue mini-series. Personally, I would have loved to see this as a longer run series, since Maya is now probably my favorite non-X character. 

As always, check your local comic shop for trades and single issues, but “Phoenix Song: Echo” can also be purchased online here.

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Star Wars: The High Republic, There is no Fear by Cavan Scott and Ario Anindito

A comic panel, we see Keeve Trennis' hand extended to a young boy. She says, "Thanks. Can you hold this?" The boy replies, "You mean it?" Keeve answers, "Sure, I do. Can't keep it floating up there all day, can I?" The Snapchat caption reads, "Fuck yes. Getting to hold a lightsaber is a baller (and effective) way to console an upset child. It would 100% work on me."
I’m just saying, this is everything I would have wanted as a child.

I have found the Star Wars extended universe a fascinating place since childhood. I read every Star Wars book our library had and then I created my own Stars Wars encyclopedia out of the information contained within — the result of having access to a computer, but limited connection to the internet. The official Star Wars universe has changed a lot since then, and the new tie-in books don’t really interest me, so I thought, why not check out the comics. I picked up “There is no Fear” at my local comic shop primarily because it was volume one of a trade paperback. It promised good art and the beginning of a story and that was all I needed.

“There is no Fear” takes place during the High Republic, before any Skywalker nonsense, and follows Keeve Trennis as she becomes a new Jedi. It’s a good place to go if you are like me and wanting to avoid any of the canon-fuckery caused by the sequel trilogy. “There is no Fear” does a really good job of introducing you to new characters and helping you fall in love with them, which is a credit to both good writing and compelling art. I was deeply invested in Ceret and Terec from the moment of their introduction.

A comic panel. Two identical humanoids stand facing each other, they are bald and their skin is stark white, and both of them are fairly beat up. The one on the left, Terec, is holding out a deactivated lightsaber and the one on the right, Ceret, is reaching for it. Terec says, "Here" as he holds out the lightsaber. Ceret replies, "Terec... the things we have seen. that the drengir did to us." Terec answers, "That is in the past, Ceret. Now we are whole once more--" The Snapchat caption reads, "I am so glad my boys are okay" followed by the crying emoji.

The only place I really felt like I was missing something was in references to a “great disaster,” and just generally how the Jedi had reached the point of launching a space station outpost in the Outer Rim. I feel like there are probably storylines that precede “There is no Fear” that I’m going to have to seek out to get those answers. That’s more-or-less how comics work though, you pick a starting point and then, in reading, you find where you want to go next to learn more, and this story is a super interesting one that brings a lot of new and exciting things to the greater Star Wars universe. It’s definitely going to be one I pick up as it continues weekly (it also doesn’t help that volume one ends on a cliffhanger that I must find out the resolution to).

The story feels, to me, very much like a classic EU Jedi story, where the emphasis is that, above all, the Jedi help, though that is something that provides resolution and conflict alike as characters struggle with being, maybe not human, but people with complex emotions. All of the characters, even the side characters, are incredibly well presented both in terms of writing and art. I greatly enjoyed the expressiveness given to the alien faces. I won’t spoil too much about the new antagonists introduced by this story, but I will say that they are a particular flavor of eldritch abomination that I greatly enjoy. It’s a similar kind of horror as found in “Bountiful Garden,” so if that interested you, this may too, though as this is Star Wars, it’s going to have more action alongside the creeping eldritch horror.

As always, I highly recommend going to your local comic shop to buy comics, and the book’s retail page even has a comic store locator option right there.

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School for Extraterrestrial Girls: Girl on Fire by Jeremy Whitley and Jamie Noguchi

[Image ID: A panel of Tara, a 15 year old Black girl, adjusting a bracelet on her wrist. The text boxes of internal monologue read: "I eve have this bracelet. I'm not really sure how it works, but my parents say it's vital to my health to keep it on. So, I do. It's important to do as you're told." The Snapchat caption reads "That's not sus at all." End ID]

To start with a quick summary: Tara Smith was raised with her identity as a an alien hidden from her, a tall task considering she is a species of lizard that catches on fire. A morning of missed “allergy” meds and a cracked “health” bracelet leads to her powers emerging and The Government getting involved. All is not lost, however, as aliens are normal apparently, they just stay hidden from the every day human for reasons. Tara can just go to a school, where she will learn how to control her powers, simple right? Wrong. This is high school, nothing is simple or easy about high school.

There are some overarching Big Plot things going on, but they happen mostly in the background of the story, though that’s not to say they aren’t important or don’t impact it. This is primarily a story about acceptance, finding friends, and learning to love yourself, and also everyone is an alien. It’s pretty great. It takes a step beyond your traditional high school story, grappling with difficult topics and loss in various forms and allowing the characters to be messy. It is absolutely a funny and heartfelt story, but mistakes are make and their repercussions born out. This messiness feels important in an age where I’ve been seeing increasingly black-and-white takes about media.

Image ID: A comic panel of Agent Stone, an older butch woman in a suit, leading Tara, who is now green skinned and lizard like in appearance, through a hallway. Agent Stone's first speech bubble reads: "And as silly as this part is, our treaties with other worlds mandate that in a closed environment like this, we're not allowed to have co-ed housing, so..." Tara interrupts with: "Wait, alien races also freak out about the gender binary?" To which Stone replies, "Binary? There's one very conservative race out there with seven different genders. But that is a headache for another time. Now, let me introduce you to--" The Snapchat caption reads: "I'm wheezing. This is so fantastic. I was not expecting anything like this to be touched on at all." End ID.}

Furthermore, there is something very queer about loving the monstrous and learning to love yourself when your perception of yourself is monstrous. As a queer person I found it very appealing as a coming of age story because of how the story dealt with perceptions of monstrosity and the self as monstrous. I don’t know if the intention was there to use aliens as a queer allegory, but the story as a whole certainly doesn’t shy away from queerness.

For example, our lead agent, Agent Stone, is very classically butch, and we also learn from Agent Stone that the reason the schools are split into boys and girls schools isn’t because of some gender binary hang up on the part of aliens, it’s because of the treaties they have with various governments, on Earth and elsewhere, which makes so much sense it’s hilarious. To cap it all off, one girl who Tara makes friends with, soap opera obsessed Kat, is very much rooting for Tara to fall in love with another friend Misako.

Image ID: Tara, Kat and Summer are standing in a hallway, all wearing simple grey and white school uniforms. Kat, an orange cat-like alien is saying: "Next weel on interstellar BFFs. Will Tara finally be reunited with her one true love?" Tara interjects with: "I told you, Kat. We're just friends." Kat replies, "This is my fan fiction, you stay out of it!" Summer, a dark skinned girl with long pink hair and an undercut, is laughing next to them with a speech bubble that says "Ha ha ha ha." The Snapchat caption reads, "There's nothing wrong with a bit of friend fiction XD." End ID.

“Girl on Fire” manages to do so many things in such a limited amount of space and it does all of those things well. I am eagerly awaiting volume two, which is slated to come out in October 2023.

Right now, you can order volume one here and pre-order volume two here.

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Bountiful Garden by Ivy Noelle Weir with art by Kelly Williams

[Image ID: The five issues of Bountiful Garden splayed out on a bed. The first issue is on top and the only one fully visible and is notable for being a Free Comic Book Day copy. The Snapchat captions reads "Spooky space time." End ID]

“Bountiful Garden” is a horror story about space and terraforming other planets, but not quite in a way you might expect. 

Our cast is a crew of children, most of whom appear to be teenagers at maximum. Jane appears to be the youngest, probably no more than preteen in age. They are woken from cryostasis 10 years early because something has gone wrong with the ship. 

Their mission is make a new planet habitable, they have two engineers, a botanist, an architect, a biologist and a military personnel member. Their ship has been stopped above a planet with no notable human inhabitants but traces of an old civilization, and lots and lots of plants. 

From issue one of the five issues mini-series, you get the impression that something wasn’t quite right with the mission from the outset. They aren’t the first terraforming mission that’s been sent out, and none of the others have ever been heard from again. “The signal’s too weak,” according to the government. Our military boy has complete faith, which makes a lot of sense, but the others aren’t so sure. It’s one of several things that sparks conflict between our crew.

Throughout the story we are teased about the planet, the strange plants growing on it, and the remnants of a religion, as well as about the backstory of the program on Earth that led to these six children being on this expedition. Something I really love was how seamless the backstory about the government program that was woven into the story through the characters. We learn so much about it through short moments of the characters ruminating and discussing why they’re even there. There’s a big pay out involved, but it goes to their parents instead of them, because they aren’t on Earth to collect it. For one person, this will help their parents escape poverty, for another, it inspires bitterness that their parents will be reaping the benefits of their work on an expedition that they were well aware had a high chance of them dying. 

The planet’s backstory is given in a different, but no less skillfully done, way, by the characters picking up clues within the text, glyphs found at ruins, strange dreams, and by clues presented directly to the readers that the characters don’t see. The most notable of these is an extra-textual fragment titled “Recording Found at Site 11A,” which appears at the end of issue four and tells the story of how the strange plants came and essentially terraformed the planet. 

The art really helps the haunting feelings come through too, the characters are so expressive and distinct, and the inkwash style allows it to be dark, yet vibrant at the same time.

Another thing of note that I enjoyed was how diverse the cast was. There was an even split of female and male characters as well as a diverse array of characters of different ethnicities, a breakdown that allowed for deaths without falling into racist and sexist tropes surrounding character death.

All in all, if you like horror, sci-fi and stories of how interpersonal relationships can fracture when people are isolated and trapped, “Bountiful Garden” is the mini series to check out. It’s newly available in trade paperback as of April 6th!  

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Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, written by E. Lockhart

[Image ID. The cover of Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero. A young girl with curly brown hair stands next to a white great dane in front of the Gotham skyline in blue and orange. Up the left side of the book in large lettering is the title "Whistle" and above that sits the subtitle "A New Gotham City Hero" To the right of the subtitle the author's name is listed as "New York Times Bestselling Author, E. Lockhart." Below the title is "Illustrated by Manuel Preitano." The snapchat caption reads "The first explicitly Jewish superhero in 44 years LET'S GO." End ID]

“Whistle” is a fantastic introduction for a fantastic new superhero. It is at once a classic origin story and a breath of fresh air. Willow Zimmerman and her mother have struggled to makes ends meet as her mother’s (presumably adjunct) job as a professor doesn’t give them health insurance and she hasn’t been able to work as much because she is battling cancer. At the very beginning the mother mentions stopping treatments because of medical debt and I almost had a heart attack that she was going to hold the same narrative place as Uncle Ben. She doesn’t, but that is ultimately the catalyst for what eventually lands Willow in the annals of superherodom. 

In my personal opinion, Willow was activist minded enough that I think she would have found her way into the superhero conversation eventually. I think there’s a lot to be said for those superheroes who really do stand for community, activism and change even before they get their powers, and that’s Willow in a nutshell. She’s fighting for her community from page one. 

[Image ID: In the first panel, Willow, a teenage girl with long curly brown hair, approaches a deli counter with a friend, Garfield, a Black teenage boy. Willow says to the man behind the counter "This is my new friend Garfield. We desperately need Reubens." Transition to the second panel, Willow and Garfield are sitting at a table biting into their sandwiches. Mouths full Willow intones "Grhmmm?" and Garfield replies "Umm hmmm!" The caption reads "Show interest in a girl's activism and you've got a friend for life."

What takes her from activist to superhero, however, is one Edward Nigma, former friend of her mother’s, who offers Willow financial help when he hears that her mother is ill. Whether this was truly altruistic or if there was an ulterior motive there from the beginning isn’t entirely clear, but, regardless, Willow winds up working for Nigma as a runner for his less than legal poker games, which leads to a whole lot of guilt when she finds out who Nigma is and when Willow realizes that he and Poison Ivy are targeting her community with intent to buy up all the local property to gentrify the area. 

[Image ID: A comic panel of Willow's hands working open a puzzle box with the onomatopoeia "Twist!" The narration box reads "My mom's best childhood friend, Eddie Nachtberger, renamed himself E. Nigma in high school." The snapchat caption at the bottom of the image reads, in all caps, "Welp." End ID]

However, it was none of this that first drew me to “Whistle.” I picked it up because Willow Zimmerman is the first explicitly Jewish superhero to be created by DC in 44 years and her Judaism is important in a way that clearly impacts her worldview, something we don’t always see even with the existing Jewish heroes—I’m thinking specifically of Kitty Pryde of the X-Men whose Jewishness only recently started to play a larger role in her character again. 

The only thing that gave me a very brief moment of pause was when it was stated that Willow wasn’t particularly observant, which is a trope that is frequently used as a cop out to not have to deal with any actual aspect of Judaism, but that isn’t the case here, quite the opposite actually. Willow may not be as ritually observant as her mother, but she is still undeniably Jewish and her story deals in Jewish guilt, history and community. When she is conflicted about her work for Nigma, who gave her the money to save her mother, but is also the Riddler and involved directly with the destruction of her community, she seeks solace at her local synagogue, and it is the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, repairing the world, that influences why and how she operates as a superhero once she gains her powers. 

[Image ID: In the foreground Willow is rummaging through her dresser drawer for something to wear. Behind her, in the doorway to her room, is her mother, who looks gaunt and is wearing a headscarf indicative of chemotherapy induced hair loss. Her mother says, "I think you can lie and be a good person. You know the phrase tikkum olam?"  Willow replies, "Hebrew for world repair. Kinda like social activism." Her mother continues, "So, the key thing isn't truth or lies. It's that a person feels some responsibility for fixing what's wrong in the world." The snapchat caption is a drawn out "Yes." End ID]

This is a young adult graphic novel, but it’s very enjoyable for adult adults too and I would say probably also a decent read for kids as young as middle school. I would definitely recommend it if you need more Jewish heroes in your life. You can get it directly from DC here. 

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The Unfinished Corner written by Dani Colman

[Image ID: The cover of The Unfinished Corner, three children ages 12-13 sit atop the head of a giant lion. On the left there is boy with blond hair and glasses in a blue pullover, dress shirt and kippah, next to him is a girl with curly brown hair and pale skin in a overalls and a green shirt. She is holding a paint brush, from which Stars of David are trailing. To her right is a Black boy in a red shirt and red (possibly Spiderman themed) kippah and a girl with brown hair with blonde highlights in a black blazer. Above the image in an artsy yellow font is the title, The Unfinished Corner and the last names of the author, illustrator, colorist and letterer: Colman, Patrovicz, Cogar and Campbell. The snapchat caption reads: Everyone should go read this, it's amazing. End ID]

All of Creation had been completed except for the northern corner of the world. – Howard Schwartz, “Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism”

This bit of Jewish mythology is the foundation for Dani Colman’s fantastic, heart-warming tale, “The Unfinished Corner.” On the eve of becoming a bat mizvah, Miriam, a budding artist, finds herself, her two best friends, and one frenemy, spirited away into the world of Jewish myth, where they meet angels, demons and more; grapple with history both joyous and painful; and finish the titular unfinished corner. 

There’s a lot to love about the story from the wonderful art of Rachel Petrovicz to the depth of care given each and every relationship. Something I particularly appreciated was the balance between humor and intense or heavily factual information. Avi, one of Miriam’s friends, is very well read and familiar with the Torah and its commentaries, and he acts as the encyclopedia of the group, giving necessary information to the reader while doing so, but it never stalls the story, and the footnotes (and I use that term loosely here) are brief and only give you what is needed to understand. 

It’s made clear, however, that knowledge alone isn’t enough to get them to their end destination. Miriam’s other friend, David, is a pillar of support throughout and is the only one with the ability to produce a proper shofar blast when they need it because of his years of playing the trumpet. Judith, the above mentioned frenemy, who’s only there because she was part of a group project that sorted them by last name, stands up to Azazel as they make their way toward the unfinished corner. 

These four also have very different internal feelings of what it means to be Jewish. Avi is incredibly studious and follows halakha closely; David is knowledgable about Jewish history from his travels; Judith is very comfortable in her Jewish identity, even though she doesn’t keep kosher, observe Shabbat or pray. Miriam, on the other hand, is feeling very conflicted her identity because she’s unsure of what defines her identity as hers in a way that is more than just, “I’m Jewish because my parents are.”

Their differences, however, are what enable them to overcome the challenges before them. Throughout the story their angel guide focuses on Miriam as the person of import, the artist, the only one who can finish the unfinished corner, but as Miriam goes on point out at the end, she never would have made it without her friends (and, spoiler, they are all friends by the end).

The relationships that are navigated between these four are far from the only relationships in the story, and even though they aren’t as front and center, they’re still rich and feel well rounded in an instant. You know exactly the sort of happy, teasing family dynamic that exists in Miriam’s household just from her parents’ introduction, and Asmodeus calling himself Lilith’s “house husband” is an entertaining and vivid descriptor of a whole relationship in a single statement. 

The book is labeled as juvenile fiction, but honestly, I think it would be highly enjoyable for children and adults alike. Anyone who enjoys Jewish mythology, has a complicated relationship with identity or faith, or is at a coming of age/turning point in their life, can find something in this story. Get it on Bookshop here.  

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Some Strange Disturbances: A Cold Winter’s Eve written by Craig Hurd-McKenney, feat. guest contributors

[Image ID: The cover of Some Strange Disturbances: A Cold Winter's Eve. Two figures are ice skating outdoors, Prescott and the Comtesse, Prescott has light brown skin and dark hair and is wearing a grey suit and a black bowler hat. The Comtesse is in a magenta dress with a white fur collar and a a matching feathered hat. The ice they are skating is cracking and beneath the ice is the shadow of a kelpie. The title "A Cold Winter's Eve" is displayed above this scene in a white and ice-blue color. The snapchat caption reads: "Spooky queers vol. 2.5a"

“Some Strange Disturbances” continues to be the gift that keeps on giving with the side story “A Cold Winter’s Eve,” a side side story and mini anthology.  

We see our protagonists, Prescott, Delilah, the Comtesse and Brandt, gathered together on Christmas Eve, it is following dinner, prepared by Brandt, and they have gathered in the parlor to share spooky ghost stories. While the framing story as a whole is written by Craig Hurd-McKenny, author of the main series, each of the stories told by the characters is written and illustrated by a guest author. There are seven stories in total, Prescott, Delilah and the Comtesse each telling two and Brandt telling one. 

All the stories are stunning and haunting in their own ways. I think my favorite is the second one told by Prescott, about a young man named Theo, who is haunted by the ghost of his lover Silas through the new telephone that was installed just after his death. It should be noted that there are stores that include racially and homophobia motivated murders. The murderers do get what is coming to them, but be careful if that is something you are sensitive to. 

Lastly, I want to talk about Brandt and his story. Brandt is mute and, as such, his story is told entirely without dialogue. Delilah, who we learn early on in the book has a limited knowledge of sign language, is the one who translates the story for their group, and translating sign language to the print form of visual only story telling is inspired. We don’t hear Delilah’s overlay telling of the story, we just get the visuals. It’s still showing Brandt’s disability through the structure of the comic. 

It is definitely worthwhile to pick up alongside the main story and I am very much looking forward to “Some Strange Disturbances: Nob’s Tale,” which is meant to be a companion piece to “A Cold Winter’s Eve” and is part of the HSP 2022 catalogue that is currently being kickstarted. The Kickstarter ends on November 4th, so be sure to jump on it soon (or sign up to get reminders for when it’s close to ending)!

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Some Strange Disturbances written by Craig Hurd-McKenney

[Image ID: two thin graphic novels laying overlapped on a desk. The cover of the one on top shows a circle of people at the base with their hands on a table surrounded by candles. There are also candles in the middle of the table. Rising from those candles is a green skeletal specter in a hooded robe. In the robe is the book title "Some Strange Disturbances" followed by the last names of the author and illustrators "Hurd-McKenney, Gervasio and Aon" in the bottom left corner the price of the book is listed as $9.99. The volume below is in shades of Blue and White with a few gold chain accents. The central figure is a dark haired girl surrounded flowers and above her is the snout of a dog like creature. In the top left corner the title is listed as "Some Strange Disturbances #2: The Lunchroom Under the Arch." End ID]

Queer Victorian horror. Three words and you instantly have my attention. Furthermore, the graphic novel format is a perfect structure for “monster of the week” style storytelling, which is more or less what we have with “Some Strange Disturbances.” In volume one, “The Rat King of Bedlam” they battle a rat king (the creature, not just a particularly regal rat) and in volume two “The Lunchroom Under the Arch” they get a two for one deal with a real horror and a faked horror.

I should back up. Let’s start with who “they” is and what they are doing. “They” is a group of three queer individuals in 1895 London. In volume one, in addition to battling a rat king, we are introduced to our protagonists and they are introduced to one another. We have Prescott Mayfair, a white gay man who in is more or less closeted and struggling with it; Delilah Quinton, a young, asexual Black woman who is in the patronage of a Lord and Lady who see themselves as white saviors; and the Comtesse, a trans woman whose father thinks she is possessed and has her institutionalized. Volume one, is just as much about them meeting as it is about the rat king, but the end of the story they have created their own found family, which even includes the guard from Bedlam who had been set to watch over the Comtesse.

[Image ID: Two panels the first is the interior of the Comtesse's antique shop. Delilah, a Black woman with short tight ring curls is holding a glass of champagne possibly and speaking to the Comtesse, a tall woman with carefully styled wavy hair, who is also holding a glass. Delilah says, "I must say, Comtesse, the store is lovely." The next panel is a close up of the Comtesse, who replies: "I so did have to find a use for all of Duddy's money, the payoff for burying my old self in the fire. It's best to live, and live well now, in my new life. That's what I intend to do, parents or no." The Snapchat caption reads: "I'm so happy for her" followed by the sob emoji. End ID]
[Image ID: Two comic panels, the first is of a London city street. There are people walking on a side walk against buildings and a horse-drawn cab is coming down the street from the carriage a speech bubble emerges and Prescott Mayfair speaks: "Brandt, I do so hope we're passed the indignity I put you through at Bedlam, knocking you out cold like that." The next panel cuts to inside the cab where Prescott and Brandt are sitting next to each other. Prescott is wearing a suit with a bowler had and a thin mustache. Brand has a very bushy mustache connected to sideburns and a top hat. Brandt has one arm over Precott's shoulder, motion lines indicate that he is patting Prescott's arm. Brandt's other held up in front of him as are both of Prescott's. Prescott continues speaking: "You are important to the Comtesse, and thus important to me. I hope you know this." The snapchat caption below the two panels reads, in all caps "Oh it's that Brandt." and then switches to sentence case for "The Comtesse wooed her jailor, love it." End ID.]

I know I called this “monster of the week” style storytelling, and it is, but there is an overarching plot thread that ties each volume together too. In volume two we see the specter (not a literal specter in this case) of the Comtesse’s mother return in flashbacks and ties to a medallion that is found at the scene of the haunting in the titular lunchroom, part of which turns out to be staged. This remains something that isn’t completely resolved by the end of the story and holds the threads for what will happen in volume three and seems to centrally involve the Comtesse.

[Image ID: Four panels. The first panel is a close up of a medallion, the pattern on it is a skull in and oval within a rectangle and a small diamond and star both above and below the rectangle. The next panel is a close of of a man's nose and eyes. His nose is rather bulbous and his eyes are shocked and wide. Panel three zooms out to show the man pulling the medallion over his head and ratty top hat his eyes are shaky and unfocused. In panel four the man seems coherent again with the medallion around his neck, he turns to a young woman with her hair done up in a bun and a high collared dress and says "Ya think you're better'n me, miss?" The snapchat caption reads: "Wuh oh" End ID]

Volume two also introduces us to new characters, some that will stay and some that don’t. Most notable of these is Nobuyoshi Yamamoto, or Nob, a Japanese man and sumo wrestler who is Prescott’s love interest. It is only through Nob’s actions that they win the day in volume two.

[Image ID: Screenshot of text, the lines that are not the focus are scribbled out in pink. The visible text reads: "The scene simply wrote itsellf. Prescott, in an opium stupor, is running to a meeting and slams right into this sumo wrestler. A sumo wrestler who, in that moment, steals Prescott's heart and his decorum." The Snapchat caption reads, in all caps, "Oh yes." End ID]

Something I really appreciated as someone invested in queer history, is the detail that went into portraying everything. We have afterwards in both volumes that discuss and give insight into the culture of the day. Volume one has sections on Fannie and Stella, two trans individuals; race and the practice of human zoos; and the trials of Oscar Wilde; and volume two discusses how the character of Nob came to be along with the cultural context of Japanese people in London during the period.

All in all, this is a thoroughly researched and beautifully written (and illustrated) series that I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in Victorian era history, horror, queer comics or any combination of the three.

The first two volumes are for sale here, and, in exciting news, the Kickstarter for Headless Shakespeare Press’ 2022 publishing catalogue, which includes “Some Strange Disturbances: Nob’s Tale” and “Some Strange Disturbances: The Demon Bride,” went live on October 4th! Now could not be a better time to get into this series.

[Image ID: On a black background is an image Victorian illustration of a scene in a church. There are men standing on both sides and in the center a man in fine dress holds the hand of a woman in a coffin that is being propped up, with a priest behind them in a mockery of a wedding. Above this image is the text: "To be continued in Some Strange Disturbances: The Demon Bride." Below the image is the Snapchat caption: "Feral. I simply  cannot wait."

Coming later in the month from me will be a mini review of “Some Strange Disturbances: A Cold Winter’s Eve,” a SSD side story and short comic anthology.

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