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.

If you enjoy my content and would like to see more, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon!

The Queen of Cups: A Short Story by Ren Basel

The Oracle lives by the sea and for the right price, she will read your fortune or provide a blessing. Theo is one such blessing seeker. 

Exciting things to note right off the bat:

  • Trans characters!!! More than one!!! The main character Theo, uses they/them pronouns.

That’s really the big thing I wanted to yell about, given the fact that at least for me, someone saying “Did you know this book/story/movie/tv show/whatever has a trans character in it?” is a sure fire way to get me to check out the thing. 

But if that’s not enough for you, here’s some more good reasons you should check out this story.

It’s really well written. It’s easy to read and flows super well. It’s divided into sections, kind of like mini chapters, which does a really good job of scene changing in such a short story (it’s only 13 pages).

It’s good. I was so enthralled reading it, I got scolded by the train conductor because I hadn’t noticed her approach and therefore did not have my ticket out and ready because I’d been so absorbed. Whoops. But yeah, really good, the author does a really good job of maintaining tension throughout the story. There is not a boring moment.

I would love to see these characters again in another story. They are all wonderfully written and incredibly compelling and I could read a whole novel of them. 

Another thing that I really love is that the queerness inherent in the story is just there. They’re just presented as is. There’s not angst over identity, there’s no transphobia or other queerphobia, it’s just the way things work.  Theo is they, the lesbian couple are having a baby together, it’s normal and good. These are some of my favorite kinds of stories to read. I cannot recommend this story enough. “The Queen of Cups” is really worth every penny.

Warnings (these are also listed in a note on the copyright page in front of the story):

  • Deep water
  • Death by drowning 
  • Spiritual possession
  • Brief mentions of alcoholic beverages

“The Queen of Cups” comes out on March 1st. You can pre-order it here.

All Your Faves Are Trans! Part Two: Lex Luthor

The second and final episode of All Your Faves Are Trans! Once again featuring comics expert Murphy Leigh.

This episode goes into the reading of Lex Luthor as a trans man particularly in the Smallville television series and his portrayal in the 2016 Batman V. Superman film.

TRANSCRIPT:

Continue reading “All Your Faves Are Trans! Part Two: Lex Luthor”

All Your Faves Are Trans!

All of your favorite characters are trans. All of them.
Feat. Guest Murphy Lee

In my consolidating of the content I’ve created I figured it would be a good idea to get these puppies circulating again. This is episode one of the two episode demo of the podcast I assembled for a class in college. They’ve been wasting away on my Soundcloud since then, but they’ve got some good things to say.

Guest Murphy Leigh has since changed their social media from what is listed in the podcast, and can be found most places as nomoremetaphors.

The second and final episode will go up the week of Christmas  to make up for there being no content last month due to setting up this blog.

TRANSCRIPT BELOW THE CUT:

Continue reading “All Your Faves Are Trans!”

Look Who’s Morphing by Tom Cho

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[Edit: Originally published July 20, 2018]

Look Who’s Morphing is a short story collection that follows a Chinese Australian central protagonist, and often various members of their family, through a series of strange events such as seeing themself displaced by a Caucasian man named Bruce and having to help their Auntie Wei after she is possessed by a demon when she puts on a apron with fake breasts on it. 

Something I enjoy about these stories is their ability to make the uncanny come across as commonplace. Never once did I stop reading and go, “That’s weird,” I would read a section like, “I say goodbye to my auntie and uncle and turn to leave. But, before I can leave, an army of orcs suddenly enters the house and attacks us. As this is a classic Dungeons & Dragons scenario, I know exactly what to do,” and my thoughts are just, “Of course, makes perfect sense,” because the story has been set up in such a way, that this feels like a reasonable turn of events. 

The stories in Look Who’s Morphing are very short, something that I think works very well with the level of absurdist they can veer into. I do not think I would want to read a full novel of something like this. That could very easily run the risk of feeling like you were getting hit over the head with “Look how ridiculous this is!”

Short story collections can allow for so much variety in a single book in a way that it is very difficult for a novel to do. It allows for a theme to be explored in a multitude of different ways, which is exactly what Look Who’s Morphing does with the theme of identity. It looks at cultural identity, sexual identity, gender identity, by moving through scenarios that handle them in a fun and strange way that doesn’t dilute the underlying meaning behind the story. 

You can find it here.

Related Reviews: Falling in Love With Hominids

Dreadnought by April Daniels

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[Edit: Originally published June 23, 2017]

Dreadnought is the coming of age story of Danny, a young trans girl who finds herself with the body of a girl after she inherits the superpowers of the hero Dreadnought. 

It blows every other trans coming of age story I’ve ever read out of the water. Probably, because, unlike the other trans coming of age stories I’ve read. This one was written by an actual trans person. 

This also isn’t just a trans coming of age story. Yes, Danny has to navigate a new body and how she’s suddenly viewed differently by her peers, while her parents (her father in particular) are desperately searching for a way to reverse what’s been done. But she’s just been given superpowers and the super villain who killed the previous Dreadnought is still at large. She’s also being pressured by some of the previous Dreadnought’s team members to take up his mantle when she’s old enough to do so.

One of the things that I appreciated about the book was how it dealt with transphobia. There’s a lot of it, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed. The transphobia was not the primary focus of the story though it certainly fed the plot. 

There were two things that really struck me:

One, it did not stick to the narrative often portrayed in novels by cis people of the One Big Bad Transphobia. It came from everywhere. Angry parents who could not accept that their “son” would want to live in a female body. One of the previous Dreadnought’s teammates has a very terf like ideology when it comes to how she treats Danny, she sees Danny as being deceptive and that Dreadnought being a trans woman would be damaging for “real women.”

It’s intense stuff, but as I said I never felt overwhelmed, which leads me to point two. The transphobia scenes are all relatively short and are juxtaposed by Danny finding people who do accept her and support her, both gender wise and in her early heroing attempts. Because let’s not forget, this is a superhero story. 

One of the big questions for Danny is does she take up the title of Dreadnought? She could become her own superhero, or she could not go the way of the superhero at all and just use her newly gained abilities in whatever job she gets down the road. Not every person with powers wants to be a superhero, after all.

It’s also just, incredibly well written. The book is written from Danny’s point of view and as such we are graced by some very funny and witty inner dialogue. I would definitely consider this a must have for any one looking for good trans fiction. 

Warnings:

  • Transphobia, as I mentioned.
  • Misogyny 
  • Violence, I would say that the amount of violence is pretty normal for the genre. 
  • Death. I don’t think any were super graphic, but there is one major on page death.

You can find it here.

Book two, Sovereign comes out on July 25!

Related Reviews: Eggshells

Snaps:

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Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews

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[Edit: Originally published April 1, 2017]

Some Assembly Required is a Trans Narrative. It encompasses all the aspects someone might expect if they are familiar with other trans books or if they have a passing awareness of trans people. These books have value, and I am hesitant to be critical of any trans books in the state of things—however, they may not have as much to offer if one has already read another Trans Narrative book. 

An issue with the Trans Narrative story always being spotlighted is that it does little to question gender; it simply implies that biology made a mistake that we should fix medically and move on with our lives. It does not dissect gender roles; it just asks politely for a little room for those having trouble fitting into them until they can perfect the art. This book does improve upon some tropes by featuring multiple and non-straight trans characters. However, Arin assumes the gender of everyone he meets by their appearance. As someone who would be misgendered by this author despite his intended message, this is saddening.

The language is simple and voice relatable, making it appropriate for high school or middle school students. I would ask that educators diversify their material, and include other trans experiences and gender theory as well, including those that are non-binary, non-white, etc. (For a college class, check out Gender Outlaw by Kate Bernstein!) I think this book could be so much more useful with good discussion questions. Question perceptions, not just if the book has been read!

Seeing your usual narrative—“wrong body” “wrong parts” and so much labeling of ‘boy’ activities and clothes exhausts. I want more than this. I want to talk about why clothes are gendered and how arbitrary that is, about why people force these roles. But many do feel this way, and it’s authentic for Arin. The window into discovering one’s transness as an American kid rings impressively true to mine. It’s just a small window, where I’d like a glass house.

Some details: There are several passages where he berates girls and femininity, which is normal for a child forced into those roles, but there’s no indication that he’s grown from this later. There is also a line drag performers that come across as derogatory in a similar way, and some mentions of Native people that needed a bit more care.

 For someone not exposed to many resources, this could be lifesaving and educational.  At the same time, I think we should be mindful to center other lenses along with this one and question the binary that tramples trans people in the first place.

You can find this book on Amazon here.

This is a guest review by @Bovastic, who is available as an accuracy consultant/sensitivity reader at bovastic.mail@gmail.com or on Twitter. Areas of expertise are listed on Twitter. For characters with other mental conditions or certain life experiences, please contact and ask.

Wandering Son Vol. 1 by Shimura Takako

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[Edit: Originally published July 23, 2016]

This was quite possibly the sweetest thing I have ever read and I am ridiculously disappointed that I can’t find the next two volumes of the manga for under 100 dollars. 

Wandering Son is about two transgender children and their self discovery and how it progresses through a year at school. There’s a young trans girl, Nitori Shuchi, and a trans boy, Takatsuki Yoshino. It was very sweet and it portrayed the gender discovery process very well.

There’s a school play that the class both kids are in puts on at the end of the year for the graduating students. The play is gender swapped, meaning the girls are playing the boy roles and the girls are playing the boy rolls. For Shuchi and Yoshino this plays a large role in them experimenting with their gender. Yoshino gets her hair cut and finds she really likes looking like a boy. Shuchi, who’s been conflicted about wearing dresses, finds something that he’s comfortable with. Neither of them are out to their parents and they find comfort in each other about what they’re going through. 

There’s an introduction in the beginning of the book that talks about gender in Japan. Japan and the Japanese language deals with gender differently than English does. The introduction is definitely important to read in order to understand the translation choices that have been made regarding gendered language for Shuchi and Yoshino. 

You may have noticed I referred to them with gendered pronouns that reflect their gender assigned at birth in an earlier paragraph. I did this because both Suchi and Yoshino are in that pre-transitional not out state where they’re only out to each other and no one else and that’s how they’re gendered, for the most part, in the manga. This may change in later volumes, but I’ve only read volume one.

You can find the book here.

Related Reviews: The Heart of Thomas and Symptoms of Being Human

Before the City Rises by C.K. Slash

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[Edit: Originally published July 6, 2016]

The June Rebellion. That might mean absolutely nothing to you. It did for me until I read Les Misérables. It was a small failed rebellion in an attempt to overthrow the government in France in 1832. This is the backdrop for Before the City Rises.

If you’re in the Les Mis fandom, you might actually know Before the City Rises, butas the fanfiction “Teach me how to Love You”. The fanfiction was flipped to be an original work and was released in mid June. 

You don’t have to know Les Misérables to enjoy the story, however. You’re given all the information you need about the rebellion and the circumstances of in the beginning of the story when our heroine, Zephine, pays a visit to Notre Dame cathedral. 

The story is also given a sci fi element when you learn that the oppressed group being fought for in the story are those with supernatural abilities. It’s not overly present but it’s there in the background, and if you forget momentarily, you’ll be reminded a few pages later. 

The foreground and driving force of the story is that it’s a lesbian erotica. A lesbian erotica with a trans woman (named Nichole) as the love interest.

Zephine goes to visit Nichole, a friend of sorts and part of the group that has been organizing this rebellion, though she’s been a voice of dissent and disbelief of their cause more often than not. However, if Zephine wants her to fight with them tomorrow, Nichole could not refuse. They share one night together. One very Not Safe For Work night. And Zephine learns things about Nichole she never would have imagined. 

Like I said, this is an erotica. The sex is very well written and very explicit. This is definitely not a book for young eyes.

There were a few errors when I read it that occurred due to the flipping of the book. Some names got missed in the flipping process. Those have since been fixed by the author.

You can find the book here.

@ckslash

Related Reviews: When to Hold Them