The Backstagers by James Tynion IV

32898210I have been on a graphic novel kick lately. Graphic novels are great because they can still have wonderful stories with amazingly deep characters, but they are decidedly more fun to read. At least in my opinion. I just love looking at the art in graphic novels.

The graphic novel I’m talking about today is The Backstagers by James Tynion IV, illustrated by Rian Sygh. I loved it and couldn’t wait for the second volume to come out. I found the ebooks online through my public library’s Hoopla subscription, and it was so good! I still have to read the last issue, though, since it’s not available on Hoopla yet. Hurry up, Hoopla! I need to know what happens! If you loved Lumberjanes then you will love The Backstagers as well. I am hoping and praying for a Jumberjanes/Backstagers crossover so hard! It would be so epic!!!

The story starts out by introducing new kid Jory. He’s just transferred to an all boys private school and his mom is telling him he needs to find an after school activity to fill up his time. He decides on the drama club, but after going on a mini adventure backstage and finding out that the actors in the drama club are “the worst” he decides to join the Backstagers. But the Backstagers aren’t your normal stage crew. Nope. The backstage area of the school is a supernatural wonderland filled with strange creatures, moving tunnels, and wondrous rooms. It’s all very dangerous and also quite exciting!

There is an overarching mystery to be solved over the course of the series which involves the missing Backstagers from 1987. They disappeared on opening night and were never heard from again. Some of the Backstagers, the Stage Managers included, think it’s just an urban legend to keep the newbies from wandering too far into the tunnels on their own, but Jory thinks there is more to it, especially after his new friend Sasha goes into the tunnels on his own and returns with a new friend.

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodread because, honestly, there was nothing I disliked about this graphic novel. The art is amazing, the characters are amazing, and the story is amazing. I felt a connection with the characters because I was a theatre kid in high school and as an adult I’ve transitioned into being a backstager myself. One of the things I loved about this book is that it talks about LGBTQ+ themes without talking about it, if that makes sense? Like there is a transgender character who transfers from the all girls school to the all boys school but they never really talk about it. It’s not a big deal, it’s just there treated as normal content (because it is).

Sorry this is such a short review but there really isn’t much more I can say other than OMFG I LOVE IT, without giving the plot away. It’s a relatively short series with only 8 issues available, so the plot moves really quickly. So yeah, there you have it, Internetland! Go read The Backstagers!

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Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra by Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau

The Magical Girl genre is described on Wikipedia as “a subgenre of Japanese fantasy anime and manga which features girls who use magic” (see citation below). While this genre is a very popular amongst Japanese fans, it was hardly ever seen in North American media. The few non-Japanese shows I watched as a kid that are considered part of the Magical Girl genre were Rainbow Brite, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and Jem and the Holograms. Of course, at the time I had no idea they were Magical Girls. They were just awesome sparkly girls who could do cool things! Then a few years later Japanese anime started airing on North American television and that’s when I discovered Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. Cardcaptor Sakura remains to this day my absolute favourite anime ever! Recently, there have been more North American, and even European shows popping up such as Winx Club, Miraculous Ladybug, and more!

zodiacstarforceSo why am I talking about Magical Girl TV shows on a book blog? The reason is because I recently was recommended Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra by Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau. It’s a Magical Girl serial comic that was recently collected and published as a graphic novel. The plot is about a group of high school girls who have magical powers granted to them by the goddess Astra. They are sworn to protect the earth from the evil monsters sent by the dark goddess Cimmeria. The leader of the group, Emma/Gemini is infected with dark energy and the rest of the team, Taurus, Aries, and Pisces, need to take out Cimmeria and her minion, Diana, before the dark energy destroys Gemini. This graphic novel is for all the people out there who love Sailor Moon, She-Ra, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Power Rangers, Jem and the Holograms, and Jumberjanes. I love all those things! So… why didn’t I like Zodiac Starforce? I’ll get to it later. First, the things I did like about this book!

Things I liked about this graphic novel:

  • The art is spectacular! It’s done in full fantastic colour and the backgrounds and background characters are fully detailed as well. I can’t get over how beautiful the art is.It almost feels like the still images could jump to live in full animation.
  • The cast of character is very inclusive. The team members have different ethnicities,  body sizes,  interests, and sexualities.
  • I love the general idea of a magical girl group based on the zodiac. Also, (spoiler alert) I love that the current group of Starforce isn’t the FIRST group. There are flashbacks of a Victorian Zodiac Starforce team and it is amazing! At the end of the book there is a “sketchbook” where the authors talk about their ideas and they went more into detail about the Victorian Starforce members.
  • It gave me nostalgia feels. It reminded me so much of the shows I watched as a kid.

Now, the reasons I didn’t love this graphic novel (and I really wanted to love it, I swear):

  • I feel like… maybe, it was trying too hard to be inclusive? As if they characters were diverse for the sake of being diverse? The characters just didn’t feel natural to me. This could just be because it was such a fast paced plot that you don’t really get a chance to watch the characters develop. Also, (this leads into my next point) there is no backstory to explain how such a diverse group of people became friends.
  • The story seems to start in the middle. I felt lost and disconnected and kept trying to see if I had actually missed something and was actually reading the second book. The characters kept referring to something that happened in the past and I kept wanting more of an origin story. Origin stories are the best part in my opinion! Getting to see how the characters met, got their powers, and learned to use them is always my favourite part. You get a little bit of backstory throughout the dialogue, and at one point I thought were were going to get an epic flashback that would explain everything that happened up to the current plot, but nope. False hope. Even now I’m still trying to figure out if I actually missed the first part of the series by accident.

So, there you have it, Internetland! My review of Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra by Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau. I gave this graphic novel three out of five stars on Goodreads simply because despite the art being amazing, the story just didn’t seem very well explained. There is a second series coming out in 2018 called Zodiac Starforce: Cries of the Fire Prince which I plan to read once it’s released, and hopefully there is a bit more of a backstory in that one. I want an origin story, gosh darn it!

 

Magical girl. (2018, January 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:13, January 26, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Magical_girl&oldid=820819933

Pantomime by Laura Lam

pantomimeOriginally, I picked up this book because it had an interesting cover. I don’t usually judge a book by its cover but in this case the cover just looked so intriguing that I had to pick it up! When I read the back of the book I was further intrigued! I really enjoy gaslamp fantasy novels, The Night Circus  by Erin Morgenstern being my favourite from this genre (it’s so good everyone should go read it right now!). Even though Pantomime falls nicely into the gaslamp fantasy genre it remains unique. Never have I ever read a book with such complicated themes set in a world like this. This book takes fantasy, circus, magic, and rolls in themes like self acceptance, coming of age, LGBTQ+, and intersexuality.

This story is about one person. Gene is a noble girl with a secret. She is both male and female – intersexual. If her secret were to leak out it would be a scandal and she and her whole family would be shunned from society. Then she displays strange magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age – The Vestige. Gene discovers her parents are not her real parents and plan to have an unwanted medical procedure performed on her, so she decides she needs to run away from home. So, Gene takes on a new name and becomes Micah Grey, a boy who joins the circus and becomes an aerialist. Micah trains hard and falls in love, but the dark side of the circus forces him to run for his life again.

Honestly, while I really enjoyed this book I felt the story was a bit slow and a little confusing at times. The story hops between Gene’s life as a noble, and Micah’s life in the circus. As the time lines get closer and closer to merging (ie, when Gene becomes Micah) it can get a little confusing as to when things are happening. Despite the slow pace I felt it really picked up near the end as Micah’s secret is exposed and he needs to flee for his life. However, beware! The cliffhanger at the end is real. My library system doesn’t have the second book yet (Shadowplay – 9781509807802, published Jan. 2017) so I have to either buy the sequel myself or wait patiently… heavy sigh.

Another thing I felt was a bit confusing was the Vestige, the ancient civilization that disappeared, leaving only magical artifacts behind.. I felt there wasn’t enough backstory about this and would have appreciated a prologue or foreword describing it in further detail. Perhaps in the next two books more about the Vestige will be revealed as more magic like Micah’s is awakened..

I felt that Laura Lam did a really good job at portraying Gene’s confusion about whether she is male or female. Gene doesn’t quite feel like a female, but not quite a male either. Which is why she is so easily able to slip into Micah’s world. Gene/Micah is a Kedi. An intersexual creature from legend that is the only creature in the world who is whole.

I also liked how Lam described Micah’s confusion about his feelings for both Aenea, his female aerialist partner, and Drystan, the white clown. Micah kept asking himself “Do I like Aenea as a boy or as a girl?” Eventually he decided it didn’t matter and just lets his emotions take over. Despite being in love with Aenea, Micah is still too afraid to tell her about his secret – that he is a Kedi – for fear she will be disgusted with  him and reject him, like someone from Gene’s past did recently. At the end of the book Micah’s secret is revealed! But you’ll have to read the book to find out how both Aenea and Drystan react. #troll

I gave Pantomime 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because of the unique and interesting premise and characters. Would have taken half a star from the overall score if i could have due to the slow pace and sometimes confusing order of events.

Writing this review has been difficult because I’m not sure which pronoun to use for Gene/Micah. Gene is the female, but Micah is the male. I’m not sure which gender neutral pronouns to use. Further research is required.