Book review · Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #1

The Judging Before Reading series has come to an end with my post about Buzzwords. So, today I’m starting another series of posts: Out of My Comfort Zone.


How It Works

I usually read fantasy & science fiction novels in the adult and young adult age ranges, and contemporary (young adult range only). Everything else is out of my comfort zone – be it historical realistic fiction, adult contemporary romance, realistic thrillers, paranormal middle grade, comics & graphic novels…

…but that doesn’t mean I won’t like it. One of my goals for this year is to try some new things, and every time I read some books from genres, formats and age ranges I usually don’t reach for, I’m going to write a post about it.

And today I’m reading comics.


Why I Usually Don’t Read Comics

Habit? Habit is a big factor, and since I get most of my reading done on an ebook, I was hesitant to even try. Also, one of my favorite parts of reading is imagining how the setting and the characters look like – which is why I love atmospheric novels and don’t like when contemporary books don’t describe the setting – and illustrations won’t let me do that.

The only comic I’ve ever read is the Monstress series by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda, which I love, so I wanted to see if maybe I actually like this kind of books more than I thought.


What I Read

I chose three comics to read for this post – more or less randomly, because that’s the way I like to explore new genres. Going randomly out of my comfort zone helped me discover my favorite author, after all.

Those three comics are:

  • Twisted Romance vol. 1, edited by Alex de Campi
  • Giant Days vol. 1 by John Allison, Lissa Treyman & Whitney Cogar
  • Fence vol. 1 by C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad

Twisted Romance

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Weird, wonderful, and very queer.
Twisted Romance is an anthology of comic shorts and prose short fiction, which is something I had never read before. Not everything worked for me, but most stories did, and I’m so glad I read it.

It’s a really diverse anthology – most of the stories have queer main characters, there are stories about polyamory, there are multiple stories with fat main character and main characters of color, and also one with a disabled character. Many of the creators are themselves queer, trans and/or authors of color.

Some of these stories stayed with me more than I expected. There is a beautiful fairytale-like short comic about a princess saving herself from an abusive relationship with a dragon (Treasured by Trungles), for example, in which both the art and the message were beautiful. And two out of the four prose shorts were wonderful, and my favorite things in the anthology: Back At Your Door by Vita Ayala was about polyamorous lesbians, while Unbound by Naomi Salman was an adult romance short about bondage, and I remember them as vividly as I would had I read an entire novel following these characters. They were that good. (And also, both of them had main characters of color!)

There were some shorts that didn’t work for me, both short stories and comics, but I remember the good parts more than the not-so-great ones. Twisted Romance is an anthology about romance stories that are seen as “unconventional”, whatever that means in the context, and it’s just exactly my kind of romance. I really recommend it.

My rating: ★★★★

My reviews of the individual stories in Twisted Romance

Issue #1 
Old Flames by Katie Skelly & Alex de Campi – ★★★½ 🏳️‍🌈
This was… an interesting start. It’s the story of a bi/pan vampire-like creature (incubus/succubus might be more accurate terms, but as the main character says, they’re too specific and he likes to switch) in New York during the 70s, and it involves a cheating husband, a deadly vampire-like woman, and a really disappointed wife.
I had some mixed feelings about this. While I loved how colorful and funny it was, the art didn’t work for me. Also, graphic on-page death of queer women, casually? I know the main character himself is queer, but… not my thing.

Leather & Lace by Magen Cubed – ★★★★ 🏳️‍🌈
A vampire and a human hunt man-eating wendigos in Devereux City. Dorian, the vampire, has feelings for Cash, but Cash has a boyfriend, and this means Dorian’s feelings are totally unrequited. But are they?
A fun m/m paranormal romance story with some interesting action scenes. (and no annoying cheating storylines, if you’re worried about that!)

Red Medusa by Sarah Horrocks – ★ DNF
I didn’t even get what this was about and I’m not sure I want to know it. Well, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know it, and even if I did, it was so (intentionally) hideous I didn’t want to look at it. This is probably great if you’re into this sort of thing, but I can’t look at horror-like graphic stories.

Issue #2 
Twinkle & the Star by Alejandra Gutiérrez & Alex de Campi – ★★★★½ 🏳️‍🌈
A story about a fat desi photographer’s assistant falling in love with an asexual actor! I loved the art style in this one, it’s just as cute as the story it’s portraying and it’s also very… contemporary-feeling? (Hi! I review prose! I know nothing about art!) Anyway, everything about this felt like a cute, diverse new adult contemporary romance novel, and it managed to say so many things in so little space – it talked about fatphobia, body image, misogyny, gender roles, allonormativity and slutshaming.
However, I didn’t love how the love interest’s sexuality was almost framed as a plot twist.

Back At Your Door by Vita Ayala – ★★★★★ 🏳️‍🌈
One of my two favorites from this anthology! This is a contemporary story about an f/f/f love triangle – about polyamorous lesbians in college – with a latinx main character. It talks about how messy it can be to figure out your sexuality, about how sometimes questioning teens unintentionally hurt other people in the process, about how sometimes queer women are really oblivious when a girl is flirting with them. And the ending is one of the cutest things I’ve ever read.

Would You Even Know It? by Meredith McClaren – ★★★★½
A story about a girl who may or may not be falling in love with an AI. I usually don’t like AI romances, but this one didn’t go into the “romantic love makes you human” territory I was expecting (…dreading) and instead questioned what it means to be in love, and the definition of romantic love. As an aromantic who kind of doesn’t get it, I really appreciate these discussions. It was a bit too short, but I liked the art style. Really cute.

Issue #3 
Invincible Heart by Carla Speed McNeil & Alex de Campi – ★★★½ 🏳️‍🌈
An m/m romance in space! Gruff spaceship captain meets flirty privateer, gratuitously shirtless most of the time! Not exactly my kind of thing as it had no worldbuilding and most of the plot points didn’t have much impact because of that (also, the world ended up feeling generic) but it was a fun story.

The Last Minute by Jess Bradley – ★★½
This was just ok – my lest favorite of the prose short stories. It’s about a man and a woman who survived an alien invasion and are trying to save Earth. Just like Invincible Heart, it had very generic worldbuilding and didn’t stand out to me because of that, even though I appreciated that it was about men taking no for an answer.

Olivia Lies, Pierced by Margaret Trauth – ★★★★
Anthropomorphic animals (a mouse prince and a cat with a prosthetic arm) connecting – and then falling in love – because of a vidshow! It was a bit confusing at first because the main character is a liar, but it’s also very cute and colorful.

Issue #4 
Treasured by Trungles – ★★★★½
A subversive fairytale about an “average-looking princess” escaping the palace with the help of a snake-dragon… who has not the best intentions. To me, it felt like a metaphor for an abusive relationship: people who feel/are lonely are more vulnerable to abusers, snake-dragons or not, and then blame themselves for what happened to them; abusers can be really charming at the beginning, even when they are snake dragons; but unlike the usual captive princesses, the main character here can’t be rescued by a knight – she has to save herself.
It was a lovely story, the art style was my kind of thing (I loved the details here!) and I also really liked the fairytale ending. The main character deserved it.

Unbound by Naomi Salman – ★★★★★ 🏳️‍🌈
A lonely latinx mechanic moves into a new apartment… but, apparently, there’s a sex club downstairs. This m/m story was one of my favorites in this anthology, and it’s exactly what I mean when I say that I love adult contemporary romance when it’s short. Novels never seem to work for me as much as I want them to, but this? wow.
It’s the only story with an actual sex scene and it involves bondage. Also, Asian love interest!

Legacies by Sarah Winifred Searle – ★★★★ 🏳️‍🌈
Another f/f/f love triangle! This was a bit confusing because of its length and I had to read it twice to understand what had happened, but it was really cute and sweet. It’s about doing better in the future to make up for the mistakes of the past… and of your past selves. Also, the main character is fat and I love casual diversity.

Giant Days

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This is the first volume in a contemporary comic series following three girls who become friends at university. I can’t really summarize the plot, because there isn’t one, but I didn’t have a problem with that – I really like reading slice-of-life contemporary stories sometimes, especially when I need something that I can read quickly that won’t be stressful.

🌟 Susan Ptolemy, cynical, kind of grumpy, probably the only one of the three in touch in reality, if she weren’t so in denial about her feelings.
🌟 Esther De Groot, local goth, extremely dramatic. I loved her scenes because she was a mess and because they were always the funniest ones.
🌟 Daisy Wotoon, queer, naive, needs to be protected. As a character, she was probably the one I liked the least, but her storyline has the potential to be the most interesting? I don’t know.

I like reading about female friendships, and this was no exception.
I didn’t feel strongly about the art. While I did like the bright colors because I’m that kind of person, the drawing themselves aren’t exactly my kind of thing. I like details, give me more details, even when they’re not in any way the point!

It’s a fun, light read, and I flew through it, but I don’t think it will stay with me. While I did find it entertaining, it didn’t have any depth to it, and the romance storyline already seem cliché to me (not a surprise: I’m only interested in the potential f/f one). I might continue with the series, but I’m not sure I will.

My rating: ★★★½

Fence

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Fence is a contemporary comic series following Nicholas Cox, a fencer at an all-boys boarding school, as he attempts to get into the fencing team.

This first volume was made up of the first four issues, which is probably the main reason I’m struggling to write this review – it felt very much like an introduction, one that ends on a cliffhanger, so I can’t say much about the characters, their arcs or how their rivalries, friendships or possible relationships seem to be developing. It’s just a beginning, and as that, it’s pretty good – even if it doesn’t in any way stand on its own.

I liked the humor in there. Sometimes it got a little over-the-top,  but I didn’t mind that. The duck shower curtain? I love it, Nicholas and Seiji are so dramatic. The fact that the coach has an entire wall of “things one shouldn’t say”? I loved that too. (…and one of these things is “Aiden dumped me”!!) I also really appreciated the casual queerness here, from hints of crushes to characters who are explicitly queer.

I haven’t read any sport romances before, so I have nothing to compare this to, but for now Fence seems to be exactly the kind of fun, diverse, not stressful contemporary I like to read when SFF get a bit too much.

I don’t have much else to say, if not that this series has potential. To say whether the series fulfills it or continues to not have much substance I’d need to read the rest when the second and third volumes come out. And maybe I will.

My rating: ★★★¾


Will I Read More Comics in the Future?

Yes!

This went well – even if not everything worked for me, I liked most of what I read. I will for sure read more of Twisted Romance if more issues come out, I will continue to read Fence even though it’s not a priority, and while I probably won’t continue Giant Days, it was a fun read. (And, of course, I will continue to read the only comic series I knew before this episode of Out of My Comfort Zone, Monstress).

I think my once-problem with comics was that I expected them to feel similar to novels, but they don’t. For me, reading comics is more similar to how I feel when I watch TV:

  • for me, they require less effort than reading prose
  • I read them in less time, but, just like movies and TV shows, they tend not to stay with me. It’s not a coincidence that the part of Twisted Romance that impacted me the most was written in prose.
  • unlike TV, I can read comics at my own pace, which I really appreciate. Not being able to easily stop and repeat a scene or skim-read a scene is exactly my main source of anxiety with TV (and the main reason I don’t watch it, as I don’t particularly like being anxious for fun).

What are your favorite comics? Have you read any of these?

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