Review: Beyond: The Queer Sci Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology

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Beyond: The Queer Sci Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology

Editor: Sfé R. Monster
Assistant Editor: Taneka Stotts
Beyond Cover Artist: Levi Hastings
Beyond Interior Artist: Evan Dahm
Contributors: Gabby Reed, Rachel Dukes, Niki Smith, Reed Black, Christianne Goudreau, Taneka Stotts, Ted Closson, Wm Brian MacLean, Blue Delliquanti, Shing Yin Khor, Kiku Hughes, Jon Cairns, Sfé R. Monster, Kate Ebensteiner & Bevan Thomas, Savannah Horrocks, April J. Martins, Dylan Edwards, Kori Michele Handwerker, Kristina Stipetic, Anissa Espinosa, Alison Wilgus, Lin Visel, Leia Weathington, A. Stiffler, and K. Copeland

Disclaimer: WWAC received a review copy of Beyond from the Beyond Press.

The Beyond Anthology Cover.As media drifts toward norms that allow LGBT characters to be out and visible on pages and screens, queerbaiting allows creators to avoid providing actual representation. Shows like Sherlock, Rizzoli and Isles, and Supernatural are notorious for queerbaiting, but the trope pervades many other corners of the science fiction and fantasy worlds as well. In the foreword to Beyond: The Queer Sci Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology, editor Sfé Monster calls for stories with, “…queer people—people like me—with diverse genders and sexualities, as the heroes of their stories, slaying dragons, piloting spaceships, getting into trouble, and saving the day, without having to read for their queerness from between the lines.” Beyond contains twenty beautifully illustrated, science fiction and fantasy stories that feature openly, unquestionably queer, trans, nonbinary, and racially diverse characters and creators.

Anthologies are multi-faced beasts. They introduce readers to new creators, provide small insights to existing stories, showcase variety and diversity by bringing together unique voices, and, as Beyond does for queer and trans sci fi and fantasy, they can make a unified statement about a style or genre. In order to discuss the overall messages that Beyond conveys I will highlight a few pieces, but know that I enjoyed each and every story of the anthology.

Defiance and Escape

Several stories in Beyond focus on the theme of escaping from a troubled or oppressive society. Both The Graves of Wolves, by Ted Adrien Closson, and Islet, by Niki Smith, feature protagonists who are escaped soldiers living with same-sex partners and young children. Similarly, Luminosity by Gabby Reed and Rachel Dukes follows two queer women of color as they grow up together, fall in love, and abandon the NASA-esque organization that exploits them.

Karth and his son Aenh, in The Graves of Wolves.

Karth and his son Aenh, in The Graves of Wolves.

Closson’s story suggests a reason why this the+me may thread through the anthology. The Graves of Wolves is an eerie look at a cruel, violent world in which humans have committed acts of genocide against aliens, and forged horrific weapons in the process. The gay couple that serve as the story’s protagonists have defied their world’s military by adopting an alien child, who they protect at all costs. Closson expertly uses beautiful, wordless action sequences to explore the fear and terror humans are capable of inflicting.

Each of the other escapees in Beyond flee from similar horrors and exploitations. For example, in Savannah Horrock’s and April J. Martins’ The Monster Queen, a young princess runs from her parents because they are imprisoning monsters, while in Islet we learn that the foreign soldier sought refuge at the islet because she wanted to escape her violent military life. Just as many queer and trans people find themselves fleeing violence and cruelty, so do the queer and trans characters of Beyond escape becoming weapons.

A panel from Wm Brian MacLean's "Versus" in the Beyond Anthology.

An unknown force attempts to separate the figures in Versus.

There is one piece that uses the theme of escape and defiance, but in a very unique way. Versus, by Wm Brian MacLean, is different from the other stories in Beyond. It’s almost completely wordless, and the art is abstract. Versus opens with a ying yang-ish image, but the black and white swirls quickly escape the central shape, and take on the forms of living creatures. The two creatures then engage in a dancelike interaction that resembles a courtship. In a shocking moment, the creatures link and almost vibrate, but the world “NO” appears above them, as if to tear them apart. As the “no” shrinks they defiantly kiss.

MacLean’s art is simple but incredibly emotional. I felt that this story most acutely embodied the idea of love that is also defiance, but because the piece is so abstract a myriad of other readings are possible. The way shapes shift and intermingle is fascinating; you’ll find yourself reading this one again and again.

Carving One’s Own Path
Brenn must define what it means to be a man for himself in The Dragonslayer's Son.

Brenn must define what it means to be a man for himself in The Dragonslayer’s Son.

The process of escaping often becomes the process of discovering, and then creating. Several stories in Beyond follow protagonists that are carving their own paths, including a clever pirate and perhaps cleverer regent who attempt to trick each other in Taneka Stotts and Christianne Goudreau’s A Royal Affair. Also, the Instamen in Jon Cairn’s O-Type Hypergiant, who must re-define their existence as the purpose for which they were created  changes. However, The Dragon Slayer’s Son by Sfé Monster best sums up this theme.

Eva defied her home’s gender norms and took on the roles of both dragonslayer and mother. She now travels with her transgender son, Brenn, who is discovering what it means to become a man when the ties to his culture’s traditions have become loose. Brenn and Eva’s figurative journey parallels the literal journey they take, because Brenn intends to fulfill the coming-of-age ritual of their home, and kill his first dragon. It’s a heartening story in which an escape from oppressive boundaries becomes the freedom of self-definition.

Sfé Monster’s story also contains some of my favorite art. The characters all have cute, big pointy noses, and B. Sabo’s inks add depth and a sense of enormity to the images of snowy mountains (There are a lot of expansive, cold-weather nature scenes in this anthology!). Each of the dragons have scary streams of hot steam pillowing out of their mouths, warning anyone who comes near that life-ending fire is just a breath away. It’s lovely.

Creating and Re-defining Family
Sulla and Brendan are great communicators in Optimal.

Sulla and Brendan are great communicators in Optimal.

Eva and Brenn’s journey in The Dragon Slayer’s Son requires them to re-define family outside of their native culture’s context. Many of the stories in Beyond feature non-traditional families, including Of Families & Other Magical Objects by Reed Black, in which a gay, interracial couple retrieves their daughter from a goblin house, and Twin-Souled by Kate Ebensteiner and Bevan Thomas, which features a two-spirited Chieftainess who protects her family by merging with the spirit of a Bear totem. My favorite—and I must admit bias here, because I have been reading and loving Blue Delliquanti’s webcomic O Human Star for quite a while—was Optimal.

Fans of O Human Star will recognize Sulla, the synthetic android whose teenage crushes and crises add a younger perspective to the comic. Optimal gives Sulla’s back-story, and reveals how she has navigated software upgrades and her transition. Her father, Brendan, is knowledgeable when it comes to androids, but less so on having a transgender daughter. Regardless, he listens to what Sulla needs, and the comic appropriately centers her thoughts, emotions and desires. It’s a beautiful exploration of how people can become family by listening to each other.

A panel and from Shing Yin Khor's "Duty and Honor" in the Beyond Anthology.

Khor’s word bubbles cannot be contained.

I would be remiss to not give a shout-out to Shing Yin Khor’s Duty and Honor. The comic’s black and grey watercolor panels create a dreamlike but ominous feeling, making it one of the most affecting pieces in the anthology. Khor also overlays the panels with letters written by Marya to her lover, Ming Hua, and these letters gently interrupt the story until abruptly, the story interrupts the letters.  The stiff, typed font of news articles that pop up halfway through are appropriately jarring. If you’re looking for an example of how lettering can have a drastic effect on a comic, look no further than Duty and Honor.

Beyond is the sci fi and fantasy anthology of your queer and trans dreams. Reading the collection will leave you thirsty for more, but don’t worry! Sfé Monster, Shing Yin Khor, and Taneka Stotts have founded Beyond Press so they can continue showcasing queer, minority, and unique voices. I’m so excited for the future works that this power trio will release, and I bet you are too. To pre-order softcover copies of Beyond, get the PDF, and get your hands on more Beyond Press publications, go to http://www.beyond-press.com/

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About Author

Alenka Figa is a queer, feminist, wannabe librarian. She spends her days teaching people how to attach things to their email, watching Steven Universe, and twittering nonstop about comics and her cat at @alenkafiga.

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