Review: Chainmail Bikini
Hazel Newlevant (Editor), Various artists
Chainmail Bikini is an anthology centered on the experiences of women gamers. Video games, tabletop games, card games—they’re all covered in this book, with points of view on how alienating, connecting, frustrating, and wondrous gaming can be. The book was funded with Kickstarter, and includes over 40 artists. They raised 518% of their original goal, and part of that was given to the artists.
Unfortunately, the cover really didn’t do it for me. I really like Helen Jo’s work, but this piece feels static and lacks the sense of passion I associate with gamers in general. The simplicity of the design does stand out on the shelf, though, and the title font matches the line work perfectly.
Inside, I did get all the passion, heartbreak, and self-identification i was looking for. I’m not a LARPer, but Molly Ostertag’s “A Certain Kind of Story,” which told how she found herself in a summer LARP program, legit moved me to tears. The narration tells a different story than the images, but in a between-the-lines sort of way they’re the same. The simple, quiet art conveyed a lot of emotion, and I appreciated the diversity of body shapes she packed into just two spreads.
Hazel’s own comic, “Better Together,” touched on both the guilt and camaraderie that can be a part of gaming. The best part of the art was the panels in which she described what her group of friend’s in-game powers were, and a full spread of their boss battle in game that served as a really nice contrast to each other and really conveyed how much of gaming takes place in your imagination.
Katie Longua’s “Poppy the Gnome and Friends!” was hilarious, and the decision to have only a few panels show what was happening in the real world was fantastic. The art is rounded and squishy, unlike a lot of RPG art, and this contrast really works to make her point of view unique. The series of fumbles the party makes before finally nailing that beloved 20 is an experience many gamers can empathize with.
“Gamer Grrl,” written by Kae Kelly-Colon and illustrated by June Vigants, spoke to the transformative aspects of games. The art parallels the two worlds the main character lives in: the real world, where he is Michael, and the game world, where she is Shana. It eloquently speaks to the feeling of monstrosity the protagonist feels everyday as they try to figure out who exactly they are, and the slightly messy, dense art reflects that feeling well.
Kate Craig’s “Three Weekends a Year” is a sweet chronicle of her exploring her queerness through LARPing. She starts out with an inventory of the equipment she brings, and lays out the plot and relationships within her guild in a clear, friendly manner. There are several spots where she allows negative space to suggest objects, and this give her work a sophistication some of the other entries lack. And the last panel? Oh, the heartstrings do get tugged.
As a female GM, I really appreciated Sarah Stern’s “Natural 20.” Her clean character design let the nervousness of the new GM and her players really shine, and their interactions felt real, even—especially—when it got a little mean. The lighting was used to especially good effect in this entry, although the action could have been a little clearer. However, the bit where the new GM explains to the players that yes, she is trying to kill them because that’s the point of the game, to bring them together against adversity, is something I kind of want to clip out and post everywhere I game.
“Life + 1” by Buntoo took a more zine-like aesthetic approach, and while there weren’t a ton of words on her pages, there was plenty to look at. It didn’t tell the story of a particular session, but gave a more general overview on how gaming makes her feel. There was a tactile, lo-fi feel to the textures used as well, while giving a generous nod to manga styling and visual tropes.
I am unfamiliar with the game Mola Mola, but Jane Mai’s “Ikachan” was written in such a way that it didn’t matter. It is full of delicate, intricate drawings on charcoal grey paper, where white serves as a highlight. The game has a focus on death and rebirth that contrasts with the cuteness of the drawings, and they become darker and smaller as it goes on. There is something achingly lonely about this little drawings that are isolated on their darker background, but there’s also something equally lovely.
“Shadow of the Colossus” by Jade F. Lee hit a little close to home for me. Jade depicts her struggle to earn her art degree and make a living as a series of epic boss battles. The panels feature beautiful brushwork, and there is a real sense of energy in her compositions as she describes finding solace in video games during her low points, and what they taught her.
Overall, this anthology is pretty solid. There were a few entries that didn’t do it for me, or the art seemed not quite up to standard, but altogether it was seriously entertaining. You can find it on the Chainmail Bikini website, and you can see their successful Kickstarter here.