In May, I set a scavenger hunt. Kori Michele Handwerker, Laura Bishop, Alison Sampson, and Jog Mac replied. There are so many comics—there are so many comics! And so many of them are wonderful, edifying, enlarging, worth it. How are we ever to find them? Perhaps we can help each other.
- I asked for a comic with a brother-sister protagonist pair;
- A comic heavy on the purple;
- A funny strip with a woman in the lead role;
- And one manga that remains officially untranslated, to great tragedy.
The winning spread was to be awarded one WWAC roundtable on the subject of their choice—a guarantee that what they want to see talked about would get talked about. Winner would be determined by whose picks interested me the most.
Who won? Read their entries first!
Brother-Sister protagonist pair: Cucumber and Almond from Cucumber Quest by Gigi D.G.
In this brilliant, beautiful, and cute-as-heck self-aware fantasy story, The Reluctant-to-be-hero Cucumber and Desperate-to-be-heroine Almond adventure forth to save their father and their kingdom. They’re an adorable and well-characterized pair, and they drop a bucket of GIANT lampshades on the bogusly gendered nature of fantasy adventures.
Heavy on the Purple: Galanthus by Ashanti Fortson
This gorgeously rendered, queer space epic follows an escaped indentured worker as she propels herself through her own adventure narrative by sheer force of determination. Fortson is a master at using color and the deep dark purple of space echoes in the protagonists’s berry-juice stained clothes.
Funny comic strip female protagonist: Hazel from Girls With Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto
Hazel’s arc of self-depreciation-to-self-appreciation speaks to a lot of young creative white women, and for those she doesn’t speak to, someone in the cast probably does. Corsetto’s comic has humor that hits on all fronts, including friendships, queer social navigations, the creative process, nostalgia, dating, sex, and family. But the glimpses into her cranky column writing are often the funniest.
One Manga criminally untranslated: Double House by Haruno Nanae
Double House is one of the best and most beautiful comics about femininity, female social obligation, and transgender identity. It’s short and to the point and absolutely masterful. Rich runaway Fujiko makes friends with neighbor Maho, a MTF woman, and through their relationship we see a portrait of the different ways women struggle to make their femaleness their own. It’s a story about women surviving and making families together. It’s melancholy, but not tragic! It’s beautiful, and it’s smart, and if it were translated into English I would buy 100 copies.
Brother-sister protagonist pair: Full Circle from Taneka Stotts and Christianne Goudreau
Beautiful fantasy comic following sister and brother Else Su-Ranga and Marti Ranga as they start to take on more responsibilities and explore their world. A story that I can’t wait to see where it’s going from two creators I greatly admire and enjoy. Super close honorable mention to Cucumber Quest.
Heavy use of purple: SO TOUGH—ODY-C and Help Us! Great Warrior and Zodiac Starforce—But, if I had to pick one, it’s Snarlbear from Natalie Riess
A girl finds herself in a magical rainbow dimension in possession of excellent fisticuff skills. Natalie Riess is fantastic—the color palette alone is impressive, but the story is captivating. I’m also thoroughly enjoying her new comic coming out through Oni, Space Battle Lunchtime!
Funny comic strip female protagonist: Miss Bird + Miss Cat from Mira Ongchua
One Manga criminally untranslated: Blue Seed
Momiji discovers that she is descended from a Princess Kushinada and is thus destined to be sacrificed. Instead, she bucks that trend and fights the Aragami alongside the Terrestrial Administration Center and Kusanagi, an erstwhile sworn protector. Very obscure, me-specific nostalgia that I watched in pretty hack fansubs as it was coming out mid ’90s during my Sailor Moon days. I looked hard for a link to a scanlation, but it claims the book was licensed, though I can’t find by whom. Though it does look like it was never actually published in English.
Brother-Sister protagonist pair: Children of the Sea by Daisuke Igarashi
Heavy on the Purple: Thickness 3
Funny comic strip female protagonist: Beryl the Peril and specifically B the P’s artist’s recent film by Nicola Lane that she showed for her Comix Creatrix talk
One Manga criminally untranslated: Oh bugger, I don’t read any of these…
Brother-Sister protagonist pair: Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
I’m sure the March series of biographical comics has brought Powell to a far wider audience, but I’ll always remember him for this walloping solo graphic novel of teen living and mental illness, one of the very few comics I can think of that’s focused so intently on the love shared between (step-)siblings.
Heavy use of purple: Cold Heat by Ben Jones & Frank Santoro
In the ’00s, there was a movement called “fusion comics”—in fact, Santoro may have coined the term himself. Basically, Cold Heat—an exemplar—mixes paranoid monster-villain drug conspiracy adventure with atypical and very color-driven art; it’s purples radiating with fearsome threat. Unfinished, sadly, and with Jones now a creative director at Fox, it’ll probably stay like that.
Funny comic strip female protagonist: OL Shinkaron by Risu Akizuki
This is a yonkoma strip (four panels, vertical) that’s been running in Japan since 1990. Kodansha put out a few English/Japanese bilingual collections a decade and a half ago under the title Survival in the Office: The Evolution of Japanese Working Women, and while the comics themselves are funny stories about dealing with office drudgery and small hypocrisies, I remember the first volume mainly for its bracingly blunt introduction, in which creator Akizuki offers Real Talk about how shitty it is to be a working woman in Japan. Still some laughs, though.
This is kind of an iffy entry, since, anecdotally, I understand that publishers have been interested in translating Tsuge’s story collections—there’s resistance, supposedly, on the artist’s end, which probably renders any cries for action futile. Nonetheless, Tsuge is a full-on living legend of artistic manga, and his is maybe the revered body of work missing from our irregular post-gekiga semi-renaissance of Tatsumi, Masahiko Matsumoto, et al. I guess I’m begging the gods?
So—was a scavenger hunt a good idea, or what? Did you find something you liked in this collection of recommendations? I hope so! I know I did.
In fact, I found too much interesting … leaving me unfit to judge the entries. It’s up to you reader; please vote for your favourite set by leaving your preference in the comments below! And when you’ve done that, or while you’re thinking about it, there’s something else you can do.
You can enter June’s scavenger hunt. Email entries with a short paragraph about each of your picks to me, by the end of June. Winner gets their book of choice discussed on the site. Is there an old favourite you wish someone would talk up? Here’s your chance. Go!
Comics scavenger hunt June:
comic w/ green cover
comic w/ talking animals
comic w/ things getting v big or v small
comic trans. from french
— claire "🤡" napier (@illusClaire) June 6, 2016