WWACommendations: Jane Mai, Hot Comb, Beyond II, and More

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What comics are you reading lately? Every month, WWAC contributors highlight a few comics we think you’ll love. This month’s picks span the gamut of themes and styles, from a wildly popular Webtoon to indie diary comics. Let us know on Twitter about your current favorite comics!

Kate Kosturski: Two of my favorite summer reads touch on the mood of America in different ways.

The first is Ebony Flowers’ Eisner-nominated Hot Comb, her memoir of growing up Black in Baltimore told through the lens of hair and the beauty salon. Like many white Americans, I wanted to make a more conscious effort to diversify my reading lists to learn more about the Black experience, but I wanted to do it in a medium I know and love most: comics and graphic novels. Movies like Barbershop and Beauty Shop show the importance of the Black beauty salon and barber shop as a place of community, and Hot Comb reinforces this, illustrating that space as a place to come of age, touching on identity through beauty. In particular, I loved the lettering: careful, precise cursive. It added an intimate feel to the work, as if we were peeking into 12-year-old Ebony’s diary.

The second book, Tommy Jenkins and Kati Lacker’s Drawing the Vote, tackles the history of voting in the United States. I love that it’s written in a very accessible way — think an illustrated Wikipedia article. If you remember your high school civics class or college intro to political science class, you get all the highlights (and lowlights) here, making it a great refresher to understand how we got to our current political climate.

Louis Skye: I recently read This Place: 150 Years Retold, a graphic novel anthology of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry created and collected by Indigenous creatives in Canada. It’s often a very tough read, but also inspirational. I have been learning more about the awful residential homes, the separation of families, and the unjust laws passed to make Indigenous lives impossible to live. This book brings it all together — traversing the first appearances of settlers to a fictionalised future, the reader is taken through a journey that isn’t afraid of making people uncomfortable.

While it’s great to read about some of the victories that the Indigenous leaders and thinkers strove and fought for, the fact that they had to do so at all makes the reader feel angry and despondent (that’s definitely how I felt). The art is absolutely gorgeous–I love how the different styles illustrate not only the changing time periods but also the ethos of the story being reimagined. For people who don’t know about (or don’t know how to explore) the problematic histories of Canada, this graphic novel is a really good, solid start.

Masha Zhdanova: Devil Number 4, by jangjin and woombeee, on Webtoon is a really fun slow-burn romance story with strong, well-developed and likable characters, and a nice subversion of certain popular tropes. The story centers around a devil who is trying to convince a college student named Hanna to sign away her soul to him. Their dynamic is so entertaining and sweet, and everyone in the cast has really interesting and distinct goals and motivations. If you liked the bureaucracy of heaven and hell in Good Omens, or Reigen Arataka in Mob Psycho 100, you’ll probably enjoy Devil Number 4.

Emily Lauer: Today, my kid and I caught up with 2008 and read the first volume of the Amulet series, The Stonekeeper! It’s clear why this series from Kazu Kibuishi has become such a favorite with kids. The plot is fast-moving and the characters engaging. The story opens with the harrowing scene of Emily’s father’s violent death in a car crash, and then skips two years to show Emily with her mom and brother moving into a broken-down family property, since their mom can’t afford to raise them in the city any more. Unfortunately, a giant tentacled monster thing that looks uncomfortably like a tick (I’m in Western Massachusetts right now) absorbs and absconds with their mom, and a rescue must ensue. Emily has picked up a magic amulet along the way, and gets instructions from it about how to respond to different threats. The art is lush and atmospheric, as Emily and her younger brother Navin explore first an old house and then a parallel world. The plot introduces the politics of the parallel world and offers adorable sidekicks, and ends on a cliffhanger. We definitely want to know what happens next!

Kibuishi has stated that the ninth volume will conclude the Amulet series, and that’s planned to come out next year, 2021. While my kid and I are both eager to keep going with the series, perhaps we will take it at a leisurely pace, in order to be fresh and ready for that final volume when it appears in our lives.

Latonya Pennington: I recently felt compelled to slowly reread Beyond II: The Queer Post-Apocalyptic & Urban Fantasy Comic Anthology, from editors Sfé R. Monster and Taneka Stotts. The comics in this anthology focus on the theme of reclaiming the world for yourself and I found them very comforting to read given the current state of things. They make me feel that no matter how crappy things get, we can find a way to survive, thrive, and find joy in life. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s hella queer too.

Draven Katayama: See You Next Tuesday by Jane Mai is the most validating collection of sardonic, depressed diary comics you might ever read. Mai recounts her experiences of being broke and unemployed after college. She mourns her weird cat who dies and the closing of a department store where she used to go and sit. She tells of a hot dog vendor who pities her when she didn’t have enough cash for a hot dog, and of trying to decide on glasses at the optometrist. One of my favorite vignettes is about a sculpture teacher who doesn’t like Mai’s journal entry about visiting MoMA:

See You Next Tuesday is arranged non-sequentially and bounces from theme to theme, with most comics spanning only a page. Every snapshot of Mai’s life is a dose of hilarity. I also just read Mai’s Sunday in the Park with Boys, her memoir of working in a library basement, which WWAC’s Alenka Figa has written about. Sunday in the Park with Boys packs an even more visceral, eerie punch at describing life with depression and self-medicating. Next up, I’m excited to read Mai’s Carmilla-inspired Soft, which Alenka examined and enthusiastically recommends.

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Draven Katayama

Draven Katayama

Writer at Sidequest and WWAC; past executive editor of Kollaboration and writer at Newsarama and Comicosity. I'm a huge fan of Life is Strange, The Last of Us, TWICE, Blackpink, and ITZY. My MyDramaList: https://mydramalist.com/profile/loudlysilent Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/loudlysilent Tell me about the fandoms you love! @loudlysilent