REVIEW: The Magic of Mooncakes Is Its Respectful Representation

A girl walks into a library-like room, showing a woman in through the door towards the foreground. Books are in boxes on the floor and other books are floating mid-air. The woman looks up at the room and says, "Witchcraft..."

Unlike many other witches-in-training, Nova Huang has taken comfort in staying in her hometown and working at her grandmothers’ bookstore. Nova ends up running into Tam Lang, her childhood friend and werewolf, caught in a confrontation with a demon in the woods. Following the encounter, Tam reveals they have been without a place they can truly call home for years, and they turn to Nova for help. As Nova grapples with her feelings for Tam and her duty as a witch, the pair’s reunion may turn out to be not a coincidence as darker things brew in the background.

Mooncakes

Suzanne Walker (writer), Wendy Xu (illustrator)
October 15, 2019
Lion Forge

Cover for Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu. Two figures stand back to back, centered against a solid, yellow background. The figure on the left, wearing a witch-like outfits, hovers her right hand over a plate of baked goods that is held by her left hand in an oven mitt. The figure on the right sports a of pair of dog-like ears and a bushy tail, nibbling a spatula from a bowl of batter.

Mooncakes was originally a webcomic that eventually found its story’s completion in print form. Less of a tale about magic, Mooncakes uses the backdrop of witchcraft to explore themes on love, identity, and home.

The presence of demons are becoming more apparent in the cast’s otherwise peaceful town, and Nova and Tam are working together to find out why this is happening and how to stop this. As they are seeking the answers to this problem, they are finding the answers as to who they are and their place in the world. Tam is coming to terms with how to control their werewolf magic, which is parallel to Nova’s own insecurities as a witch. But of course, they are not working alone and are aided with the help of friends and family. Nova’s grandmothers, for instance, do a little of their own work, serving as guides and huge sources of help as older witches. They are also reflective of the relationship between Nova and Tam itself. The magic in Mooncakes may be very real, but it also serves as a device to showcase the story’s allegorical coming-of-age themes.

Through a cluster of trees, a horse-like monster with six legs stands on its hooves with an aggressive expression. A white wolf is standing at the base of its feet. In the foreground, a girl points her wand and a beam of light energy bursts towards the monster's direction.

Illustrator Wendy Xu uses an autumnal color palette that meshes well with her sketch-like drawing style, making a pairing that screams fall and Halloween. The use of color is extremely symbolic for that reason, as magic is often coded with colors that are vibrant or highly saturated. They stick out and are highlighted especially against scenes grounded in a mostly, non-magical realm to emphasize their otherworldliness. This creates a contrast between what is magic and non-magic.

Mooncakes is self-described as a “queer, Chinese-American paranormal romance”. It proudly depicts several layers of representation to the story that feels natural and subdued. The comic features numerous allusions to Chinese-American culture, for instance, and the Huangs partake in conjunction with the world’s own interpretation of witchcraft. In an interview with The Beat, Xu recounts some of her own experiences as a Chinese-American.

Mooncakes was in fact, re-released in July of this year to commemorate Disability Pride Month, where it is worth noting that Nova, the central protagonist, wears a visible hearing aid. In addition, Nova is queer, sharing a relationship with Tam—who is non-binary. In the same aforementioned interview with The Beat, writer Suzanne Walker clarified that Nova’s hearing disability is based on her own. She stressed that centering a queer woman of color with a visible disability is important, especially when it comes to avoiding the sensationalization of said disability to simply use as a narrative device.

A figure stands in a wide shot of a scenic, autumnal town filled with many trees. In a close-up shot of the figure in the following panel, a text box reads, "I never thought I'd be back here."

Walker even shared her personal struggles when it came to Nova’s development and conception with us here at Women Write About Comics when the comic was still syndicated online. She hopes that readers will come away from Mooncakes understanding that, “Heroes with disabilities can coexist and thrive alongside the fantastical.”

These many elements that make up the characters’ identities are important and thematically relevant, but at the same time, they take a backseat from the central focus of the story without being mishandled. Despite Tam having had a rough upbringing and background, being genderqueer is not made out to be the main point of tragedy. The normalization of these different degrees of representation is significant, and Mooncakes does not use these marginalized identities for humor or trauma, but to simply show them for what they just are.

In the first panel, two young adults are sitting on a bed holding each others' hands and exchange dialogue.: "I...how much do you know about wolf magic?" "Not much. It's still a pretty new theory, right?" "Yeah, people've never really though of it until the last decade or so." "it is that werewolves carry more magic than just the transformation?" In the second panel, a person with a blue streak of hair says, "well, not exactly. It's like..." The following panel is a thought bubble, continuing their thought: "...Like changing into the a wolf creates more energy than anyone's ever realized." In the final panels of the page, they continue to explain: "There are theories that if you can harness the energy, direct it out of you...well it's enough to wake the dead, so to speak."

Mooncakes is a simple fantasy story that puts magic in the background to explore relationships and the hurdles of growing up. In a world where witchcraft exists, Mooncakes understands the limitless possibilities when it comes to respectful, diverse representation compared to many other stories of similar genre that continue to lack in this regard. It not only offers something spooky with its tale of dealing with the occult, but it also offers a tale of romance and belonging that is heartwarming and sweet.

Elvie Mae Parian

Elvie Mae Parian

Elvie is an animator by day and tries too hard to be everything else by nightfall. Feel free to join her in screaming about anime and wholesome animal pics as she puts off what she should be really doing at @lvmaeparian.

One thought on “REVIEW: The Magic of Mooncakes Is Its Respectful Representation

  1. Hi Elvie,

    I really enjoyed reading your review on Mooncakes!
    I am using your article for an assignment in one of my classes and was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions for me:
    Why did you choose to structure your review in this way? Who did you think the intended audience for this article would be?

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    Aja Bilodeau
    The University of Texas at Austin

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