An Almost-Angry-But-Decidedly-Positive Post on YA Lit, Fantasy, and Comics!

So, I have been reading a lot of fabulous fantasy and fantasy-based books:

And I couldn’t wait to blog about them all, until this got published and now I want to talk about that, as well as fantasy and some choice webcomics. This is challenging because I am naturally disposed to furious tirades and tend to focus on the bad while completely ignoring the good. I try to be aware of this and I try not to be this person. I’d like to be gentle and critical in addition to being passionate- and I’d like to think that is what I do with my blogposts.

So, the initial titles for this post …

  • GRR! ANGRY RANTY POST! 🙁
  • FOR YA: WHY RUTH GRAHAM OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED
  • “At the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old …”: HA! TOO LATE ON ALL COUNTS! (Not that there’s anything wrong about being old.)

… did not help my true intention of doing a celebratory post about some fantastic (*wink-wink* *nudge-nudge* *points to month’s theme*) work done by (largely) non-mainstream artists and storytellers, who (mostly) publish their art online, and yes, whose work could arguably appeal to all kinds of people. If you would like to skip my almost-rant in order to go straight to the web/comics, feel free to scroll right down to the bit below that screencap of Maureen Johnson’s tweet. I wouldn’t blame you- this one is a behemoth. 

I am sure the other Book Warriors also want to address it, but for now I will leave you with some thoughts and tips:

  1. When someone tells you that you “should” do something- especially when it polices your cognitive skills and/or your feelings- remember to question “why”. (Yes, I am aware of how I just made a “should”-like statement. But hey, these are just guidelines, okay?)
  2. When someone attempts to rank sartorial tastes, understand that they are one step away (or several steps into) the process of creating a possibly unhealthy (as they tend to be) stereotype. Do not be afraid to resist.
  3. Understand the context of the subject first. In this case, understand that Children’s and YA Literature is the first subsection of the literary canon to have had the kind of diversity that it does, with some of the top earners (and consumers) being women and girls and all kinds of “minorities”. Understand that this is not the first time that the consumer choices of women/girls has been attacked, and it will not be the last. Understand that marketing/publishers, scholars, librarians, and readers all work together to define literature and literary canon- note how useful this can be, how arbitrary, how revolutionary, and sometimes, how exclusionary this process can be.
  4. We just did a whole month’s worth of posts on how fuzzy the line is between YA Literature and “serious” literature, okay?
  5. Incidentally, treat anyone who uses words and phrases like “deflowered”* and “serious/mature literature/readers” as highly suspect. Not liking “serious literature” does not make you stupid or frivolous. Your mind is as vast as the universe and will not explode from liking a multitude of things that are sometimes contradictory.
  6. By and large, if reading something that a. gives you pleasure and/or b. makes you think critically about yourself and the world around you, I feel like it is not only your right to enjoy it, but to enjoy it openly. (I think I am quoting someone here and I can’t remember who. Best not to attribute this point to me.)
  7. If someone uses the word “escapism” in a negative context, point them to this blogpost here and that one.

For everything else, visit Maureen Johnson’s excellent Twitter feed:

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*stumbles off soapbox*

Now for the fun stuff!

I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Vancouver Comic Arts Festival and I, er, got a bit carried away. *looks at empty wallet* I have finally sorted through my booty, looked at some recommended webcomics, and narrowed down my list of favourites that also happen to have fantastical elements in them. Let’s begin, shall we?

1. Lumberjanes  by Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Brooke Allen.

Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! – [X]

Why You May Like It: It is first and foremost, a story about friendship. It is secondly, a story about fantasy and heroism. It is also a story that celebrates different kinds of femininities. There’s even a bear-woman involved so, yeah, automatic win in my books.

Why You May Not Like It: You have something against camping stories / awesome female adventurers / and/or comics? Maybe? The thing I find most frustrating is waiting for the next issue to be released and subsequently delivered to my home. There is a fascinating amount of folklore and mystery that drives the Lumberjanes into action (even in the two issues I’ve read) and I need to know more!

2. Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales: Africa Edition edited by Kel Mcdonald and Taneka Stotts and includes artwork by Nicole Chartrand, Joe Pimienta, Katie Shanahan, Shaggy Shanahan, Chris Schweizer, Carla Speed McNeil, Jarrett Williams, Kate Ashwin, D. Shazzbaa Bennett, Mary Cagle, Nina Matsumoto, Cameron Morris, Ma’at Crook, Meredith McClaren, Sloane Leong, Faith Erin Hicks, and Becky Dreistadt.

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Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales’ mission statement is to spotlight folklore from around the globe. With this in mind we try to include respectful and thoughtful portrayals of cultures from which these stories are rooted. – “Mission Statement”, Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales: Africa Edition.

Why You May Like It: There is a good chance that if you like fantasy, you also like fables, folklore, and fairytales and this book just hits all the bases. This is a chance for you to experience cautionary tales that are not didactic in the tradition of Perrault. Also, it is a chance for readers to experience fairytales that are non-European.

Why You May Not Like It: You may feel like you can’t get into these adaptations without knowing the adapted texts first. Well, firstly, you’d be wrong. Secondly, there’s nothing to stop you from looking the adapted texts up. This anthology is pretty fantastic, so don’t pass it over for those reasons.

3. Ava’s Demon by Michelle Czajkowski.

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Ava’s Demon is a webcomic set in a planet different from our own allegedly 1000 years into the future about a 15 year old girl named Ava Ire. She has the misfortune of being haunted by a demon named Wrathia Bellarmina, who takes joy in manipulating Ava’s actions to make her life as miserable as possible. Only later does Ava learn about Wrathia’s true motives, and little is she aware how tumultuous her life is to become. – [X]

Why You May Like It: Oh my gosh, the artwork is incredible and just so … luminous. It shines through the screen and transports you into the story. The story itself is a bit dark, but so very addictive! I also appreciate that it doesn’t use mental disorders to fuel a fantasy story- it is very blatant from the get-go that it is all about the haunting of a girl who doesn’t know what it feels like to be alone in her head or to simply be herself.

Why You May Not Like It: It is a bit dark, as I mentioned. Plus, it is 800 pages of consistently good artwork and story … and it is ongoing. *prays to the gods of cliffhangers for strength*

4. Blindsprings by Kadi Fedoruk.

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Blindsprings is an all ages comic, featuring magic, secret societies and hidden gateways to fantastic places. The comic should appeal to anyone who loves Ghibli or Disney animated movies! – [X]

Why You May Like It: For one thing, the art is gorgeous, almost Disney-esque. For another, this one is not horrific and I would agree that it’s for “all ages”. I am still reading this one and I have to say that, while it isn’t madly addictive, it is a light read and great fun.

Why You May Not Like It: Can “too cute” be a deal-breaker? I don’t know. There are a lot of things that made me go, “Whoa, that escalated quickly!” but I urge you to stick it out. From the ruins of the trope-y fairy-princess-type story emerges something darker and old-school-fairytale-style creepy. Like I said, still reading this one- and enjoying it.

5. Sonnet by Emily Cheeseman and Lindsey Rodgers.

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Sonnet is an ongoing comic project, introducing a collection of fairytales and short stories told through poetry and illustration. Updates are posted a chapter at a time, with news and extras shared regularly between each segment. – [X]

Why You May Like It: It’s got beautiful art and equally beautiful poetry to match. It’s got dragons, and knights, and romance. It’s simple and short. What can I say? I am easily won over.

Why You May Not Like It: Unlike the other comics I have talked about in this post, this one is not story or fantasy driven. Rather, it is pushed forward by character development. I guess that could be a negative for some? For me, it’s a welcome change in pace. An invitation to go slow and fall in love with the art and form. That said, only 4 of 6 parts are done and the 4th one ends in a horrible cliffhanger! I didn’t expect it from a read I thought would be light!

6. Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell.

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Antimony Carver is a precocious and preternaturally self-possessed young girl starting her first year of school at gloomy Gunnerkrigg Court, a very British boarding school that has robots running around along side body-snatching demons, forest gods, and the odd mythical creature. The opening volume in the series follows Antimony through her orientation year: the people she meets, the strange things that happen, and the things she causes to happen as she and her new friend, Kat, unravel the mysteries of the Court and deal with the everyday adventures of growing up.  – [X]

Why You May Like It: It’s 48 chapters of lasting friendship, interesting internal and external struggles, great fantasy (and folklore), and charming artwork that only gets better!

Why You May Not Like It: It’s, you know, 48 chapters and not really done, so … *continues praying*

BONUS! Knights Errant by this awesome person here.

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Knights Errant is a fantasy webcomic that, in the author’s words, “details the lengths to which Wilfrid, a once exalted member of society, will go to reclaim favor with the courts”. Namely, joining the “Errant Knights”, a mercenary band known for actually having a code of honor. They are led by the young (and handsome) knight Oswald. – [X]

This one comes with a bit of conundrum. Do you read the original or the reboot? I have chosen the reboot, purely because I came across it first. And I kind of prefer the polished art style of the reboot to the original. (Not that the original artwork is bad- it isn’t.) Eventually, I mean to read and catch up with both. The reboot, thus far, has been quite funny and very intriguing. The characters remind me a bit of Tulio and Miguel from The Road to El Dorado, and actually, the story has the same tone of adventure, mischief, and fantasy. I can’t wait for more!

Anyway, these are my current comic-y faves (apart from Nimona of course). Feel free to leave some recommendations (or comments) of your own! And don’t forget to stay awesome!

*”Deflower” is a craptacular word that is, for me, just a tiny hop away from the near-obscene euphemism that is the phrase “non-consensual sex”. When two people consent to having sex for the first time, I would like it to be recognized that sex has been had, rather than “virginities have been lost” or erm, “flowers have been plucked”. Virginity is a social construct created for the express purpose of controlling women’s bodies. You can’t lose it. No one can take it. In fact, when faced with “deflower” I almost wish people would say that word that I am not allowed to print here but starts with an “f” and rhymes with “duck”.

  • Well said, *claps* I feel like you’ve said everything I wanted to and now I don’t know if I should put up a separate post about this. But awesome rebuttal. Also, I spent a lot of time last night reading Ava’s Demon. It was awesome. Thanks for the rec!

    • Yash

      I think you totally should put up a post, Nafiza! I mean, so far every rebuttal I’ve seen has addressed slightly different things about that article. I’d love to see what you have to say.
      As for Ava’s Demon, I am so glad you liked it! It is definitely one of my faves! I think you’d love Gunnerkrigg Court too. Let me know if you ever check that one out! <3

  • Man, how dare people in this post-modern age demand satisfying endings!

    • Yash

      Ah, yes, I didn’t want to go into the specifics of her article in my post as there is way too much to contend with, so many assumptions that Graham does not voice but uses to fuel her deluded argument … but yes, apparently satisfying endings are for the *peers patronizingly over glasses* immature readers.

      • Y’know, I DO wonder if the massive move into YA by Adult readers comes from a cultural whiplash, where people are reacting to how decadent and “adult” most mainstream forms of entertainment have become? After enough soul-crushing existentialist introspection by defeatist anti-heroes, it’s no wonder that a large section of the population has decided it’s time to slam on the breaks and enjoy something fun for a change 😮

      • Yash

        I see what you’re saying, and I am inclined to agree. But I also want to point out that some YA/Children’s Literature does have “existentialist introspection by defeatist anti-heroes”, and some “grown-up” literature also has earnest heroes. Both fields are diverse (though I still believe that YA/Kid-Lit is wider in its diversity), and looking down at one simply because it is more universally read seems silly to me.

      • To response to Alex, I have to say that’s the number 1 reason I don’t read much modern “adult literature”. I like stories that tell stories and communicate something, and so much “grown up serious” writing is all about the medium of writing itself. I stick to mainly fantasy, older lit, non-fiction, and a YA. There are always exceptions, though!

  • YES to all seven points!! Thank you!! I was so enraged by the title of that article that I didn’t even bother to read it, as I knew it would ruin my day. Like you said, “Your mind is as vast as the universe and will not explode from liking a multitude of things that are sometimes contradictory.” Amen!

    • Yash

      Yes, that title. Sigh. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I clicked it on it. And then as I started reading it, I was all, “HAHAHA … Ha … ha? Wait, this isn’t a huge joke? The writer is actually serious?!” And then, yes, my day went downhill after. Glad you saved yourself. 🙂 And thanks for the nice comment!

  • Janet

    Ah, lovely points, Yash, and elegantly articulated!
    Like Nafiza, I spent last night reading Ava’s Demon. The artwork is kind of Tangled-esque, especially the hair/facial hair and Ava herself at times. I have to check out all these other comics/webcomics… 🙂

    • Yash

      Bahaha! I can’t believe you guys saw the post before I, well, posted it! I thought my computer was glitching when I saw your name pop up under my draft! 😀

      Anyway, I hope you read/like the other recs too!

  • Kudos.

    Love it. I don’t want to say much, then I’ll get into it.

    Also Lumber Janes. <3

    • Yash

      Yes! Lumberjanes! <3

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  • So glad to see Lumberjanes and Ava’s Demon on here! Yay :3

    • Yash

      Oh yes, I am not in the business of doing tragically incomplete lists. Incomplete lists, maybe. But not tragically so. ^_^

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  • Artist and co-creator of Sonnet popping in to say thanks SO much for including our comic on your list! Seriously, it makes my day to see someone enjoy our work enough to share it (and having my art recommended alongside the rest of the great comics on this list is pretty surreal.) Really appreciate it!

    • Yash

      Hi Emily! Thank you so much for taking the time out to comment on my crazy blogpost! And, of course, thank you for the lovely work you and Lindsey do- I can not wait for more from you guys! You have something pretty incredible in Sonnet! Cheers. 🙂

  • Pingback: Yet More Comics, Webcomics, and Illustrated Gems | The Book Wars()

  • Gerd Duerner

    I’m late to the party (as usual) but I probably need to be ashamed right now that all the books I singled out as my personal “best read ’15” are filed under YA and MG respectively… seriously, does Mrs Graham attack books for daring to be entertaining as opposed to be, well, not?