You Died Anthology Review on WWAC

My review of the Eisner Award winning comic anthology You Died: An Anthology of the Afterlife has just been published on the website Women Write About Comics. Here’s an excerpt…

Despite the success of the death positivity movement, death remains a difficult subject for many people. You Died: An Anthology of the Afterlife understands this tension and respects both the critical importance of the topic and the feelings of the reader. As befits the theme of positivity, the anthology’s tone is gentle and uplifting. With its range of unique and beautiful art styles and its entertaining yet contemplative stories, You Died celebrates a diversity of lives in its embrace of a fascinating array of afterlives.

You can read the full review (here). Although my review ended up being entirely positive, there were a few aspects of certain pieces in the anthology that didn’t initially land with me. As always, I extend my thanks to my brilliant editor, who helped me see these comics and this fantastic anthology in a different light.

Fruiting Bodies Review on WWAC

I recently had the honor of writing a review of Ashley Robin Franklin’s graphic novella Fruiting Bodies for the website Women Write About Comics. Here’s an excerpt:

Franklin joins Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Jeff Vandermeer in the pantheon of contemporary writers and artists who have celebrated the uncanny invisible world that stretches deep below our feet and proliferates in the warmth of our bodies. Classical botanical horror has its roots in concerns over cultural hybridization, but Fruiting Bodies resists the genre’s Victorian anxieties in favor of a probing exploration of the primal fears surrounding the collapse of bodily autonomy. In the end, Franklin suggests, human social distinctions of gender and sexuality are meaningless to a natural world that devours everyone equally.

You can read the full review (here), and you can find the book’s page on Silver Sprocket’s website (here). You can follow Ashley Robin Franklin on Instagram (here), and I also recommend checking out her other short comics on her Etsy store (here). As always, I want to acknowledge the good work of my patient and brilliant editor, whom you can follow on Twitter (here).

Only Power Remains

Only Power Remains is an Ocarina of Time fancomic that explores the backstory of Ganondorf, the iconic villain of the Legend of Zelda games. According to the series lore, Ganondorf was the only male child born to the Gerudo, and otherwise all-female society living in the desert at the border of the kingdom of Hyrule. Through a series of connected scenes, Only Power Remains investigates how Ganondorf grew from a strong-willed boy to a power-hungry warlord.

This comic is a fascinating and insightful exploration of Ganondorf’s backstory that rings true to the Legend of Zelda canon while still being accessible to casual fans of the series. It also stands on its own as a cohesive story, and I would happily recommend it to curious readers who may not be familiar with the details of the Zelda games. Louisa Roy’s writing is sharp and original, and her vibrant and expressive art does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of introducing and developing established characters.

In her extensive “Author Notes” at the end of the zine, Roy explains that she especially enjoyed drawing Ganondorf’s childhood interactions with a merchant in Hyrule Castle Town. The merchant is disrespectful during their first meeting, as he sees Ganondorf as nothing more than a bratty kid. Ganondorf therefore learns the Hylian language spoken by the merchant in order to come back a year later and verbally cut him down before taking what he wants from his stock of musical instruments. Without becoming too political, Roy conveys the tensions of cultural differences, and there’s a certain charm in watching Ganondorf slice through the Gordian knot of xenophobic stereotypes.

The supporting cast receives a similar level of nuance and sympathy, especially Nabooru, a Gerudo leader who eventually rebels against Ganondorf. With Nabooru, as with Ganondorf, the reader is given a sense that the tragic story of the Gerudo could have gone a different way had circumstances been even slightly different. The comic ventures into many unexplored corners of Hyrule during its journey, but the artist’s design work is brilliant and remains faithful both to the world of the games and to their real-life cultural influences.

Only Power Remains is far from the first Legend of Zelda fancomic created by Louisa Roy, who has published a number of zines featuring side stories that allow the minor characters in the games to shine in their own heroic (or antiheroic) light. The publication quality of these comic zines is consistently excellent, from the layout to the lettering to the cover design. You can follow the artist as @om_nom_berries on Twitter and @om-nom-berries on Tumblr, and you can find her comics on her website (here) and browse through her zines on Etsy (here). If you’re interested in Only Power Remains, you can check out the listing is (here).

Vision

In nineteenth-century London, Eleanor lives in her deceased parents’ house with her brother Robert and his wife Cora, who is bedridden with a vague illness. Eleanor was previously engaged, but her fiancé died after enlisting in military service. Having become an unmarried woman of a certain age, Eleanor spends her days caring for her sister-in-law. At night, however, she engages in sexual fantasies in front of her mirror, which she imagines as speaking to her in the voice of an unseen lover.

This situation might continue indefinitely were it not for the romantic attentions of a certain Doctor Bishop, who treats Eleanor’s cataracts and prescribes Laudanum to calm Cora’s nerves. Bishop is affectionate and well-meaning, but Eleanor is a quiet storm of resentment and repressed sexuality whose veneer of quiet virtue and good sense is one the verge of cracking.

Vision is a brilliantly written and gorgeously drawn graphic novella that explores the subtleties of how trapped and lonely people isolate themselves while simultaneously seeking connection, but it’s also a sharp and disturbing story about sex and death. The death is understated and phantasmal, while Eleanor’s sexuality and desire is on open display. Each of the erotic scenes is mirrored by a grotesque reflection, such as when the imagery of Eleanor’s self-pleasure with a candle is reflected in an extended scene depicting her eye surgery. Julia Gfrörer’s linework is delicate yet expressive, granting her characters warmth and personality while occasionally portraying them as eerily inhuman.

Eleanor’s story becomes stranger as various small mysteries and imbalances accumulate into an ever more fragmented portrait of a haunted household. The climax is shocking but perhaps not unexpected, and far more questions are raised than could ever be answered. The absence of clear explanations and justifications is part of the appeal of the narrative conclusion, however, while gradual shifts in the ink style contribute to an encroaching sense of dread – and curiosity.

Vision was published by Fantagraphics Books in September 2020. You can read more about the book on the press’s website (here), and you can order a copy from the Julia Gfrörer’s store on Etsy via its listing (here). Gfrörer’s two previous graphic novel publications with Fantagraphics, as well as her zines, are also listed on Etsy, and each is as creepy and fascinating as the next.