Tag Archives: webcomic

Heartstopper: Volume 1

Queer romantic young adult graphic novel set in the UK

Content warning: homophobia, sexual assault, disordered eating, mental illness, bullying

I saw lots of trailers for the Netflix adaptation of this graphic novel and suddenly copies of it were for sale everywhere. It looked unbelievably cute and I had a book voucher leftover from Christmas, so I picked up a paperback copy of the first volume.

Image is of “Heartstopper: Volume 1” by Alice Oseman. The paperback book is resting against a legal graffiti wall beneath a simple representation of the Ukraine flag, blue and yellow, twisted in the middle, partially covered by a hot pink tag. Above the flag are two stylised leaves, also in blue and yellow, which reflect the colours used in the TV adaptation to represent Nick and Charlie. The cover is of two teenage boys in school uniforms, one with dark hair and one with light hair.

“Heartstopper: Volume 1” by Alice Oseman is a graphic novel about a quiet teenage boy called Charlie who goes to Truham Grammar School for Boys. At the beginning of the year, his school starts a new ‘vertical’ form group to take attendance and Charlie’s seat is next to a boy called Nick, the captain of the school rugby team. Although they are quite different, they become fast friends, and begin spending time together outside school. Charlie is the only openly gay student at Truham and even though he is developing feelings for Nick, all his friends are adamant Nick is straight. But maybe, just maybe he might like Charlie back.

This is an incredibly sweet and readable graphic novel that gently and courageously tackles a number of different social issues but especially coming to terms with your sexuality and identity as a teenager. I just adored how respectful Charlie and Nick are with each other and that only becomes more apparent as the series progresses. Oseman brings to light the loneliness of being the only openly LGBTIQA+ student in the school and how being forced to keep things secret can leave you vulnerable to abuse. I really liked how Oseman struck a balance between the supports Charlie has around him, especially his friends and his sister, and his vulnerability to bullying, negative self-talk and restricted eating.

One of the most unique and striking things about this graphic novel is the use of motifs like leaves, flowers around the panels to emphasise what is going on emotionally in the story. Oseman’s art style overall is quite simple yet expressive. I really liked that they shared earlier drawings of the comic from years before it was published online as a webcomic (which I was inspired to read and which is still being updated). From reading many webcomics, and even trying a couple myself, I know how difficult it is to find a consistent style while your art steadily improves from all the practise. While maybe not my favourite graphic novel from an aesthetic point of view, Oseman’s style is definitely unique more than adequately conveys the story.

Which brings me to the Netflix adaptation. If I liked the graphic novel, I loved the TV series. It was beautifully filmed, immaculately edited and very well-acted. I understand Oseman was one of the writers for the show, and I almost think this story really came to life in film. The show kept some of the embellishments of the comic with certain scenes split into panels like a comic or animated leaves and flowers floating across the screen. The secondary characters felt much more filled out as well, and while the TV series remained very faithful to the comic, almost scene for scene, it seemed like a much richer story. So much thought was put into characterisation, sets and even colour palettes. I watched it while I was sick at home with COVID and am not ashamed to admit that I watched the entire thing three times. The music was exceptionally curated and you can listen to the Heartstopper ‘mixtape‘ as well for the full sensory experience. Sometimes it feels like everything on TV is really depressing or intense or dark or scary, and it was so lovely to watch something that was warm and sweet, yet utterly compelling.

A thoroughly enjoyable and inclusive story that you can check out for yourself in book, webcomic or TV format.

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(Adults Only) Whisper Grass

Short queer erotic graphic novel tie-in to roadtrip comic series

Content warning: sexual themes, drug use

After recently Marie Kondoing a significant amount of my house, and subsequently donating a LOT of books, I have had a bit more space to think about my remaining book collections including my graphic novels. I really enjoy graphic novels, and a lot of books in my collection are physical copies of a series that has become popular as a webcomic. I realised that I actually have some unfinished collections in some series, including a brilliant webcomic called “The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal“. I recently ordered the third volume in the print edition (the webcomic is free to read online), and I had a little niggle in my memory that there had been a limited edition mini-comic that the author had released. I remember not being able to get one of the limited print copies, but a quick search through my files showed that I had managed to buy an eBook copy from the publisher. It is now December, and the clock is ticking to hit my reading goal for the year, so I thought I’d finally read this little comic.

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“Whisper Grass” by E. K. Weaver is an erotic graphic novel about two young men, TJ and Amal, who are on an road trip together after meeting in a bar. Amal has to make it across the country to his sister’s graduation after coming out to his traditional family, and TJ has offered to cover costs if Amal does the driving. Amal is a med student while TJ lives a rather itinerant lifestyle, however despite their differences, the two bond during their journey together. One evening, the pair stay at a motel room and after attempts to buy some drinks are unsuccessful, share a smoke of weed together instead.

This is a fun and warm vignette where a casual evening of Amal and TJ hanging out together becomes something more intimate. Weaver is very keen on characterisation and mood, so while this is an erotic comic, the focus is still very heavily on the emotional connection between the two characters. In the author’s own words, “Sometimes people ask me why most of the sex scenes in TJ and Amal fade to black, get cut short, or are off-camera entirely. The answer is showing those encounters wouldn’t have moved the plot forward, explored the characters’ personalities, or added any substance to the story. In short, those sex scenes were unnecessary. Here’s something unnecessary.” I think that the decision to offer this as a standalone comic separate to the main series was a good decision. Although it is perhaps a little unnecessary, this comic is full of tenderness, humour and enthusiastic consent and complements the main series really well.

If you, like me, fell in love with TJ and Amal, this is a light-hearted and enjoyable edition to a fantastic webcomic series that only adds to our understanding of these two complex characters.

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Priya’s Mirror

Last year I reviewed the incredible free online graphic novel “Priya’s Shakti“. An empowering story about an Indian woman who, after being raped, becomes a hero, its creators have just released the second installment of Priya’s story: “Priya’s Mirror“.

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With the blessing of goddess Parvarti and a tiger sidekick to boot, rape survivor Priya has been travelling India inspiring other women. While resting on her journey, Priya is approached by a man who asks for her help. The man is in love with a woman who has a beautiful voice but who is also the victim of an acid attack. She is trapped in a castle with other women scarred from acid attacks, and it is going to take Priya’s gumption with Parvarti’s help to break these women and their demonic captor free from their self-made prisons.

This graphic novel is so necessary. Drawing on elements of faith and fantasy, Priya tackles a social issue that is as much about reducing stigma as it is prevention. Acid attacks are a horrific example of gender violence and Priya’s story shows that part of the solution lies in empowering the women who are victims of these attacks and tacking back the self esteem the perpetrators tried to steal. In this beautiful illustrated and digital format where modern meets traditional, Priya’s stories are very appealing to a wide audience. The comic is free to download as well which makes it available to everyone, regardless of their socio-economic background.

If you have a spare 10 minutes, I would definitely recommend you read this comic. Stigma and shame are still rife when in comes to gender-based violence and fuel beliefs that women are somehow to blame. Stories like this one are essential to continuing the fight to empower women and to make our world a safer, better place.

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Priya’s Shakti

One of the many things that I adore about graphic novels is their diversity. After recently posting about a graphic novel set in the Ivory Coast, another incredible example of the medium is the phenomenal “Priya’s Shakti”. Even more incredible is the fact that this comic is available to read online for free, and you can check it out here.

“Priya’s Shakti” is an educational comic about sexual violence in India. When Priya, a young Indian woman, is raped by men from her village and then shunned by her family, the Hindu gods Shiva and goddess Parvati take notice. Shiva’s decision to punish mankind for their evil deeds divides the gods and starts a war, so Parvati decides to take a different approach to bring an end to gender-based violence. With the help of a goddess and a tiger guide, Priya becomes her own hero. This story is accompanied by beautiful and honest illustrations, and the fantasy/spiritual element makes it a great vessel for a story about morals.

I have nothing but respect for this project. The scourge of sexual violence in India is something that has captured the attention of the world. As outsiders, however, it is hard to know how best to help. As per usual, the solution lies in grassroots movements like these. “Priya’s Shakti” is the result of the efforts of a big team of 9 people, about half of whom are women and most of whom are of Indian heritage.

There’s not much more to say about this, really. Just click the link and see for yourself. This is an absolute must-read and must-share for anyone who is interested in graphic novels, gender politics, diversity and representation.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Graphic Novels