I haven’t been able to update last week – it was finals week and I’m grading three courses at this point, so that’s a lot of grading. I’m still not done, but I really needed a bit of a breather, so here you have the regular-ish Sunday comic book review. 🙂
I also posted the $275 Patreon reward (a free audio reading of Three Partitions), but I dipped below $300 after the recent fee changes and Patreon going back and forth. The $300 reward, the free blog post version of my massive Twitter trans recommendations thread, will be posted once I am over $300 again.
You also unlocked my book recommendations video, and backers voted on the topic “Trans fiction”, so a trans fiction recommendations video will happen soon. 🙂 G-d willing, but I’m already preparing for it. (Where did I put the charger cable for my DSLR batteries?!)
Until Sunday night, I’m still doing the bonus story recommendations thread where everyone who backs me on Patreon (any tier, $1 is very welcome!) can get a Sudden, Unexpected story recommendation. Comment in the thread and get a rec 😀
And now on to today’s review…
Arclight by Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland. Image Comics, 2017.
This comic felt like an Anglo take on totally offbeat French SFF comics. I enjoyed both the story and the art, but it just cried out for a Volume 2. It was part of a larger, canceled project (8House), which makes me sad. I already reviewed another volume, Mirror: The Mountain by Emma Ríos and Hwei Lim, but the two books did not seem connected at all.
Arclight was advertised to me as “magical genderqueer knights” and I think that’s a bit of a misnomer; the characters are more gender-nonconforming than explicitly genderqueer. As far as I can tell, the protagonist Arclight is a feminine man, but men can be feminine… and there is no explicit discussion of gender anywhere in the book. I’m even hesitant about the “gender nonconforming” label, because the way the characters present seems totally regular and conforming in their own fictional culture – which is cool, and very refreshing to see. Just don’t go into the book expecting a detailed trans narrative that explicitly identifies itself as such. Again, that’s not a problem at all, but the way this book was marketed made me expect something completely different.
By the way: the characters’ aesthetic is based on the artist’s own aesthetic, as described in an interview before the original single-issue comics launched.
Beyond the genderqueer aspects, there are border animals – animals literally in the shape of a country’s border. Blood geese with tentacles. Both big magical battles and casual everyday magic use. Body switching across species. There is really a lot to enjoy here, if you are OK with a relatively grim take on magic with blood spells and death.
There is a bunch of Polish thrown in, and a fictional alphabet that just spells out English words (the solution is in the back of the book). There is no Big Eastern European Reveal, this is just random flavor, I guess. I honestly feel meh about that, because it feels like it was entirely added for the sake of exoticism, but it’s not a major aspect of the story.
The plot is not very complicated, but it is presented without any explanation of the baroque setting, so it took me two reads to cohere, and I’m still missing the sequel that never materialized.
There is a lot of beauty and grace in this book, and Churchland’s art is beautiful, though it does present a very “acceptable” androgyny – the characters are thin, conventionally attractive, and one of the few people of color (spoiler ROT-13🙂 trgf obql-fangpurq ol gur nagntbavfg. If you read the above interview, Churchland does seem aware of the limitations though, but then I’m not sure why not push a bit against her own biases.
I found myself thinking it might have been worth going with a smaller publisher than Image – this amount of inclusion might be groundbreaking for Image, but right now there is a lot of cutting edge experimentation with gender and other narratives in indie comics spaces; and as someone who repeatedly backs comics Kickstarters, I can say that the production values have gotten amazing. Then maybe we would not have seen another disappointing cancel either. This book could have had a huge audience, but it did not really find it.
Overall I feel Arclight is well worth the read, but it’s not perfect and if you pick it up, you will be left with wanting more. How frustrating that will be will depend a lot on your individual preferences!
Disclosures: Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library. I don’t know the authors at all.
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