I was so excited to peruse through CCOL’s wonderful selection of comics and zines to curate a shelf display during my residency. They had many of my old favourites, many books I’ve been meaning to read, and also many that felt like happy discoveries. Letting myself get lost in reading these books was such a pleasurable experience, and I’ve selected a few old and new favourites here.
“I read these books during formative years of my life, which means you have to also”
My first encounter with Skim was in middle school and I honestly don’t think it could have come at a better time in my life. This is the book I think of when I think of how comics changed my life! It’s queer, it’s got teen angst, it’s got witches, and it’s got a nuanced and complicated handling of mental health issues so I couldn’t really ask for more. This encounter with meaningful representation honestly left me with very high expectations for all the comics I read after. Meaningful representation to me means not just a list of identity markers, but writing with deep empathy, criticality and complexity.
The Sandman was the first comic I ever fell in love with. The world is so rich with fantasy and countless creatures and places that I can just immerse myself in. Upon second critical reading, there is a diverse cast of queer characters, but they are often victim to tragic endings which is a trope that just exhausts me. Of course, there are exceptions to this trend– Desire being possibly one of the most powerful queer representations I’ve encountered in any medium– and I think the story is so important to read for that reason. I picked Brief Lives because it’s one of my favourite volumes, along with Doll’s House, A Game of You, and The Kindly Ones.
This manga contains all of my femme pleasures and fantasies in such a magical way. Shojo as a genre is so good to me because it champions both tender romantic desire and strength in conflict resolution, and Sailor Moon is a classic example of that. I found this manga to just be such a refreshing antidote to my internalized misogyny as a unhappy diehard tomboy kid. If anyone has watched the bubbly and humorous 90s anime adaptation, I think the manga is more densely serious and surrealist in comparison.
I would recommend this book to any YA comic lover. It incorporates the Chinese mythology of the monkey king into a modern-day story in such a charming and fun way, and isn’t afraid to address heavy topics like sexism and racism. I definitely didn’t catch all the nuances as a kid but it holds up really well on second re-reading. Many feelings and moments that are super relatable as a first gen Chinese immigrant!
“Robots, monsters and other creatures: narratives exploring technology with hope and tenderness”
I’ve been eyeing this comic for a really long time, so when I saw that we had this in our collection I had to read it! Carolyn Nowak’s drawings are to die for. She uses speculative fiction to explore human behaviour in a way that is so haunting and turns popular tropes on their head. It’s honestly a joy to read and there are some stories I still can’t stop thinking about (like the one with the robot boyfriend).
As someone who dabbles in game development, I love this anthology about gaming from intersectional perspectives (which is so refreshing and so dearly needed in the games industry). And there’s something so tender about fancomics that re-imagine much-loved game elements, stories and franchises. There’s something very empowering about making a mark on/about something you love, and there’s something healing about reading those marks.
Reading through this comic was like having a perpetual “what is going on” moment, in a good way. It has a digital aesthetic that gives me major nostalgia for using the computer labs in grade school. It’s got a naive way of storytelling and pushes the boundaries of comic-making which is something I always love (for example, the front cover is scratch-off). You’ll have to read it to know what I mean.
Life’s like this
“Slice of life stories that make me laugh or cry or generally hit too close to home”
Octopus Pie has got to be one of my favourite webcomics of all time. Following the life of some twenty-somethings in New York, the story evolves drastically over the course of a ten-year time period. It emerges from slapstick gags to believable characters and relationships written in a way that seems effortless. If that isn’t gratifying I don’t know what is! If you want to read it online, now is a great time to start since it’s currently being updated in daily re-runs, with author commentary which is fascinating for me to read as a comic-making nerd. It can also be read in five beautiful physical volumes, which has me wondering how the story was adapted to print form. Despite its acclaim I still think it’s underrated!
Some of my favourite people are involved with this zine and I love it a lot. It’s got three different stories about love triangles, each one brutal in their own way. I wanted to include a zine on my shelf because I think this publishing format allows for a level of authorial control as well as limitation that makes the form really unique and addictive. These artists as well as the publisher, Youth in Decline, are always coming out with really exciting work so they’re definitely worth a follow.
Sam Alden’s method of storytelling through hazy pencils and mundane dialogue is so effective in conveying an immense but ordinary sense of melancholy. There’s something special about telling a story that leaves the reader with a sense of dread they can’t quite shake, without relying on shock or surprise. This book has two bite-sized stories in it that have huge lasting power.
I’ve linked all the comic titles to their pages on the Canada Comics Open Library catalogue, so please take a look! These titles are currently up on my CCOL shelf until the end of the month, but they are available to read anytime the library is open for the rest of your life. Pay CCOL a visit (585 Dundas Street East, third floor), you’ll be happy you did. I know I am!
— Lina Wu