cover image Call Me Bill

Call Me Bill

Lynette Richards. Emanata, $18.00 paper (86p) ISBN 978-1-77262-078-8

Richards’s eye-opening historical graphic novel debut unravels the gender-expansive life of Billy Armstrong (1856–1873), who lived as a male sailor aboard a cargo ship (“My name is Maggie Armstrong, though I call myself Billy when I put on my pantaloons,” he says when questioned by the ship’s captain following a brawl). The novel opens in 1873 Nova Scotia, where bodies from a devastating shipwreck have begun washing ashore. Nine months prior, Billy, desperate to escape his suffocating life in 1872 Trenton, N.J., boards a train to N.Y.C., hoping that there he’ll be able to live free from prejudice. When his funds begin running low, Billy applies to work on the SS Atlantic, bound for Italy, on which he has contentious relationships with bigoted crewmates. Loosely inked gray-washed watercolors give the narrative a timeless feel. Richards’s thorough research—drawn from local records, community history, and historical and modern publications, which feature as excerpts throughout—help explore what Billy’s life might have been like in the late 19th century; while the excerpts focus primarily on Billy’s gender identity, Richards portrays Billy as a person with a complex and rich life who just wanted to be accepted as he was. Concluding author’s notes provide further historical context. Ages 13–up. (Sept.)