The Hot Graphic Novels panel at this year's BookExpo at the Javits Center was a vivid demonstration of how far comics have come since the days when they were dominated by white male superheroes. The panel featured six creators from all over the world discussing five works that spanned a variety of styles and subject matter from drone warfare and immigration to LGBTQ themes.
"Graphic novels are bringing in new readers by becoming a much broader category," said PW senior news editor Calvin Reid, who moderated the panel. "Yes, there is a comic out there for you!"
Iasmin Omar Ata, creator of Mis(h)adra (Gallery 13, Oct.), which examines a young man’s struggle with epilepsy, introduced themselves as "a queer, Muslim, Middle Eastern comic artist." Ata explained, "I have epilepsy, and my work tends to center around identity and dismantling oppressive structures." The title of the work is a pun on the Arabic words for "seizure" and "I cannot."
Although Mis(h)adra is fiction, it reflects Ata's experiences with epilepsy. Ata started making the story as a way of dealing with the disease, and posted it as a webcomic. The strong response made Ata realize there was a larger audience for it.
Cartoonist Nidhi Chanani got the idea for her graphic novel, Pashmina (First Second Books, Oct.), from the negative depictions of India in the media. "The only times you really see Indians on TV would be in 'Feed the Children' ads," she said. A contemporary fictional fantasy story, Pashmina deals with the mixed feelings that a child of an immigrant experiences about her family's country of origin. In the book, an Indian American girl puts on a magic shawl and has visions of life in India. The book shows he beauty and culture of India, but is also candid about the oppression and suppression that women endure in traditional Indian culture.
Pratap Chjatterjee, an investigative journalist, and Khalil Bendib, a political cartoonist, pooled their talents to create Verax: The True Story of Whistleblowers, Drone Warfare, and Mass Surveillance (Metropolitan, Oct.), a nonfiction graphic novel about the use—and misuse—of technology in war and in anti-terrorist activities. "The book is about the fact that we believe technology is magic," said Chattergee. "We believe it can bring justice, and we believe drones can find terrorists and kill them, but this is not true." The book examines evidence linking the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan to the failures of drone technology.
The Argentinian cartoonist Liniers, author of Good Night, Planet (Toon Books, Sept.), has spent the past year in residence at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. While there with his family, he was inspired by his youngest daughter’s love for a stuffed toy animal—she calls it Planet—and when she confused the moon with a cookie. Toon Books publisher Francoise Mouly, told him "That's a book."
The tea dragon fantasy creatures in Katie O'Neill's The Tea Dragon Society (Oni Press, Nov.) are "small, cute, but incredibly annoying creatures," she explained. They also produce a delicious and enchanting brew from the tea leaves that grow on their horns.
"When you brew this tea, you share the memories this dragon has had through its lifetime"—including the experiences of the previous dragon trainers, O’Neill explained. But like her previous book, Princess, Princess, Ever After, a fairytale with two princesses and no prince, O’Neill reimagines traditional fairytales in a new era of LGBTQ acceptance. The Tea Dragon Society offers a family that is self-selected by its members.
"I think especially for the queer community, it's important to have the feeling of choosing your family," she said, "because your biological family might not accept who you are. Being able to forge communities that accept and love you is part of it too."