Reviews

Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Rian Sygh
Published by BOOM! Box

The Venn diagram of Comics Fans and People Who Have Felt Painfully Different From Most Other People is a concentric circle. That’s part of why conventions are so important – every November, we get together in Durham and find out that we’re not so different after all. It feels great to walk around and bask in the energy of people dropping their labels and just being themselves together.

Well, there’s another couple of Venn diagrams that are complete overlaps with People Who Have Felt Painfully Different From Most Other People. One is Kids With Minority Gender Or Sexuality. Another is Theater People. And James Tynion’s new book, Backstagers, is all about how these categories overlap.

In this story, Jory is miserable at his new all-boys high school. His mom makes him join an after-school activity, so he builds up the courage to try Drama Club. He doesn’t really fit in with the glittery attention-starved actors, but when he meets the stage crew, he finds himself fighting monsters underground alongside boys across the spectrum of sexuality, body type, and race.

Yes, the elevator pitch of this book is, “It’s Lumberjanes. But it’s boys.” And that’s not too far off. Both books are very funny and very much about casual diversity. This book has the wacky magical art that Lumberjanes has made iconic, and the blend of mythology and mundanity in a surreal celebration of friendship and the power of adolescence – yes, you should put these next to each other on the shelf.

But calling it a Boy Lumberjanes (which might just be “Lumberjacks,” but that’s not the point) is getting too lost in the gender. This is also a celebration of the theater, a high-five to the people in black tee shirts who put up with all the crap I gave them when I was in my own high school drama club. In a world that has to select performers based on looks and sounds and charisma, the stage crew becomes a family that loves each other just because they choose to. The Backstagers learn from each other because they don’t have to earn each other’s love. They don’t care who you have a crush on as long as you’re willing to help hang a light and sew a zipper. It’s a beautiful world that never gets enough attention, and this book is a triumph in its representation.

School is starting. There are kids in your town this month unsure of where they’ll fit in. Do some good – come to Ultimate Comics in the Chapel Hill or Raleigh spots (and keep an eye out for the North Raleigh opening!) and grab a copy or two for your local middle school English or Theater classes. The kids are going to eat it up and steal your copy and share it with their friends. And we’ll see those kids at the NC Comicon in three months, finally getting to find their place with the rest of us weirdos. I can’t wait to welcome them.

-MATT CONNER for Ultimate Comics

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