Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of The Backstagers #1 and Snow White

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Discussions, Old and New

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Time Codes:

  • 00:27 – Introduction
  • 03:22 – Context for listeners
  • 06:02 – The controversy surrounding Ghosts
  • 30:26 – The Backstagers #1
  • 40:12 – Show White
  • 59:04 – Wrap up
  • 59:28 – Contact us

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This episode of the Young Readers show begins with a special feature: Andy and Gwen return to a comic that they reviewed for the August YR show, Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts. They present a revised review of that comic, based upon a number of issues that have been raised in the last month by scholars and librarians regarding cultural appropriation and Telgemeier’s status as an outsider writing about the California missions and about the Dia de los Muertos celebrations that are a common feature of Mexican and Mexican American cultural life. Although the two PhDs typically try to avoid spoilers in their reviews, in this case, they mention specific events in the comic, so if you would like to wait until you have read Ghosts to listen to this segment, know that it occurs between the time codes 6:02 and 30:26.

As part of revisiting their discussion of Ghosts, Gwen and Andy bring up a number of resources that readers may wish to consult regarding issues of cultural appropriation, including Dr. Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature; Dr. Laura Jiménez’s blog, Booktoss; and the Reading While White blog that is the creation of a number of librarians who are “allies for racial diversity and inclusion in books for children and teens.”

During the regular review portion of the podcast, Andy and Gwen discuss The Backstagers #1, written by James Tynion IV, drawn by Rian Sygh, with color by Walter Baiamonte, and lettering by Jim Campbell. This exciting, fast-paced comic, published by BOOM! Studios, has a lot in common with another BOOM! Studio’s hit series, Lumberjanes, so whether one is a veteran of theater productions or just likes ensemble comics that feature an eclectic cast of characters, then The Backstagers will fill the bill. For his part, Andy applauds Tynion and Sygh’s depiction of the people who do all of the hard work behind the scenes of a theater production, often without acclaim, and Gwen gives the series praise for its inclusion of a number of gay characters who are part of the stage crew. The Backstagers also includes supernatural elements that would appeal to young readers who have an interest in science fiction characters and settings.

Next, the two PhDs discuss Matt Phelan’s graphic novel, Snow White (Candlewick Press), an adaptation that is steeped in elements of film noir, and even silent film, while managing to comment on contemporary debates about the ethics of the pursuit of wealth. Set during the Great Depression, the evil queen becomes the Queen of Ziegfield Follies, and all of the energy and emotion of the era is expressed in Phelan’s exceptional watercolor panels that are intricately shaded and carefully colored. Andy discusses Phelan’s impressive career as an award-winning creator of such texts as The Storm in the Barn, which won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and he praises Phelan’s decision to allow the often sinister and gritty aspects that characterized eighteenth- and nineteenth-century folktale and fairytale variants to emerge in this version of Snow White. Although readers would not need to be familiar with the origin text, both Andy and Gwen agree that much of the power of the narrative comes from the way that Phelan translates familiar tropes such as the talking mirror into a Depression-era setting.

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About Derek Royal

The Comics Alternative is a weekly podcast focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics. (There’s nothing wrong with the superhero genre…we just want to do something different.) New shows become available every Wednesday…much like the comic books you get. Episodes feature reviews of graphic novels and current ongoing series, discussions of upcoming comics, examinations of collected editions, in-depth analyses of a variety of comics texts, spotlights on various creators and their oeuvre, roundtable discussions with prominent critics and scholars in the field, and interviews with the artists and writers who make all of this possible. Along the way, Andy and Derek will talk about the various books that they are reading; the many pop cultural references that, for better or worse, inform their lives; and the unpredictable (and inexplicable) weirdness that seems to creep into each episode. In essence,The Comics Alternative podcast is brilliantly simple: Two guys with PhDs talking about comics.

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