Despite everything being pretty terrifying outside, we're in a pretty golden age when it comes to conversations about sexuality and gender. Growing up in the 90's and early noughties, finding books I could relate to as a gay kid was really bloody hard. Prior to online shopping being much of a thing, I didn't dare ask in bookshops for books that had gay themes - so I was left with occasional glances at a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover (which, heterosexual sex scenes aside, is really quite dull) to fulfill initial curiosity - and it was only through chance that I discovered Patrick Gale, who was the first author whose works I truly fell in love with, and who allowed me to discover a positive life for those of alternative sexualities, outside of the small town in which I grew up.
Thankfully, with the rise in popularity of Young Adult fiction today, there is a huge amount of material out there which allows young people to explore and discover different sexualities and gender identities - and I can't think of a better example than Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.
Back in 2016 (4 years ago, when we could do things like see friends and go to the pub. Ah...), Alice Oseman began writing Heartstopper as a web comic. Skip forward to 2018, and Heartstopper began becoming available in Graphic Novel form - with volume 3 released earlier this year.
Heartstopper is the tale of Charlie and Nick - two boys at the same school. They've never met, until the two are forced to sit together in class - and, from there, romance grows... Over the three volumes that are out so far, you watch the boys grow together, meet their friends, families and teachers, and genuinely feel part of their lives. It's rare that I become quite so invested in fictional characters, but there's something very real about Charlie and Nick that sucks you in, and I can't deny that I feel a real sense of connection with this tale of gay love at school - I was in the closet for most of my time at school but certainly felt the pangs of adolescent love.
Whilst some of you may roll your eyes at the fact that this is another love story about two cisgendered white guys - the accompanying cast are varied, diverse, and fully fleshed out, with a whole range of subplots that are massively entertaining, but also completely relevant to what young people are, I believe, going through today - although I should point out that it's going on for 15 years since I was in school!
These books are gorgeous - beautifully drawn and it's clear that creator Alice Oseman has a huge amount of love for these characters - they first appeared in her novel Solitaire. which I've not read but is very much top of my pile! I'm excited and cautious about Charlie and Nick's future - I know wherever they go, they'll be dealt with huge amounts of care, but also huge amounts of truth - so I have a distinct feeling it's not going to be plain sailing for them...
Check out Heartstopper on Alice Oseman's website to see where you can read it, and where you can grab a copy, and enjoy. I certainly did.
Every ninety years, twelve Gods return as Young people.
They are loved.
They are hated.
In two years, they are all dead.
It’s happening now.
It’s happening again.
So, I am a huge comics fan – I have been ever since I was a child, and for years my comics appreciation revolved solely around the X-Men – finding a home in that bunch of mutant misfits was a huge part of my growing up. Back in 2011, a new writer call Kieron Gillen came aboard as the writer of the flagship X-Men book, and his writing was so, so good, that I was compelled to seek out his other work. “Phonogram” is a fantastic piece of brit-pop centric fantasy, “Young Avengers” an amazing look at growing up told through super heroics, and a run writing Loki for “Journey Into Mystery” that, with the help of a certain Mr Hiddleston, has put Loki front and centre as a compelling anti hero in the Marvel Universe. So, I was understandably hugely excited when I read that he would be teaming up with his regular collaborator Jamie McKelvie for a new book, “The Wicked + The Divine” The Social Book Co were kind enough to send me a copy to review.
Does it live up to my impossibly high expectations?
Yes. Oh yes.
“The Wicked + The Divine” is a dizzying ride of a book, but a strong cast of characters make it a compelling and fun ride for the reader, even if you’ll spend most of the time on the edge of your seat. The twists here are so big, and so surprising, that there’s a strong chance you’ll be left open mouthed whilst reading. “Fandemonium” collects issues six to eleven of the comic, as well as some bonus supplementary material, most of which is in the form of stunning artwork. This is really the second arc of the book, so by this point the reader, and the characters, are fully entrenched in the mysteries surrounding the characters. Laura is a fantastic lead, and it’s always rather nice to see a 17 year old written as, well, a 17 year old. Issue Six contains a compelling two pages that don’t just explore the character, they also hit pretty hard at what it feels like to be a teenager, in a surprisingly quiet and effective manner. Characters only briefly met before, like Inanna and Cassandra are expanded upon in these issues, and the plot ricochets along at a breakneck pace, that still somehow allows the characters time to breathe and grow.
Of course, no comic would be complete without artwork, and Jamie McKelvie is genuinely one of the best comic book artists around today, without a doubt. Every character is distinct, the fashion and design is superb, and some issues ( in this case Issue 8, when Laura discovers the true extent of Dionysus’s powers), are stunning. Like tear out the pages and stick to the wall of an art gallery stunning. There’s such life in this world that they have created, such kinetic energy, that it’s truly, truly astonishing.
Compelling, clever and current, “The Wicked + The Divine” is easily one of the best comics being published today.