If you’re looking for out-of-the-box comics of diverse characters, stories, and creators, your first stop should be the indie/small press publishers. Especially BOOM! Studios and their imprint BOOM! Box. Some of the best comics around are coming out of BOOM!, and yeah, I’m counting Image in that ranking. BOOM! is balancing a fine line between bringing in new talent with fresh ideas and Big Two vets with vast reservoirs of creativity, and it’s paying off like gangbusters. Marvel and DC would never publish anything like the two titles we’re looking at this month, Ladycastle and Goldie Vance, but then again neither would Image. All the better for BOOM!, if you ask me.
Goldie Vance and Ladycastle are two pretty different series—the former about a girl detective, the latter a women-driven high fantasy—but both take the stale tropes of their chosen genres and subvert them with intersectional feminism. The hard truth of the matter is no matter how many Riri Washingtons or Jessica Cruzes the Big Two create, there’s always a Tony Stark or Hal Jordan ready to take back their mantles. The real diversity work is happening in the small presses and YA.
Goldie Vance started out as a four-issue miniseries but was so successful that BOOM! Box extended it to an on-going, and thank Hera it did. Set in the 1960s in Florida, Goldie Vance tells the story of our eponymous hero, a valet at the hotel her father manages by day and teenage detective by night. So far she’s solved the case of the missing necklace and uncovered the mystery of the astronaut on the beach, and with issue #9 she’s teaming up with Sugar, her rival and professional speed racer, to figure out who’s sabotaging her racecars. Think Nancy Drew crossed with the Julian, Secret Agent series but with a teenage girl who has heart-eyes for a female record store clerk.
It’d be easy to brush Goldie Vance off as just a kiddie book, but to do so is to willingly look past the detailed character work, engrossing mysteries, and stellar art. Hope Larson’s script is a pleasure from dialogue to plot. She’s filled Goldie’s world with a cornucopia of unusual and quirky characters spouting retro lines with charm and wit. With the start of the third arc and the addition of Jackie Ball, the script kicks it up a notch to get just a touch more complex and nuanced. While Noah Hayes has taken over art duties from Brittney L. Williams, both have a style that perfectly complements Larson’s text. Williams’ is rounder, softer, and more cartoonish compared to Hayes’ more energetic and manga-esque style, but they’re equally as playful. Sarah Stern’s colors are striking, the bright, beachy palette making the panels pop with activity. Jim Campbell does yeoman’s duty with his excellent lettering and eccentric sound effects.
There are only a few comics that make my heart go pitter patter whenever new issues drop, and this is one. (See also: Paper Girls, The Backstagers, Jughead, and Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!.) Most issues I stockpile and read in batches—I prefer bingeing a whole arc to reading issue-by-issue—but you’re lucky if I wait until I get in my car before ripping the new issue of Goldie Vance out of its bag and board. With its mostly all-Black cast, queer romance subplot, cheerful characters, female friendships, and cozy mystery tone, it’s a must-have for any YA comics fan.
I absolutely adore Goldie Vance. If I could afford it, I’d buy dozens of issues every month and just give them away to people. It’s easily in my top five favorite series of all time, I love it that much. Do yourself a favor and add this to your pull list right now.
Writer: Hope Larson; artist: Brittney L. Williams; colors: Sarah Stern; letter: Jim Campbell. Starting with #9 Jackie Ball joins Larson as writer, Noah Hayes replaces Williams as artist, and Kat Leyh is brought on as cover artist. BOOM! Box published the first issue in 2016, and #9 released February 1, 2017.
When King Mancastle and his army of dudebros die off in a failed crusade, the women left behind take charge. Princess Aeve, locked away in a tower by her father until she’s married off, is finally free to chop off her hair and take up arms. No longer is she stuck writing Dear Abby responses to unsatisfied women she can never visit. Now the women make their own happiness. She’s joined by her younger sister Gwyneff, a preteen who’d rather be a squire than a princess, and Merinor, the blacksmith’s wife turned King of Man– er, Ladycastle. The only surviving male knight, Sir Riddick, teaches the women to defend their kingdom from evil forces and learns how to treat women as equals rather than subordinates. It’s a little bit Lord of the Rings high fantasy, a little bit Monty Python and the Holy Grail humor, and a little bit Tangled sing-songy feminism.
I have been quaking with anticipation since first hearing about Ladycastle back in October 2016, and lucky for me the first issue didn’t disappoint. Delilah S. Dawson is a fantastic writer with a keen eye for twisting tropes and gender/race/queerbending. She’s one of my favorite contemporary authors and one of my most recommended, particularly her YA. (If you haven’t read anything by her before, this should get you going.) Ashley A. Woods came to my attention in 2015 with her beautiful work on Amandla Stenberg’s NIOBE: She Is Life comics miniseries. I didn’t love Woods’ work on Ladycastle, but neither did I dislike it. Regardless, it’s ambitious and interesting. Her character designs are wonderfully diverse in both race and body shape, and she the kind of characters she draws are those we rarely see in comics. Jim Campbell gets Dawson’s offbeat tone and heightens the absurdity with his lettering.
Really, my only quibble is that the pacing is a bit off, but that likely has more to do with the limitations of cramming a massive world into only four issues. There simply isn’t time to show more of how the men dominate their society or how the women actually go about breaking down those barriers in a post-male world. I would’ve liked to see more of Aeve’s transformation from isolated princess to knightly powerhouse, but the tidbits we do get are compelling. Best part? No boob armor! Ladycastle is a feminist sword-and-sorcery delight. Here’s hoping we get more than four issues. I have money and I’m ready to spend it.
Writer: Delilah S. Dawson; illustrator: Ashley A. Woods; letters: Jim Campbell. BOOM! Studios published the first of four issues released in January 2017, and the second drops February 22.
Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.