3 Panels is a monthly column examining graphic novels and their influences on everyday life.
I wasn’t planning to write a column this month. I’d originally decided to give myself the grace of opting out as I prepared for an upcoming trip. But with one foot out the door, I want to speak a little bit about transitions and personal journeys.
Soon, I will be embarking on my first out-of-state trip since 2019 and my first airplane flight since 2017. I’ll be headed to Tennessee for a week-long writing residency and some much-needed quiet. This time away from my family will allow me to finally address thoughts that have been long-dammed up in my head, waiting for my attention. I look forward to sitting still and resting for longer than a few minutes. But mostly, I’m holding my breath at this new bend in the road — I know I’m headed in a new direction, but I am unsure of where it is taking me.
This will be my first in-person residency and it marks a significant change in my literary career. I’ve been in a constant state of transition since I quit my job as a legislative proofreader in 2018 and moved, pregnant with my second child, to Las Vegas with my family. I’ve been adjusting to life in the desert, to being a full-time stay-at-home mother, to children going through various stages of toddler-hood, to rebuilding my personhood, and to establishing myself as a writer. I’m not the person I used to be, but she is still part of who I am today.
I don’t know if there is a word for the metamorphosis we experience at various stages in our lives, especially when we are well into adulthood. Maybe that’s maturity, or maybe it’s part of the continuous process that is coming-of-age, regardless of whether you’re an adolescent or not. Whatever the case, I know for sure that I’m beginning another stage in my personal journey. As I hit the road, I’m leaving you with reading recommendations for new and forthcoming graphic novels that feature other young women and girls also coming-of-age and enduring epic journeys. In some way, they represent our past selves and in others, they represent the vitality of our future.
It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be, written and illustrated by Lizzy Stewart (Fantagraphics, July 2021)
There’s a pretty decent market for personal essays that deal with friendship, especially their demise. Everyone is interested in the drama of it all, the obviousness of a friend’s cruelty or toxicity. But sometimes friendships fall apart slowly and without any distinguishable reason. I’ve been one half of a best-friends-forever friendship, only to find it unfamiliar and then absent altogether, which is why I chose It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be. Lizzy Stewart’s graphic novel features the evolution of a friendship as two teen girls drift apart over time. Years pass before the girls meet again and though we don’t know the specifics, we get the sense that their decline was incremental. Differing ambitions. A change in communication. Personal evolutions. It’s all very real and true to life. When the book concludes with their unexpected meeting at a wedding reception, we identify with the tension and awkwardness of their conversation because we have been them at some point in our lives. Interconnected with this storyline are other vignettes about young girlhood and womanhood and how our experiences shape who we are in big and small ways. Though most stories that deal with friendships and growing up can be heavy, these stories leave you with refreshing, nostalgic memories of adolescence.
Adora And The Distance, written by Marc Bernardin and illustrated by Ariela Kristantina (comiXology Originals, June 2021)
A YA fantasy graphic novel, Adora And The Distance is about a young, brown-skinned girl who journeys across the world with a small contingent of mages, warriors, and friends to combat a mysterious world-consuming force. Along the way, Adora also battles pirates, the undead, and her own resignation. The story is reminiscent of novels like The Lord Of The Rings and A Wrinkle In Time, but this is more than just a young hero’s journey. Woven in the fabric of the epic tale are threads of parental guidance and gentle encouragement. Besides centering a non-white protagonist, Marc Bernardin has created a narrative about an autistic child’s experience. As the parent of an autistic child, Bernardin said, “I wanted to try and imagine the story one of those kids could be telling about themselves, about the adventures they’re taking inside their own mind. It’s the story I most want to hear.” You can also see Bernardin’s strengths as a television writer for shows like Carnival Row and Alphas, one of my all-time favorites, shining through in the action-packed storytelling. The novel is a fierce but quick read that hooks you from the beginning and doesn’t let go at the end.
The Curie Society, written by Heather Einhorn, Adam Staffaroni, and Janet Harvey; illustrated by Sonia Liao and Johanna Taylor (The MIT Press, April 2021)
This one is for the STEM enthusiasts. Imagine if all of your favorite techs in the R&D labs of your beloved spy thrillers and TV shows were women of color who were actually the main protagonists. You’d have The Curie Society! The graphic novel is about three women in college (one of whom is 15!) who discover a secret society created by Marie Curie that supports the advancement of women scientists around the globe. The three members of the Curie Society lean into their diverse — and sometimes antagonistic — backgrounds to solve problems, go on missions, and use their knowledge to save the world. They learn to rely on others where their expertise is the weakest and overcome their own egos for the greater good. The comic promotes an unwavering girl power theme from beginning to its action-packed end, all while intertwining real, substantiated scientific information in the process.
These three graphic novels are ushering in a new generation of stories that aim to be more inclusive and more dynamic. Perhaps they’ll invigorate you as you move along your own personal journey.