The Nominations for our 2022 Eisner Comic Awards are…

Recently, Comic-Con International unveiled its official nominee list for the prestigious 2022 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.

(See below for the complete list)

The nominees were chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of judges, reflecting a wide range of material currently published in comics and graphic novel form, from around the world. The awards are named in honor of the pioneering comics writer and artist Will Eisner, a participant in the CCI awards until his death in 2005.

DC holds the most nominations with 15, with Nightwing by Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo holding 5. Image holds 14 nominations with Destroy All Monsters, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips at 3. Writer James Tynion IV holds the most individual creator nominations at 5.

Winners are to be announced at the 2022 San Diego Comic-Con convention, this coming July. For more information on the awards, its judges, and new Hall of Fame nominations, visit comic-con.org.

Here below, the nominees are…

Best Short Story

  • “Funeral in Foam,” by Casey Gilly and Raina Telgemeier, in You Died: An Anthology of the Afterlife (Iron Circus)
  • “Generations,” by Daniel Warren Johnson, in Superman: Red & Blue #5 (DC)
  • “I Wanna Be a Slob,” by Michael Kamison and Steven Arnold, in Too Tough to Die (Birdcage Bottom Books)
  • “Tap, Tap, Tap,” by Larry O’Neil and Jorge Fornés, in Green Arrow 80th Anniversary (DC)
  • “Trickster, Traitor, Dummy, Doll,” by Triple Dream (Mel Hilario, Katie Longua, and Lauren Davis), in The Nib Vol 9: Secrets (The Nib)

Best Single Issue/One-Shot (must be able to stand alone)

  • Marvel’s Voices: Identity #1, edited by Darren Shan (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: The Owlhen Caregiver and Other Tales, by David Petersen (BOOM!/Archaia)
  • Nightwing #87: “Get Grayson,” by Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo (DC)
  • Wolvendaughter, by Ver (Quindrie Press)
  • Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Jimenez (DC)

Best Continuing Series

  • Bitter Root, by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene (Image)
  • The Department of Truth, by James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds (Image)
  • Immortal Hulk, by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, et al. (Marvel)
  • Nightwing, by Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo (DC)
  • Something Is Killing the Children, by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera (BOOM! Studios)

Best Limited Series

  • Beta Ray Bill: Argent Star, by Daniel Warren Johnson (Marvel)
  • The Good Asian, by Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi (Image)
  • Hocus Pocus, by Richard Wiseman, Rik Worth, and Jordan Collver, hocuspocus.squarespace.com
  • The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, by Ram V and Filipe Andrade (BOOM! Studios)
  • Stray Dogs, by Tony Fleecs and Trish Forstner (Image)
  • Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, by Tom King and Bilquis Evely (DC)

Best New Series

  • The Human Target, by Tom King and Greg Smallwood (DC)
  • The Nice House on the Lake, by James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno (DC Black Label)
  • Not All Robots, by Mark Russell and Mike Deodato Jr. (AWA Upshot)
  • Radiant Black, by Kyle Higgins and Marcelo Costa (Image)
  • Ultramega, by James Harren (Image Skybound)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)

  • Arlo & Pips #2: Join the Crow Crowd!, by Elise Gravel (HarperAlley)
  • Chibi Usagi: Attack of the Heebie Chibis, by Julie and Stan Sakai (IDW)
  • I Am Oprah Winfrey, by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos (Dial Books for Young Readers)
  • Monster Friends, by Kaeti Vandorn (Random House Graphic)
  • Tiny Tales: Shell Quest, by Steph Waldo (HarperAlley)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)

  • Allergic, by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter (Scholastic)
  • Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat, by Ben Towle (Dead Reckoning)
  • Rainbow Bridge, by Steve Orlando, Steve Foxe, and Valentina Brancati (AfterShock)
  • Salt Magic, by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House)
  • Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear, by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung (Dial Books for Young Readers)
  • The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean, by Kim Dwinell (Top Shelf)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)

  • Adora and the Distance, by Marc Bernardin and Ariela Kristantina (Comixology Originals)
  • Clockwork Curandera, vol. 1: The Witch Owl Parliament, by David Bowles and Raul the Third (Tu Books/Lee & Low Books)
  • The Legend of Auntie Po, by Shing Yin Khor (Kokila/Penguin Random House)
  • Strange Academy, by Skottie Young and Humberto Ramos (Marvel)
  • Wynd, by James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas (BOOM! Box)

Best Humor Publication

  • Bubble, by Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, and Tony Cliff (First Second/Macmillan)
  • Cyclopedia Exotica, by Aminder Dhaliwal (Drawn & Quarterly)
  • Not All Robots, by Mark Russell and Mike Deodato Jr. (AWA Upshot)
  • The Scumbag, by Rick Remender and various (Image)
  • Thirsty Mermaids, by Kat Leyh (Gallery 13/Simon and Schuster)
  • Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, by Haro Aso and Kotaro Takata, translation by Nova Skipper (VIZ Media)

Best Anthology

  • Flash Forward: An Illustrated Guide to Possible (And Not So Possible) Tomorrows, by Rose Eveleth and various, edited by Laura Dozier (Abrams ComicArts)
  • My Only Child, by Wang Ning and various, edited by Wang Saili, translation by Emma Massara (LICAF/Fanfare Presents)
  • The Silver Coin, by Michael Walsh and various (Image)
  • Superman: Red & Blue, edited by Jamie S. Rich, Brittany Holzherr, and Diegs Lopez (DC)
  • You Died: An Anthology of the Afterlife, edited by Kel McDonald and Andrea Purcell (Iron Circus)

Best Reality-Based Work

  • The Black Panther Party: A Graphic History, by David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson (Ten Speed Press)
  • Hakim’s Odyssey, Book 1: From Syria to Turkey, by Fabien Toulmé, translation by Hannah Chute (Graphic Mundi/Penn State University Press)
  • Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula, by Koren Shadmi (Humanoids)
  • Orwell, by Pierre Christin and Sébastien Verdier, translation by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
  • Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness, by Kristen Radtke (Pantheon/Penguin Random House)
  • The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, by Dave Sim and Carson Grubaugh (Living the Line)

Best Graphic Memoir

  • Factory Summers, by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall (Drawn & Quarterly)
  • Parenthesis, by Élodie Durand, translation by Edward Gauvin (Top Shelf)
  • Run: Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell (Abrams ComicArts)
  • Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest, by Nate Powell (Abrams ComicArts)
  • The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel (Mariner Books)

Best Graphic Album—New

  • Ballad For Sophie, by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia, translation by Gabriela Soares (Top Shelf)
  • Destroy All Monsters (A Reckless Book), by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)
  • In., by Will McPhail (Mariner Books)
  • Meadowlark: A Coming-of-Age Crime Story, by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth (Grand Central Publishing)
  • Monsters, by Barry Windsor-Smith (Fantagraphics)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint

  • The Complete American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, and Scott Hampton (Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key: Keyhouse Compendium, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez (IDW)
  • Middlewest: The Complete Tale, by Skottie Young and Jorge Corona (Image)
  • Rick and Morty vs Dungeons and Dragons Deluxe Edition, by Patrick Rothfuss, Jim Zub, and Troy Little (Oni/IDW)
  • The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: California Deluxe Edition, by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon, and Becky Cloonan (Dark Horse)

Best Adaptation from Another Medium

  • After the Rain, by Nnedi Okorafor, adapted by John Jennings and David Brame (Megascope/Abrams ComicArts)
  • Bubble by Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, and Tony Cliff (First Second/Macmillan)
  • Disney Cruella: Black, White, and Red, adapted by Hachi Ishie (VIZ Media)
  • George Orwell’s 1984: The Graphic Novel, adapted by Fido Nesti (Mariner Books)
  • The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell, adapted by Sophie and Scarlett Rickard (SelfMadeHero)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material

  • Ballad For Sophie, by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia, translation by Gabriela Soares (Top Shelf)
  • Between Snow and Wolf, by Agnes Domergue and Helene Canac, translation by Maria Vahrenhorst (Magnetic)
  • Love: The Mastiff, by Frederic Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci (Magnetic)
  • The Parakeet, by Espé, translation by Hannah Chute ((Graphic Mundi/Penn State University Press)
  • The Shadow of a Man, by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten, translation by Stephen D. Smith (IDW)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia

  • Chainsaw Man, by Tatsuki Fujimoto, translation by Amanda Haley (VIZ Media)
  • Kaiju No. 8, by Naoya Matsumoto, translation by David Evelyn (VIZ Media)
  • Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection, by Junji Ito, translation by Jocelyne Allen (VIZ Media)
  • Robo Sapiens: Tales of Tomorrow (Omnibus), by Toranosuke Shimada, translation by Adrienne Beck (Seven Seas)
  • Spy x Family, by Tatsuya Endo, translation by Casey Loe (VIZ Media)
  • Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, by Haro Aso and Kotaro Takata, translation by Nova Skipper (VIZ Media)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips (at least 20 years old)

  • Friday Foster: The Sunday Strips, by Jim Lawrence and Jorge Longarón, edited by Christopher Marlon, Rich Young, and Kevin Ketner (Ablaze)
  • Popeye: The E.C. Segar Sundays, vol. 1 by E.C. Segar, edited by Gary Groth and Conrad Groth (Fantagraphics)
  • Trots and Bonnie, by Shary Flenniken, edited by Norman Hathaway (New York Review Comics)
  • The Way of Zen, adapted and illustrated by C. C. Tsai, translated by Brian Bruya (Princeton University Press)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books (at least 20 Years Old)

  • EC Covers Artist’s Edition, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)
  • Farewell, Brindavoine, by Tardi, translation by Jenna Allen, edited by Conrad Groth (Fantagraphics)
  • Marvel Comics Library: Spider-Man vol. 1: 1962–1964, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, edidted by Steve Korté (TASCHEN)
  • Spain Rodriguez: My Life and Times, vol. 3, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics)
  • Steranko Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Artisan Edition, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)
  • Uncle Scrooge: “Island in the Sky,” by Carl Barks, edited by J. Michael Catron (Fantagraphics)

Best Writer

  • Ed Brubaker, Destroy All Monsters, Friend of the Devil (Image)
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick, Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons Book One (DC)
  • Filipe Melo, Ballad for Sophie (Top Shelf)
  • Ram V, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr (BOOM! Studios); The Swamp Thing (DC); Carnage: Black, White & Blood, Venom (Marvel)
  • James Tynion IV, House of Slaughter, Something Is Killing the Children, Wynd (BOOM! Studios); The Nice House on the Lake, The Joker, Batman, DC Pride 2021 (DC); The Department of Truth (Image); Blue BookRazorblades (Tiny Onion Studios)

Best Writer/Artist

  • Alison Bechdel, The Secret to Superhuman Strength (Mariner Books)
  • Junji Ito, Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection, Sensor (VIZ Media)
  • Daniel Warren Johnson, Superman: Red & Blue (DC); Beta Ray Bill (Marvel)
  • Will McPhail, In: A Graphic Novel (Mariner Books)
  • Barry Windsor-Smith, Monsters (Fantagraphics)

Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team

  • Filipe Andrade, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr (BOOM! Studios)
  • Phil Jimenez, Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons (DC)
  • Bruno Redondo, Nightwing (DC)
  • Esad Ribic, Eternals (Marvel)
  • P. Craig Russell, Norse Mythology (Dark Horse)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)

  • Federico Bertolucci, Brindille, Love: The Mastiff (Magnetic)
  • John Bolton, Hell’s Flaw (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
  • Juan Cavia, Ballad for Sophie (Top Shelf)
  • Frank Pe, Little Nemo (Magnetic)
  • Ileana Surducan, The Lost Sunday (Pronoia AB)
  • Sana Takeda, Monstress (Image)

Best Cover Artist

  • Jen Bartel, Future State Immortal Wonder Woman #1 & 2, Wonder Woman Black & Gold #1, Wonder Woman 80th Anniversary (DC); Women’s History Month variant covers (Marvel)
  • David Mack, Norse Mythology (Dark Horse)
  • Bruno Redondo, Nightwing (DC)
  • Alex Ross, Black Panther, Captain America, Captain America/Iron Man #2, Immortal Hulk, Iron Man, The U.S. of The Marvels (Marvel)
  • Julian Totino Tedesco, Just Beyond: Monstrosity (BOOM!/KaBoom!); Dune: House Atreides (BOOM! Studios); Action Comics (DC); The Walking Dead Deluxe (Image Skybound)
  • Yoshi Yoshitani, I Am Not Starfire (DC); The Blue FlameGiga, Witchblood (Vault)

Best Coloring

  • Filipe Andrade/Inês Amaro, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr (BOOM! Studios)
  • Terry Dodson, Adventureman (Image Comics)
  • K. O’Neill, The Tea Dragon Tapestry (Oni)
  • Jacob Phillips, Destroy All Monsters, Friend of the Devil (Image)
  • Matt Wilson, Undiscovered Country (Image); Fire Power (Image Skybound); Eternals, Thor, Wolverine (Marvel); Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters (Oni)

Best Lettering

  • Wes Abbott, Future State, Nightwing, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman Black & Gold (DC)
  • Clayton Cowles, The Amazons, Batman, Batman/Catwoman, Strange Adventures, Wonder Woman Historia (DC); Adventureman (Image);Daredevil, Eternals, King in Black, Strange Academy, Venom, X-Men Hickman, X-Men Duggan (Marvel)
  • Crank!, Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters, The Tea Dragon Tapestry (Oni); Money Shot (Vault)
  • Ed Dukeshire, Once & Future, Seven Secrets (BOOM Studios)
  • Barry Windsor-Smith, Monsters (Fantagraphics)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism

  • Alter Ego, edited by Roy Thomas (TwoMorrows)
  • The Columbus Scribbler, edited by Brian Canini, Jack Wallace, and Steve Steiner, columbusscribbler.com
  • Fanbase Press, edited by Barbra Dillon, fanbasepress.com
  • tcj.com, edited by Tucker Stone and Joe McCulloch (Fantagraphics)
  • WomenWriteAboutComics.com, edited by Wendy Browne and Nola Pfau (WWAC)

Best Comics-Related Book

  • All of the Marvels, by Douglas Wolk (Penguin Press)
  • The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes, by Nicolas Verstappen (River Books)
  • Fantastic Four No. 1: Panel by Panel, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Chip Kidd, and Geoff Spear (Abrams ComicArts)
  • Old Gods & New: A Companion to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, by John Morrow, with Jon B. Cooke (TwoMorrows)
  • True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, by Abraham Riesman (Crown)

Best Academic/Scholarly Work

  • Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History, by Eike Exner (Rutgers University Press)
  • The Life and Comics of Howard Cruse: Taking Risks in the Service of Truth, by Andrew J. Kunka (Rutgers University Press)
  • Mysterious Travelers: Steve Ditko and the Search for a New Liberal Identity, by Zack Kruse (University Press of Mississippi)
  • Pulp Empire: The Secret History of Comics Imperialism, by Paul S. Hirsch (University of Chicao Press)
  • Rebirth of the English Comic Strip: A Kaleidoscope, 1847–1870, by David Kunzle (University Press of Mississippi)

Best Publication Design

  • The Complete American Gods, designed by Ethan Kimberling (Dark Horse)
  • The Complete Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Deluxe Edition, designed by Justin Allan-Spencer (Fantagraphics)
  • Crashpad, designed by Gary Panter and Justin Allan-Spencer (Fantagraphics)
  • Machine Gun Kelly’s Hotel Diablo, designed by Tyler Boss (Z2)
  • Marvel Comics Library: Spider-Man vol. 1: 1962–1964 (TASCHEN)
  • Popeye Vol. 1 by E.C. Segar, designed by Jacob Covey (Fantagraphics)

Best Webcomic

Best Digital Comic

  • Days of Sand, by Aimée de Jongh, translation by Christopher Bradley (Europe Comics)
  • Everyone Is Tulip, by Dave Baker and Nicole Goux, everyoneistulip.com
  • It’s Jeff, by Kelly Thompson and Gurihiru (Marvel)
  • Love After World Domination 1-3, by Hiroshi Noda and Takahiro Wakamatsu, translation by Steven LeCroy (Kodansha)
  • Snow Angels, by Jeff Lemire and Jock (Comixology Originals) 

My favorite comic book, graphic novels reads of 2021

Captain Orion, longtime reader of comics and graphic novels, of strangerworlds.com, writes:

2021 was a quiet year for comic book stores and retail shelves, but the awesome new reads keep coming.

The impact of the ongoing global pandemic continues to affect the industry, creators, publishers. Yet, there the push to keep sequential arts remains perpetual in a forward direction, from and for folks who are passionate for its pure form of art and storytelling. Comic books and graphic novels will never die as long as there are intelligent creatures who can distinguish, interpret, enjoy visual storytelling. But in our present days, that may change in format, and how they are received.

For myself, I am well aware of the new trends of online comics as long form storytelling, particularly with WebToons, and scrolling comics. I do find that evolving form interesting, but found nothing yet that has grabbed me. There are many new webcomics series self-published as well, which I hope to explore in 2022. But for last year, it was all about print and what was available at comic stores, borrowed from friends and local libraries.

I’m often excited if a favorite writer or artist is involved, so there might be a bit bias for how much involved with a read I get. In 2021, I was especially excited to see many favored names prominent on shelves, especially Mark Russell, J.H. Williams III, Naoki Urasawa, Tom Taylor, and more. I also discovered new favorites for the years ahead.

Many of those, I will share below as my best comics and graphic novels of 2021, which I highly recommend for 2022…

BEST SUSPENSE SERIES of 2021

Stray Dogs

Writer: Tomy Fleecs Artist: Trish Forstner, Tone Rodriguez, Brad Simpson
Publisher: Image Comics (limited series)

It’s scary being the new dog. In this suspenseful new series, readers meet Sophie, a dog who can’t remember what happened. She doesn’t know how she ended up in this house. She doesn’t recognize any of these other dogs. She knows something terrible happened, but she just…can’t…recall…Wait! Where’s her lady? Now Sophie has to figure out where she is, what’s happening, and how she’s going to survive this. They say there’s no such thing as a bad dog—just bad owners.

Stray Dogs is an underrated hit and an exhilarating reading experience. By that, I mean looking at the old cartoons. mostly from Disney where house pets and street animals are humanized, to a point of talking and having there own lives. But, also with a realistic approach keeping in mind their physical limits. Stray Dogs brings it all to a creepy extreme, with grisly murder and dark turns where nothing is off the table for the fates of some very cute, talking animals. Throw in some many nail-biting moments, leading to an epic finale. And overall, Stray Dogs is an awesome read.

BEST FANTASY (and NEW) SERIES of 2021

ECHOLANDS

Writer: W. Haden Blackman, J.H. Williams III Artist: Dave Stewart, J.H. Williams III
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

In a bizarre future world that has forgotten its history, a reckless thief, Hope Redhood, holds the key to excavating its dark, strange past—if only she and her crew can escape a tyrannical wizard and his unstoppable daughter. But fate will send them all on a path leading to a war between worlds. Echolands is a landscape format, mythic-fiction epic where anything is possible—a fast-paced genre mashup adventure that combines everything from horror movie vampires to classic mobsters and cyborg elves, to Roman demigods and retro rocket ships. It’s going to be a helluva ride!

This series is a bold mix of magic, technology, world-building, but with a unique feel and presentation, bringing the reader on a dreamy, wild journey. Echolands delivers well with a landscape oriented pages, utilizing J.H. Williams III (which I know well from Batwoman, Promethea) inventive use of panels and transition. It’s all very fast-paced as we follow Hope and friends are in constant danger, but also for the reader to slow-down and really take in beautiful complexities of this strange, fantastic adventure full of interesting concepts. Also, love the extras every issue brings, expanding upon both the insights of the creators and the world of Echolands. This brings what true fantasy should be, without limits and breaking the boundaries of the fantastic.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SERIES of 2021

We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

Writer: Al Ewing Artist: Simone Di Neo
Publisher: BOOM! Entertainment (monthly Series)

Captain Malik and the crew of the spaceship the Vihaan II are in search of the only resources that matter — and can only be found by harvesting the giant corpses of alien gods that are found on the edge of human space. While other autopsy ships and explorers race to salvage the meat, minerals, and metals that sustain the human race, Malik sees an opportunity to finally break free from this system: by being the first to find a living god. But Malik’s obsession with the gods will push his crew into the darkest reaches of space, bringing them face to face with a threat unlike anything they ever imagined, unless the rogue agent on their trail can stop them first…

This is some crazy cool sci-fi fun, told with modern digital coloring, slick animated style, and fluid storytelling. There’s action mixed with moral reflection on our place in the stars, and the limits sentients ponder on breaking. But also, the story feel believable with space physics and engineering that doesn’t seem like made up nonsense. Our main hero, Captain Malik, is the cosmic romantic with an deep life-story bringing him to the edge of the known, and beginning of the unknown. It’s all a wonderful story unfolding in vibrant color and dramatic faire, giving this hard sci-fi a wicked sharp edge. I look forward to see where this all goes!

BEST COMICS PANELING of 2021

The Body Factory: From the First Prosthetics to the Augmented Human

Writer: Heloise Chochois Artist: Kendra Boileau
Publisher: Graphic Mundi – PSU Press (graphic novel)

A young man has a horrible motorcycle accident. He wakes up in the hospital to discover that one of his arms has been amputated. Then a portrait on the wall of his hospital room begins to speak to him. The subject of the painting introduces himself as Ambroise Paré, the French barber-surgeon who revolutionized the art of amputation. From this wonderfully absurd premise, the two begin an imaginary conversation that takes them through a sweeping history of surgical amputation, from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Unencumbered by pathos or didacticism, this graphic novel explores the world of amputation, revealing fascinating details about famous amputees throughout history, the invention of the tourniquet, phantom limb syndrome, types of prostheses, and transhumanist technologies. Playfully illustrated and seriously funny, The Body Factory is sure to delight anyone interested in the history and future of medicine and how we repair and even enhance the body.

This read is both a wild story journey and a real look at the history, science, psychology of amputations and prosthetics. The story is also psychological, dealing with a protagonist dealing with the loss of his body part, and coming to terms with what comes next. It’s fascinating on that level where the situation can happen to us, what how we can understand, given it’s necessity to history and medical solutions. There are parallels of the fictional, the non-fictional, textbook information, mixed in a strategic placements giving the reader a broader understanding of the subject matter. The Body Factory gives much on this unfortunate situation that amputation brings, yet also giving an enlightened approach on the act of living through fixing ourselves. Telling this through expressive art, story mixed with information through this inventive, entertaining style, is awesome.

BEST SUPERHERO SERIES of 2021

Superman: Red and Blue

Writer/Artist: (Various)
Publisher: DC Comics (limited series)

Around the world, everyone knows that when they see a red-and-blue streak in the sky, it’s not a bird…it’s not a plane…it’s Superman. Collected for the first time in its entirety, this unforgettable anthology series showcases fresh new visions of the Man of Steel in his two signature colors!

A series of very diverse stories about Superman, sometimes from different perspectives, that give a fresh look at a character that some would think all has been done to. Those people would be wrong. There are some very interesting takes on Superman, his strengths and weaknesses, and what helped make him so iconic. All of these stories, with an artistic challenge where only red and blue colors used. I loved every issues, and excited to read about Superman again.

BEST CREATIVE STORYTELLING of 2021

Mawrth Valliis

Writer/Artist: EPK
Publisher: Image Comics (graphic novel)

During a skirmish with an opposing Martian faction, a fighter pilot disobeys orders to pursue a fleeing foe. Guided by her determination and curiosity, she is led into a dangerous chase through Mars’s forbidden valley where she will be confronted with the red planet’s darkest of secrets. A fast-paced, 128-page, full-color, pocket-format, sci-fi adventure through Mars’s mysteries all told in its original Martian form.

It’s a short read with a lot of heart. There’s a pursuit across a Martian landscape, leading to some fantastic twists and turns. But, also, there is no exposition of an Earth language. It’s all in “Martian.” giving the reader a more alien feel, and more reading of actions, reactions, and situation. There is more show, don’t tell, and I love that. The use of colors are fantastic, the choice of opposites of blank and white in our two main characters are brilliant. The end is haunting, leaving room for the reader to ponder its overall message and true nature of the story.

BEST SATIRE SERIES of 2021

Not All Robots

Writer: Mark Russell Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Publisher: AWA Studios – Upshot (monthly Series)

In the year 2056, robots have replaced human beings in the workforce. An uneasy co-existence develops between the newly intelligent robots and the ten billion humans living on Earth. Every human family is assigned a robot upon whom they are completely reliant. What could possibly go wrong? Meet the Walters, a human family whose robot, Razorball, ominously spends his free time in the garage working on machines which they’re pretty sure are designed to kill them in this sci-fi satire from Mark Russell (The Flintstones, Second Coming) and Mike Deodato Jr. (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Resistance).

I love Mark Russell’s style at satire with Prez, Flintstones, God is Disappointed in You, dark but with a mix of wit and humor to it all. But here is a brilliant escalation in Not All Robots; to what happens when machines are made to be more human, with attitudes and status. There is a lot of back and forth with human elements/ That includes taken in all the insecurities are also inherited with both humans and machines that they create. But there’s also a lot of metaphorical moments, bouncing back to who we treat as machines today, who we take for granted, and groups we take in as cheap, willing labor. It’s funny, because we see the absurdities that Mark Russell loves to mix as cartoonish tropes brilliantly disguised as current, real human issues.

BEST IMPORTED SERIES of 2021

Asadora!

Writer/Artist: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher:
Viz (published in monthly volumes, 16 volumes)

In 2020, a large creature rampages through Tokyo, destroying everything in its path. In 1959, Asa Asada, a spunky young girl from a huge family in Nagoya, is kidnapped for ransom—and not a soul notices. When a typhoon hits Nagoya, Asa and her kidnapper must work together to survive. But there’s more to her kidnapper and this storm than meets the eye.

Asadora is a historical fiction, science fiction, and suspense mystery all rolled together. There’s much stroy to follow with multiple plotlines, but with memorable characters that we trust will eventually be more connected – a signature style to the storyteller that brought us Monster, 20th Century boys, Pluto – all great works but took time to develop. There’s only a few volumes in the US so far, and off to a big start. Asadora gives more in curiosity with real life events mixed in with science fiction familiarities; all rooted deep in Japanese culture. We also get some great developments, with some tense reactions. But Naoki Urasawa’s art style seems more detailed than ever here. I’m excited, and looking forward to reading more of this in 2022.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL of 2020

Monsters

Writer/Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Publisher: Fantagraphics (graphic novel)

In this pen-and-ink graphic novel, in 1964, Bobby Bailey is recruited for a U.S. military experimental genetics program that was discovered in Nazi Germany 20 years prior. His only ally, Sergeant McFarland, intervenes to try to protect him, which sets off a chain of events that spin out of everyone’s control. As the titular monsters multiply, becoming real and metaphorical, literal and ironic, the story reaches its emotional and moral reckoning. Windsor-Smith has been working on this passion project for more than 35 years, and Monsters is part intergenerational family drama, part espionage thriller, and part metaphysical journey. Trauma, fate, conscience, and redemption are just a few of the themes that intersect in the most ambitious (and intense) graphic novel of Windsor-Smith’s career.

Monsters is brutal, mean, and really putting the “graphic” into graphic novel. The art is amazing with a story that leads through the familiar territory of government experiments gone out of control, but then heads into darker territory into both physiological and psychological. It’s started as a Hulk story, then kind of mutated over time, with elements from Barry Windsor’s work on Conan and Marvel’s Wolverine story of Weapon X. There is amazing passion that comes from telling the grand story of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters, which comes out as an uncomfortable, emotionally-driven masterpiece.

BEST REPRINTING OF CLASSICs of 2021

Berserk Deluxe Editions

Writer/Artist: Kentaro Muira
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (published in volume compilations)

Not much else needs to be said about the amazing epic story of Berserk and art/storytelling of Kentaro Muira. His sad passing in 2021 has brought fans and new readers together to further appreciate his great work and what we will miss in the years ahead. But to best appreciate his work I believe, are these amazing deluxe hardcover compilations of his smaller sized manga volumes, all beautiful brought on larger, high quality pages. For myself in later years of rereading, this will be how I best enjoy the story of Guts and his many companions and challenges.

BEST HISTORICAL COMICS of 2021

The Comic Book History of Animation

Writer: Fred Van Lente Artist: Ryan Dunlavey
Publisher: IDW Publishing (limited series)

Incredibly informative and very entertaining. From the Victorian Era to the Digital Age, no bits of significant knowledge of moving art is forgotten and so well put together. Everything makes perfect sense, especially in the critical turn of my growing up with Saturday morning commercialized cartoons, anime binges through college, emotional Pixar masterpieces, and all in between and moving ahead. Much behind the scenes is explained, including many rough legal spots and bitter feuds, leaving the history of the industry as cartoonish and wacky as expressed through every chapter.

That’s all my favorites for the 2021 year. I probably missed or overlooked some as I could only cover so much. I would love to read your favorites in the comments below.

Short Animated Film Find: Fuelled

Fuelled

KilledtheCat Productions
Sheridan Animation 2021 Group Film
Group MentorJason Par, Music Composer: Sebastian Reuten
Published: December 2021 on Youtube

Synopsis: Fuelled tells the story of a housewife on the path of revenge for her late husband.

Personal Thoughts:

What a beautiful, sad story this is. Fuelled is simple, timeless template of happiness to tragedy to revenge to madness to sadness.

Through it, these andromorphic characters express powerfully through emotional action and reaction. No word are needed, as the facial expressions tell enough. We feel, reflected on the beautiful postcard lives the housewife and husband had. We can be happy through them. The music, lighting, gentle animation of the past is sweet. Then soured by murder, and events of the present. It’s twisted, sad, and yet still emotionally driven. That ending left me haunted, though with a lesson on grief and resolution (or lack there of)

I love that animation is perfect and beautiful. Many animators/storyteller in the credits are attributed to this short project. Each involved should be very proud of this outstanding result, and likely elevate and branch off into bigger projects.

Trailer Teaser for Night of the Cooters delivers stylish weird west intrigue

During the 1800’s, strange otherworldly visitors menaced the small town of Pachuco, Texas. The people of that town banded together, to survive and fight back. This is the story of the Night of the Cooters.

That tale set for 2022 as an indie film, based on a classic short story by science fiction author Howard Waldrop. The screenplay is by Joe Lansdale, and produced by George R.R. Martin, best known as author of the Game of the Thrones book series. Vincent d’Onofrio, well-known for his Kingpin portrayal in Netflix’s Daredevil series, directs and stars in this sci-fi western.

Here’s is a teaser tailer…

George R.R. Martin presented the above trailer for online viewing on his official website, with more details on the filming still in progress, with a projection to complete by “February, Maybe March.”

For the photo realistic hybrid style, George R.R. Martin worked with Trioscope Studios. Its graphic novel appeal mixes for a different animated result, giving Night of the Cooters a viewing experience unlike other weird sci-fi westerns to date. Trioscope is based in the U.S., but now globally reaching out with multiple projects. Their European branch premiered on Netflix in 2020 with “The Liberator“, a four issue TV serial and World War II drama, done in their signature style.

Night of the Cooters looks fun, with an indie feel for those appreciate something different and fresh for any fresh sci-fi or weird west cravings in 2022. George R.R. Martin and Vincent d’Onofrio are also an interesting collaboration, both well respected in fandom communities, and have returned that back in their work and side projects including this.

No solid release date or venue for Night of the Cooters is yet set for this time. Yet, worth keeping an eye open, especially for any small town Texas folks from the 1800s.

Relaunch to the Stranger Worlds, to infinity and beyond

Believe, the best adventures take the longest times through uncertain paths.

A true explorer can expect to get lost, finding maps useless and going by instinct, looking further into the unknown, stepping toward with curiosity. Use intelligence to take calculated risks, always be inquisitive and gain more data to keep every step moving forward, passing on as stories for others to expand upon and take further steps. Repeat the cycle and look further to those infinite possibilities that hide in our Stranger Worlds.

That’s where we return to this site after a long hiatus, with a new path on what’s to come. The hiatus was filled with distractions, anti-stories, fixated on the repercussions of an ongoing pandemic escalating personal responsibilities. I had to stop, rethink, then step forward again.

What can be done now to stand out, to be something other than a place where we tell things, and actually contribute to the grander infinite scope of stories and Imaginative power? This site, is to be a vessel to extract what needs to be explored, and shared. For that to happen, this atmosphere must be welcoming, yet reel in curiosity and bring out the explorer inside.

Remember the mission, to boost and promote creative work through the Stranger Worlds expedition…

To explore these imaginative, creative ideas and storytelling in every form through literature, visual art, motion, interactivity, music and mixtures of such. Seek samplings, previews, shorts, demos, displays of interesting findings. In our findings we encourage discussions, conversations, and new inspirations leading to further exploration.

So, Strangerworlds.com is now reactivated with changes. The site now has a darker presentation with some colors to emphasize the way. The site will have less clutter, with links to our social media. Our Discord site will be a main hub for communications among readers and creators. There will be less focus on telling and more on encouraged sharing. While informing of interesting imaginative works, we hope to share exclusive content, to be a gateway to other creators who seek to remain independent of corporate influence. In it’s center will be our upcoming project, which will be a main feature on Strangerworlds.com:

Stranger Worlds Quarterly.

There will be more on that soon. But for now, let’s renew strangeworlds.com to new horizons, portals, and beyond. I hope many of you will join our crew on the new adventures of adventures. Keep discovering, keep sharing, keep exploring.

Stranger Worlds await us all.

Short Animated Film Find: Burn Out

Burn Out

  • Director, writer, animator: Cécile Carre
  • Published: 2017 online and at multiple short film festivals

Synopsis: S​tella,​ ​a​ ​space​ ​mechanician,​ ​has​ ​broken​ ​down​ ​and​ ​ended​ ​on​ ​a​ ​desert​ ​planet.​ ​While​ ​she​ ​is​ ​in​ ​despair,​ ​a​ ​little​ ​girl appears​ ​out​ ​of​ ​nowhere.​ ​Following​ ​the​ ​child​ ​into​ ​a​ ​tunnel,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​depths​ ​of​ ​the​ ​planet,​ ​she​ ​discovers​ ​a​ ​big​ ​cave​ ​full​ ​of objects​ ​that​ ​belonged​ ​to​ ​her,​ ​reminding​ ​her​ ​the​ ​dreams​ ​she​ ​has​ ​left​ ​behind.

Personal Thoughts:

This full film is short, but says much on the current human condition, how many of us feel deep inside yearning for more. We feel trapped, bound to duty, ever-dreaming, never-quite reaching. There is a struggle that I feel in our protagonists dilemma. But, then a child’s voice brings us forward.

We figure it out, an imagination in the story and from the storyteller, clueing us on the real dilemma. Not the need to fix a spaceship but to fix the pilot and get back on real course. The one she dreamed of as a child, and eventually gave up on. The curiosity, imagination, and drive to return to that childlike wonder and push to something better, is what brings our pilot back to the stars. But not so much to work, but to something new and daring.

“I am afraid to give up my dreams when I grow up”.

That’s a great line, for those who indulge in their desire to explore, travel, see new sights should push that priority above simple mundane duties of getting by. I love the message here.

I also love the animation. Very fluid character movement with an awesome use of space, colors, shapes, taking us viewers away for about 4 minutes, and then beyond for what our memory captures. I love every second. The music also fits.

Director, animator Cécile Carre’s artistic style inspires and amazes. She has art prints you can buy at www.inprnt.com/gallery/carrececile. Check them out!

Creator Spotlight Interview: Daniel Coady: indie game developer, creator, artist, dstnce runner

Meet Daniel Coady, a creative design artist and storyteller from Melbourne, Australia, also a pro full stack developer into computing, graphics and games programming, and more. They are continuously working on multiple side projects while seeking new challenges.

Recently, Daniel Coady released their first game dstnce, a indie game for PC’s via Steam and Itch. At a glance, dstnce can easily be judged for something very simple and goggly cute. But throughout, is a deeper surreal experience, and a test of resilience in a seemingly lighthearted world that centers around isolated, limited small environment that is quite familiar to situations many face in our ongoing Covid global pandemic. Here, is a bit more..

Here is a trailer…

After getting to know them through a series of fun game streams, we had asked Daniel Coady about creating and releasing dstnce, the process of game development, and the fine art of creativity. The answers were insightful, as we learned more in our interview below…

Hello Daniel, tell us a little bit about yourself and your game development inspirations…

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, be it in my early years when I tried to make a crappy little laptop I picked up for $20 run faster, by installing Ubuntu (this was back when it was still using Unity DE, so my fellow Linux users probably understand how well that went down (haha) or right now where in my spare time I like to learn about cool new tech and play around with emulation dev. So, it’s fair to say that I’ve got come inclination towards technology, specifically programming. As well as this though I always found it to be incredibly important to be able to broaden my horizons so that I’m not just always working on computers. This lead to me to pursue hobbies such as photography, 3D modelling/animation, skateboarding, and music.

So, rewind back to high school for me, back when I used to play way more games than I do now. I had a hand-me-down Xbox 360 which was pretty run down but still functioning, and I also had a shared family PC that while pretty not great by even the standards back then did function… mostly. Around this time I also got my first job so I had all this money, and in turn freedom, to explore what games had to offer. This is when I discovered the likes of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Thomas Was Alone, and Bastion. These games really made me feel things in a way that nothing else did, like it was all genuinely powerful and excellent media. Up until this point I had dabbled in game dev before (started making tiny dungeon crawlers in GameMaker way back when I was like… 8-9 or something) but never thought much of doing it “for real”. This changed everything for me though and I set my sights pretty hardcore on becoming a professional game developer.

So, it was settled, and near the end of high school, I decided to drop out to study game dev. Quite frankly, it didn’t go too well. I didn’t learn much in the way of game dev outside of how to use Blender (which has actually come in handy a fair few times), so most of my time was spent trying to find resources online to teach myself. I soon found a Discord server which at the time was called TairaGames Dev Squad (a server for a YouTuber called TairaGames, also on Discord) and is now called Game Dev 101, and I used it extensively to learn about game dev from others as well as share my knowledge of game dev. Fast forward to now, I’ve spent roughly 3 years in computer science and am about to enter my fourth and final year. I’ve been teaching myself game dev while learning as much as I can from others who are far smarter than me.

That brings us to dstnce, a very different game than what many would expect, which feels abstract in its execution. What were your inspirations in the creation process?

It’s kinda hard to nail down all the inspirations that make up dstnce since it truly is inspired by the various bits of art and experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. There’s a few things of note however which have fairly large, and sometimes glaringly obvious, inspirations upon my game:

Make Yourself At Home – This was a jam game a couple mates of mine, Cat Flynn and Cinder Foster-Smith, made many moons ago now. The entire aesthetic of the game was constructed using vector graphics drawn in Inkscape which I found to be fairly distinct and friendly in tone, matching a part of the vibe I was looking for. Using MYAH! as a reference point, I started off by replicating the art and then tweaking it to get the more clean, almost clinical aesthetic you see in dstnce.

The Rhapsody Tapes – One of my all time favourite albums by my favourite band: Ocean Grove. In general, OG really push a message of being yourself and make it explicit that their music has no right or wrong interpretation. I love this so much, the idea of “the death of the author”, because to me art ceases to be the artist’s meaning and instead is now open to how one perceives it. Everyone comes from different walks of life, experiencing different things which shapes their perspective. Because of this, we as creators should respect that. This is why there is no explicit meaning to dstnce — the game is what you make of it.

The COVID-19 Lockdown – I mean, it’s pretty obvious given the current context. dstnce is heavily inspired by my own experiences during the lockdown and just general feelings I have which have been exacerbated by the whole situation at hand. This said, and only time will tell if this is true, I wanted to create something that is more timeless than just a game based on lockdown. There’s loads of art coming out currently that relates directly to lockdown which is great, but I question how much of it will stand the test of time. Sure it may become an interesting time capsule, some insight for future generations to look upon and understand how lockdown shaped us, but to me dstnce is something more. For me, it also touches upon various topics of abandonment, isolation, and hopelessness that may be found in day-to-day life outside of COVID, and I hope that with the power of retrospect this will continue to be the case for myself and others.

What were the biggest challenges in developing and releasing dstnce for release on Steam?

Oh man, so much. I knew getting a game onto a storefront would be a big ordeal, but it turns out it was even more complicated than I thought. I won’t go into great detail on the process cause it’s pretty boring, but the one thing I will say I wish I did was offer myself more time to sort it out. I had the foresight to fix up the legal stuff at the start when signing up to be a Steamworks Developer, but then I put off actually sorting out the store page and such for dstnce until it was completed. So come the end of development, I found out quickly that setting up the store page and build shenanigans would take a long time. So the game was actually completed roughly 3 weeks before it dropped, with one week spent going back and forth with Valve to get approval for my store page and two weeks being the mandatory waiting period between the storefront going up as “coming soon” and the game actually going live. So yeah, anyone reading this who plans to get their game onto Steam: sort out your store page and do it early. It can be a lot more pain than you may initially think.

Dstnce has parallels with the current lockdowns and quarantines that many of us are feeling. Has developing dstnce affected your dealings with the ongoing pandemic?

Kinda, yeah. It’s actually a recurring theme for me to create things when I am feeling my worst. I find art in general to be a great outlet for me, both to get my feelings “down on paper”, but also so that I can explore where I’m at and get a bit of a better sense of how I’m feeling, and in turn act upon those feelings. In regards to dstnce I think the thing it’s helped me come to terms with most is that these feelings I have aren’t exclusive to me. A lot of folks who have played dstnce and sent me their experiences with it have expressed how they’ve connected with it, and a lot of them relate to the same things that I do. It’s helped me feel less alone in what otherwise might feel like isolating feelings that others don’t understand. Also, it was really nice to see that lots of people decided to interpret things in a positive light 🙂 I hope that positivity spreads.

Are there any plans in new game development beyond dstnce?

Yeah, actually! Almost immediately after completing dstnce I started design work on a new game. I don’t like talking too much on what’s next cause, well, I don’t actually know if this is what truly will be next. What does and doesn’t get completed is totally up in the air so I don’t talk about my projects heaps until they’re well past the pre-prod stage. What I will say though is no matter what I do next, I have zero intention to stagnate. I want to branch out and explore my capabilities to design and create truly wonderful experiences for people to play. This does mean there will not be a dstnce 2, and in fact that I doubt many future games will mirror dstnce all that much. I don’t wanna become a one trick pony, so I’m gonna continue exploring and expanding my horizons.

Thank you for your time, as we encourage all to check out dstnce currently available directly on Steam and Itch.. Also follow Daniel Coady on Twitter @fakemuso, on Itch and their own site at pondo.dev.

How Persona 5 Royal Rescued My Heart in Lockdown

Artwork by Shigenori Soejima (Atlus).

Andrew Nardi is a freelance journalist from Melbourne, Australia. In 2016, he presented his dissertation, titled ‘Game Over, Gamers: Contesting the Gamer Identity through the Gamergate Controversy’, at the Australia & New Zealand Communication Association Conference. Since then, he has worked as the editor of BMA Magazine and is currently studying game design and production at the Australian Institute of Entertainment.

In a year of unyielding anxiety and concern for our futures, 2020 was nothing short of frightful. But it was also the year that we received Persona 5 Royal, a game that occupied many of my months in isolation. As the city of Melbourne endured an economic downturn and hard lockdown for over three months, I became segregated from my friends, made redundant at work, and started to feel disconnected from the world at large. P5R became something of a comfort for me in my evenings as I explored Tokyo and got to know my super-powered high school friends. To my surprise however, P5R also helped me reclaim pieces of my identity I thought I’d lost to depression.

Let’s back up. When Persona 5 launched in Japan in 2016, it showed players a window into actual issues that grip Japanese society. The role-playing game and social sim hybrid quickly chalked up a reputation as one of the most stylish, finely tuned and well-written JRPGs ever. But its significance in Japan was much more profound than the overseas response it would receive later.

Persona 5 follows a young, unnamed male protagonist moving into a café loft in Tokyo after a legal dispute in which a sexual predator falsely pins their offence on him when he tries to prevent a case of street harassment. Attending the only school that will accept a student on probation, the protagonist’s reputation is instantly soured by his criminal record – his guardian scrutinises his every action, his homeroom teacher complains at the thought of coordinating him, and unfounded rumours spread rampant among his peers. The plot takes a turn for the supernatural when he and Ryuji Sakamoto – another outcast student – accidentally enter a metaphysical castle born from the distorted desires of the school’s Olympic medal-holding P.E. teacher, who has been physically and sexually abusing students behind closed doors.

The concept and direction of Persona 5 took shape following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the events that followed. Before these disasters, Atlus’ P-Studio had planned P5 to be a globe-trotting, backpacking adventure. In their wake, and particularly after observing how the country united in a crisis, the team decided to shift focus back onto Japan to underline the nation’s issues that had worsened or gone too long unaddressed.

Artwork by Shigenori Soejima (Atlus).

From the cyberbullying in its schools, the culture of overworking in its workplaces, to the dishonesty in its politics, and the mistreatment and disregard for its criminals – no topic is too sensitive for developer Atlus to call in its cast of crime fighting high schoolers, the self-proclaimed “Phantom Thieves of Hearts”. So, it’s appropriate that especially in the face of its Japanese audience, Atlus treats these matters with acuteness and empathy. Even in company with Persona 5’s eccentric flair and extravagant art style, it never tries to sensationalise delicate topics.

Persona 5’s brand of social commentary made an impact in its home country because it dared to cast its native audience in a disapproving light. Importantly, the game wrestled with Japan’s widespread apathy which allows for injustices committed by high profile citizens to go unaccounted for, and for some of its most vulnerable citizens to slip through the cracks. Continuing along this thread, P5 sets out to challenge Japan’s collectivist thinking, particularly the stigma of raising one’s voice against the crowd.

In a translated statement from the official Persona website, P5 director Katsura Hashino envisions a harmony of individuality and collectivism. “Individuality isn’t purely good or bad; rather it’s something that has the power to change how people think and act when they’re touched by it.” This speaks to the question at the centre of P5, concerning how a young adult is expected to thrive in a collectivist society where any sense of individuality is under constant threat of suppression. Hashino continues, “we might live in a world that’s less than accommodating to a lot of us and hard to live in. But so long as people don’t give up on reaching out to one another, the individuality that shines both at the [personal] level and from groups as a whole can help us break through that feeling of oppression, and feel free.”

Persona 5’s plot is underscored by such feelings of estrangement, with students exhausted or exiled from their daily networks – home life, extracurricular groups, friendship circles, etc. – and uniting to reform society with their own sense of justice. In an interview with Game Informer, Hashino spoke of this sense of belonging in Japan, explaining that each of the game’s characters feel that they “no longer have a place where they belong in society”. This is the birth of the game’s Phantom Thieves: using a navigational phone app to cross into a psychological “metaverse”, they can enter the minds of wrongdoers (“Palaces”, as the game calls them) and steal their distorted hearts in order to trigger a change in their personalities.

Artwork by Shigenori Soejima (Atlus).

Exploring the minds of evildoers and rehabilitating their dangerous thoughts opens Persona 5 to all manner of discussions on corruption, morality and the psyche. How these scenarios unfold across the course of the game is a thrill to experience, and isn’t worth spoiling here. But while Persona 5 doesn’t shy away from conversations about mental health, especially surrounding the social issues aforementioned, some more focused commentary can be found in Persona 5 Royal.

Persona 5 Royal is an expansion of the original game that includes two new characters and an extra chapter before the curtain call. It also elevates the original plot by offering deeper insight into the tribulations shared by its cast. With the introduction of Dr. Takuto Maruki, a school counsellor, the Phantom Thieves gain a confidant with whom to share their anxieties. The result is that P5R manages to deliver some unapologetic and well-informed comments about mental health, with special attention given to the afflictions one suffers in the high school ecosystem.

“If our game can give people a little courage to keep going in their day to day lives, to face things head on and do something with themselves, then we’ll have done our jobs here.”

—Persona 5 director Katsura Hashino, Famitsu

The Japanese high school experience has always been the centrepiece of the Persona series. In Atlus’ original Sony PlayStation game Revelations: Persona (and before that, the Japan-only title Shin Megami Tensei If… for the Super Famicom), the high school setting was chosen as a point to which players could easily relate and approach the series’ themes. Talking to Kill Screen, Hashino commented, “For both good and bad reasons, the school life experience deeply affects many Japanese people in their daily lives. [Everyone has experienced needing] to compare themselves with others, and, at times, had to suppress their own identity, learning to take hints so they don’t stand out or [become] ostracised from the crowd.”

Without spoiling the events that unfold in Persona 5 Royal’s new chapter, its approach to mental health is at once gentle and intense; it completely grasps the importance of easing oneself into counselling, in creating a safe space where therapy can take place, but also the difficulties involved in confronting and overcoming one’s trauma. P5R, and particularly Dr. Maruki, teach us that it’s normal, even encouraged, to wish for a life without suffering – we should never apologise for that – but when we find ourselves in tough circumstances, we must try to look for strength and growth on the other side.

Artwork by Shigenori Soejima (Atlus).

It’s perhaps for these reasons that so many of us find comfort in Persona 5. It welcomes players into friendships that develop naturally over time, with peers who come to depend on the player’s guidance: a rebellious boy facing up to his anger, an honour student and the high expectations forced on her, a girl staying strong for her hospitalised friend, a recluse re-entering society after losing her mother. As fantastical as the Phantom Thieves are, their individual battle scars are born from real world problems; they represent the developmental roadblocks many teenagers face in their most crucial years. Like in all young adult fiction, it’s a privilege to be able to join these young men and women on their personal journeys while also reflecting on our own.

Labels such as “young adult” are perhaps too broad to define everything Persona 5 strives to achieve, however. Taken as a whole, the Persona series’ central motifs combine magical realism (or urban fantasy) and Jungian theories on human psychology. “The vibrant, everyday life becomes the Persona series’ persona, beckoning players to escape into a fun-filled experience of adolescence,” Hashino told Kill Screen. “But sooner or later, they’ll experience the dark shadow aspect of the game hiding beneath that persona, which they’ll feel a strange connection to.”

At several points across the game every member of the Phantom Thieves will awaken to their Persona (a cognitive being used to fight demons), instigating a reconstruction of that character’s identity. These transformative scenes are loosely informed by elements of Jungian psychology, with respect to how a person houses within their unconscious different façades for different situations, known as personas. As each teenager decides to reject the status quo and unlock their powerful Persona, a turning point is marked in that character’s arc from which they can continue to grow and conquer the challenges in their everyday lives. Witnessing this literal manifestation of a teenager’s identity formation is what makes the Persona series so engrossing. But it’s also why it comes as a disappointment that Persona 5 misses the mark in certain areas of representation.

Across its hundreds of hours of dialogue, Persona 5 is notably lacking any gay romance options or LGBTQ stories. Additional to that, there is an intentionally comedic scene in which the game’s only outwardly gay characters – two unnamed, older men residing in Shinjuku – prey on Ryuji, a teenager, and take him away despite his lack of consent and his calling out to the protagonist for help. For Persona 5 Royal the English localisation team altered this scene, first by naming the two men, and secondly by removing any sexual undertones so that Ryuji is being led away (albeit still against his will) to try on drag.

Artwork by Shigenori Soejima (Atlus).

Persona 5’s decision to make a predatory joke out of its only visibly gay characters will disappoint many who have come to appreciate almost everything else about the game. The resolve to rewrite this scene while maintaining the depiction of a minor being forced into a situation that he feels is unsafe, doesn’t do enough to make amends. For a game that claims to stand up for society’s most oppressed, this scene still feels like a bit of a slap in the face.

Unfortunately, this is only one example of Persona 5 holding on to the dehumanising tropes we’ve come to expect from manga and anime. There are numerous scenes that objectify Ann Takamaki (another teenager), including one in which the player has no choice but to ask her to remove her clothes for a figure drawing session, despite her adamant lack of consent. While that never goes ahead, it’s still an uncomfortable sequence in which a young girl is pressured into exposing herself. The inclusion of these scenes, despite the fact that they take place directly after a separate storyline in which a teacher’s sexual abuse crimes are brought to justice, comes across as selectively tone deaf.

It’s a fair assessment that Atlus makes a much better representation out of Lala Escargot, the crossdressing proprietor of the Crossroads Bar in Shinjuku. Lala welcomes the protagonist into her bar, invites him to try crossdressing without pressuring him, offers him part-time work and even shows concern for his safety when walking alone at night. As a standalone character, Lala possesses her own unique humanity, sass and warmth, and while it’s a shame she isn’t granted her own Confidant quest line as other minor characters are, her honest portrayal in Persona 5 is a step in the right direction.

For a game inspired by some of Japan’s worst disasters in history, it’s no wonder Persona 5 makes a supportive companion during a global pandemic.

Speaking to Japanese magazine Famitsu about the authorial intent behind Persona 5, Hashino explained, “[you’ve] got these high school punks who are trying to bite back at a world that’s trying to pin them down. If our game can give people a little courage to keep going in their day to day lives, to face things head on and do something with themselves, then we’ll have done our jobs here.”

Persona 5 has taught me more than I expected a video game ever could. Its emphasis on time management and life balance showed me the importance of setting aside time for exercise as well as my hobbies. Seeing Ryuji open up about his quarrels on the track team reminded me to pay more attention to my friendships with men. Watching Futaba overcome her agoraphobia helped me to sympathise with my housemate. Even simply directing the protagonist to borrow library books has taught me the healthy habit of always carrying a book around. And if it weren’t for Persona 5 egging me to pen this article, I wouldn’t have tried to reignite my passion for writing. That’s why any player is likely to pick up a life lesson from Persona 5 – the game encourages self-improvement at almost every turn.

Artwork by Shigenori Soejima (Atlus).

For a game inspired by some of Japan’s worst disasters in history, it’s no wonder Persona 5 makes a supportive companion during a global pandemic. This is a game that sympathises with the feeling of being removed from society. It only takes a quick glance at the Persona 5 subreddit to witness the immense emotional weight this game carries, as plenty have spelled out how their life changed for the better as a consequence of playing P5. While that may not be true for everyone, there’s no denying that P5 and P5R, though at their core developed with a Japanese audience in mind, weave coming-of-age stories that resonate powerfully across our generation.

If you’re currently living in lockdown and craving an escape, do what I and so many others have done and pick up Persona 5 Royal. It’s a temporary stay in a foreign country, full of life-affirming experiences and new friends you won’t soon forget.

Thank you for reading my piece on Persona 5 Royal. I hope it encouraged you to take a look at this very special game. If you would like to check out more of my work on games, you can follow my blog at bigxp.net and my Twitch stream at twitch.tv/Hoffy. If this piece resonated with you, you could donate to Give2Asia to help support the COVID-19 response in Japan.

Spotlight Interview: LJ Phillips, on developing Iron Nail Afternoon and indie comic publishing

Meet LJ Phillips, a creative artist from eThekwini, a growing city off the coast of South Africa. After training under one of Africa’s leading political cartoonists, LJ worked as an art lecturer and now runs a small local studio. She’s had four solo exhibitions, showcasing mostly surrealistic ink-and-pen artwork. Her work in comics grew from recent comic anthologies, along with short stories showing in various publications.

LJ is especially excited this week. She released a new world of his creation, written and drawn, with a mix of urban noir, fantasy within the pages of first published comic series, Iron Nail Afternoon. The first issue is now available digitally online via Comixology.

This new series takes place in the Iron Nail – a red-light district in a floating city, maintained by supernatural enforcers known as Sheriffs. The most feared of these is Sed Stonehaven. On just one shattering day, he falls prey to his worst enemy…his own temper.

Iron Nail Afternoon was initially released as a webcomic, published a few pages at a time. The first issue is the accumulation of that work, and more. LJ has big plans for an ongoing story, yet aims for self-contained parts of an interconnected narrative.

Special note: Iron Nail Afternoon is intended for mature audiences only, much in the same vein as Saga, Sandman, The Wicked + The Divine, Hellblazer, Preacher.

We had a short online interview with LJ Phillips on the week of the release of Iron Nail Afternoon, to share in the excitement of opening his new world and the creative process, insight of its foundation.

Hello LJ, tell us a little about your background and what influenced the creation of Iron Nail Afternoon?

LJ Phillips: I formerly worked in the private security sector – doing some bodyguard work, as a bouncer, stuff like that. This allowed me to save up enough to attend art school on a partial scholarship.  In my former profession, there was a heavy emphasis on brotherhood but of course, this brotherhood could be conditional. There was also a lot of blatant racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, discrimination against interracial relationships and so on. Which gave me the key concept behind the Iron Nail Afternoon series. What happens to the hard cases who get excluded from the world of tough guys? Where do they end up?

What were the greatest joys in the world-building and creative processes in Iron Nail Afternoon? 

LJ Phillips: Developing the main protagonists. The Governor had a deprived childhood. As an adult, she enjoys having power and pleasure on her terms. Jekkel is the most dangerous of the three protagonists but also the most vulnerable. What he really wants is to be loved.  And Sed is…Sed. He’s a big personality – he booms. Because of this, it’s easy for others to underestimate his intelligence and his loyalty to his friends. When we finally meet Sed’s brother, he’s the complete opposite – quiet, intense, fastidious.  It’s fun to put them in different situations and work out how they would act. Their choices and reactions are what drive the narrative. The world-building is important because it provides them with a setting and limitations on what they can and can’t do to accomplish their goals.

What were the greatest challenges?

LJ Phillips: Working even when you don’t feel inspired. Acquiring and continually developing the required skill set. Creating a comic, like any job, can be a hard bloody slog. It’s also important not to get obsessed with vanity numbers i.e. online views and followers. These don’t necessarily translate into profits/reliable fanbase and they’re not an accurate reflection on an artist’s ability or lack thereof. Tyler James – of ComixTribe – discussed the issue in one of his superb podcasts ; it really helped put things into perspective for me.  Another big challenge is being disciplined when writing a fantasy comic.  You have to avoid relying on magic as a form of deus ex machina. In Iron Nail Afternoon,  most of the magical elements have real-life equivalents or practical applications. For example, instead of cell phones, there are crystal balls. 

The use of colors and composition aided in the art for Iron Nail Afternoon are wonderous. What influences come to mind in developing the look and feel of Iron Nail Afternoon? 

LJ Phillips: The work of Enki Bilal, notably his Nikopol trilogy. In it, he managed to create an entire sci fi world – one of great beauty and desolation – and do so with a restrained palette and spare art style.

What do you feel Iron Nail Afternoon brings to readers looking for a fresh escape from our problems of the current global pandemic?

LJ Phillips: The series deals with issues we all face – growing older, prejudice, disappointment in love, sibling rivalry  – but it deals with them on a larger-than-life scale. Hopefully readers will find a lot that’s relatable but because of the fantasy elements, the Iron Nail Afternoon series will also provide some welcome escapism as well. Plus it has dragons. Who doesn’t like dragons?

Stranger Worlds thanks LJ Phillips for her time and insight on his new world of Iron Nail Afternoon, now available on Comixology. Here are a few more preview pages…