This will be a partial review of The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, an anthology novel crowdfunded by Hope Nicholson this year (2015 for posterity). The novel features a ton of content by loads of female writers and visual artists; there are over fifty prose stories and short sequential art works. I was originally under the impression that the majority of the novel was going to be composed of comics, but prose was inked onto the most pages. I also wanted to cover each story individually, but since there are over 50 stories, I can’t very well do that without both spoiling all the short stories and taking up too much of your time. Instead, I’ll be talking about eight of the segments that I want to highlight the most, primarily the short comic segments.

Shipping – Jenn Woodall

Shipping is a short comic about Jenn Woodall’s childhood obsession with Final Fantasy VII, specifically, the relationship between Cloud and Aerith. I also replay the game often, and am actually in the middle of a playthrough (grinding to defeat Emerald right now), and the game took up a profound amount of my free time as a teenager.  Woodall’s main focus for the comic is how much she projected on the game, namely in the contempt she had for Tifa, the rival for Cloud’s affections.  According to Woodall, she felt insecure in the face of Tifa, a character who is presented as extraordinarily sexy, but more comfortable identifying with Aerith, who has a more modest presentation.  Aside from finding the story instantly relateable due to my familiarity with the subject matter, I was also very fond of Woodall’s coloring style.  She uses various digital brushes (I assume) to add some character to her color fills, which I find a lot more interesting than the hard brush shadows and highlights I normally see on digital comic art. Woodall has an online portfolio, and has contributed to a number of zines in the past.

A Divorcee’s Guide to the Apocalypse – Katie West (Prose)

Katie details the end of her marriage by using apocalyptic survival techniques as a metaphoric rhetorical device. Her point at the end subverts some degree of what she spends the first half elaborating on, as she concludes that mere survival is not enough for anyone.  One thing I find interesting about the divide in world views between social liberals and social conservatives is how they handle fictional depictions of modern civilization crashing into oblivion.  Social conservatives, if they happen to be religious, usually have an apocalypse story built into their world view, and such events are usually seen as fortunate, but still a harrowing experience. Social conservatives who aren’t religious usually uphold secular doomsdays such as the zombie uprising or collapse of the modern economy as a Sword of Damocles that justifies their retrograde patriarchal world views, just in case they come in handy on an acid rainy day. Social liberals on the other hand, often view these fictional scenarios as what they are, lies that can serve to tell us a truth about how to find personal conviction when the entire context of the world around us has changed. Katie West gives some great advice here when it comes to preparing for the end of your relationships, and considering that every single one of them will end, it’ll pay to lend her your ear.

Bemused – Roberta Gregory

Roberta Gregory has been drawing and writing comics for over four decades, and it’s nice that this short comic provides a little bit of her history, as well as mentions of some very obscure comic publications and zines.  I’m a sucker for that kind of ethnographic look into comics culture, even if it is presented from the narrow focus of Gregory’s mutual obsession with the creative muses of her own imagination.  Much of this one just has to be read and seen, it communicates its ideas perfectly and has a wide variety of character designs as the imaginary muses begin to show.

Yes, No, Maybe – Megan Kearney

I really liked this short comic about Kearney’s angst about vulnerability and her sexuality.  It has a limited purple color palette and all of the expressions that her character goes through are entertaining. I also enjoyed how often her hairstyle and clothing changed during the course of her life.  The crux of the story is about how finding out that there are others like you, in this case, those with a sex drive that doesn’t match what is often expected from wider society, can be a huge relief to anxieties and allow us to open up.  Much like Kearney, I’m not positive if demisexual is an accurate description of my sexuality, but I can say that knowing how varied the spectrum is was a great help in realizing that I don’t need to live up to (in my case) svengali levels of sexual activity in order find worth in the male gender role. Megan Kearney is very clear and an effective communicator, which is why she’ll be appearing on this list again.

Fanfiction, F/F, Angst – Tini Howard (Prose)

Tini Howard’s story looks at some of the negative aspects of fanfiction, and the effects that the transformative medium had on her early life.  The cultural perspectives on fanfiction are intertwined with a story about a very early relationship with a close friend of hers, one that was ambiguously platonic and romantic in phases.  Based on my interpretation of the story, it seems that one of the more damaging aspects of being an avid fanfiction writer for Howard was the projection involved in the process. Character’s sexualities and intentions are commonly changed and experimented with in fanfiction, and this departure from canon could be seen as projection, if, say, done to a real person.  The painful ending of this story seems to reflect on the painful gap between what we want from people and what they may want and expect from us.  And the ending is a gut-puncher, honestly.

They Bury You in White – Laura Neubert

Neubert’s comic focuses on her high anxiety about the finality of love and marriage, based on the way she viewed the topic through the lens of fiction. Her worries can be summed up as a looming fear that settling down into a wife roll would be the last thing that ever happens to her, because stories about ingenue protagonists always ended on that note. If she were not married off by the of the story, you’d become the witch that serves as a villain in the next story.  Neubert does give some exceptions to this literary trope, and I appreciate that Mrs. Brisby (of the Secret of NIMH film) is noted as a very strong female character who is also a single mother. Neubert finds solace in Jane Eyre, and you’ll just have to read the anthology to find out the rest.

None the Wiser – Diana Nock

On a similar note to Fanficiton, F/F, Angst, this short comic also focuses on how painful it can be when someone you desire doesn’t live up to a version of them that’s built up in your head. The artwork features crosshatching and has a very masterful pencil-drawn look.  Not much happens in it that can’t be described by my first sentence, so this’ll be a short overview.  I guess once again you’ll just have to read the book to discover it (hint, hint).

Regards to the Goblin King – Megan Kearney, colors by Jordie Bellaire

Megan Kearney returns to the list, this time talking about the conflicting messages about how desirable and appealing male figures are presented in female-centered media, and how a person would actually want an actual attraction and possible relationship to play out.   As a dude, (and I really didn’t want to start a sentence that way in this book review about a largely by-women, for-women book, but here we go) who’s had conversations with frustrated guys about the supposed gap between the “bad boy” that women desire and the “nice guy” they should “need” (there’s the first problem, really), I’ve always said that these bad boy figures are appealing because they’re fictional, and no one has to deal with their shitty sides in real life. Kearney posits a more interesting observation than mine in this story.  Not spoiling it, so no thoughts on the conclusion; which is a returning theme now, so time to wrap up.

I’ve covered eight stories that I rather liked, but there are the odd few that demonstrated a few strange things that put me off, mainly one about how video game NPC’s should have customizable sexuality in romance option games (something about it seems creepy in certain contexts, not wrong on its face but kind of off-putting in a game with a set canon and lore).  There’s also the inclusion of a few webcomics in the book apropos of nothing, and the amount of pages presented doesn’t lead to a clear conclusion.  Danielle Corsetto’s entries made sense in the anthology, but a couple of the other webcomics just seemed like a sample of a few pages; thus not really fitting the format.

Otherwise, I did enjoy my read and would suggest that everyone pop over to buy a print or digital copy, as the prints just recently went on sale on Hope Nicholson’s site. Ciao, and happy reading.

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