Even though the culture has bought into the idea that a person’s teenage years are some of the most tumultuous of their lives, sometimes one of the weirdest parts of transitioning into adulthood is realizing that you were actually way more together (relatively speaking) when you were younger.
It’s one of the strange facts of life that reveals itself to you as your life goes through seismic changes and, in truth, it’s not so much that you were any more together before, or that you’ve gotten messier. Rather, it’s that the game you’re playing just a different one—something that both of this week’s best new comics keenly understand.
There’s a depressing, existential malaise that tends to kick in toward your late 20s as you enter the newest phase of your professional life. For most people, being a self-sufficient adult means participating in the rat race that is the capitalist workforce with no foreseeable end in sight because, well, everybody has bills to pay. Often, you put aside any hopes and dreams for life-changing adventures that you once held so dearly for the sake of pragmatism, and they become something much more like deep-seated fantasies.
Our harboring those fantasies is a big part of what makes fantasy as a genre so interesting. Through those stories, we’re able to vicariously lead the kinds of thrilling lives we all wish we could have. But Rafer Roberts and Kristen Gudsnuk’s Modern Fantasy challenges you to consider the idea that the mundane, soul-suckingness of everyday life is relative—and even if you were, say, someone living in a world full of magical wonders, demons, and other fanciful things, you’d still end up feeling kind of ambivalent about the whole adult thing.
Modern Fantasy tells the story of Sage of the Riverlands, a young woman working a nine-to-five and just trying to get by in a world that’s best described as being a Dungeons & Dragons setting as imagined by a delightfully-realistic (in the “boring” sense) and sometimes bureaucratic DM. Though one of her best friends is a queer, dragon wizard with an ain’t-shit boyfriend, and they all spend their time smoking magical elven weed, Sage feels stuck and like her life’s going nowhere fast. As the comic unfolds, her friends’ messy lives end up setting her on an epic quest that’s knowingly stereotypical in a way that makes you appreciate the message that Roberts and Gudsnuk are trying to convey with the story. Gudsnuk’s whimsical art style reminds you that even though Sage’s world is “normal” for her, there is still an inherent magic to it that exists in all of our lives that we have to be mindful of, and remember to seek out. (Rafer Roberts, Kristen Gudsnuk, Dark Horse Comics)
There’s a certain kind of affected innocence to most coming of age comic books about teens in peril; it often begins as endearing before quickly veering into a territory best described as feeling weirdly sanitized. A charming as stories about Good Kids™ can be, the reality is that kids—teens in particular—can be crass trash monsters, especially when there aren’t adults around.
Nick Keller, Conor Nolan, and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s Bedtime Games from Dark Horse is the rare comic that manages to strike a tone that perfectly captures how complex “good” kids’ personalities can be. Bedtime Games follows three teenagers as they’re closing out the summer before their senior year and embarking upon a mission to investigate the mysterious history of their high school.
While there is a tantalizing mystery and intrigue to the comic’s actual plot, what really makes the book shine are the ways that Keller realizes the character’s voices that are at turns adolescently-simple and strikingly adult. Each of the kids has experience dealing with pain that has, in different ways, contributed to their maturation. Even though the kids can be immature, they don’t read as naive—something that Nolan and Fitzpatrick’s illustrations compliment wonderfully.
Bedtime Games’ teen heroes look like actual teenagers in a way that kids in comics seldom do. You can immediately see that they’re meant to be in the midst of discovering and understanding their soon-to-be adult selves, and it gives the comic a relatable beating heart that makes you want to root for the heroes that much more. (Nick Keller, Conor Nolan, and Kelly Fitzpatrick, Dark Horse Comics)