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2020 Hugo Award Nominees: Graphic Story

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Two of the series nominated for this year’s Hugo Awards in the Graphic Story category came to an end in 2019. Both are highly acclaimed, with Paper Girls having garnered several previous nominations. One of this year’s entries, Die, is just starting, and in my opinion, it’s the most intriguing of the bunch.

Die, Vol. 1: Solomon creates a TTRPG for his friend Ash’s birthday, and their whole friend group gets together to play it. But what Solomon has created is more than a game: he’s found or built a portal into a fantasy setting, and the consequences of winning or losing are very real. It’s an engaging story with great art, and although I’ve never read the series before, I found myself becoming invested in the characters. However, the cliffhanger at the end of the volume is dependent on a decision made by Isabelle and Chuck, two members of the aforementioned friend group. In Chuck’s case, it was believable that he would make the choice he did, but I didn’t feel the same way about Isabelle’s decision. In her case, it felt rushed and pulled me out of the story a bit. 4/5.

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 9: A poignant finale, with solid resolutions for most of the characters. 3.9/5.

Paper Girls, Vol. 6: This is the final volume of the series, and it came to a satisfying close. 3.8/5.

Monstress, Vol. 4: Each of the three previous volumes in this series has been nominated for the Graphic Story Hugo, and it’s won at least once. The tradition continues here, and with good reason. The art is beautiful and the story engaging, although sometimes I feel as if both are a bit too “busy.” 3.75/5.

Mooncakes: I enjoyed this story, and I liked how it focused on many different types of relationships. While Nova’s budding romance with Tam is important to the story, of course, her familial relationship with her grandmothers and her friendship with Tatyana are also shown to give her a lot of strength. The setting is an interesting one, and the spirits reminded me of something out of a Miyazaki film. The art wasn’t as impressive as in some of the other nominees, though. 3.6/5.

LaGuardia: Humans have made contact with a number of intelligent alien species, and there’s movement of both people and goods between Earth and other worlds. But some places are more welcoming to alien immigrants than others. When Future’s alien friend is in danger, she helps him flee from Nigeria to the United States, where they both have to confront anti-alien sentiment. This is a very timely story, and the characters—particularly Citizen—are given a lot of depth. I would have liked to know more about the conflict among the Florals, though, and I didn’t like the art style in this one as much as some of the other nominees. 3.5/5.

“Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll

“It came from the woods. Most strange things do.” This line sums up the theme shared by the five stories in Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods. Their main characters live in isolated dwellings on the edge of great dark forests. Sometimes, they must enter the forest, and encounter something odd, sinister, or downright terrifying there. Sometimes, the odd/sinister/terrifying thing comes to them.

Carroll also writes and draws webcomics, which can be read at emcarroll.com. (One of the stories in this volume, “His Face All Red,” is an adaptation of her comic of the same name, and “The Nesting Place” seems to be an expansion of “All Along the Wall.”) Readers of her comics will find the style of both art and storytelling very similar, although of course some of the comics feature elements that can’t be reproduced in printed medium—clicking on different areas of a single image to read parts of the story, for example, as in “Margot’s Room”.

The stories presented in “Through the Woods” share similar themes of isolation or displacement from the familiar. Most of them feature young women faced with a mystery. Both the art and the text help to build the sense of mounting unease through the story. In the introduction, Carroll talks about how, as a young girl, she used to read in bed at night with a lamp attached to the headboard. She was always afraid to reach around into the darkness to turn the lamp off when she was ready to go to sleep. This collection will make you similarly afraid to turn off the light and walk down the long, dark hallway to your bedroom after you’ve finished reading.