I'm a well read grad student who's bluntly honest about all things, although I try to be most honest about myself.
When I picked up issue one of Charm school, I hadn't heard of a lot of things. Slave Labor Graphics. Elizabeth Watasin. Bunny, the good teenage witch, who had shown up in Action Girl Comics earlier.
And here's where this review gets a bit autobiographical and kinda... weird. Or weird for me in retrospect. It's gonna get really open, I'm going to self-analyze, and it could get really awkward for other people. If you're mind is screaming 'abort, abort', please, by all means, ignore this review or just like it, and go, 'fuck it, I'm not reading another personal essay,' and move on. Or ignore it completely.
Because I was starting to understand that I wasn't into boys and I wasn't really fully aware that one girl could like another girl. Or I wasn't aware that I could like another girl, although again, I was on the cusp of understanding this was an option. I wasn't into people, but I knew I wasn't normal for not being into people: I was surrounded by people who pined over boys and girls. Especially people my own age, young teens who seemed, sometimes, purely motivated by boys or girls.
So when I picked up Charm School, it wasn't the first time that I was exposed to lesbians, or gays, or even bisexuals. I had no idea about asexuality, although if I had, I might have been drawn into that: people just didn't do it for me, so maybe nothing did. (I would have been wrong.) But there was something about Charm School that drew me in: it was an adorable twist on all the spooky things that crept and crawled through the night, and even watery nymphs and mermaids and fairies, and things that I wouldn't have put alongside demons and witches and vampires at that point in my life. The drawings were some of the cutest things I'd ever seen, and I flipped through it quickly in my local comic shop, where I usually got the testosterone driven titles. X-Men and Wolverine were my poisons of choice at the moment, particularly Wolverine. He was all muscle and bullheadedness and rebellion and things that I associated at that point with male. I was attracted to his character more than his physique, but I figured, hey, maybe this was my entry point into normal.
And then Charm School shook me to my core. I bought it, without fully realizing that this was a book about girls who loved girls, partly because Dean looked like a boy, because she dressed like a boy and acted like a boy and postured like a boy. She was all bullheadedness and rebellion and struck me as male until I bought it, and brought it home. Even in the store, that comic stopped me cold.
And there was a guilty, sneaking suspicion when I read it. Was this my normal? I didn't think so. Girls really didn't excited me. Or I realized I didn't want to dress up pretty and bat my eyes and attract either girls or boys at some point. But I was left with an excited feeling that left me queasy at the same time. I wasn't boxed into liking boys or just not being like everyone else. (And this is where it gets embarrassing and weird for me. I was so, so wrong, but not like I'd expected.) This opened a lot of doors for me, while also being entertaining: it was fun and cute, and I started thinking about sexuality differently. Yes, I'd been exposed to the LGTB community, but it clearly hadn't made an impact on me yet. And to tell the truth, I was mostly surrounded by straight people. There was something about innocently picking up this comic, taking it home, reading and realizing what it was really about.
I think I was shocked about how out there everything was: in plain sight, and everywhere. While there were some couples who were male+female or male+male, it was mostly girls. A love triangle between three girls. Parents encouraging their children - their daughters - to go out with other girls. It was pretty eye opening for me.
And I continued to reread it, not feeling quite the same each time I did. Was I reflected in Bunny? Dean? Fairer Than? I yearned for answers that this couldn't give me, mostly because, y'know, it wasn't there to give me answers. It was there to bolster up people, but not in the way I was searching for. I don't think anything could give me the answers then. I needed to grow up and accept myself first.
The real question that I ask myself as I write that is could I have without these comics. I'm not sure. I know that without Charm School, a lot of revelations would have come much later in my life. Charm School felt bold for pursuing an idyllic world in which a community of minorities was accepted. It wasn't being shown or seen in any other comics that I can remember, or books, or TV shows. It felt like a revelation. It felt like the beginning of where I could say, 'I don't fit into the majority, or even a lot of the minorities and I'm okay with that.' And while I lean towards male, I do have an attraction to Arcee and Elita One in IDW. I'd consider myself bisexual, and open to either gender - or someone who considers themselves genderless - so long as they're not meat, at least where it counts. And mostly not meat. I don't want a lot of skin-on-skin contact.
Back to this book. Because, wow, this is taking far, far longer than I expected. Or even really wanted to, but I feel the need to pour my heart out here. First of all, I have to say, I was hoping for comic-Bunny on the cover. I love this cover model, but my heart still is with the comic versions of Bunny and Fairer Than and Dean. There is something about Watasin's illustrations that cut to the core of these characters that I'm not sure any photograph could capture them in the same way for me. I don't see Bunny as the cover model; I see her as she was first presented to me. Same for Dean and Fairer Than. The loveliest cover in the world - and this is quite a lovely cover - can't replace them.
Secondly, it's a bit odd for me reading the novelization of this. Part of me wants the illustrations again. And part of me is happy to see these comics in any new format, and expanded in any way. This was just as much fun as the comics, although I have a couple more years experience. I don't like Fairer Than as much in the novelization: it makes me realize just how... pushy she is. Bunny spends a lot of time saying no, and Fairer Than spends a lot of time ignoring that and pretty much saying she'll go after her beyond the ends of the Earth, no matter what Bunny wants, and stalking her and watching her while she gets ready for bed.
She's the Edward Cullen of lesbian fairies in some ways.
Then again, I kind of like her as a foil to Dean. Dean has his own issues, as he gets into a lot of trouble for fighting. However, he never lifts a hand against Bunny and doesn't pressure her to do anything at all. He tries his best to protect her, in fact. I'm Team Dean after reading this!
I like Fairer Than for other reasons. Bunny is clearly upset by Fairer Than's treatment of her. She gets her own when Fairer Than catches her unaware in her nightgown. The fact that she says no, and that she isn't listened to, is a bit problematic. Bunny's friends encourage her to try Fairer Than out, and this is glossed over a bit, but it's also not as romanticized as, say, Twilight. Bunny is clearly distraught over this, and she has every right and reason to be. it's disturbing. More so because she does have some attraction toward Fairer Than, and at one point thinks it's an enchantment, stripping her of her own will.
It brought back a lot of memories of when I first picked up this series. I recognized a lot of the scenes, and loved seeing some of the details that images can't give you. (In the afterward, Watasin talks about visual versus narrative, and how they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. I suggest that, as she gives specific examples of what she was able to expand on, and what she wasn't able to do, as far as the narrative goes.)
I'm looking forward to the next installment, in fact.
One minor quibble:
Location 29: "...behind our ken..."
Location 213: "...beyond our ken..."
I was sure the first one was wrong and was going to google, but I think the book made that clear.
One other thing:
"Fairer Than bent to meet her gaze, and her gown and impossibly long, red mantle of hair to engulf Bunny."
New theory: Fairer Than is Medusa.