We’re living in a bonanza period for graphic novels — there are comics for everyone, including those who might be interested in, in this case, a young adult Western with queer and trans characters.
Stage Dreams is an historical adventure in which Flor, a legendary outlaw with a trained hawk, robs a stagecoach and kidnaps Grace, a trans lady running away from having to become a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. Grace wants to make it from Georgia to San Francisco to become an actress, a talent that helps the non-traditional Flor with her plan to spy on a party of Southern rail barons. The two team up for the heist as their relationship and reliance on each other grow.
I’ve long enjoyed author Melanie Gillman’s amazing colored pencil work, which gives their panels depth, with an astounding use of pastel shades. The color palette gives the work a faded feeling that suits the historical time period, as well as evoking the desert setting. It also reminds the reader of how every panel is hand-drawn and -colored, with visible texture. You can see their work in this sample page spread.
I particularly appreciated this artistic technique, because it conveys essential information about Grace subtly. When Grace’s face is first revealed to us, there’s a slight indication of five o’clock shadow, the only otherwise unusual element in her outfit of traveling dress and bonnet. Since the language we would use for this character today didn’t exist in that period, and Grace may not have been that forthcoming when an outlaw’s prisoner anyway, it well demonstrates how comics blend images and text to create a story and elaborate a character.
Because I adore finding out more about the creative process, I was glad to see an annotation section where Gillman comments on facts about the historical period, including transgender people in history, the New Mexico setting, and why women made great spies.
Don’t think you have to be interested in queer history to enjoy this historical adventure. Most readers will enjoy seeing diverse characters rebelling against expectations and risking it all for their dreams. It’s a fun, easy-reading tale that takes the reader away for a while.
Gillman was interviewed about their inspirations and goals for the book, and they wrote about the research process at the publisher’s blog.