Asylum cover image

You know what we don’t have enough stories about? Good friends. That’s why I loved Asylum, that, and the nerd culture setting. The graphic novel is written by Greg Means, illustrated by Kazimir Lee, and published by Tugboat Press.

Allen and Zekia are best friends. (Before you start thinking When Harry Met Sally, it’s not like that. He’s straight and she’s gay.) She’s a nationally ranked player of Asylum, a competitive card game, and he helps with the demos on the convention circuit.

Maybe it says something about me and my friends, but the way they talk about insecurities and not having what they want but not sure how to reach out really hit home. And kudos to Lee for making such a conversational comic so visually interesting. The black-and-white pages can be sparse, but the strength of the storytelling comes through in how expressive the characters are. The relationship between these two friends is revealed through their bickering and encouragement and anxiety, both in words and the way the characters are shown to hold themselves and move through everyday activities.

Asylum cover

There’s plenty of humor, from well-observed situations. The two attend a wedding where, watching the couple at the altar, we’re all thinking “this is a mistake.” They baby-sit kids of a couple they know, which reminds Zekia of what she thought she wanted.

I’ve had plenty of fantasy comics in my life — probably more than I should have. Reading this story, which brings in divorce and disease and moving and trying to feel happy for your friends while being jealous of what they have, was so much more rewarding.

Allen sums it up. “Our life is about deep friendships and rich communities and expert strategic game play. It’s quite nice, actually.” Although we’ve been trained to expect romance as a happy ending, Asylum makes a strong case for friendship not being second place or what we settle for while waiting for a “real” relationship. It’s the kind of message we need to see and hear more often.

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