By Rachel Stevens
If you asked me for a description of the crowdsourced comic anthology Beyond, it would have to be one word: essential. Asking me to expound on that, I’d continue with this—we need more folks who aren’t cisgender straight white men creating worlds and sharing stories about people like them as a public good, for the sake of children growing up and for the sake of expanding the worldview of adults.
I have to admit that I’m oft tentative about reading the works of other queer folks; in my experience, much of it is esoteric, based on lives or events I have no frame of reference for. I feel just as alienated by it as I do by much of mainstream fiction. All I really want is more stories with people like me doing things in the stories that I read growing up—not tragedies, not real-world narratives, but stories of hope and aspiration, or at least unreal but exciting fantastical scenarios, power fantasies that lift people up, show them doing things that the reader would want to do, that don’t punch marginalized folks in the face with their text. That is exactly what Beyond provides.
Beyond is filled with a mix of works from creators who are far from the typical face of mainstream Big Two comics, feeling more like a crew running a webcomic network like Hiveworks. Different genres of stories, different settings, different casts of characters, different executions of conveying story through panel layout. I would genuinely be shocked if there wasn’t at least one story a reader enjoyed in the anthology, whether it’s because it features an archetypal environment or story beat you like, whether you see yourself in the characters, whether the art is entirely your shit or if the dialogue sings to you.
The presentation of the anthology itself is solid, at least in the review PDF I was given access to. I have to imagine that the book itself would look absolutely lovely on a shelf, or resting on a coffee table, bookmarked for later reading. I was already sold just from Levi Hastings’ cover and the foreword by editor Sfé R. Monster, but the contents impressed me from the very first page of the very first story. Did I like or “get” everything in the book? No! Nor should the book have to be that welcoming—I’m a white binary transgender lesbian, my niche is small even if my interests are wide, and the odds of someone enjoying the entirety of an anthology are slim at best. Still, I felt like was invited into the book’s pages, that I was allowed to take up space in the worlds offered within.
Something else I really enjoyed is the blend of science fiction and fantasy many of the stories were willing to try. I’ve oft felt the two can be smoothly melded and did not have to be forcibly separated for the sake of genre; the stories that tried doing so proved my point. Quite a few of the stories were also willing to be mysterious and avoid explaining all the concepts within to death, which I’m sure will get their hooks into many of the folks who read Beyond.
Among the stories I enjoyed most were “A Royal Affair” by Christianne Goudreau & Taneka Stotts, “The Dragon Slayer’s Son” by Sfe R. Monster, and “Of Families & Other Magical Objects” by Reed Black. “A Royal Affair” is about a lady pirate captain and a genderfluid regent-to-be verbally scheming against each other, battling with words while nonetheless displaying an attraction towards one another. The art in this is lovely, with darling facial expressions on the two main characters. “The Dragon Slayer’s Son” is a touching story about a transgender boy who wants to prove himself a man, and his transgender mother who wants to help him achieve that through the combat ritual she once performed before she was exiled.
“Of Families & Other Magical Objects” is about two fathers going through a haunted house to save their daughter who’s been replaced by a changeling—it’s basically Labyrinth, and it owns that conceit. I didn’t enjoy the art so much in this one, particularly the exaggerated chins and necks, but the story is extremely cute and the art does help with the tone.
I did not enjoy Wm Brian Maclean’s “Versus” as much, but that was one of the stories I didn’t quite connect with. Abstract art in stark black and white of figures intertwining and contorting across multiple pages, I genuinely couldn’t tell you what was going on or tell you definitively what the story was about. Love born of hate that was lost is, at best, what I got out of it, but someone else may appreciate it more.
I was gratified to see that the back of the book featured full credits for the book, with the roles of creators in the book listed, biographies given, and websites featured if you wanted to look into more of their work once you were finished. Regardless of any minor quibbles I might have within certain stories, I heartily recommend Beyond whether you identify as queer (or your preferred non-straight/non-cis gender identity/sexuality label) and want to see yourself in a book, or just want to read something that isn’t just what we’ve been seeing for years.