Winners of the 2020 VLA Graphic Novel Diversity Award Announced 

The GNDA celebrates diversity captured within the pages of graphic novels. In 2020 – our sixth year offering the award – 23 publishers submitted 62 titles in two categories: Adult and Youth. The Committee is proud to announce the winners and honor books selected for the 2020 award.

The winners of each title will receive a $500 award and will be recognized at the Annual Scholarship and Awards Banquet at the VLA Annual Conference on October 27 from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm. Tickets will be available for sale when conference registration opens in Summer 2021.


 

Winner: Adult

SFSX, Vol. 1 by Tina Horn; art by Michael Dowling, Alejandra Gutiérrez, and Jen Hickman. Published by Image Comics. 

Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality

A tantalizing and thought provoking read, SFSX is set in a dystopian America where sex is governed by oppressive bureaucrats, known as “The Party.” To keep sexual freedom alive, Dirty Mind, an underground club, is created to allow adults to engage in consensual sexual acts. A series of events forces Avory, a former sex worker, to band together with her former colleagues to free their incarcerated friends and take down the draconian government. Equally provocative and thrilling, this graphic novel will capture its readers from beginning to end!


Tina Horn (Author)

Tina Horn hosts and produces the long-running kink podcast Why Are People Into That?!. Her reporting on sexual subcultures and politics has appeared in Rolling Stone, Hazlitt, Glamour, Jezebel and elsewhere; she is the author of two nonfiction books and has contributed to numerous anthologies including the queer horror collection Theater of Terror. Tina has lectured on sex work politics and queer BDSM identities at universities and community centers all over North America. SFSX is her first creator-owned comic book series, the culmination of a lifelong obsession with comics and genre fiction. She is a LAMBDA Literary Fellow, the recipient of two Feminist Porn Awards, and holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence. Originally from Northern California, Tina now lives in New York City.


Mike Dowling (Artist)

Mike Dowling is the artist of SfSx, written by Tina Horn and published by Image. He has also drawn Tie Fighter and Black Cat for Marvel Comics. He was the artist and co-creator of Unfollow, written by Rob Williams & published by Vertigo. Other work includes Death Sentence written by Montynero and Devlin Waugh, Ichabod Azrael, Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson for 2000AD.





Alejandra Gutiérrez (Artist)

Alejandra Gutiérrez was born in 1994 in Cartagena, Colombia. She now lives in Portland. She draws herself a lot and pretends to be a Valley girl and she recently drew one of the main stories in Twisted Romance from Image Comics.




Jen Hickman (Artist)

Jen Hickman is a visual storyteller and a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design's Sequential Art program. Past work includes Lonely Receiver, TEST, Moth & Whisper, Jem and the Holograms, and more. They get really excited about dystopian fiction, good coffee, and drawing hands.

 


Honor Books: Adult

Invisible Differences by Julie Dachez; art by Mme Caroline. Published by Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group.

Theme: Neurodiversity, Disability

Marguerite is a normal 27 year old living in France; at least, she thinks she is normal. Everyone else around her finds her to be hard to engage with and think her behaviors are a little odd. Through the course of the novel Marguerite struggles to understand why she feels different than everyone else around her. After her autism diagnosis, the world feels manageable to her. She understands her thoughts and feelings better because there is a reason for them. She is also able to connect with a group of people with the same neurodivergence. Finally there are people who understand and can commiserate with her. Through her journey, she comes to realize that there are people all around her who are also dealing with neurodivergent disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This novel shows how difficult it can be to be diagnosed, especially for a woman, and that a diagnosis can also be uplifting. 


Dancing after Ten by Vivian Chong; art by Georgia Webber. Published by Fantagraphics Books.

Theme: Disability

When Vivian Chong developed a rare skin condition, TEN (Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis), her life was forever changed. In this powerful memoir, Chong and artist Georgia Webber provide a moving portrayal of Chong’s struggles to find her path in the face of pain, despair, and eventual blindness. As readers follow Chong’s journey from the initial illness, through continual battles with the medical system, and finally to her emergence as a talented performance artist, they see her strength and resilience in confronting numerous obstacles. Chong’s own drawings are incorporated throughout this memoir, offering a unique perspective on her visual and emotional struggles. Readers of all backgrounds will be touched by this excellent contribution to the world of graphic memoirs.


Overfloweth: Adult

Killadelphia, Vol. 1 by Rodney Barnes; art by Jason Shawn Alexander. Published by Image Comics. 

Themes: Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality

Killadelphia: Sins of the Father takes the tropes of vampire stories to create a narrative about relationships to power.  Detective Jim Sangster Jr. is returning to Philadelphia to bury his father, Detective James Sangster Sr.  What unfolds is a story of a centuries-long plan that has empowered the oppressed and disenfranchised.  In this tale some compatriots have begun to question what is being offered and if this presents true freedom.

Rodney Barnes has written a convincing vampire story that examines historical oppressions of the United States and how they have progressed to current conditions, such as disinvestment from cities and allowing for people to be impoverished.  The story is framed by a parent and child coming to an understanding late in life.  Jason Shawn Alexander presents evocative art throughout, maintaining the oppressive mood, whether from material conditions of the setting or the horror story being told.


Kimiko Does Cancer by Kimiko Tobimatsu; art by Keet Geniza. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality

In Kimiko Does Cancer, author Kimiko Tobimatsu chronicles her experience being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of twenty-five and her subsequent treatments. As a queer, mixed-race woman who is not feminine-presenting, Kimiko struggles with establishing her career, dating during induced menopause and resulting hot flashes, and feeling like she does not fit into the mainstream, often sexualized breast cancer narrative that tends to focus on heterosexual, middle-aged white women.

Tobimatsu walks readers through her experiences with unapologetic candor, eventually emphasizing that, above all, she aims to become better at asking for help instead of being afraid to rely on her friends. Kimiko Does Cancer is a much-needed graphic novel that sheds light on the need for more diverse stories of cancer treatment and resilience and provides validation for so many people's experiences. It also emphasizes the importance of practicing self-care as one learns to become their own advocate.


Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band by Christian Staebler and Sonia Paoloni, in cooperation with the Vegas family; art by Thibault Balahy. Published by IDW Publishing.

Themes: Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality

While many readers may be familiar with the song “Come and Get Your Love,” they may not be aware of the powerful story surrounding the Native American rock band who created it. This strong biographical novel follows the story of Redbone as they fight to balance their success in the music industry with their cultural identity and values. Incorporating numerous vignettes on important historical events in Native American culture and the development of the American Indian Movement, Redbone does an excellent job both educating and entertaining the reader. This graphic novel offers a compelling look at an important era in the history of both the music industry and America.


Phoolan Devi, Rebel Queen by Claire Fauvel; art by Claire Fauvel. Published by NBM Graphic Novels.

Themes: Feminism

This biography follows the life of Phoolan Devi, who was famously known as the “Bandit Queen.” Married off at the age of 11, Phoolan’s life takes a traumatic turn for the worst, leading her to join a group of bandits. Fueled by revenge, Phoolan discovers what drives her and ends up being a political activist for female rights. Not one to shy away from graphic imagery, this melancholy but compelling tale is one of a woman’s ultimate triumph. 


Winner: Youth

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen; art by Trung Le Nguyen. Published by Random House Children's Books. 

Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality

The Magic Fish explores the power of stories to transcend language, culture, and experience. Tien is a first-generation Vietnamese American teen struggling to find the words to come out to his parents, who don’t speak English. Tien’s mother, Helen, fled Vietnam as a refugee and lives with the guilt of being unable to return to her family, even to say goodbye to her dying mother. Each night they read fairy tales together and through these simple stories their own stories become interwoven. Tien and Helen learn to face their pasts and embrace their futures. 

Writer and illustrator, Trung Le Nguyen’s debut graphic novel is a powerful tale within a tale, honoring diversity for BIPOC and LGBTQIA characters. Expertly crafted in primary tones to illustrate themes of identity, love, and sacrifice seamlessly blending fantasy and reality. The Magic Fish is a harrowing story of survival, a story of grief and hope, a refugee story, an immigrant story, an LGBTQIA story, a story of loss and hardship, an intergenerational story, but most importantly, it is a timeless love story.



Trung Le Nguyen (Author and Artist)

Trung Le Nguyen, also known as Trungles, is a comic book artist and illustrator working out of Minnesota. He received his BA from Hamline University in 2012, majoring in Studio Art with a concentration in oil painting and minoring in Art History. He has contributed work for Oni Press, BOOM! Studios, Limerence Press, and Image Comics. He is particularly fond of fairy tales, kids' cartoons, and rom-coms of all stripes. The Magic Fish is his debut graphic novel.

 

 


Honor Books: Youth

Quince: The Definitive Bilingual Edition by Sebastian Kadlecik and Kit Steinkellner; art by Emma Steinkellner. Published by Fanbase Press.

Themes: Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality

Latina high school student and self-proclaimed “nobody”, Lupe, is gearing up for one of the most important nights of her life, her Quinceañeraor coming of age party. What she thinks will be a celebration that marks the passage from youth into maturity turns into a surprising adventure as she discovers that in every other generation the women in her family develop superpowers, although they can only keep their powers while fifteen. Quince follows Lupe on her path to superhero-dom as she not only learns to control her new, superhuman powers but grows into her womanhood as well–learning the difficulty of balancing romance, responsibility, and friendship. Surviving high school is hard enough, but doing it while trying to hide her identity, keep her grades up, and defeat an evil archnemesis is even harder! Not only is this graphic vibrantly illustrated with a Latina lead, but it’s written in both Spanish and English.  


Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith; art by James Otis Smith. Published by TOON Graphics. 

Themes: Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality

James Otis Smith collects and illustrates the true-life adventures of three former slaves who took control of their own destinies and became Black Heroes of the Wild West!

  • ‘Gun-toting, pants-wearing, punch-throwing’ Mary Fields who gave as good as she got and never missed a delivery.

  •  Deputy US marshal Bass Reeves, who brought over 3000 fugitives to justice and whose real-life adventures inspired the Lone Ranger.

  • Bob Lemmons, who single handedly corralled ‘untamable’ herds of wild mustangs by living among them before bringing them to their new home at the ranch.

Black Heroes of the Wild West offers readers an accessible and exciting look at true stories of exceptional lives, each criminally overlooked, each worthy of their own blockbuster film. Readers inspired to learn more won’t have to look far. This collection contains facts, maps, and timelines to better place them in the context of US history. More importantly, it contains actual photographs of the Black Americans, Mexican, and Indigenous peoples of the Wild West, who in Smith’s own words “had the courage and strength to choose to be whoever they wanted to be.”


 Odessa by Jonathan Hill; art by Jonathan Hill. Published by Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group.

Themes: Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality

On her eighteenth birthday Vietnamese-American Victoria Crane or “Ginny” receives a letter from her mother who abandoned their family after the world was struck by a devastating earthquake. Set in an apocalyptic future, this story is an epic adventure across the west coast, for Ginny and her two younger brothers who are determined to find out what happened to their mother despite what dangers they encounter. The author Jonathan Hill tells a heartwarmingly honest story of survival and sibling bonds in this first volume of Odessa.

 


Overfloweth: Youth

Doodleville by Chad Sell; art by Chad Sell. Published by Random House Children's Books.

Theme: Disability 

Drew and her friends in Art Club have been tasked with creating new pieces inspired by their field trip to the art museum. Her friends are excited by the project and enthusiastically share their creations. Drew, on the other hand, struggles with self-doubt, made visible by her doodles that come to life and are not always on their best behavior. Leviathan “Levi” is the biggest and best drawing she has ever created, but something is wrong. She needs the help of her friends to tame the Leviathan before it wreaks havoc on the other doodles. With an ensemble cast of gender- and racially-diverse characters and a relatable story about dealing with anxiety and finding self-acceptance, Doodleville will appeal to young readers on a variety of levels.


 The Montague Twins by Nathan Page; art by Drew Shannon. Published by Random House Children's Books.


Theme: LGBTQIAP+


It's a gorgeous summer day in the 1960's, and twin teenage sleuths Al and Pete Montague and their foster sister Charlie have been tasked with a critical mission – take the day off. A relaxing day at the beach quickly takes a turn toward the supernatural as an eerie, isolated storm starts to brew over the lighthouse. Naturally, the three teens can't help but investigate. What follows is an entertaining adventure set against the backdrop of a small town in the 1960's. This graphic novel blends mystery and the supernatural with a historical setting that deals with some of the issues of its time, such as racism and the fledgling gay rights movement. Nathan Page and Drew Shannon set this up to be the first volume in this engaging series, with a diverse cast of characters, witty dialogue, and clear, colorful artwork that will draw in a variety of readers.


 Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky; art by Jessi Zabarsky. Published by Random House Children's Books.


Theme: LGBTQIAP+


Witchlight is a sweet, LGBTQIA, magical story about Lelek the Witch, a peasant girl Sanja, their chance battle/encounter in the marketplace, and subsequent journey together battling witches from different villages to uncover the secrets of Lelek’s past and recover the lost portion of her soul. Along the way they slowly grow to forgive their misconceptions about each other and fall in love.  


This graphic novel demands multiple rereads to uncover all the hidden details within the artwork. Zabarsky’s illustrations are beautifully drawn with a lot of intricate detail setting the characters, customs, and cultures of various villages and witches apart as well as the different types of magic they practice. The plot is complex, multi-faceted and unpredictable as the main conflict ends and a twist reveals itself in the final few chapters that tests the strength of Lelek and Sanja's relationship and their devotion to one another. The storytelling is compelling and there are many quiet, intimate moments of poignant emotion that will make readers become invested and entwined in Lelek and Sanja’s love story.  Their journey is authentic and relatable framed by themes of forgiveness, loss, growth, and making your own family.


 

Suncatchers by Jose Pimienta; art by Jose Pimienta. Published by Random House Children's Books.


Themes: Color/Race/Ethnicity/Nationality


Beatriz loves music. And more than that, she loves her grandfather. After his death, Beatriz finds out that his soul is trapped in his guitar. In order to free him, she’ll have to finish the song that he never had the chance to complete. Suncatcher tells the story of Beatriz’s journey as she obsessively attempts to complete her grandfather’s song, jeopardizing her relationship with her family, her band, and her health along the way. This graphic novel is a historical fiction that takes place in the 1990’s with the Mexicali alternative rock music scene as the setting. Beatriz’s story is told with a touch of magical realism, using the personification of musical instruments to illustrate her grief over the loss of her grandfather and her growing obsession with music and her grandfather’s song. The graphic novel also introduces the reader to Mexicali culture.


 


A Slug Story by Mandi Kujawa and Hana Kujawa; art by Claude St. Aubin. Published by Renegade Arts Entertainment.

Theme: Disability

Marcus is an imaginative child, but when he gets to middle school he begins to feel like he doesn’t fit in with the other kids. Already feeling out of place, Marcus suffers a traumatic brain injury and has to spend extensive time in the hospital. During his stay at the hospital Marcus learns to embrace who he is and gains confidence with the help of the nurses and doctors that care for him. This is an important story drawn from the real life experience of the authors, Mandi and Hana Kujawa, that will resonate with readers who have been in a similar situation and highlights an often overlooked narrative perspective. Hopefully A Slug Story will inspire more representation of illness in future graphic novels.