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Canonizing comics: “Anya’s Ghost” is a stellar comic about empathy and fitting in

The coming of age story joins our expanding canon of great comics.

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Canonizing comics: “Anya’s Ghost” is a stellar comic about empathy and fitting in

Photo Illustration by Hunter Lee | Daily 49er

Photo Illustration by Hunter Lee | Daily 49er

Photo Illustration by Hunter Lee | Daily 49er

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This column was called “Negative Space.” Now it’s not. It’s still about comics, though.

Sometimes we just need a thrilling story that will leave us feeling good at the end. “Anya’s Ghost” is perfectly suited to service that need.

Anya, the protagonist, is attending high school and trying to fit in. She tries to distance herself from her family’s customs, has only one friend and desires the attention of a popular but taken basketball player. These are problems made familiar by the frequency with which teenage protagonists encounter them, if not by our own times grappling with them.

Then she falls down a hole and meets a ghost who becomes the spectral equivalent of a fairy godparent. Things are going well for Anya — until they aren’t.

Among the genres in which “Anya’s Ghost” belongs are mystery, horror and coming-of-age drama. Author Vera Brosgol blends the aesthetics of all three with personal experiences to create something which simultaneously feels familiar and fresh.

The freshness comes from its perspective — that of an immigrant. Like the author, Anya was born in Russia but migrated to the United States early enough that school and the majority of her life happened in the latter.

Anya’s outsider status made her an easy target for bullies and Brosgol ensures that we remember this every time the hero rejects her family’s attempt to reconnect her with their culture. But the author never lets us forget that actions by Anya (and other characters) do affect people. Pain is depicted as painful, not funny.

While the color palette here consists exclusively of shades of purple, with black and white used for faces and lines, the art is some of the most expressive I have seen in comics, often so effective because of its exaggeration.

“Anya’s Ghost” is an enjoyable and well-paced story with humorous and creepy moments scattered throughout, as well as a nice message about conformity and empathy. This book is the perfect antidote to a bad mood and sometimes that’s all one needs.

“Anya’s Ghost” can be found in room 200 on the second floor of the University Library, as well as various locations of the Long Beach Public Library.

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