After reading the first two issues of Boom! Box comic series The Backstagers, created by writer James Tynion IV and illustrator Rian Sygh, I get a feeling of hope and jealousy towards current young readers picking up this series. Besides amazing writing, dynamic art layouts and colors that bring the characters and unique setting to life, this title effectively displays a group of high schoolers that many young readers, and readers who remember their youth as the awkward yet exciting time that it was, will identify with immediately. This comic has an LGBTQ focus that hits a target audience that isn’t normally provided this level of representation; queer male youth.
The Backstagers depicts the adventures of a mostly queer group who work as tech crew and stagehands for St. Genesius Preparatory High School’s theatre department. They are completely overlooked and underappreciated by the actors, but that’s fine with them because backstage is the home to magical tunnels with fantastical and at times very weird rooms. By exploring these rooms they are able to assist with creating the magic of the stage by providing props, costuming and tech support to the blatantly, ungrateful actors.
In this setting they aren’t outsiders because they are queer, but they’re brought together because they’re outsiders. This is a feeling that a lot of young readers will identify with and many queer adults probably remember all too well. The team of backstagers that we follow are; introduction character Jory, the new kid in the all boys high school who is excited to explore the tunnels backstage, Sasha the super friendly and sweet little brother of the group who resembles Steven Universe in purity and looks, Aziz who is cynical and practical and serves as a big brother counterbalance to Sasha’s cheerful demeanor, but is definitely dramatic himself, Hunter a big time flirt and the self acclaimed best builder in the school, and Becket the group tech expert who is a mad scientist when it comes to lighting. The tunnels themselves also seem to be “alive” and constantly changing. Backstage is actual considered dangerous. The changing of the tunnels to random rooms has the potential to provide issues and issues of entertaining and fun adventures. From the first two issues, the creative team give us a strong sense of who these character are and the type of shenanigans we will be following these boys into.
The plot, so far, follows a pretty basic task of the issue formula in which the two primadona actors, Kevin and Blake McQueen, who think of the stage crew as forgettable weirdos, ask (demand) for any prop or stage setting their whim requires. In issue one, the McQueen twins ask for them to provide a Bishop’s tiara and in issue two a rainbow barricade for the school’s rendition of “Les Terriblēs”. The real fun comes in when they go backstage and enter the tunnels to acquire the props needed. In spectacular fashion something goes wrong and attaining each prop and get out of the tunnels is an adventure in itself. For issue one, Sasha has been secretly hiding tool mice, who eat anything, and because they have been duplicating, the backstagers have to figure out how to contain them. While in issue two, Hunter, attempting to impress Jory because of his crush on him, leads him into the tunnels to find paint and come up against echo spiders. Together this stage crew faces challenges that can only be overcome with teamwork, creativity and ingenuity. It’s also clear by the end of the later issue that their may be a mysterious threat in the form of their stage managers, Jamie and Timothy and the secret behind what happened to the lost stage crew of 1987.
My main praise for this book comes from the representation of a diverse group who form a community based in being the outcasts. The amount of representation is commendable, especially for a book catered to all ages. Jory is black and bisexual, Hunter is slightly overweight and homosexual, and Beckett is transgender just to name a few. Most of these details about their identities have only been revealed in interviews discussing character design. But, it's clear that the creators understand the importance of having three dimensional characters as well as having some fun with camp and humor. I’m looking forward to seeing the reveals in the book and how the queer aspects of the characters add a relatable piece, as well as visibility, for young queer readers who hardly ever get to see themselves represented in media.