Graphic Novel Review: The Avant-Guards, by Usdin, Hayes, and Nalty

by Brittany B. 09/09/2020

The Avant-Guards (written by Carly Usdin, illustrated by Noah Hayes, and colored by Rebecca Nalty) is a delightfully queer sports comic with an incredibly diverse cast of characters, interesting personal stories, and one hell of a cliff hanger that will leave you rushing to your local comic book store to buy volume two:

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be. From Carly Usdin, the writer behind the hit series Heavy Vinyl, and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.

This graphic novel is super cute and pretty queer. There are at least four queer characters and possibly more. Three of the players are women who are into or have had relationships with other women in the past. Another character, Jay, uses they/them pronouns. And quite honestly, the way that the comic introduces the fact that Jay is non-binary or gender-queer is masterful. It’s quick and simple – Nicole introduces them with neutral pronouns and that’s that:

Nicole: “I’m Nicole. Resident cynic. And stop trying to make the coven happen, Tiffany. And that’s Jay. They’re quiet.”

It’s the subtle things that this comic does that makes me love it all the more. There are the queer characters but there isn’t any time spent on labeling who uses what label or why. The reader simply gets to see the characters be authentically themselves and that is wonderful. It gives the story a grounded sense of reality and normalcy. Despite there being some love interest stuff happening, it is far from the main point of the story and I’m glad the narrative doesn’t focus on establishing the labels or identities of each character in the beginning of the story. I’ve only read the first volume, so they may be addressed in later volumes, which is still okay in my opinion. The reader gets to know the character first without being given a label to associate with them and potentially piling on stereotypical attributes to the character based on that label. 

Another thing that sets this comic apart from others is the lack of whiteness present in the characters and the wonderful diversity of it! I’m not sure the ethnicity of all of the main characters on the basketball team, and Charlie and Nicole might be white (I say might because when Charlie is on the page with a white character in the beginning during the activities rush sequence, she is noticeably darker than an unnamed white woman at one of the booths. She could be tan or she could be Hispanic or some other ethnicity, but the narrative doesn’t specify. Nicole I initially read as being Asian but again after looking through the comic again, I’m not 100% certain because the narrative doesn’t specify) but is mostly filled with people of color. And everyone is unique both in how they’re stylized and how they’re written! 

This page might be one of my favorites to showcase the diversity of this comic:

Why is it my favorite? Because it shows not only the racial diversity but body and religious diversity, too! No two characters are drawn the same or have the same body types and I absolutely love that. And, of course, I related hard to Jay in this particular panel – because who doesn’t want to be smothered by adoptable puppers?!

Ahem. Anyway…

I really enjoyed this story. It’s from the main perspective of Charlie, who is a recent transfer to the university and follows her as the Avant-Guard basketball team tries to convince her to play on their team so they can actually have a registered team at the school. There are several things that are happening simultaneously – the team trying to “court” Charlie into joining, one of the women’s growing crush on Charlie, and something about Charlie’s past and her insecurities and anxieties about playing basketball again. 

My only complaint about The Avant-Guards is that I wish the narrative slowed down just a touch and gave the reader more information about Charlie’s history with basketball or why Liv develops such strong feelings for her so quickly. We get a really touching scene between her and a teammate while they’re on their way to their first game where she talks about anxiety and panic attacks from when she played before but there’s clearly a deeper story there than the narrative leans into. It might be something they explore in later volumes but as the first volume, it went by too quickly for me. And, although the team’s montage of recruiting Charlie is cute and made me laugh really hard in places, it too was too quick. As was the developing feelings between Charlie and Liv. 

I understand that the pacing of a comic is often quicker than that of other creative mediums, so it isn’t a huge negative to me. Honestly, as a reader, I just wanted more about these adorable beans who truly came to life on paper. I distinctly remember finishing reading the first volume and then shuffling over to my girlfriend while she was playing a video game while holding the book over my chest and saying “Do you want to go to Gabby’s [our local comic book store] like RIGHT NOW? I need to buy the second volume” and her just laughing at me before we went to do just that. 

This is a series I plan to continue reading because it is relatable, queer, and quickly makes the reader care about the characters on the page. Volume two is already out and volume three will be released on October 6, 2020!

4.5 out of 5 Rainbows

Recommended Reader: Anyone with an itch for a queer sports graphic novel! 

You can find more from the creators at:

Carly Usdin (Creator & Writer): Twitter and their Website.

Noah Hayes (Illustrator): Twitter or their Website.

Rebecca Nalty (Colourist): Twitter or their Website.

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