An adorable read, with something for both the lovers and the haters of Valentine’s Day. Full of queer characters and genre-defying art, THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION #1 depicts the challenges and loneliness of Valentine’s Day in high school.
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Valentine’s Day always evokes a strong reaction from people: either they love it, or they hate it. THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION capitalizes on the polarizing nature of the holiday. Tensions flare in this adorable special issue comic from writer James Tynion IV and illustrator Rian Sygh, published by BOOM! Box.

As a series, THE BACKSTAGERS follows a group of outcasts at the private all-boys’ school St. Genesius. Together, these misfits comprise the stage crew, the neglected team behind the scenes of the school’s theatrical productions. More than a typical coming-of-age story, THE BACKSTAGERS verges on fantasy. Along the way, the boys explore secret, magical worlds beneath their school’s stage.

Overall, THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION provides a healthy dose of cuteness to get you in the mood for Valentine’s season. By its end, we all learn a lesson about opening up our hearts.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Box.


One of the central themes of THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION is the struggle to find happiness on Valentine’s Day. The special issue includes one full-length storyline and a handful of mini-vignettes. Altogether, these Valentine-themed stories make a case for sharing our feelings with those we love.

The bulk of the comic showcases the stage crew prepping for their Valentine’s Day show.  The story opens with a romantic scene between Hunter and Jory. The two guys float on a background of luminescent pink roses. This introduction establishes a tone of sappy romance that will soon be broken.

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To Beckett, the central character of the issue, Valentine’s Day is not a day to celebrate. It is one to survive. A self-proclaimed “cold, heartless rock of a dude,” Beckett is aptly dubbed a “Valentine’s Grinch.” Like the real Grinch, Beckett sports a tuft of green hair and wages war against a beloved holiday. This Valentine’s Day, Beckett works himself into a fury. He bemoans everything. His lighting cues for the upcoming performance are burdensome. Fussy actors pester him. Everyone else’s romances infiltrate his psyche. Throughout, it is clear that Beckett’s loneliness underlies his anger.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Box.

Surprisingly, Beckett’s heart does soften for one person: Bailey Brentwood. This comes as a surprise, after Beckett’s claim that “feelings should be illegal.” Bailey is special, though. She is not only the lead actress in the show that night but also “the coolest girl in the world.” Most importantly, Bailey makes even Beckett swoon. Will Beckett remains a Scrooge for all of Valentine’s Day and misses the chance to confess his feelings to Bailey? Or will he finally decide to make the most out of his least favorite holiday?

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One of the greatest strengths of THE BACKSTAGERS is its representation of teenage diversity. A huge thanks goes out to the creators for providing a depiction of high school life in all its queerness and quirkiness.

For example, THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION especially dethrones the archetype of the white, straight, cis male heartthrob. The character Brock Manchester most closely fits this role. The comic, however, totally deflates Brock’s ego. Described as “the coolest boy in the world,” Brock is idolized for a full page. When he finally turns up in person, though, he disappoints. His droopy eyes and his hands stuffed in the pouch of a hoodie belie his complete indifference. In reality, Brock is not all that special.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Box.

By comparison, almost all of the story’s heroes are queer, and there is strong representation of people of color. In fact, past issues of THE BACKSTAGERS have mentioned that Beckett is trans. This explains his particularly alienated perspective on Valentine’s Day.

It is disappointing that the creators do not celebrate Beckett’s trans identity more loudly. However, perhaps their silence is a way of more deeply characterizing Beckett. Without a label, he has human qualities and flaws beyond his trans identity. In THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION, Beckett is not pigeon-holed as the representative for all trans people. Instead, he is free to be an individual character on his own.

Both alone and as a group, all these characters from THE BACKSTAGERS serve as positive role models for a new generation of queer, trans, and POC teens.

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Dismantling Artistic Conventions

In addition to Tynion’s convention-defying writing, Sygh’s artwork resists categorization. This joint project of combining queer characters with queer art packs an especially effective punch against normativity.

For instance, one illustration depicts Beckett on a backstage quest for a magic lamp. His body appears in a variety of sizes and angles. It’s as if he exists in multiple moments at once. Meanwhile, the multi-dimensional maze of passageways pays tribute to artists like M.C. Escher or the Cubists. Altogether, these visual surprises make THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION not only a good read but also artistically dynamic.

If art’s purpose is to serve the ideas of a story, then THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION succeeds.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Box.


Although ostensibly about high school romance, THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION does offer some timeless wisdom. For all of the Valentine’s Day fans out there, the comic is sure to be a worthwhile read. In fact, it may strike even more of a chord with the “Valentine’s Grinches.” Sometimes, we all need a reminder that even our bad feelings are special just because they’re our own.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Box.

For its positive lessons about love and its adorable queer romances, THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION is a heartwarming February read. In addition, through its visuals and its characters, the comic breaks down stereotypes of who qualifies as “cool” and who gets to love whom. Ultimately, it is an exciting and refreshing addition to the canon of high-school themed comics.

Pick up your copy of THE BACKSTAGERS: VALENTINE’S INTERMISSION here at BOOM! Box. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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