THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1 BY JAMES TYNION IV, RIAN SYGH, AND WALTER BAIAMONTE
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Tynion's story and characters capture the authenticity of the desire to fit in, while Sygh's illustrations and Baiamonte's colors embrace vibrant adolescence.
97 %
Magically Real

THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1 was nothing like I thought it would be when I first picked it up. I thought it would be a fun, easy ode to the magic of theater. Sure, that’s in the book, but it’s not the crux of it. This comic is a beautiful work that touches on community and belonging, melded with magic that brings both wonders and danger. I am deeply moved by this comic, in a way I’ve never been before.

The comic — written by James Tynion IV with illustrations from Rian Sygh and coloring by Walter Baiamonte — opens with the main protagonist, Jory, starting at a new all-boys high school. Jory attempts to find his place in the drama club. However, he realizes The Backstagers — those who do all of the behind-the-scenes theater work — are a better fit. What he discovers is not only a group of people he grows quickly attached to, but a mysterious and magical world of changing tunnels, dangerous creatures, and inexplicable wonders.

READ: Want more magic in comics? Read our review of BLACK MAGICK #6!

Real Fictional Characters

The characters in THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1 are, for me, the best part of the comic. Not only do they feel like tangible people, but they are also an extremely diverse collection of boys of different races, queer identities, and body types. First, we have Jory, an African American bisexual boy who is full of curiosity and determination. Hunter is a chubby gay boy who specializes in construction and endless flirting. There’s a transgender boy, Beckett, who is anxious and uptight as he runs the lighting booth. Then Sasha, who is extremely short and overflowing with childish wonder and joy. His counterpart, Aziz — presumably of Arabic heritage — is a bit drier and more jaded.

THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1
Image from THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Jory is hilarious with his nervous wit, as seen in the panel above. Honestly, I find him to be extremely relatable. Piling on the awkward flirting between Jory and Hunter only makes things better. It’s sweet and endearing, and really delivers the authentic nervousness of adolescent crushes. The strong friendship between Aziz and Sasha — proclaimed best friends — is touching and genuine. Beckett’s constant worry about fitting in, about always having to earn his place, is painfully honest. When I’m not reading and writing about comics, I’m watching and writing for theater, so this world is a big part of my own life. I find so much truth in this comic and its diversity. I see myself, as well as real people I know and love, in these great characters.

HEAR: Listen to our podcast on homosexuality in comics!

Behind the Curtain

The magical world backstage is incredibly unique. The world and its rearranging tunnels seem to be sentient in some way. The Backstagers have to brave these tunnels to keep the drama club happy, as the actors always want something impossible for props or scenery. Really, the Backstagers can’t do their job without embarking on these exciting missions.

THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1
Image from THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

This magic backstage world is full of beautiful things, like color changing paint and energy crystals. However, this world is also full of danger, from spiders that mimic your voice to swarms of otherworldly rats that eat anything. The threat of peril that constantly looms in the backstage world is cemented by the legend of the group of Backstagers from 1987 who went into the tunnels and never returned. It’s a world that demands bravery from those who enter and appears to take what it wants.

READ: For more queer comics, check out ROCK AND RIOT!

Magical Artwork

Sygh’s illustrations and Baiamonte’s colors are fantastic. The exaggerated, cartoony nature of the characters really captures the fun tone of the comic, as well as harnessing the innocence and dramatics of adolescence. The coloring is bold and vibrant, which really breathes life into the characters and the fictional world. My favorite part is the use of backgrounds to highlight aspects of characters. The antagonistic McQueen brothers, pictured below, are frequently presented in front of a dramatic and flashy backdrop. Characters like Beckett’s crush, Bailey, are drawn with flower backgrounds, as if to emphasize how beautiful they are, inside and out.

THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1
Image from THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Final Thoughts on THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1

This comic immediately captured my heart and refused to let go. Going on the journey of these boys’ triumphs and failures is exciting and heartfelt. If anything, I want more from the characters and the plot. I want to delve deeper into who these boys are and see even higher stakes. I suspect all that and more is to come in the next volume. Even if you’re not crazy about theater like I am, this is a magnificent read that truly captures the human experience.

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