Wayward Sisters: An Anthology of Monstrous Women
Published by TO Comix Press
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Fantasy tales centered around femme folks are often expected to learn more towards beauty than the beast, but Wayward Sisters delivers more than a dozen stories featuring monsters of all sorts, from glamorous ghouls to tales of unsettling body horror and flat out fantastical creatures. More than thirty contributors, led by editor Allison O’Toole, deliver an anthology with a little something for everyone - unnerving, mysterious, charming, and sometimes all three at once. As Faith Erin Hicks says in her forward, “These are the fairy tales I wish I had as a kid, the ones that say it’s okay if you struggle, it’s okay if you’re weird, it’s okay if you’re a little monstrous. We all are, after all.”
Love and Fury by Aimee Lim and Sam Beck sets the tone and an exceptionally high bar for the rest of the collection. Lim crafts a supernatural tale of love and betrayal elevated by illustrations from Beck that are so engagingly human - older, aged, but full of the dignity and charm of folks who are confident in the knowledge that age and beauty aren’t mutually exclusive - they make the gorier elements of the series that much more unsettling. O’Toole’s own Tinseltown, with illustrator Emmanuelle Chateauneuf, is similarly eerie with the distinction of featuring some of the most striking artwork in the entire anthology thanks to Chateauneuf’s expert use of spot reds.
O’Toole has curated an anthology that embraces the full spectrum of what monstrous can mean; where Lim and Beck deliver humans hiding monsters in their hearts, Saffron Aurora delivers an absolutely adorable tale of a monster running her entire body ragged in her two jobs, one limb at a time. Aurora’s art has a vibrancy and life to it that makes poor, exhausted, stitched-together Frankie extremely relatable. Aurora offers a playful twist on monster tales that will charm just about anyone (particularly fans of Scooby Doo and the Ghoul School). More abstract monsters get their due as well; cartoonist Iguanamouth’s Light Pollution is an absolute delight, featuring two helpful rats as they traverse the city to get a new eye back to their shadowy friend. Their art breathes warmth and life into a city lit by the speckled glow of streetlights and neon, and feels so heartfelt you can’t help but smile.
For all the tonal differences between the individual works, there’s no dissonance or sense that any individual contribution is a bad fit. These are unique and deeply personal reflections on what it might mean to be a monster by a collection of exceptionally talented creators, arranged in a way to give readers a moment to breathe and reflect between the tales leaning towards a traditional horror bent, and the light-hearted moments of comedy. A handful of the stories - Love and Fury, Tinseltown, and Casandra Grullon’s gripping but gruesome Moonless Sea - do feature some unsettling gore, which while not surprising for a monster anthology is worth noting for folks who like to go in prepared. Don’t let that deter you, though. There are plenty of lighter tales to enjoy as well that make this anthology worth a look.
Wayward Sisters is also an extremely well-designed anthology - while design sometimes goes unremarked on in reviews, it can be a make-or-break for reading experiences involving anthologies of this size, and Wayward Sisters is informative and easy to navigate with a full index and bios with social media information for creators before each individual story. For digital readers especially, this is a gift - it’s easy to go back and find all your favorite stories on multiple reads even if you can’t dog-ear a page. Wayward Sisters is available in print through WaywardSistersAnthology.com, and a full list of the creative teams with their stories can be found at WaywardSistersAnthology.com as well.