Best Shots Review: THE BACKSTAGERS & THE GHOST LIGHT 'a Great Book for Theatre Geeks of All Stripes' (9/10)

The Backstagers and the Ghost Light
Credit: Rian Sygh (Amulet Books)
Credit: Rian Sygh (Amulet Books)

The Backstagers and the Ghost Light (Backstagers #1)
Written by Andy Mientus
Illustrated by Rian Sygh
Published by Amulet Books
Review by C.K. Stewart
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The boys are back in town in a brand new prose novel based on BOOM! Studios’ Backstagers series. Broadway actor (and alumnus of CW’s The Flash) Andy Mientus picks up the pen for The Backstagers and the Ghost Light, the first in a series of middle grade prose novels based on the characters created by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh for BOOM! The original limited series lasted eight issues, but found a passionate fan following that saw it picked up for two holiday specials, including a Halloween one-shot dropping later this month. Series illustrator/co-creator Sygh returns on illustration duties, teaming up with Mientus to deliver a fun all-ages read that perfectly captures the spirit of the original issues.

If you’re new to The Backstagers, prepared to be spoiled or check out the original eight issues before you give this a read - Mientus dives right into the world of the Backstagers, opening The Ghost Light with the final night of Lease, the production that caused the boys so much trouble in Vol. 2. There’s an unfortunate mishap involving a broken light bulb and a spirit board, and all of a sudden, Hunter, Jory, Sasha, Aziz, and Beckett find themselves thrown head-first into a ghostly mystery that threatens to bring down the curtain early not only on St. Genesius’ next production, but maybe even on the Backstagers’ lives.

There’s a misconception about middle grade or all-ages books that the genres are more defined by the type of subject matter - light, fluffy, based on a kid’s show or, in this case, a comic - than the actual writing of the book. A middle grade book should be something relatable and accessible for younger readers, not just in terms of the characters you’re seeing but in terms of the content itself: the writing should be accessible and easy to parse, the characters’ issues should be familiar and relatable. Mientus does a solid job delivering on both fronts, offering a book that’s clear and easy to follow while touching on themes most people, but particularly kids, will find keenly familiar.

Mientus, much like Tynion and Sygh in the comic books, doesn’t shy away from horror elements, and Sygh does a fantastic job delivering spot illustrations that help set the mood throughout, but both manage not to make the book flat-out frightening - there are high stakes and very eerie moments, but you never forget that these are high school students, some just freshman and sophomores, trying to put an end to a potential global theatre catastrophe. Hunter is struggling to prepare for the trials that will let him take the reins as a full-fledged stage manager his senior year, Jory is still struggling with being the new kid at St. Genesius, and Aziz is uncertain of his place in the world of theatre. Mientus also seizes the opportunity to expand on the world Sygh and Tynion introduced us to, offering new characters who fit perfectly into the Backstagers universe and expanding on the personalities and backstories of characters we only got to see briefly in the comics.

It’s fantastic to see Sygh illustrating the prose novels - his style is a delight, his characters vibrant and full of personality even in these small, often half-page illustrations, and his work here is both an excellent complement to Mientus’ prose but a fantastic teaser for first-time Backstagers who might wind up curious about the original comic books. This is a great book for theatre geeks of all stripes, whether you’re an Onstager or a Backstager; newcomers will have plenty to fall in love with here, and fans of the original comic books will find plenty in The Backstagers and the Ghost Light to make them fall in love with the world of the Backstagers all over again.

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