I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve had some crummy jobs. I’m talking about the kind of jobs where it seems as though there’s no point in what you’re doing, your superiors make you feel valueless and replaceable, and whatever you get out of it feels like way less than the bits of your soul the job seems to be draining out of you day by day.
If you’ve ever had a job like that, you’ll probably strongly relate to the opening pages of Galanthus, the queer space fantasy webcomic by Ashanti Fortson. When we meet the comic’s star character, Farah, she’s being called by the number on her back and told off by a talking eyeball for literally staring into space. We quickly discover that Farah works on some kind of spacecraft in a tightly controlled factory environment, where being caught looking out of a window could earn you two days without food. Farah seems alone among her many fellow workers in hoping to find a way out of this miserable situation — but that conviction, which causes a fight between her and a fellow worker, is exactly what gives her an opportunity to escape. She manages to secure passage and actual, paid employment on a smuggling ship, the titular Galanthus, opening herself and the comic’s readers up to a much bigger world than the one we started out in.
Galanthus is still relatively new, both to me and in general: as I’m writing this, it’s still in the beginning stages of its second chapter. But even within such a short span of time, Fortson has created the promise of a vast universe, ready to be traversed by our heroes. We’ve already gotten some tantalizing hints about the physical makeup of their world: conversations about spaceship technology that reference “threads” and “hooks,” and the exciting introduction of a deity called “the Weaver.” (You can read a little more about that in this Q&A that Fortson did with Nicole Brinkley at YA Interrobang.) Every hint at Galanthus’s mythology is like a little seed that I find myself staring at impatiently, willing it to grow! Meanwhile, the story has already taken us from space stations to intergalactic marketplaces and introduced more species of people than I can reliably recall; as both the crew of the Galanthus and a mysterious, powerful stranger are seeking the same rare artifact on a far-flung and haunted (yes, haunted!) planet, there are undoubtedly more thrilling locales to come.
However expansive the geography of Galanthus turns out to be, the comic still has a very intimate feel. Farah, our most frequent viewpoint character, doesn’t shy away from the daunting challenge of forming new relationships in a very unusual setting. While some of the people around her are prickly, others exude an aura of kindness, lending a cozy narrative glow to her encounters. Some of that comforting atmosphere may come from the familiarity of the well-loved space adventure tropes Fortson employs – the quirky, scrappy smuggling crew, the troubling hints of intergalactic empire and space capitalism – but there’s a unique combination of warmth and mystery in these stories that is simply inviting. This spread, part of a dream sequence, is a perfect example, combining human connection with strange magic, silence with motion.
Fortson has a great eye for detail, which makes the prospect of future capers all the more enticing. I feel like I’m constantly discovering new things on each re-read: in one scene, the Galanthus’s captain and first mate are meeting with the leader of a wildly popular baked goods seller / possible crime syndicate. I was delighted to realize that the lavish furniture in the leader’s office all resembles baked goods – from a chair backrest shaped like a loaf of bread, to an antique-looking sofa whose curves form the shape of a pretzel. Fortson’s use of color is just as fun and surprising, employing plenty of the vivid neons that you might expect from a space fantasy, but not shying away from earthier, moodier tones, either. I love the way Farah moves from the sterile, pale environment of her factory to the rainbow-hued attractions of the dock marketplace where she makes her escape, even inadvertently dyeing her clothes from beige to the rich purple of the fruits she hides among. Or the way the crew of the Galanthus complement the festive market stalls against the backdrop of a sunny desert city.
I hope you noticed that Beethoven joke in the above panel, because I literally guffawed when I read it the first time. (This is all the more unseemly when you know that I do most of my webcomics reading at work when I should be acting like a buttoned-up professional.) Fortson employs the kind of impeccably well-timed silly humor that reminds me strongly of Steven Universe; I really fell in love with Galanthus when we encounter one of Farah’s factory bosses, who has one lone giant eyeball for a face with a single angry eyebrow floating above it. I just can’t imagine a better or funnier personification of a shitty, exploitative boss.*
But ultimately, what keeps me coming back to Galanthus, above all else, is Farah. She is intrepid, stepping unhesitatingly into a massively unknown universe to seek freedom. She is courageous, opening up to complete strangers, even being so brave as to ask for help from a rude comrade when she’s overwhelmed by having to take in so much information at once. She stands out among heroes, unapologetically taking up space in her fat body, her hijab, and her brown skin. And though we’ve only been briefly introduced to them, I suspect I will grow just as attached to the rest of the cast in all of their queer, gender-nonconforming, and extraterrestrial beauty.
I think I might have found Galanthus at exactly the right time in my life: in less than two weeks from publishing this review, I’ll be moving across the country, starting school, and trying to build a social and professional life in a city I’ve only ever spent a single day in. Watching Farah navigate her relationships and her adventures in space really resonates with the tender, vulnerable part of me that’s afraid I’ve made a number of unforgivably foolish choices on a one-way trip to failure. Galanthus is comic that is clearly made with love: reading it makes me feel understood, and gives me courage to embark on a new journey with clear eyes and an open heart.
You can support Galanthus and Ashanti Fortson by subscribing to their Patreon, which comes with sneak peeks and lots of extras! Fortson also plans to attend Flame Con in NYC this August, and encourages folks to stop by!
*(Not you, [redacted current boss]! You know you’re my favorite. ^_^)