September 11, 2020

Comic review: "The Backstagers"

My thoughts on "The Backstagers," a series of graphic novels created by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh.

Comic review: "The Backstagers"

"The Backstagers" is a series of young adult graphic novels (and a companion prose book series), created by writer James Tynion IV and artist Rian Sygh. The series is published by Boom! Studios. (Spoilers below.)

Summary

The series centers around a group of teenage boys who're the stage hands (or "Backstagers") for the theater department at their private all-boys high school, St. Genesius. Unknown to everyone (except the backstage crew and their mentors), the backstage secretly contains an entire magical realm, from "tool rats" (rats with carpentry tools forming part of their bodies) to shifting corridors.

The stage crew in question consists of:

  • Jory: The newcomer to both the school and the crew. Jory's interests include drawing, which comes into play over the course of the series.
  • Hunter: The main carpenter of the crew, Hunter's fond of his pink power drill. (He's not so fond of Sondheim, however.) Hunter's described as being flirtatious, but it turns out he only has eyes for Jory (and vice-versa, as the two become a couple).
  • Sasha: A youth who's energetic, naïve, and cheerful. Despite being the same age as the rest of the gang, Sasha looks (and acts) much younger.
  • Beckett: The lights technician for the school theater. Beckett's proud of his (complicated) light setup. He's also the most cynical member of the group, including about subjects such as romance. This despite his poorly-concealed crush on Bailey, a girl who goes to a similar all-girls high school (that Beckett formerly attended before coming out as transgender). Beckett's favorite beverage is Diet Coke (or its in-universe generic equivalent).
  • Aziz: The "straight man" of the group both figuratively (he's somewhat serious minded and rational) and literally (he's one of the few heterosexual characters in the cast). Aziz's best friend is Sasha, who Aziz often tries to keep out of trouble.

Other characters include:

  • Bailey: The top actress at her school's drama club.
  • Tim and Jaime: The two senior stage managers of the crew, who help out in the gang's adventures occasionally. (They're both also dating each other, which comes up a bit more in the prose novels.)
  • Mr. Rample: The faculty advisor for the theater department and the backstage crew, and the main adult character in the series. Mr. Rample himself was a former "backstager" when he was a student at St. Genesius  in the 1980s, and thus is familiar with the magical nature of the backstage.
  • The McQueens: A pair of twins who're the drama club's snobbish lead actors.
  • Reo: A character from the prose novels who joins the stage crew; Reo's interested in practicing witchcraft.
  • Adrienne: One of the stagehands at Bailey's school.

The series consists of three graphic novels, which were followed up with three prose novels. The prose novels were written by Andy Mientus, star of various Broadway musicals, as well as starring as the Pied Piper on TV's "The Flash."

Beckett's character is supposedly based on artist Rian Sygh, down to both enjoying Diet Coke.

"The Backstagers" often gets compared to "Lumberjanes" in terms of being a series starring LGBTQ characters who deal with the supernatural.

Cover of "The Backstagers: Valentine's Intermission."
"The Backstagers: Valentine's Intermission." Art by Rian Sygh. (Boom! Studios)

Highlights

  • The Valentine's Day special. Beckett's deemed a "Valentine's Day Grinch." As such, he turned the crew’s backstage hangout into a “no Valentine’s Day zone,” with banners everywhere warning the others (particularly fellow stagehands/lovebirds Jory and Hunter) about such. (The “absolutely no canoodle’n” one was hilarious, and reminiscent of something from the old comic strip "Bloom County.") Beckett traditionally spends Valentine's Day watching gory horror films while eating junk food.
  • Also from the same Valentine's Day special: Sasha rakes in a ludicrous amount of candy; Jory tries to find a Valentine's Day card for Hunter; and Aziz and Adrienne start dating each other (expanded upon in the prose novels).
  • While he's only in the prose novels, Reo's a fun addition to the cast. That, and somebody who's strongly interested in magic seems useful to have around.
  • The gang's counterparts from Bailey's school (who strongly resemble the guys).

Image from "The Backstagers and the Theater of the Ancients." Art by Rian Sygh. (Abrams)

Tags: Mediacomic reviewsgraphic novelsLGBTQThe BackstagersBoom StudiosAfrican-AmericansJames Tynion IVRian Sygh