In the little college town of Blitheton, fantasy creatures live cozy, normal lives right alongside humans, and werewolf barista Julie strives to be the most normal of all. But all heck breaks loose when she and her new girlfriend Selena go on a disastrous first date that ends with a magician casting a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late!
The first volume of MOONSTRUCK is divided into five different issues, focusing on the main character, Julie, who is a werewolf and plus-sized Latinx woman. She is in a relationship with Selena, who is a werewolf and Black woman. Julie is a barista at the Black Cat Cafe in a small college town where she works with her best friend Chet. Chet’s gender identity is never explicitly stated, but they use they/them pronouns, and at one point, a male character and Chet show romantic interest in one another. Throughout the story, we meet different creatures, animals, and spirits who live in Blitheton, including Dorian the magician, whose magic show Julie and Selena go to for their first date and who casts a spell on Chet.
Julie and Selena, along with their friend Cass, who is an oracle, are trying to reverse the spell. While they are trying to do so, Julie experiences anxiety and when she becomes particularly overwhelmed, she shifts from human to werewolf, which she seems to fight against with all her might, but the shift ultimately happens. Her distress was juxtaposed with Selena, who seems more at ease with her identity as a werewolf, and doesn’t feel ambivalent about each shift. This comparison was something I reflected about for awhile and I think it draws a parallel to how people’s experiences with and reactions to mental health and identity vary. For example, people have different triggers. Some people might be just figuring out what triggers them and others may already know (and both of those are equally valid).
Although I loved Julie and Selena’s relationship for the most part, I felt frustrated by their lack of communication and that their relationship seemed like it went from 0 to 100 all of a sudden. At the beginning, they were barely getting to know each other on their first date, and pretty soon, they started screaming at each other and using hurtful words that were triggering, especially to Julie. Some of this was ameliorated by them agreeing to go to therapy to improve their communication, but it was only brought up briefly and flippantly. Even though I appreciated the normalization of therapy for relationship issues, I would have appreciated more acknowledgement that hurting one another, particularly so early on, was not okay.
I thought it was so sweet that Julie loves books and wants to become a ghostwriter. There are breaks from the main narrative to show a mirrored storyline in a book series that Julie adores called Pleasant Mountain Sisters, who are solving a mystery. There are also breaks for seemingly random sections called Ask a Know It All, where every time, people can write in and ask various local celebrities for advice. Both of these asides were mildly to moderately invasive in different ways. The former was intrusive because the art style was simpler, involving more bold lines and saturated color, but the change was visually jarring. However, the change was also helpful because it greatly distinguished the two stories from one another. The latter was intrusive because while these pages were fun, they didn’t seem to have anything to do with the main narrative. With this volume only being 120 pages, I would have preferred less of these breaks.
Even so, I enjoyed the art style and colors overall. The illustrator mostly used less saturated purples, pinks, and pastel warm colors like yellow and orange. Think Taylor Swift’s music video for Me!, but with less blues and greens. In the scenes at the coffee shop, there were muted browns and beiges which created a warm and inviting setting, and I could smell the coffee in the air sitting on my couch reading. The colors added to the whimsical, more light hearted urban fantasy feel, and accompanied the animal puns and quips about colonialism well.
At some points, I felt confused by the plot, especially in the back half of the five “issues”. There seemed to be a lack of continuity between frames, especially towards the end when the plot became more frenetic, so it was difficult to orient the setting in any specific scene. My confusion was especially great in the scenes that involved Dorian and a spirit character and revolved around magic, because they had a lot of what I suspect was sudden movement in the dark and took away from the art style and colors I mentioned previously. The frantic feeling was heightened as the magic storyline went on because there was very little explanation of what was going on, and the lack of connection between panels didn’t help. As one would expect, Julie and Selena eventually came head to head with the antagonists but the final scene was blown past very quickly and I think everything could have been more fleshed out and paced more appropriately.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED, WITH ASTERISKS
MOONSTRUCK Vol. 1 was a lot of fun, and I appreciated the representation of different races, skin tones, body shapes, genders, and sexualities. I thought the art style and colors used for the main narrative were beautiful and suited the whimsical quality of the story. However, parts of the plot felt muddled and the pacing was not appropriate. If you can suspend your disbelief and just want a rollickin’ feel-good time, this might be the graphic novel for you.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Julie, a werewolf, goes on a date to a magic show with her new girlfriend Selena but their friend Chet falls under a spell, and chaos ensues.
Genre: Light hearted urban fantasy graphic novel
Trigger/content warning: anxiety, body image challenges, relationship issues