VLA Graphic Novel Diversity Award Winners for 2018 Announced

Celebrating our fourth year offering this award with 35 publishers submitting 64 titles in two categories: Adult and Youth. There were so many incredible books which made the selection of a winner difficult. We wish we could recognize every entry if it were at all possible.


Adult Category

Bingo Love, by Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge, Joy San. Published by Image Comics.
Themes: Sexuality, Ethnicity, Age, Disability, Gender

Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray fall in love at first sight when they meet at a church bingo session in 1963, but are kept apart by society and familial expectations. After marrying young men and having families, the women cannot deny their feelings for each other when they meet again decades later. Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, and Joy San deliver a beautifully written and illustrated story of two African-American women discovering the strength to pursue their own happiness and reclaim lost love.



Tee Franklin is a Queer disabled Black woman who writes comics: “The Outfit” (NAILBITER #27), “A Blazin'” (in the Ignatz Award-winning Elements Anthology), “Tears” (in the Eisner-winning and New York Times bestselling Love is Love), and Inclusive Press' Queer romance graphic novella, BINGO LOVE. Franklin won the 2017 Queer Press Grant for BINGO LOVE and raised almost $60,000 for this graphic novella via Kickstarter. She fights for inclusion in comics, no matter the risks, as she hopes that the next generation of marginalized comic creators won't have to put up with what's been happening for the past 75-plus years.

JENN ST-ONGE (Artist):

The Canadian illustrator/comic artist behind IDW’s Jem & the Misfits and Emet Comics’ Finding Molly series. She’s the princess of coffee-loving cat ladies and currently lives just outside Toronto, Ontario, with her husband, four cats, and one doggo.

Youth Category

Meal by Blue Delliquanti and Soleil Ho. Published by Iron Circus Comics.
Themes: LGBTQ+, Ethnicity

Yarrow eats bugs. Mealworms, grasshoppers, and even tarantulas find a home in her recipes, and she's passionate about sharing her love of insect (and arachnid) cuisine with others. So when she hears of a new restaurant with an insect-focused menu, she moves across the country, hoping for a job as a chef. While working at Casa Chicatana may be Yarrow's dream, the owner and head chef, Chandra, is skeptical of Yarrow. For Chandra, eating insects is a way to stay connected to her roots, not a fad. Determined to make her dreams a reality, Yarrow sets out to convince Chandra she's serious about insect cuisine, help Casa Chicatana open on time, and maybe even work up the courage to ask out Milani, her artist neighbor. 

This novel adeptly captures Yarrow's endearing earnestness, and even picky eaters will find themselves intrigued by the descriptions of how people around the world use insects in their cooking. Detailed black and white illustrations capture the intricacies of the characters' appearances, culture heritages, and personalities. Readers will not only gain an appreciation for--or at least an understanding of--entomophagy (eating insects), they'll also find themselves caught up in the business challenges facing Casa Chicatana, the will-they-won't-they tension of Milani and Yarrow's relationship, and Yarrow's search for a sense of belonging. This story is perfect for older teens who are beginning to question who they are and how they fit into the world. As an added bonus, it even contains some recipes for some of the dishes mentioned, in case readers are inspired to try their own insect-based meals.

BLUE DELLIQUANTI (Co-author and Artist): 

Blue Delliquanti is a comic artist based in Minneapolis. She is the author of the Lambda Literary Award-nominated comic O Human Star, which has updated at ohumanstar.com since 2012. Her work has also appeared in various anthologies, including Beyond, New World, and the Smut Peddler series.


SOLEIL HO (Co-author):

Soleil Ho is a Vietnamese-American chef, writer, and podcaster. Her writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, The Atlas Review, Paste, Oh She Goes, Edible Manhattan, TASTE, and Bitch. She hosts two podcasts: Bitch Media's revered Propaganda, and Racist Sandwich, an award-nominated podcast on food and intersectional politics.


Honor Books

Adult Category

My Brother's Husband, Volume 2 by Gengoroh Tagame. Translated by Anne Ishii. Published by Pantheon. Themes: Japanese culture, LGBTQ+

Volume 1 ends with a dream, and Volume 2 begins with the main character, Yaichi contemplating this dream as he continues to explore his attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community as a Japanese heterosexual man. The artwork captures the emotional impact of the internal conflicts for each character. The story ends with this volume when Mike, the husband of Yaichi’s twin brother, returns to Canada. Are there more adventures for Yaichi, Kana and Mike in the future? We can only hope.

Dumb: Living without a Voice by Georgia Webber. Published by Fantagraphics Books.
Theme: Disability

In this vivid and haunting graphic memoir, we hear Webber’s story as she copes with a vocal injury that leaves her without a voice. What seems like a simple diagnosis of a vocal cord injury quickly becomes a spiral into depression, frustration, and mourning for something many people take for granted. Webber artfully conveys these emotions and her journey through a series of comic style panels that lead to a phrenetic scribble that allows the reader insight into her heart and mind as she tries to balance work, friends, and life without a voice. While there isn’t a definitive ending to the book, readers will nonetheless be left with hope that Webber’s voice and identity won’t be lost forever.


Amla Mater by Devi Menon. Published by Yali Books.
Theme: Ethnicity/Nationality

Author-Illustrator Devi Menon tells South Indian immigrant Mili's story in charming clean lines. Now living in London and expecting a baby soon, Mili's life is very different from her childhood in Kerala. Food and smell have strong ties to memory. As Mili tries to recreate her childhood favorite of pickled gooseberries (amla), we "taste" her past home, family and friendships. With notes of sweetness and nostalgia, Amla Mater is a lovely story we all can relate to.


Puerto Rico Strong, edited by Hazel Newlevant, Desiree Rodriguez, Marco Lopez, Derek Ruiz, and Neil Schwartz; multiple authors and artists. Published by Lion Forge.
Themes: Race, Ethnicity, Nationality

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Marco Lopez watched news coverage on the devastation of his Caribbean home. Deciding he needed to do something to help support his gente, Lopez got to work contacting fellow writers and artists to create Puerto Rico Strong, an anthology of stories about what it means to be Puerto Rican. Sales from the book go to rebuilding efforts on the island, which is still facing billions of dollars' worth of damages.

Puerto Rico Strong serves as a collection of stories that give insight into the rich culture, racial diversity, and tragic history of the island. Although these stories vary in length, artistic style, and genre, a common theme appears: the strength of the Puerto Rican people. As Daniel, a character in "Hope" (written by Neil Schwartz / art by Ramón J. Sierra Santiago) points out, "Puerto Ricans can overcome anything."

Youth Category

The Bride Was a Boy by Chii. Published by Seven Seas Entertainment.
Theme: LGBTQ+

In The Bride was a boy, author and illustrator Chii tells her story of a woman assigned as male at birth. Chii illustrates how she transitioned from a man to a woman and fell in love with the man whom she would eventually marry. While based on her personal experiences, Chii includes factual information including definitions of terms and current laws in Japan. Illustrated in chibi style, this heartwarming memoir is an engaging and informative read.



The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell. Published by Random House Children's Books/ Alfred A Knopf.
Themes: Race, Ethnicity, Nationality

A brave knight fights a powerful sorceress. A watchful guardian stands vigil over his home. Shop owners compete to sell the finest weapons and the most powerful potions. In other words, a typical day in a suburban neighborhood! School is out for the summer, and a group of kids put their imaginations to good use building their own cardboard kingdom in this series of short stories. Through their summer adventures, they develop friendships, learn about themselves, and find the strength to stand up to their real-life problems as masterfully as they do their cardboard and paint dragons. This is a charming story collection that celebrates each child's differences and gives them license to be themselves, whether that's a too-loud banshee or a gender-nonconforming sorceress. The art weaves together the children's fantasy with reality seamlessly, and the stories address tough topics, such as divorce and bullying, without being preachy. Adults and children alike will be charmed by this neighborhood's inhabitants and find themselves wishing to be part of the magic.

The Strange by Jérôme Ruillier. Published by Drawn & Quarterly.
Theme: Nationality

The Strange tells the story of an undocumented immigrant moving to a foreign country. It is told through various viewpoints including his neighbors, his employer, and others he encounters along the way. His struggle is painfully illustrated as individuals watch him suspiciously and are mostly unwelcoming. His language is shown only as symbols, a technique that keenly emphasizes his difficulty assimilating into a foreign land.



A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson. Published by Oni Press.
Themes: LGBTQ+

Featuring best friends Archie, a non-binary artist and Tristan, a cisgender man, this straightforward and informative story is both entertaining and a guide to incorporating inclusive language and behavior into everyday life. Archie and Tristan’s honest back and forth casts light on the characters’ different life experiences giving Archie a voice that appeals to the reader as much as to Tristen. The authors have a light touch and the ability to make an important and serious subject unflinching and fun for younger readers. In a landscape of quickly evolving language, this is a practical handbook everyone should read and every library should own.


There are some titles that deserve to be recognized so the committee has selected 5 titles for the overfloweth list. These books deserve to find readers and this is our way to get the word out.

Adult Category

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Anne Frank. Illustrated by David Polonsky. Adapted by Ari Folman. Published by Knopf; Pantheon.
Theme: Religion

Whether you’re experiencing Anne Frank’s diary for the first time or you’re a returning reader, Polonsky’s artwork adds a striking visual perspective to this timeless story. Not only does his artwork beautifully depict Frank’s inner thoughts during that frightful, tragic time in history, they also stand out by adding an extra layer to the lives of all the individuals that lived together in that tiny space in a drastic effort to survive. Though the story is familiar, this new adaptation still provides a fresh outlook on Anne Frank’s enduring contribution to literature.

The Flutter Collection by Jennie Wood, Jeff McComsey, and Chris Goodwin. Published by Dark Horse Books. Theme: LGBTQ+

You may recognize this title, as Flutter, Volume Two: Don't Let Me Die Nervous was recognized as a 2015 Youth Honor Book in the first year of the VLA Graphic Novel Diversity Award. Last year all three volumes were compiled and released as The Flutter Collection. The collection, by writer and creator Jennie Wood, twists together in a sci-fi/thriller Bildungsroman centered on LGBTQIA+ teen Lily. Reminiscent of Heroes, Sense8, and Umbrella Academy, it's no surprise that Dark Horse Entertainment has optioned the collection for television.




Love Letters to Jane's World by Paige Braddock. Published by Lion Forge.
Themes: LGBTQ+

Love Letters to Jane's World is an anthology of the strip Jane's World by Paige Braddock. With 90's flair, Jane's comic adventures show daily LGBT life with a little bit of fantasy (alien abductions). The main character is lovable and quirky, with a diverse cast of supporting characters. Readers don't have to be familiar with the original comic to move into Jane's world and settle in.




Tales from la Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology, edited by Frederick Luis Aldama; multiple artists. Published by The Ohio State University Press.
Themes: Race, Ethnicity, Nationality

Tales from La Vida is an anthology of more than 80 vibrantly written and illustrated short comics featuring and written by Latinx authors. Each comic is influenced by its author's personal history, highlighting the complexities of growing up and celebrating their simultaneously individual yet shared heritage and identities. Although the stories are brief, they showcase the unique literary and artistic styles of the contributors, providing a window into the language, history, and culture of Latinx life.



 Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel; adapted by Mariko Tamaki. Published by Humanoids.
Theme: LGBTQ+

“If I knew then what I know now” is a common lyric in several songs and totally encapsulates this book where a 33-year-old woman encounters her 15-year-old self. Present day Luisa is not satisfied, especially with her romantic life where she goes through a string of men who do not meet her needs. This is expounded when 15-year-old Luisa arrives and the older Luisa finds herself a disappointment in her younger self’s opinion. Both Luisa’s come to learn their authentic selves --sometimes in tumultuous ways -- in this beautifully illustrated book.


Youth Category

Check Please!: Book 1: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu. Published by Macmillan Children's Publishing.
Theme: LGBTQ+

Check Please! springs from the pages of a webcomic and the world of vlogs onto the written page with tremendous success. Eric Bittle, new to Samwell College, joins the hockey team and finds that being gay is more than okay, he is welcomed without comment by his new teammates. Through first person confessionals and interplay between characters, author Ngozi Ukazu deftly weaves the blooming affection between Bittle and soccer star Jack into the heart of the story. Whether you’re a sports fan or a romance seeker, this intimate and engaging tale catches the attention from the start.


On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. Published by Macmillan Children's Publishing.
Theme: LGBTQ+

In On A Sunbeam, Tillie Walden brings us a coming of age story with alternating timelines, complex characters, and lots of queer love. By imagining a space opera populated only by women, girls, and one non-binary character, Walden has avoided the too-common fault of writing women off the page and out of space. On A Sunbeam carefully handles notions of girlhood, maturity, and queer identities, imagining what the future might hold for each. While one of the story lines follows Mia’s tale of lost love, the other follows her experiences with a group of misfits hurtling through space as they repair the ruins of collapsed societies -- not out of a sense of responsibility to the past but out of a desire for adventure and excitement. Doing what’s right always trumps following the rules for this team, and chasing down a lost love fits squarely in the do-what’s-right category for them. Walden’s limited color palette makes room for a full cast of multifaceted characters and their complex relationships with one another.


Brazen: Rebel Ladies who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu. Published by Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.
Themes: Gender, Feminism, Race, Ethnicity, LGBTQ+

Brazen brings a fighting spirit to the field of collected feminist biographies. Bagieu profiles a variety of women throughout history who persisted through heightened adversity. Some of the women are well-known and others have been underappreciated over time, but every one of them refused to be subdued. Through this collection we meet a group of women trailblazers pushing boundaries in their roles as artists, leaders, scientists, warriors, and much more. The women profiled represent societies around the world, varied socioeconomic classes, and historical periods from 350 BCE to today. Brazen stands out from other illustrated collected biographies by allowing every subject a brief yet full narrative rather than a character sketch alone. The artwork is engaging and accessible, allowing young readers to connect easily with a diverse cast of notable women. You’ll come away with a new list of women to look up to whether you read it cover to cover or flip through it leisurely.


My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun. Published by Lerner Publishing Group.
Themes: Chinese Culture, Disability

For Yu’er and her grandfather, life in one of China’s dynamic and traditional hutongs is a beautiful series of stories. Yu’er’s disability leaves her an outsider, left out of the swim team and bullied by other children. Four intertwining stories show the reader that magic can happen with the use of a few pulleys, a couple of stamps, and a garden of musical bugs. My Beijing is a slice of life richly illustrated and filled with positive messages. The reader can easily slip into Yu’er’s neighborhood and her special relationship with her grandfather and leave again feeling the warmth of a good visit home.




Congratulations again to all the winners and to all those who submitted the many diverse and wonderful titles that made the judges’ job of selecting the winners both challenging and rewarding. The 2019 VLA Graphic Novel Diversity Award is now open for submissions. For additional information about the 2019 awards, you can email the 2019 chair at [email protected]. For information pertaining to the 2018 award, email [email protected].