Writer: Grace Ellis
Artist: Shae Beagle
Publisher: Image Comics
A review and analysis by Jameson Hampton
I discovered Moonstruck this past summer when I was having a particularly bad day and I decided to go to my local comic book store and see if I could find any “cute, queer” comics to cheer me up. Moonstruck delivered on those criteria beyond my wildest dreams, with a splash of magic on the side! This new series from Image Comics features an immersive fantasy world and a wholesome queer romance, all wrapped up into one delightfully dreamy package.
Issue #1 is mainly slice of life, introducing us to a small menagerie of magical creatures and giving us a first glimpse of the enchanting universe they live in. Meet Julie, a soft-spoken and slightly anxious werewolf who loves young adult novels and is enamored with her new girlfriend, Selena. Meet Chet, Julie’s coworker at the coffee shop, an outgoing and gregarious centaur who appreciates puns and the cute minotaur who frequents their cafe. Meet Mark, a cowardly vampire and Lindi, an angry medusa, whose roommate situation has been tense since Mark quit the band.
Getting to know the characters and the casual ways they interact feels natural. The coffee shop setting feels warm, cozy and welcoming, like a favorite sweater. The incredibly charming art, done by newcomer Shae Beagle, enhances that feeling. On top of being adorable, the art is also pretty intricate. I enjoyed flipping through the pages over and over again, eyeing all the cute background characters and wondering about their stories and magical powers.
Naturally, the plot thickens in issue #2. We follow Julie and Selena on their big second date to a stage magic show, accompanied by Chet for moral support. We’re also introduced to a new character, Dorian – a smooth-talking but suspicious fox who has some interesting things to say about the nature of magic.
While still charming, the second issue has a distinctly darker tone, which is reflected particularly in the color palette of the art. In fact, the ominous overtones are so tangible that it’s physically uncomfortable to watch Chet not pick up on them. The suspense builds as Chet blindly acts as the magician’s apprentice – and then it happens. In a puff of smoke, they’re transformed and suddenly sporting human legs instead of their normal centaur bottom half!
Issue #3, which comes out on October 4th, elevates the story to a new level, firmly stepping out of “slice of life” territory and turning into a tale of adventure and intrigue. It opens with Chet mourning the loss of their centaur butt, complaining about how wobbly their new human legs are and lamenting the fact that they now have to wear pants! Oh, the humanity!
The treatment of Chet’s predicament is deeply interesting. Traditionally in many comics (like X-Men, particularly famously), being “cured” of one’s abnormalities is seen as desirable by some – or at least as a moral quandary, where characters are faced with a tough decision regarding being “cured” or not. Chet’s transformation to a human is never portrayed as a “cure” and it’s immediately apparent that this is something they never would have chosen.
Other characters’ reactions are a little more varied: Julie urges Chet to try to get used to their new legs, bringing up their benefits and even using the dreaded “n” word – “You get to be normal now!” Selena, on the other hand, is more proactive and wants to focus on ways to help Chet get their magic back. So we have a transformation where others may see something bad that could be fixed or improved, but Chet doesn’t want to change because they see that piece of themselves as part of their identity… and I can’t help but see a metaphor for the queer experience.
Queer representation is something that I couldn’t talk about Moonstruck without bringing up. It’s impossible to ignore – the three main characters are a lesbian couple and their nonbinary friend! First of all, as a fellow queer person, the accuracy is so good it hurts. One of my favorite lines in the series so far is Chet’s quip, “My gender identity today is terrible puns” – because it’s exactly how my nonbinary friends and I talk to each other at all times.
There’s also a canonical mini-comic about Julie and Selena’s first date, which is as adorable as you’d expect – and includes the unbelievably relatable moment where Julie bursts out in anger, “I JUST WANT TO DRINK COFFEE AND HOLD HANDS WITH A CUTE GIRL!” (Mini issue #0, by the way, is available as a pay-what-you-want download, with all proceeds going to the Hispanic Foundation to help with hurricane relief in Puerto Rico!)
The reason, of course, that the queer characters are so relatable is because they’re written by queer creators; writer Grace Ellis identifies as a lesbian and artist Shae Beagle is nonbinary! Letting queer creators tell the queer stories they want to tell is so important, and it’s how we end up with beautiful pieces like Moonstruck.
The thing that’s so beautiful to me about Moonstruck is how queerness is treated as a non-issue. Nobody, not even anxious Julie, is ashamed of who they are in that regard. No snide comments are made when Julie and Selena are out together. Everyone uses neutral pronouns for Chet without messing up or making a big deal about it. It doesn’t really ever explicitly come up because it doesn’t have to.
We’re so inundated with media that’s about the hardships of being LGBTQ+, so it’s incredibly refreshing to see a series like Moonstruck letting its characters be unabashedly themselves, living their normal queer lives, without struggling with coming out or dealing with discrimination.
That doesn’t mean that the series doesn’t delve into any queer issues! I can see a sort of allegory when I look at the difference between Chet, who is obviously a centaur to anyone who looks at them, and Julie, who tries to repress her werewolf side in order to pass for human. Chet’s centaur-ness is central to their identity but Julie struggles, embarrassed by her wolfish outbursts. Selena seems to be able to change between wolf and human at her pleasure, but Julie only turns in situations of high stress – and she even chastises Selena for changing in public. This definitely mirrors the fear many queer people have of being ostracized, although importantly, this is a wholly internal struggle; nobody except for Julie seems bothered by her wolfishness.
Of course, this metaphor also extends to the themes about being “cured,” which is a historically painful issue in LGBTQ circles, and why it’s such a relief that Chet’s misfortune is widely treated as just that – misfortune.
I also mentioned the words “adventure” and “intrigue” in reference to issue #3! There’s a lot going on in these busy pages, as Julie and Selena attend the Blitheton State University homecoming parade in search for signs of the suspicious stage magicians or any other clues that may help their friend find their lost butt. Shae Beagle’s art is more intricate than ever, with tons of easter eggs and mystical beings to be spotted in the background, from fawns and mermaids to faerie frat-boys to a feather-boa clad Babadook celebrating on the LGBTQ student group float!
I don’t want to give too much away in terms of the story, but the buildup in issue #3 is really rewarding, particularly how all the characters we’ve met in the previous issues are seamlessly intertwined in the action. Everything that happens in this issue happens for a reason and that gives the reader a sense of gravity as it builds up to a final showdown.
Of course, it’s not really a final showdown. In fact, it feels more like an isolated battle at the beginning of a larger and more ominous war that’s beginning to brew. More than ever, the end of the newest issue had me sitting on the edge of my seat, anxious to see what harrowing fate befalls Julie and her crew! But if issue #3 is any indication, these delightful friends care about each other enough that they’re able to tap into a bravery inside themselves that they may not even have realized they had – and that’s the most charming thing of all.
Buy it! Do yourself a favor and spend a lazy afternoon in the universe of Moonstruck. Finding a fantasy world this compelling and immersive is a rare gift. Besides, the price of the comic is definitely worth it for the art alone! Supporting queer creators and their work is so important if we want to see more representation in comics in the future!