Som (Apsara Engine) turns the conventional transgender memoir on its head in these witty and inventive diary-style autofiction comics, which reimagine episodes of her life played out by her cisgender quasi-avatar Anjali. Anjali acts as both a stand-in for Som before her real-life transition, and her own distinct, fully realized character. Through Anjali, Som recalls her Bengali-American upbringing, friendships and dating in N.Y.C., and how her lifelong love of art gets shunted into architecture to please her parents (nonetheless teaching her to “think expansively and sideways and diagonally”). Between flashbacks, Anjali/Som abruptly departs from a toxic architectural firm to pursue comics full-time, with the typical woes of self-setting deadlines (and lots of cooking and talking to her cat). Som’s design choices display her architectural eye, from the precise layout of word balloons to crisp interiors and glowing landscapes. In the chapter “Elevator Pitch,” Som recounts meeting Titania, a trans woman, at a party; as they bond and begin a relationship, the emotional consequence plays out differently for Anjali as a character than for Som herself (as she explains in an afterword). In capturing both experiences, Som distinguishes her dual narrative talents. As Anjali remarks, “I’ve always been this way.” Creative nonfiction aficionados and fans of queer comics alike will flock to this literally transformative work.(Aug.)
A tricky graphic meta-memoir about levels of profound transitionpersonal, professional, and creative. . . . A rewarding narrative that presents identity as a puzzle for everyone to solve.” Kirkus Reviews,
“Creative nonfiction aficionados and fans of queer comics alike will flock to this literally transformative work.” Publisher’s Weekly.
“Spellbound is an intimate experience, highlighting some of the most powerful elements of comics for menot only the struggle of creating the work in the first place, but of realizing so much about oneself in the process. Som's humour and sincerity is well complemented by the expressive lines of her characters, creating elegant artwork that flows like good conversation.” Emily Carroll, illustrator of Speak: A Graphic Novel and author of Through the Woods
“I've never read anything quite like Spellbound - an exploration of how the narratives we construct can reveal deeper truths, a book about discovery whose creation was the path to the discovery. It's sharp and clever, beautifully drawn, and trusts the reader to come along for the journey. I can't wait to see what Bishakh Som does next!” Molly Knox Ostertag, author of The Witch Boy
“Bishakh Som’s Spellbound is a searching and restless document of her creative journey, and a good fit for these restless days.” Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics
“I loved this radical book about care–caring for family, caring for yourself, caring for your wildest goals. This book gives space for allowing care to be messy and all-encompassing. It's a compassionate and enjoyable graphic novel about figuring life out.” Archie Bongionvanni, author of A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
"Spellbound is a sweet, sad, charming coming-of-art memoir that belongs on every comics lover's shelves.” MariNaomi, author and illustrator of Turning Japanese
In the opening of this unconventional memoir, Som (Aspara Engine) briefly summarizes her life before transitioning into a woman and introduces readers to Anjali, a fictional avatar whom Som has placed at the center of the somewhat reimagined life events that follow. After departing her job as an architect, Anjali decides to pursue her dream of becoming a professional cartoonist. Chapters alternate between Anjali's early years, born to Bengali parents living in Ethiopia before resettling in New York, and her struggles to complete her first book on her own terms. Along the way, she copes with the death of family members, rages against annoying hipsters, and searches for romance, which she finally finds in a woman named Titania. A final chapter explores Som's experience as a transgender woman more fully and examines how her life and Anjali's diverged as the character took on a life of her own. VERDICT Som's experimental approach to autofiction is intriguing, and her illustration and composition bring a sense of dynamism to short, diary-style chapters that coalesce into a fascinatingly complex portrait.
A tricky graphic meta-memoir about levels of profound transition—personal, professional, and creative.
This is a story about writing a book and the steps that Som took along the way in her transition from architect to hopeful author/illustrator. However, that wasn’t the most significant change the author experienced, as she details from an oblique perspective how she became a transgender artist. “Loath to draw myself,” she writes, “…I substituted Anjali, a cisgender Bengali-American woman in place of yours truly into these recollections.” The author proceeds to chronicle her life story through the voice of Anjali. Throughout, Anjali struggles with issues of both identity and gender confusion—e.g., being mistaken for a boy during an adolescent goth phase, she wonders, “What was I supposed to do? I wasn’t a gay boy but I didn’t feel quite straight either.” She earned a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard, left her job over a dispute about health insurance, and devoted herself to her vocation of comics while occasionally supporting herself with architectural drawings. She traveled with her parents to India and, later, endured the deaths of her mother and then father. All the while, she was badgered by relatives to “find a nice Indian boy and get married.” Eventually, Anjali encountered a trans woman whose experience influenced her own, and she explored same-sex relationships without feeling the need to define herself as one way or the other. With a mixture of cartoon-bubble dialogue, boxed passages of narration, and full-color illustrations that show the precision of the drafting table and the meticulous approach of the author, Som and her creation seem to merge at the end, with the declaration, “after half a century…being at sea, I finally kind of know who I am.”
A rewarding narrative that presents identity as a puzzle for everyone to solve.