In Blackwater, their superb debut YA graphic novel, co-creators Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham craft a dark ghost story about two boys falling in love while hiding big secrets.
At first glance, protagonists Tony and Eli don't have much in common. Leather jacket-wearing, brown-skinned Tony is a track star with carefully coiffed hair and an air of self-assurance. Bespectacled, pale-skinned Eli spends a lot of time alone and frequently misses school. When the young men develop mutual romantic feelings, each learns the other clandestinely uses a device to help cope with a long-term condition: Tony stealthily uses his inhaler to prevent asthma attacks; Eli skips school on days he uses his wheelchair for an autoimmune disease. But their health concerns are not the only things the teens are concealing. Eli's biggest secret is that a ghost repeatedly appears to him, warning, "DON'T GO IN THE WOODS." And when Tony is reluctantly dragged into the forest on a hunting trip, he encounters a terrifying creature. Eli is forced into the woods to help Tony solve an upsetting local mystery.
Arroyo and Graham tell the story from both teens' points of view by illustrating alternating chapters. Each uses perspective to build tension, for example shifting from close-ups to aerial shots of Tony in the woods to foreshadow danger lurking nearby. Tony's friend Marcia, a dark-skinned goth, buoys the plot with quips, such as telling Tony during a track meet, "I want you to know that I'm here to support you, but I also want you to know that I'm bored. Very bored. And that this is a big sacrifice for me." The co-creators weave together dread, drama and humor in a suspenseful, successful queer romantic mystery. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms