Stage Dreams

Melanie Gillman (Author)
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Product Details

Graphic Universe (Tm)
Publish Date
September 03, 2019
8.2 X 10.1 X 0.5 inches | 1.3 pounds
Library Binding

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About the Author

Melanie Gillman is a cartoonist and colored pencil artist who draws positive queer and trans comics for young readers. They are the creator of the webcomic and graphic novel As the Crow Flies, published in 2017 by Iron Circus Comics. As the Crow Flies has been named a 2018 Stonewall Honor Book, won the 2018 Excellence in Graphic Literature Award for Best Middle Grade Graphic Novel, and been nominated for an Ignatz, Eisner, and Dwayne McDuffie Award. In addition to their comics work, they are also an adjunct professor in the Comics MFA Program at the California College of the Arts, where they teach classes about making comics and professional practices.


The Ghost Hawk--otherwise known as Flor--is a queer Latinx bandit with a bird-of-prey helpmate who wields a six-shooter and wears a leather hat atop her voluminous black mane. In the New Mexico Territory circa 1861, stagecoach passengers pass the time making conversation about Civil War strategies and Southwestern desperados. On cue, Flor swoops in, demanding loot and kidnapping a Southern belle, who modestly hides her face under a green bonnet. 'Fine young ladies always make for the best ransoms--and company!' Flor quips with a lascivious wink. ('Despite appearances, it ain't my intent to hurt you, ' she later says, while tying her captive to a tree.) When Flor removes her prisoner's bonnet, however, she meets an angry, green-eyed, apparently transgender beauty named Grace, who is en route to 'the theater in San Francisco' and on the run from 'conscription' into the Confederacy. Both are smitten, and nervy Flor now has an accomplice for a daring plot involving a sly tailor, ball gowns, and espionage. Euphemisms and ambiguity leave readers to connect the dots in this Wild West whirlwind, though Grace's peach-fuzz facial hair implies trans identity. Gillman, whose As the Crow Flies was named a Stonewall Honor Book, delves into queer history and spins a witty and extravagant yarn about a dashing duo.--starred, Publishers Weekly

-- "Journal"

Melanie Gillman's beautifully crafted YA graphic adventure reveals the hitherto little-known historic diversity of the Old West.--Emil Ferris, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

-- "Other Print"

A runaway and a bandit in search of new lives team up to steal war plans from the Confederacy. When Grace, a white trans woman and aspiring actress, runs away from conscription into the Georgia Infantry, she finds herself caught in the talons of the Ghost Hawk, a half-woman, half-hawk demon bandit--or so the rumors say. Despite the wild stories, the mysterious Ghost Hawk turns out to be a 'short brown lady' named Flor who dreams of living out the rest of her life on her own patch of land with some goats as soon as she gets the money from one last, big heist. With the help of Grace's acting skills and understanding of upper-class, white Georgian culture, they plot to steal secrets from a backroom meeting at a cotillion and sell them to the Union. Gillman (Steven Universe: Punching Up, 2018, etc.) captures the southwestern atmosphere with a soft, dusty color palette. Panels full of movement and vivid character expression create an immersive reading experience. The narrative unites two women with different backgrounds, depicting a relationship in which they support one another. Their romance develops naturally through moments of flirtation and fond glances. An open-ended but still satisfying resolution suggests a bright, hopeful future while leaving room to imagine more adventures for Grace and Flor. An engrossing escapade with a heart-stealing queer romance.--Kirkus Reviews

-- "Journal"

Grace, a young transgender woman, is attempting to outrun the Civil War. Though she identifies as female, she was assigned male at birth. The Confederate army in her native Georgia sees her as a worthy soldier, but she's got other plans. Grace has made it as far as the New Mexico territory, aiming for acceptance and freedom in San Francisco. She is kidnapped by the legendary bandit Ghost Hawk, who is said to be half woman, half hawk. But Ghost Hawk, or Flor, is simply a woman, and a sympathetic and affirming one at that. Romance blossoms, and they bond over their shared yet different manifestations of gender nonconformity; Flor identifies as a woman, but her masculine dress and brusque nature are at odds with traditional gender roles of the time. With the New Mexico territory on the brink of Confederate takeover, Flor and Grace have a chance to team up and spy on the Confederate forces for the Union, raising the stakes of their westward adventure. Exploring themes of gender nonconformity and transgender identity, Gillman deftly avoids anachronisms through their emotive and subtle characterizations of Grace and Flor. The illustrations are gently shaded in colored pencil, the softness underscoring the sweetness of the characters. Despite the rough, Wild West setting, Gillman finds opportunities for tender moments. A thoughtfully researched appendix provides ample historical context. VERDICT This charming and poignant queer romance set against a Civil War-era backdrop will resonate with readers.--starred, School Library Journal

-- "Journal"

Flor's a brash, very capable bandit making a living robbing stagecoaches in New Mexico Territory in 1861, and while her latest job doesn't lead to the sort of payout she wanted, she does find a valuable companion--Grace, trans and on the run from her home in Georgia, avoiding conscription into the confederate army. Though at first Flor's merely anticipating a healthy ransom, she gradually comes to realize that Grace has the insider knowledge--and sweet Southern charm--to get them into a party of confederate officers, where they can steal priceless information. In their soft textured colored pencil art, Gillman renders each of the characters with distinct faces; Grace's round cheeks and loose curls are a nice contrast to Flor's angular face and slick, dark hair. The sandy, warm tones, meanwhile, are an ideal match for the desert and canyon setting. Gillman includes notes about historical records of trans people in the nineteenth century and civil war era, as well as landmarks they used as references for some of the scenes. An illuminating western with a refreshingly matter-of-fact queer romance.--Booklist

-- "Journal"

As in 2017's As the Crow Flies, the irresistible attraction in Stage Dreams is Melanie Gillman's radiant color work. Using colored pencils, Gillman painstakingly fills in layer upon layer of heathery tones until each page seems to breathe. Their glowing, autumnal palette is perfect for this story of heists and hijinks in the Old West. Fleeing conscription into the Confederate army, Grace, a trans teen from Georgia, boards a stagecoach heading across the New Mexico Territory. In short order she's kidnapped by the notorious Ghost Hawk -- actually Flor, a female bandit with dreams of retiring to a goat farm of her very own. (Goats? asks Grace. Only livestock that's useful and smart, Flor explains.) Flor plans to sneak into an upcoming gathering of Southern rail barons to get information she can sell to the Union army. Grace offers to help, and the pair embark on a complicated caper. While Gillman's narrative skills have improved since As the Crow Flies, they still aren't as strong a storyteller as they are an artist. But Grace and Flor are engaging figures, and Stage Dreams' sweeping lines and dimensional shading are rich pleasures. In an afterward, Gillman offers historical background on trans men in the Confederate army and the American West. Their earnestness and dedication make Stage Dreams memorable.--Etelka Lehoczky for NPR Books

-- "Website"

Stage Dreams is a delight. A fast-paced, charming adventure story told beautifully in colored pencil--a medium nobody knows better than Mel Gillman. Treat yourself to this book; your day/week/life will be better for it.--Kate Leth, Spell on Wheels

-- "Other Print"