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Cheer Up! Love And Pompoms

Crystal Frasier, writer
Val Wise, artist
Oscar O. Jupiter, letterer
Hilary Thompson with Kate Z. Stone, book design
Oni Lion Forge
$14.99 / 130 pages

Cheer Up Love And Pompoms is a story that rises above the average romance fare thanks to the care and attention given to the characters by creators Frasier and Wise and in the narrative they’ve constructed. From the opening scene I was hooked and drawn into the lives of Annie Ginter and Bebe Diaz who are about as different in their personalities as can be. Annie is independent, a loner, and candidly truthful which has soured a lot of the student body. Bebe (aka Beatrice) has a likeable outgoing nature that’s earned her a lot of popularity. She’s also really involved in high school activities like being cheer captain but her history grades could be better while Annie is one of the smartest students. Annie’s mother Celeste persuades Principal Cathy Dupont, whose friendship since their high school cheerleading days endures, to do Annie a favor and let her try out for cheer which inadvertently puts Annie on a collision course with Bebe that finds the two girls mending their friendship and falling in love.

One of the biggest rewards with comics for me is reading about characters whose experiences and stories are different from my own. Such stories are inspiration, make me question myself and the world, and gives insight into the lives of others. Coming to know Bebe and Annie and seeing how their personalities integrate, grow as individuals, and blossom as a couple is a joy. Annie’s rough edges begin to smooth with Bebe’s presence and empathetic nature. Bebe’s popularity has come at a price. Being the only trans kid at Sandhill High has pressured her into trying to be perfect and not saying no to friends, peers, and her parents. With Annie’s persistent encouragement Bebe begins to find her voice and to stand up for herself on several occasions that illustrate how even trans allies can make mistakes and overstep boundaries. These passages gave me pause to reflect on how I’ve made mistakes and how to be better. These scenes and the intimate conversations between Bebe and Annie avoid pitfalls of feeling like an After School Special by grounding them in love and vulnerability and moving forward in life instead of anger and being weighed down by past hurts and slights.

My initial and follow up reads of Cheer Up seemed quick but not the least bit cheated thanks to a full cast of compelling and flawed characters. Well, except for Annie’s mother Celeste who doesn’t seem flawed the least bit flawed. Bebe remarks to Annie that her mother is the cool mom and she truly is. Celeste is unconditionally loving, funny and a quick wit, supportive, and wise. Looking at Frasier’s dedication makes me wonder if Celeste is inspired by the Aunty Jen mentioned “[whose] love saved a thousand children”.

Certainly Val Wise’s art is the other big reason why Cheer Up is such an engaging story. Wise’s art is a match made in four color heaven for Frasier’s script. Val Wise’s art is a match made in four color heaven for Frasier’s script. His style is broad and expressive with contour lines accenting gestural movement that breathe life into Bebe, Annie, and the rest of the cast. Meticulous attention is given to drawing a variety of body shapes and sizes and his skill at rendering facial expressions and emotions is quite extraordinary. I found my eyes lingered just a little longer on each panel to take in the feelings. A combination of wide angle shots and big closeups is a subtle and effective method of drawing the reader into the story. More of Wise’s art can be found at valkwise.com.

Oscar O. Jupiter’s clean and concise lettering lends a subtle note of authenticity to the dialog and emotional states of the cast.

I laughed, was sad, felt my heart skip a beat several times, and – dare I say it? – cheered for Bebe and Annie! Cheer Up is easily one of my top five books of the year!

Look for Cheer Up at your local comic shop or bookstore (ISBN 9781620109557) or use an indy book resource like Bookshop  or IndieBound  to find a store or order online. If all else fails or you prefer you can buy Cheer Up from Amazon

August 11, 2021
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