A new imprint specializing in LGBT graphic novels for young adults launches this week with Lifetime Pass by Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre. Terry has agreed to answer a few questions for GeekDad, so stay tuned after this review for an interview with the creator, and the book can be preordered. here!
Lifetime Pass – Terry Blas, writer; Claudia Aguirre, Artist
Radius – 9.5 / 10
Ray: Working with black humor and morally ambiguous leads is tricky for the best of writers, and the concept of Lifetime Pass was a doozy right out of the door. A group of local teens find out that if someone dies at a local amusement park, the rest of their group gets lifetime passes to the park and hatches a plan to volunteer to bring residents to a retirement home at the park in the hope that nature will play its part. In other hands, it might have been difficult to take root for anyone here. Yet, in the hands of Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre, it becomes one of the best graphic novels of the year.
It helps that our leader, Jackie, is an incredibly likeable character. A young Latina living with her aunt and working part-time from home, she has a painful past including parents who have been kicked out and a constant sense of uncertainty as a DACA child. One of the few things she finds solace in is the local theme park, Kingdom Adventure, where she has a deep stash of fond memories from her youth. Unfortunately, the annual passes are expensive and her aunt won’t be able to afford the next renewal, so Jackie faces exile from the Kingdom.
His friends are equally invested in the park, although neither of them for the same reasons or for something so pure. Nikki, a fashionista and potential influencer, dreams of finding a job as a facial character at the park. His cousin Berke, a shocking YouTube jock with a rude personality, is looking to change his name after his channel was “canceled.” Daniel, Nikki’s shy gay friend, shares his dream of being cast in the park, but it may be more of his dream than hers. They all share Jackie’s dream of accessing the park, so her plan to volunteer to transport seniors to the park meets their approval.
Lifetime Pass comes to a relatively quick 165 pages, and it’s sort of short on major events. Once the pattern kicks in, you’d expect the other shoe to fall off like it does in so many teen-centric books. Instead, Blas’ script seems much more concerned with characters learning quiet lessons and gaining a better understanding of others and themselves, without needing to be called out or humiliated for their past mistakes. There is compassion for almost everyone in this story, which I found refreshing.
Jackie’s Awakening Instrument comes in the form of Phyllis, an old flint and independent widow who lives at the house and is the first to volunteer for a trip to Kingdom Adventure. While Jackie’s “friends” seem to view her with a mixture of fun and contempt, she demands basic respect – and Jackie has no problem giving her that, leading the two to open up. to one another as Phyllis reveals many hidden depths and a surprising connection to the park. One thing I liked about this book is how Kingdom Adventure has its own mythology, a mythology that this book only scratches the surface of.
Equally important and very welcome – Phyllis is Jewish, which plays a major role in her bond with Jackie. Works that explore Jewish / PoC solidarity are rare and often fall into the trap of placing Jewish figures in the role of distraught whites (CC, Caroline or Change). Instead, Blas uses the deep history of Jews battling oppression – both their own and that of other groups – to inform Phyllis’ personality and creates a great parallel between the two tracks that adds context. emotional shining in many of their scenes.
For a book about characters waiting for someone’s death, Lifetime Pass doesn’t seem so concerned with death. When the Grim Reaper comes to call someone near the end of the book, it’s a touching but subtle scene that one doesn’t dwell on for too long – and also serves to illustrate which of Jackie’s friends are flawed but decent people who have need a push, and who are not his friends at all.
Many of the best scenes in this book are quiet scenes, such as Jackie bonding with Daniel’s little brother, a transracial adoptee from Korea. The book has such a warm tone that a surprisingly dark turn in the last act caught me off guard, and was the one part of the book that didn’t work 100% for me – I was never sure if I was supposed to laugh or feel bad for the character.
Lifetime Pass is the first book in Abrams ComicArts’ new Surely imprint, a line of graphic novels curated by Mariko Tamaki and focused on LGBT voices and characters. It’s a fantastic start from two incredibly talented designers.
Q&A with Terry Blas
1. This is one of the few graphic novels I can remember that deals so frankly with topics like aging and death. What do you hope readers take from the story on these thorny topics?
Blas: What I hope readers will understand is that getting older means you are here. This means you’ve survived everything thrown at you and you probably have some great stories to tell. I’m Mexican, and our relationship to death is a little different than most Americans. We have an entire vacation to remember those we have lost and it is not a sad day. Losing someone you love is always sad, but remembering their life is the way to honor them. At the start of Lifetime Passes, Jackie is a bit callous, never really having had a relationship with an elderly person because she didn’t know her grandparents. The best part of the book for me is seeing how she changes as I get to know people.
2. The world of Kingdom Adventure is already incredibly fleshed out by the little we see of it. What were your biggest influences in the development of this fictional theme park?
Blas: I would say my biggest influences were the years I lived in Southern California and the culture around theme parks. People are obsessed with them, and rightly so. They promise you an amazing experience, fantasy and while I was living there I started looking for funny stories and weird happenings in theme parks. I also had friends who worked in various parks and they told me interesting things. This is where it started.
3. Social media play a pretty big role in the story, especially in the character of Berke. What advice would you give teens on this topic if you could?
Blas: That’s a loaded question. I would tell kids to stay away from social media as much as possible, which I’m sure makes me sound like a crisp old grandpa, but honestly it took a toll on my attitude and my confidence in myself. If I post that I love grapes, inevitably someone will tell me why grapes are terrible and how I shouldn’t love them. A good friend of mine told me he tries to use social media to promote his work and try to make someone’s day better and that’s it. It’s a tool for many artists and writers to promote their work today, but a carpenter doesn’t go to his workbench and look at his tools for hours, you know? Additionally, social media has the power to permanently interfere with our ability to focus on one task at a time. Before, I could sit and draw or read for hours. Now I go to my phone ten minutes into a task and check it. It’s not great. In Lifetime Pass, Berke and Nikki care about followers and attention and I think today we have a culture where people expect immediate response to everything and they have made their opinion a vital part of who they are. think they should be respected. Many artists and writers I admire don’t spend a lot of time on social media. They are too busy doing cool things.
4. Which of the other characters you wrote (from Reptile, Hotel Dare, etc.) do you think you would get along better with Jackie? What about Phyllis?
Blas: Jackie would definitely get along with Julian and Eva from Reptile and olive Hotel Dare. I think Phyllis would love Mama Lupe, the abuela of the Dare Hotel.
5. It was great to see the relaxed yet cohesive portrayal of PoC characters, LGBT characters, and Jewish characters in this book. What other comics and graphic novels featuring these bands do you love right now?
Blas: Personally, I do my best to always include Latinas at the forefront of my books. The fastest growing demographic in the United States is the university educated Latinas, so they need to feel represented and seen. As a member of the LGBTQ community, all of my books contain queer characters as well. I love the work of Ethan M. Aldridge, whose Foreigner books present this kind of representation. Sina Grace is awesome and I’m excited for her next book, Rockstar and Softboy. Hamish Steele Deadendia the books have a harmonious and wonderful representation and I also encourage everyone to check out the other title of Surely, Thrown out of space by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer.
GeekDad received this comic for review.