ARC Review: Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers edited by Hazel Newlevant

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Title: Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers

Authors: Molly Ostertag, Sara Goetter, Rachel Ordway, Hazel Newlevant, Amanda Scurti, Katie Longua, Anna Anthropy, Jeremy Boydell, K. A. Kelly-Colon, June Vigants, Anna Rose, Kori Michele, Sarah Winifred Searle, Maggie Siegel-Berele, Natalie Dupille, M. K. Reed, Kinoko Evans, Becca Hillburn, Kate Craig, Merritt Kopas, Mia Schwartz, Diana Nock, Liane Pyper, Sarah Stern, Laura Lannes, Yao Xiao, Sera Stanton, Caitlin Rose Boyle, Megan Brennan, Buntoo, Aatmaja Pandya, Elizabeth Simins, Jane Mai, Sophie Yanow, Annie Mok, Jade F. Lee, Miranda Harmon, and Carey Pietsch

Release Date: Today!

Publisher: Alternative Comics

Source: Alternative Comics on Edelweiss  (A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.)

Check this book out on Goodreads.

Buy at: Chapters | Book Depository

3 stars

Chainmail Bikini is an anthology of comics by and about female gamers! 40 cartoonists have contributed comics about the games they’re passionate about—from video games to table-top role-playing to collectible card games. The comics in Chainmail Bikini explore the real-life impact of entering a fantasy world, how games can connect us with each other and teach us about ourselves. (Source: Goodreads)

This collection of short comics reflects on women’s experiences with gaming, be it tabletop, LARPing, video games, cards, etc. The comics are mostly around 4 pages, with a few exceptions running long or short in either direction. There’s a good mixture of topics and directions that the stories go in represented in the anthology.

For me the anthology was a little inconsistent. There were a lot of stronger stories towards the start of the book, but things started to wane a little later. This might have a lot to do with the fact that there were just just too many stories in this book. This could have been multi volume instead of one big book, because it was a difficult thing to read all at once. I also found that with so many stories there wasn’t room for some of them to breath because there was limited space for each storyteller. It was a quick read but there was just inconsistencies that made it drag out a bit.

I’m going to break this book down by story, in the order than they appear in the book. I apologize there are a lot of them.

A Certain Kind of Story” by Molly Ostertag 3 stars
Ostertag talks about classic stories about fantasy worlds, looking at the way these stories show how people develop into adults and showing her own story developing from a shy teenager to an adult confident in her interests and work as a comics artist. I really liked the narrative of this one and thought the art was really cute. Overall it was a little simple, I do think it would be developed into a whole book which would be a great read.

Let Me Do it” by Sara Goetter 4 stars
This incredible cute story by Goetter looks at the relationship between siblings and the ways in which her own relationship with her sisters worked with video games. I can definitely relate to this one because my brother and I often gamed together as kids (sometimes we still do now too). I loved the story and the art in this one.

Choose Your Own Adventure” by Rachel Ordway 5 stars copy
Ordway tells the story of how she and her siblings made their own version of D&D as kids. I really liked this story, it reminded me a lot of my brother and I playing games in the yard that were essentially LARPing without even knowing what that was. The art was adorable again and really captured the essence of the story and even my own childhood really well.

Better Together” by Hazel Newlevant 2 stars
Newlevant tells her story about playing online games with her friends. I thought the art style was cute, a little manga-esque I suppose. I didn’t really think the narrative was well constructed though. It ended on kind of a weird note for me and felt like it was just left hanging. It would have been more interesting to me to either look at the aspects of friendship with gaming or being alone and gaming in this kind of setting.

Reticulating Splines” by Amanda Scurti 5 stars copy
Scurt looks at The Sims in her story. Showing the ways in which the innocent and harmless game can lead on to question their own morality. I totally relate to this as I screwed around with my characters in that game so much. Purposely murdering them and ruining their lives. She looks at the way that playing God in the game is kind of terrifying but ultimately reflects little of our personality. Also, the art in this was amazing and really unique.

Poppy the Gnome and Friends!” by Katie Longua 5 stars copy
Longua presents a game of D&D in a really unique way in this story, showing how the game is imagined to those involved rather than the ultimately mundane presentation that observers would get. I think she presented her story in a way that captures the magic and joy of the game without having to rely on direct address. I absolutely adored this comic, it was a real treat. The art was adorable too and the characters were really cute.

Tales of the Crystals” by Anna Anthropy and Jeremy Boydell 1 star
Anthropy tells a story about live action role playing games for girls, and the one she is making, while also discussing the lack of female childhood she experienced as a transwoman. I really didn’t enjoy this story, the narrative was a mess, with a really unclear through line. The art was also subpar for this book. Overall it was disappointing.

Gamer Grrrl” by K. A. Kelly-Colon and June Vigants 3 stars
Kelly-Colon tells a story about being a demigirl and how gaming reflecting that aspect of being in them. I found the art really interesting. I also thought the story was pretty good, and I enjoyed how it was laid out and presented. It wasn’t my favourite because the art wasn’t my favourite. The final page was pretty incredible looking though.

Pocket Worlds” by Anna Rose 4 stars
Rose talks about playing a variety of different games, mostly handheld console games. I really liked this, because I love that aspect of gaming – getting to be all kinds of different people. I thought the art was really adorable and worked for all these different characters and stories.

Boy or Girl?” by Kori Michele 4 stars
Michele explores transgender identity through games like Pokemon. I thought this was a really well written story. Michele really captured some of the troubling things in our society – the binary issue in gender especially – while exploring the limitlessness of video gaming. I also loved the art and thought it worked really well in combination with the story.

Delicious Escapism” by Sarah Winifred Searle 5 stars copy
Searle looks at a different form of gaming play by post, it’s a form of roleplaying done via chatroom. I thought this was a really interesting take on the gaming theme. I was also really excited to finally see some discussion of the treatment of women in the gaming community. Searle still highlighted the pros of being a female gamer, and gamer in general, but made sure to point out the way women are often abused in these communities. I adored the art as well.

Battle for Amtgard” by Maggie Siegel-Berele 4 stars
Siegel-Berele takes an in depth look at the misogyny seen in LARPing and how the game is changing in reaction to it. I thought it was an really interesting comic and one of the stronger ones at this point in the anthology for its discussion of such a serious topic. I liked the art just fine as well, but the real strength of this comic was it’s open and honest discussion of the problems of gaming for women, and how things are changing to fix them.

Lair” by Natalie Dupille 3 stars
Dupille looks at a childhood game of LAIR – a LARPing game – she played at camp. She talks about how it worked as an accessible starting point for people who are interested in fantasy and gaming to really become active in a community that is otherwise male dominated. I thought it was a cute story, and the art was alright, but there wasn’t really much substance to it which was disappointing after the previous LARPing story.

Girls Who Are Boys” by M. K. Reed 2 stars
Reed’s story is about her husband and their friends playing D&D as female characters. There’s a lot of subtext about feminism and menstruation in the narrative they’re following in the game but it just didn’t capture me. I thought the art was nice, but not amazing. I just didn’t find the story interesting enough to care about.

Here Comes a New Challenger” by Kinoko Evans 3 stars
Evans looks at how gaming can be a part of learning. Inspired by her love of fighter games she studied tai chi and kung fu outside of the game. I thought that was a really amazing approach to take with the broader topic of games. Unfortunately the ending seemed poorly formed and fell flat, making the whole story feel kind of rocky for me. I liked the art a lot though.

Pretty Paladin Critical Missy” by Becca Hillburn 4 stars
Hillburn tells a story about a group of friends playing a tabletop RPG game together. I thought it was incredibly cute and fun, highlighting what makes playing games with friends so enjoyable. I loved the art, probably one of my favourite artists in the book up to this point.

Rush of Blood” by Hazel Newlevant 4 stars
In Newlevant’s second story of the book she looks at sexual/romantic relationships as they pertain to gaming. Through a tabletop roleplaying game Hazel flirts with a friend. I thought this was a really cute story and I loved the art again. I think Newlevant captured something really fun in this story, the tone was great, and the characters were all adorable.

Three Weekends a Year” by Kate Craig 5 stars copy
Another great story about romance and gaming. Craig tells a story about 2 women starting a romantic relationship through their LARPing characters. I thought it was absolutely adorable and well formed in such a short space. I also loved the art, Craig’s was another really strong piece with even stronger art.

I Choose You” by Merritt Kopas and Mia Schwartz 4 stars
Kopas and Schwartz bring to life a really cute romance. This is essentially an illustrated poem, which was a really unique piece in this anthology. I thought the art was a little rough but I still enjoyed it a lot. I thought that the romance was really well captured despite this being the shortest story up to this point in the book.

Absolute Dominion” by Diana Nock 5 stars copy
Nock’s story is about a group of people playing Dominion together. I cannot properly express how happy I was to see a comic about playing Dominion. After I bought Dominion last month I’ve been completely hooked. I even bought an expansion pack recently.  Nock really captured the fun and excitement of the game, and the illustrations were just perfection. Can we get a reissue of the game with amazing illustrations by Diana Nock?

A Kind of Magic” by Liane Pyper 3 stars
Pyper talks about being a girl playing MTG at group events in store. I thought this was a really interesting look at gaming, it’s something I don’t know a ton about either. I thought the story was nice, it would have been interesting to look at more of the difficulties of this type of gaming. I found the art really inconsistent in this which is why
it was a bit of a frustrating read for me.

The Natural” by Sarah Stern 5 stars copy
Stern tells a story about a new girl joining a D&D game as the new Dungeon Master. She’s anxious about joining and being accepted but she really helps the group play a fantastic game and has a lot of fun, being accepted into the group. I thought this story was really adorable and the art was even cuter!

She’s the Backbone of this Facility” by Laura Lannes 3 stars
This is one of the longer stories at this point in the book. Lannes takes an indepth look at the gender politics of the Portal games. It’s an interesting look, but not an altogether original idea. I liked the concept and thought it was well written but a little wordy and drawn out. The story about women in Portal seems best experienced through the game and I’d recommend playing it to anyone, so they can really go through the experience of learning Caroline’s story themselves. The art in the comic was really just not great in my opinion, making the story very difficult to read.

Memoir of a Part-Time Knight” by Yao Xiao 3 stars
This autobiographical story follows Yao Xiao’s life through video games and how her whole world was changed by playing them. She found the thing in life she loved – art – and moved to America to pursue a career in it. I think the narrative was good, though the construction is a little sloppy. The art was alright too.

Project White Mage” by Sera Stanton 3 stars
Stanton’s story is about the importance of healing in video games, and healing through video games. She talks about her experiences with self harm, and self harm around her, and how important it is to support and help heal other people. Something she tries to do in games by playing as a white mage. I thought the art style was very interesting. Definitely not my favourite story but still solid.

Connections” by Caitlin Rose Boyle 5 stars copy
Boyle looks at the ways in which games and game characters can be a support system for us when we’re down. Through 4 games she gets support from the characters and helps to cheer herself up. This is definitely something I can identify with, often seeking out my hobby as a way to feel better when I’m down. The art and layout in this comic were exceptional.

Dream Suite” by Megan Brennan 5 stars copy
Brennan’s story follows Pikachu in the world of Animal Crossing living out a life there. I thought this was a really good way of expressing the escapism of video games, and it was extra adorable with Pikachu as the lead. This was one of the more interesting ideas in the book, something not obvious. I thought the art was super cute too.

Life +1” by Buntoo 2 stars
Buntoo looks at the way in which video games mean something different for everyone and how we all live many lives through them. I thought this comic was very simple, but I don’t think it was successful or interesting. It was basically summing up the entire premise of this anthology rather than adding anything to the conversation. I also found the art kind of messy and hard to follow.

Hang in There Peach” by Aatmaja Pandya 3 stars
Pandya’s comic is about immersion and escapism. Video games were always an escape, and suddenly they came to mean a lot more, and have a more emotional impact. The relaxation and escape of the games was cathartic and meaningful to Pandya. I think? I think this was an interesting story, but I don’t know if I really got the message clearly. I liked the art just fine, but it wasn’t the most interesting.

Manic Pixel Dream Girl Gaiden: Guitar Heroine” by Elizabeth Simins 2 stars
I think this was another one I didn’t really get. The story is about Simins dealing with her own personal crises and OCD. She uses Guitar Hero as an escape from these things, which was interesting but I don’t know what it said beyond that. I thought the art was really interesting, but aesthetically some things turned me off like the scratched out writings that just looked messy and unedited.

Ikachan” by Jane Mai 3 stars
This was yet another one that wasn’t for me. I didn’t know the game being referenced so I didn’t really understand it. But I’m giving it high marks for having beautiful illustrations.

Slinging Cardboard” by Sophie Yanow 2 stars
I didn’t really enjoy this one either. The art especially put me off. The story was about people playing MTG and not being bullied for it, which would eventually happen to other people. I don’t know that it said much to me though.

Stand-Ins” by Annie Mok 1 star
This was a series of drawings of Sonic characters. I didn’t get it. The art was interesting and unique but it didn’t feel like a story or a commentary on anything. Not for me.

Achievement Unlocked” by Jade F. Lee 4 stars
Lee reacts to negative comments about female gamers. I thought this was a strong story exploring how absolutely ludicrous it is to say women cannot be gamers or just don’t get it because it’s a “boy thing”. I thought Lee really captured her message well, and had great art too!

Hermia” by Miranda Harmon 3 stars
Harmon’s story was a cute kind of apology to her lost pokemon friends. I thought the story was charming, as was the art. Ultimately not much of a story though.

Pocket” by Carey Pietsch 5 stars copy
This was the final comic in the book, and also the shortest! I thought it was definitely one of the strongest, really rounding everything from the book up so well. I thought the art was amazing and really captured the importance of gaming for gamers.

Overall it was a good anthology. It wasn’t super strong but it was fun to read. Definitely great for fans of comics like In Real Life. I’d recommend checking it out.

Ramble on,
Kimber


Have you read Chainmail BikiniLet me know your thoughts in the comments!
Check out Hazel Newlevant at her website, Goodreads, and Twitter.
Connect with me on Goodreads, BlogLovin, and Twitter.

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