The Backstagers Volume 1: Rebels Without Applause introduces a charming stage crew and a mysterious world far behind the curtains. Is it good?
A series can be made or broken by the quality of its characters. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to start falling for this cast. This is partially thanks to artist Rian Sygh, whose character designs are as varied as they are charming. Sygh doesn’t suffer from the sort of same-face syndrome that’s fairly common in comics; his characters don’t even have the same body types. Each Backstager is easily distinguishable from the rest, and Sygh does a great job nailing down each one’s personality with unique facial expressions, body language, and clothing choices.
Writer James Tynion IV also does a solid job of giving each character their own unique voice. Jory is a likable point-of-view/new kid character, although I wish he’d gotten a little bit more fleshing out in this volume. The main standout in this volume is Beckett, whose struggles with not wanting to lose his sense of agency or safety are poignant and relatable. Finding the place where one belongs is a key theme to the story, and part of its charm. Each of us is an outsider in our own way, and The Backstagers speaks to that isolation (both positive and negative) in a way that hits close to home while never becoming overly “dark.” This is a “feel good” comic in the best way; anxieties are depicted openly and honestly, and watching the cast cope and find solace is an uplifting experience.
In terms of introducing the story’s fantasy elements, this volume is promising but still leaves a bit to be desired. What we see of the mysterious, seemingly never-ending world backstage is appealing in its nonsensical nature; the physics of the school’s secret tunnels don’t make logical sense, and that’s a good thing. Physical spaces move and change form, and the creatures that live there have creative designs. The echo spiders in particular are very well-drawn. On the downside, I wish we had gotten a look into some more of the tunnels. Characters talk about adventuring deep into the backstage world, but don’t actually take much page-time to get there. I understand the need to quicken things plot-wise, but it’s hard to think of the characters as having embarked a dangerous distance when they were safe at their headquarters mere panels beforehand.
Ultimately, The Backstagers Volume 1 is a promising start to a charming series about finding comfort through friendship and discovering one’s own unique niche in the world. My main qualms with this volume revolve around what it doesn’t do; certain characters are far less developed than others, and the backstage fantasy world feels a tad underutilized. With that said, this volume only collects four issues, so it’s hard to be too upset that more ground isn’t covered. What this volume does do, it does very well, and there are more than enough charming details to make up for the story’s faults thus far.
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