Apsara Engine by Bishakh Som [in Booklist]
A woman goes out for her regular evening walk on the beach, contemplating her relationship with her husband, until she sees a mermaid washed up on the shore. And here text and graphics suddenly diverge: the words reveal a recent affair, while the frames depict the mermaid dragging the woman down into dark waters. That mesmerizing juxtaposition in “Come Back to Me” inaugurates Bishakh Som’s extraordinary debut collection, signaling an exceptional graphic achievement.
Other prodigious standouts include “Pleasure Palace,” about two unlikely strangers who meet at a posh resort and, as the older woman offers the younger man a glimpse of a mythic past, unexpectedly leave together; “Swandive,” in which a pair of conference attendees are drawn together by their flesh and – literally – blood as they map out a wondrously inclusive future; and “I Can See It in You,” about an interracial couple whose party-going – and perhaps their very relationship – is interrupted by a not-so-mysterious intruder.
Richly hued, gorgeously lettered, and often exquisitely detailed, Som’s work, the writing as well the art, presents a brave new world of diverse women – talking, dancing, dreaming, plotting – living among friends, lovers, and chimerical creatures, in familiar cities and faraway landscapes, balancing the expectantly mundane with the utterly fantastical.