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Exploring Space, Identity, & Confidence: Afar [Essay]

By Andrea Towers

Meet Boetema. She's a 15-year-old girl. She's unapologetic; she's headstrong; and, oh yeah: she's able to astrally project herself onto other planets. In most stories, this ability would be the most amazing thing about her. But that's the beauty of AFAR, the new graphic novel written by Leila del Duca (SHUTTER) and drawn by Kit Seaton (THE BLACK BULL OF NORROWAY): Boetema's powers aren't what defines her. Instead, through Seaton's art and del Duca's worldbuilding, we see Boetema defined by her loyalty, her confidence, and her personality.

Boetema is a girl from a small town trying to understand herself while also trying to be the perfect daughter for her struggling family. But even though we see Boetema's journey when she's beginning to realize that she can astral project—which would be enough of a story, given the science fiction-type travel that occurs—her story doesn't really begin until her younger brother, Inotu, gets himself into trouble, which leads to Boetema and Inotu going on the run.

The two siblings take to the streets together with nothing but their knowledge, wits, and trust in each other. Normally, sibling stories are fraught with conflict and fighting, but Boetema and Inotu are a different story. And that's not something that happened by accident: that's the way del Duca wanted it. As she told The A.V. Club when the book was announced, “I wanted to write a story I knew I'd love as a young adult. I really wanted there to be an otherworldly aspect to our book. Astral projection seemed like an interesting thing to explore: a great way for Boetema to escape her reality, whether she wants to or not, and allows Inotu to bond with his older sister, who ends up relying on him immensely when things get rough."

AFAR is a story that is as much about trust and identity as it is a story about science fiction. Seaton weaves her expressive and brilliant art around del Duca's words with a dazzling psychedelic atmosphere that helps transport us to the different worlds that Boetema visits. Visually, we're caught up in the space romp that del Duca has likened to Star Trek (an inspiration that she mentioned during Image Expo), but while we're carried through each world, we don't forget that the characters we're reading about are undergoing their own obstacles. 

We don't forget that they're humans, because the worlds they're living in don't take away from what the core of their story is.

In some ways, the comic mirrors that of its co-creator. Del Duca, the Russ Manning Award-nominated co-creator of SHUTTER, is known more for her art than her writing. And at the start of the story, Boetema is hesitant to accept a jump into the unknown. She's scared to be alone with her brother when her parents leave her for a temporary period of time, and she's worried she'll fail as the caretaker and daughter her family and her village expect her to be. But Boetema soon realizes that she needs to become responsible for her own life, because no one else will write her story or fix it the way she needs it to be told. She can control her future and how the world sees her and even others on different planets, but only if she takes the leap. And so Boetema uses her knowledge of different worlds and her experiences with animals and aliens. She combines those with her own smarts to grow her relationship with her brother, but without sacrificing her ideals or who she is as a person. It's something that we as readers can relate to, because even though we're not inside the bodies of otherworldly creatures, we also learn from being open to different cultures and seeing different ways of life. Boetema does the exact same thing—albeit with a little more sci-fi flair.

In this day and age, we often look to young girls to connect with the personal things we're going through in our own life. We look for positive and supportive stories of strong females finding their way through unconventional means. We look for sibling relationships that are grounded in trust and love. While Boetema has help and guidance during her journey, she knows she has to figure out her struggles on her own. In this way, Boetema represents what so many young adults see as we go through our own lives. There are no shortcuts, and there is no secret answer to fixing your mistakes—even if you have the ability to travel to different planets and become different creatures.

AFAR is, at its core, about a young character's gift. But it shows that we don't need powers to be a hero, and that we don't need to be a hero in order to find our identity. It gives us hope for the future. And that is a gift in and of itself.

Andrea Towers has been published everywhere from Entertainment Weekly to Paste Magazine to Bustle to Comic Book Resources.

AFAR is available for pre-order now and debuts 3/29.