In Mooncakes we have a magical tale of childhood crushes meeting again as teens and having to navigate what their new relationship could be. The wonderful Tillie Walden (Spinning, On A Sunbeam) describes it as ‘spellbinding‘, personally I’d have gone with absolutely enchanting.
Mooncakes is a tale of magic, starring two teens, one a young witch, the other a werewolf, living in a world where magic exists alongside the world we know. Yet, because it’s all done so wonderfully well, the magic is completely secondary to the actual story here… and that story is a fabulously old-fashioned love story.
The two teens are both Chinese-American, both queer, both with unconventional families, and they’re bound by first their childhood friendship and now something deeper.
This is a reunion tale, childhood crushes who find each other once more and dance around what their newfound and obvious attraction might become, and all while having to deal with all the magical stuff.
Tam is lonely, shy, non-binary, and a werewolf struggling with her transformations. Whilst Nova is hard of hearing and a damn fine teen witch, working in her Grandmother’s bookshop, mostly to loan out books but ending up with a sideline in supernatural investigation.
But, as I said, the nicest thing about Mooncakes is that all that magic and the teens’ witchcraft is merely a backdrop to the more important tale. This is a very personal story, of relationships, teen discovery, whether that’s of self or of love, and navigating those difficult waters we’ve all been through in one form or another.
Everything begins with Nova following a white wolf into the woods and stumbling across Tam, her childhood crush, back in town after being away for a long time attempting to control her monthly transformations.
That part of Tam’s life is the least important thing in so many ways, even if there’s plenty to find out about wolf-magic in addition to the difficulties of transformation, even if Tam’s having trouble controlling the transformations, even if there’s actually an archdemon in the forest and it’s up to Tam to destroy it… all of it pales into the problems the two have in coming to terms with whatever is between them.
In fact, there’s a wonderful disregard for the big dangerous things that really put a smile on my face…
But as for really making me laugh, that comes later, after Nova’s scientist pal really nails everything between the two with a deliberately loaded line after the pair decide it’s time to follow Nana’s advice and experiment… with magic…
It’s all in the silent reaction of the teens, but even better, in that final panel, it’s all captured in the body language… that’s perfect comic (and comedic) storytelling.
From that point on, the die is cast, it’s just fun watching the two skirt around the issue before giving into what it seems everyone else in their lives simply takes for granted…
Again, that’s such a wonderful turn of phrase, funny, accepting, inclusive, non-judgmental, but most of all, body language and facial expression doing at least as much as the words do.
And I think that’s the reason I enjoyed Mooncakes as much as I did. Here, writer and artist let the art carry a lot of the storytelling weight, allowing the dialogue to be more natural, less needed to be said as we’re already being shown what’s going on.
That’s why it works so well, the love story that merely masquerades as a magical adventure. And it’s all the better that this good old-fashioned love story is played as such with its queer leads.
And the magical setting simply gets used time and again either for laughs… cousin Terry in particular is a great moment, or for exploring the hardships and emotional trauma both teens have suffered. The gathering of Nova’s family and the reason why she lives with her Nanas is particularly nicely played out, with a suitably supernatural twist that just works because it’s so perfectly underplayed. Similarly, when we get into Tam’s background, her own troubled family life and how it ties into what’s going on in the woods, everything just falls perfectly into place.
In fact, when everything with the demon in the woods gets played out in the final act of the book, it almost felt disappointing, not because it wasn’t entertainingly done, or because it didn’t work… it absolutely did both of those things. No, the disappointment came with the movement of focus from that developing love story between Nova and Tam to the showdown with the demon thing.
Frankly, I could have read so much more of Mooncakes, read page after page of the wonderfully simply, yet so wonderfully well-done relationship drama.
Tillie Walden’s quote on the front is good sure, but for me, Mooncakes is just positively enchanting.
Mooncakes, written by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, art by Wendy Xu, letters by Joamette Gil. Published by Lion Forge/ Roar.
This print version of Mooncakes originated as the webcomic Mooncakes, although this print version has been extensively reworked to produce what is now a really fabulous thing.