Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Thirsty Mermaids’

“We squared off on a dockside with a couple a hundred Finns; we dallied in the ‘dilly and we soaked ourselves in gin”

Kat Leyh, who has made some good comics in the past, unleashes another good comic on us with Thirsty Mermaids, which is in no way a metaphor. It’s about mermaids … who are thirsty. For booze, that is. Who doesn’t love booze?! Gallery 13, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, published this, and it’s up to us to take a look at it!

The premise is simple: three mermaids find booze in a shipwreck, drink it, love it, and decide to head up to dry land to get more, using a magic spell to turn human. Unfortunately for them, once they’re there, the merperson who cast the spell – Eez – discovers that she can’t change them back immediately. They need to learn how to live as humans until Eez can figure it out. Hilarity, as you might expect, ensues.

Things start off well. They’re naked when they come ashore, but they steal some clothes (and in one shirt is a credit card, which comes in handy) and they find a bar called The Thirsty Mermaid, which they think sounds pretty good, and they get roaring drunk. The bartender, Vivi, finds them in the back alley the next day, and before you know it, they’ve moved in with her. She doesn’t necessarily believe them when they tell her they’re mermaids, but she doesn’t disbelieve them, either, as Vivi seems like the kind of person who just rolls with things (and, as we learn very subtly, she knows a thing or two about transformation, as well). But she tells them they need jobs, and Tooth – the giant one – gets a job as a bouncer, which she loves, while Pearl – who’s sort of the leader – eventually gets a job helping treasure-seekers find undersea goodies. Eez, meanwhile, stays in the apartment ostensibly figuring out the spell to change them back, but there’s obviously something darker going on with Eez that Pearl and Tooth don’t see. Eez’s issues drive the plot, as eventually there’s a threat to the community and Eez needs to figure out how to deal with it. Whether she can is a big part of the climax of the book.

Leyh does a nice job creating a book with interesting characters who come together to make a family. Books about families are legion, of course, but they’re usually about actual relatives, and for Leyh, the old adage of not being able to choose your family but being able to choose your friends means a lot more, as so many people in this book are outcasts. We don’t know much about Pearl, Tooth, and Eez when the book begins, obviously, but as we go along, we discover that they didn’t fit in with merpeople society, and so they formed their own “pod” of three friends. Vivi is black and her sister, Angel, is Asian, so there’s something going on there. Spud and Jim, the treasure hunters that Pearl works with, are a couple, but Leyh doesn’t make a big deal about it, which is nice (couples aren’t always fawning all over each other). They know Angel’s wife, too, who’s an oceanographer who helps them out occasionally. These people have built a community that doesn’t necessarily rely on blood ties, and Leyh shows us that that doesn’t really matter. When Eez is having issues, it doesn’t matter that she’s not related to anyone, and it doesn’t matter that the people closest to her – her fellow merfolk – don’t recognize what’s going on right away. What matters is that someone close to her does and can help her, and that strengthens everyone. Leyh digs into body issues, the problems with capitalism (although, as usual, I always like to point out that writers don’t have a big problem with capitalism when they want you to pay money for their labor!), societal expectations of women, hang-ups about nudity, and trying to learn how to grow up without wrecking your past. It’s not a super-heavy book, and only a small section is sad, but Leyh still manages to get to these kinds of complex things without being too obvious about them. More writers should take note, because this kind of stuff is usually fairly heavy-handed. If you create good characters, usually you can deal with deeper things without being too unsubtle, because the characters do the work for you.

Leyh’s art is marvelous, as well. It begins with the way she draws the characters, as they’re very different so they look more like actual people. Tooth is a large woman and built like the proverbial brick shithouse, while Pearl is shorter and plumper and Eez is very slim. Leyh gives them all amazing hair, which makes them look cool as fuck, and she does very nice work with the way the three characters move – Tooth barrels through life, Pearl is a bit more reticent, but only because Tooth is so gregarious, and Eez, with her concave face and large eyes, looks terrified of everything, which turns out to be important to the plot. Meanwhile, Leyh draws Vivi, their fourth musketeer, as someone who has seen a lot, empathizes a lot, and sees the world through hopeful eyes. The three mermaids don’t have much to fear in the book, even Eez, but some things toward the end could hurt Vivi, but she never looks hesitant, even though Leyh does a good job showing her fighting between worry for her life and love for her friends. It’s interesting looking at how Leyh draws the mermaids as opposed to the humans, because the ladies are a bit more cartoonish, while Vivi, Angel, Ada, Spud, and Jim are simply regular-looking people. It sets the mermaids apart slightly, which subtly reinforces the idea of creating a family of your own – they are outcasts even from the “normal” way people look, but Vivi and the others don’t judge someone based on their appearance. Leyh’s strong line and beautiful colors make this a bright book, vibrant and joyful, which contrasts with the danger that comes at the end. Even the colors help create a sense of community, which is neat.

There’s a lot to like about Thirsty Mermaids. It’s a charming book, full of characters who show us a good way to live and how to help each other through hard times. It’s very funny most of the time, as Leyh shows the mermaids trying to figure out human society, and it’s very sincere, which means that the emotional beats work quite well. It’s a terrific book to look at, and it’s a book that both kids and adults can enjoy – it deals with themes that adults think kids ought to know and which adults should already know but occasionally forget. Plus, there’s a lot of booze!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆


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