The Heart of Thomas by Moto Hagio

I let out an audible gasp when I got my hands on this one, and here's why you should too:

Moto Hagio is a genius, and while she is widely and critically recognized as a master graphic novelist, this is only her second book to get an English release. The first one was 2010's amazing Drunken Dream, also put out by Fantagraphics.

Like the other Magnificent 49ers (the legendary first wave of female comic artists), Hagio's work is fearlessly avant-garde and visually stunning. Over her fruitful and now slightly less under-translated career, she has set the bar for all manga artists to follow, up to this day, and not just shonen-ai or shoujo mangaka.

Taking place in an all-boys German boarding school, The Heart of Thomas is a bildungsroman rich in tragedy, emotions and secrets. The story begins with the haunting overlap of the titular character's suicide, a 14-year-old jumping over a fence and in front of a running train, and the bittersweet poem he wrote about "always living in his eyes" before "this boyhood love will be flung against some sexless, unknown, transparent something."

That morning, Thomas had sent an ambiguous love letter to Juli - a model student who quickly verbalizes his dislike for the boy. We'll follow his emotional growth throughout the book, as he learns to cope with his emotional scars, with Thomas' death and most importantly with the tumultuous arrival of Eric, a new student who happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to the deceased character.

Left to fend for themselves in the face of unknown feelings, guilt, frustration, secrecy and despair, Hagio's characters come off as complex and relatable - hopefully I'm not alone on this, am I right?

I avidly read the French translation this past Christmas and this captivating and melancholic book is still on my mind. I gladly noticed that this edition put out by Fantagraphics is slightly bigger, and it's a real treat to not only enjoy Hagio's seminal story in English, but also to appreciate her beautiful artwork in such detail.

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