Elements: Fire by Taneka Stotts (Editor), Shing Yin Khor, Kou Chen, Maddi Gonzalez, Sara DuVall, Myisha Haynes, Rashad Doucet, James F. Wright, Aatmaja Pandya, Der-Shing Helmer, Jaide Mandas, Marisa Han, Ash G., Chloe Chan, Nina Matsumoto, Mildred Louis, Melanie Ujimori, Tee Franklin, M. Victoria Robado, Deshan Tennekoon, Isuri Merenchi Hewage, Jemma Salume, Chan Chau, Genue Revuelta, Orunmilla Williams, Christina “Steenz” Stewart, Shivana Sookdeo, Tristan J. Tarwater, Michelle Nguyen, Veronica Agarwal, Jy Yang, Yasmin Liang, and Kiku Hughes
Disclaimer: I was a Kickstarter backer. But like all my reviews, my excitement about a book that I preordered via Kickstarter (instead of preordering at my local comic book shop) doesn’t mean I’m an easier reviewer.
Elements: Fire is a gorgeous book. The stories, both the writing and the art, are top-notch. They are themed around fire and illustrated in black and white with red as a pop color. This art choice nicely coalesced the book as each story has unique tones, topics, and illustrations.
Elements: Fire also notably features all creators of color. Which is awesome. This also means that most all the tales feature characters of color, which is doubly awesome.
Unlike when I’ve reviewed shorter collections, I won’t be rating every single story. I walked away with a smile on my face and feeling the warmth of these stories. Almost all of them ranged from a 4 to a 5 stars out of five.
“From Ashes We Heal” by Kou Chen
This is a lovely and hopeful story to kick off the anthology. It is about two warring nations, whose leaders must find trust with each other and take a leap of faith to find another direction. In a way, it is about the pivotal — but ultimately small — steps we must take to make this world a better place.
It also set the stage with some light fantastical elements.
“Too Hot to be Cool” by Maddi Gonzalez
Gonzalez’s art style is done in the tradition of stories about wacky kids like Little Lulu. Agnes is having her birthday party, but no one shows up but her best friend Elena. The twist is that the girls have magical powers. They set off to light Agnes’ name on the lawn to show the other kids how Agnes’ party is the best. It goes exactly as well as any tale about wacky kids, magical powers aside.
“Cactus Flower” by Sara DuVall
“Cactus Flower” was hauntingly beautiful. It flowed mostly with art, and the ending doesn’t show itself right away. Which just made it extra lovely.
“Firelily” by Myisha Haynes
Sunny gets invited to popular girl Nomi’s birthday party, so Sunny and her other friend Marina go in search of a firelilly to give to Nomi. It’s the perfect present both rare and beautiful. But only witches can make them.
Or so they think. This has a wonderful, oooh turn from a story about friendship into a story about truth and your first love. It was definitely one of my favorites.
“Thrustfall” by Rashad Doucet and James F. Wright
An inventive story about the possibilities children have inside of them and what we can learn from them, even if they don’t fit a “traditional” mode. These children have access to personal rocket packs.
“Red Light” by Aatmaja Pandya
A sweet story of unexpected love.
“Pulse” by Der-Shing Helmer
I’m always a fan of stories about aliens where they just tell humans to go away. “Pulse” is about the human need to connect, about human curiosity, and about how sometimes, that’s just too much.
The use of red in this art was quite different from the others and helped the narrative stand out.
“Hearth” by Jaide Mandas and Marisa Han
Another one of my favorites, this medieval fairy tale has some twists that our protagonist probably should’ve seen coming. I always enjoy a tale of a girl who saves herself and of the perspective from villains. I loved how the grandmother was drawn, especially her face.
“Starfall” by Ash G.
“Starfall” delved into both fantasy creatures and environmentalism and conservation. The illustrations of the little girl’s and Burd’s faces were the most delightful part of this story. They brought an enchantment and wonder to the tale.
“Preta” by Chloe Chan and Nina Matsumoto
This short had a lot of themes from altering our bodies with technologies and how it might change our personalities to how obedient we should be to the companies that employ us, even if their demands go above and beyond. It doesn’t offer any answers.
Matsumoto’s illustrations use red as a shade color, instead of just highlights, which gives it more of the futurist, dangerous, and corporate oppressive vibe.
“Pass the Fire” by Taneka Stotts, Mildred Louis, and Melanie Ujimori
Unfortunately, “Pass the Fire” was actually one of the weaker stories in the book, which made me disappointed given that Stotts wrote it. It mixes the ideas of gods with technology. I will admit to having a harder time following the storyline and the art, which de-invested me from trying to dive deeper.
“A Blazin'” by Tee Franklin and M. Victoria Robado
Ron A. Blaze and his love of hot sauce was hilarious and cute. You know things are going to go sideways when his mom warns him not to eat too hot hot sauce, and then his girlfriend takes him to a place called Deville Wings. Don’t go to a place named Deville Wings.
It was delightful to see Ron transform into a dragon and fly in the sky. Then to have his mother bring him down and re-transform into a boy. Ron is going to have a shock when Eliza tells him it was more than just a dream.
The mom was definitely my favorite character, and Robado’s art was fun and funny.
“Metta Helmet” by Deshan Tennekoon and Isuri Merenchi Hewage
Loved this post-apocalyptic story about doing good, being good, how you can change, and how to carry on after death. What a lovely message.
“Caldera” by Taneka Stotts, Jemma Salume, and Melanie Ujimori
Incredibly fun take on a volcano, and the art was fantastic.
“Firestorm” by Melanie Ujimori and Chan Chau
Loved seeing myth and ritual come to life. Pele drawn as bigger than life and in a specific style compared to the rest of the story made this a stand out.
“Muros” by Genue Revuelta and Melanie Ujimori
Another tale about faith, but faith of a different kind. The kind you have to believe in to take the next step in your adventure and journey in life. And it’s always good to have a friend by your side.
“‘D’ is for Dunkin’ and Doughnuts” by Orunmilla Williams
Who doesn’t love a story about the wrestling company who hires lucha libre on the off-season to do office work? It was hilarious. The tone hits on dimensions of office politics, the unfunny pranks your coworkers pull on you, and celebrity. Plus, everyone knows you always split the last doughnut.
“The Update” by Christina “Steenz” Stewart and Melanie Ujimori
A somewhat classic Twilight Zone tone where the main character Kime notices that people are disappearing around her. She gets curious about where they are going and who is taking them. Then we find out something about Kime she doesn’t know. I really enjoyed the art here, particularly all the different looks given to each character, even those without names or lines.
“Breath, Plucked from Heaven” by Shivana Sookdeo
Because I spent so much of my life with my grandparents and around the wisdom of my elders, the theme of elders passing along their life’s work, meaning, and wisdom to the youngest generation always tugs on my heart. There are definitely parts of this possibly post-apocalyptic, but definitely magical world, that we don’t understand, but Sookdeo’s art hints brilliantly at it without overwhelming the reader.
“Under the Flamboyan” by Tristan J. Tarwater and Michelle Nguyen
While this tale ends with a strong lesson about knowledge, it took me a second to get into it and this world. It’s clear there’s a lot Tarwater and Nguyen built into the world, but the newness and density of information was distracting from characters and plot. (To be fair, this is a common issue with fantasy and sci-fi world building.)
“Home is Where the Hearth is” by Veronica Agarwal
Athine is a child under lock and key for her fire powers. It’s hard to tell if her mother cares about her more than that she’s not acting out. If anything, the mother is certainly emotionally abusive to Athine. Luckily, she finds her escape.
“A Burner of Sins” by Jy Yang, Yasmin Liang, Chan Chau, and Melanie Ujimori
I really enjoyed this story as I’m always up for tales about removing emotional pain through the supernatural like sin eating, or in this case, burning. The unique angle is a focus on the burner Nadiya, who dresses like a medical attendant, and burns sins in trade for valuables. She must balance what she does with her ethics.
When a childhood friend Alina asks for her help, Nadiya hesitates because Alina just wants to forget. Alina’s own tale is a powerful representation of a trans woman seeking healing for the pain of familial rejection.
The tale comes together in a beautiful way. I also really loved the use of red to represent the sins binding people.
“Breathe” by Kiku Hughes
I adored this as the choice for the last story in the anthology. It works so well to end the volume, and is a powerful story about how tradition is not always right. Sometimes, it takes a brave girl to change it all.
Overall, Elements: Fire brings together a lot of very talented people. As an editor, Stotts did a marvelous job sourcing talent and bringing these tales to life. Hope to see more like this in the future.