Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore and you should read. The latest: Junkwraith, available now from Top Shelf Productions.

by Arpad Okay. Give me a book with a loser and I will give it a chance. A loser of unimaginable talents, even better. What I dig is: losers have perseverance. Take Florence Sato. The troubled heroine of Ellinor Richey’s spectacular graphic novel lives in the worst possible world for someone whose best efforts go to waste. In Junkwraith, what’s lost comes back to haunt you. Not the slow demise of ennui. A ghost that eats memories is born from and bonded to anything improperly discarded.

When anyone from the city of Lum chucks something prematurely, the part of them that was disappointed at the time they threw it out will haunt the garbage—to get revenge for being thrown away. Flo’s world is one where the spirit is so strong, it overflows the cup. In this metropolis, they’ve created technology to harness it in the form of a little robotic egg personal valet. In a secret glade, far from the walls around home, lay tomes of forbidden science and lost rites that show the link between the regret-ghosts that possess folks’ stuff, as well as the computer-to-spirit wi-fi familiars that manage everyone’s daily affairs. The land between cyberpunk cityscape and magic grotto laboratory is riddled with bandits—and worse! No places to charge one’s device, zero bars.

Flo is a skater. Flying across ice is the center of her life, a source of tremendous ecstacy and agony. Driven by peers, family, and from within to be the best. She isn’t. That’s relatable, right? When Flo ditches her skates in a fit of fate-rejecting rage, she wonders who it even is that wants to be the perfect skater.

So, of course, an illusion of the “best version of self” that’s fixed on an (improperly abandoned) object transforms into a magic ghost doppelgänger of incredible power. Whether or not Flo’s feelings have changed about her vocation, she has to reclaim that part of herself. Or it will consume her mind. At least she’s not the type who’s prone to regular fuck ups.

Give me a book about losers and get real about loss. Letting go of something without being haunted by it, that only comes from confrontation, not running away. Junkwraith is about actual catharsis. Junkwraith is also secretly a romance. Facing her feelings about skating means owning the feelings she has for her top competitor. The sparks flying, are they because both would-be champions want vulnerability more than victory?

Junkwraith is about more! Going a few steps further with each idea. Science fiction that presents a warning but also has ideas for people to deal with what comes. Romance that falls somewhere between swashbuckling and screwball comedy. An emo sundry but with ghost fighting and egg toss martial combat techniques. Like Loïc Locatelli’s Persephone, or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Buried Giant, a book that seems like it’s about other stuff will drop everything to nail pure action sequences. But a blow capable of wounding a ghost needs to coordinate the spiritual and the physical.

The blow that felled me was unexpected, one of expired food and teary bliss. Starved, Flo finds lost lab snacks and starts devouring before realizing the bag is decades past its expiration date. The imminent doom by junk-wraith is put on pause. A moment’s hesitation, a sigh of resignation (ah, that familiar feeling, feeling like trash for eating trash), and a bite. Hey, they’re not bad. Loser books are good and so are ones where they stop everything to tell a weird joke. I can feel Richey’s delight in coming up with this moment, and it doesn’t pull me out to have it included, it makes the story bigger.

My other big love (that lasts more than a page) is Richey’s art style. Zine or sketchbook style. Unfinished forms. No rules, just drawing people. The disproportionate limbs, lanky and all elbows, legs like forever, a lollipop head on top, have big muppet energy. Kind of a Peter Chung thing with all the skinny endless bodies with such tender hearts, but much more chill, more fun, less bondage. Love the outfits, the gadgets, the accessories: character design is bold and spry, a simplicity that’s from worked concepts, digging deep before settling down. The world is also serious and busy, crowded with stuff everywhere—but it’s all smoothed out and simple. Baroque but done in 16-bit graphics.

There’s an immediacy of the art’s execution that translates into intensity. Forms move too swiftly for RIchey to finish them. Ink strokes can’t catch up to where the contours should be and coloring does the rest. Actually, it’s a best-of-both-worlds thing: the lines get to retain the raw power of a thumbnail draft, but the disconnect between the color making shapes and the lines Richey puts down looks professional, like an offset print. Junkwraith is beautifully suspended between unbound creation energy and elaborately wrought finished work.

Color blocks do the work so that sketchy lines don’t have to meet. Junkwraith has a compelling and unique pastel-under-shadow color palette. What would be very vibrant color choices are masked by gray layers. Never deep and dark enough to warrant a jewel tones comparison, but not the Easter egg soft and warm either. Richey’s colors are both washed out and yet lively, as if the sun is perpetually on the horizon. It’s the golden hour forever, with backlit halo coloring that makes everyone glow and pop. The book looks like dawn with the sun to our backs and the future ahead.

Because it is. Junkwraith is putting back together what was broken. The relationships are understated but obvious (there’s a real joy in that combination), generally and genuinely complicated. Fractured hearts are kept intact by what they’re haunted by! The loser is driven by dreams, an unshakable devotion to hope. Flo says go for it.

Top Shelf Productions / $24.99
Written and illustrated by Ellinor Richey.
Edited by Chris Staros.

Junkwraith is available now. For purchasing information, click this.

More Required Reading:

Let the uncharted sci-fi ideas of No Love Lost drive you wild

Between people and programming lies Shimada’s Robo Sapiens

“The Death of Speedy Ortiz,” breaking hearts since 1987