HoverGirls is a webcomic series by artist Geneva B. (GDBee) that combines the kickass crime fighting of superhero comics with the girl power of the Japanese magical girl genre and a heaping handful of #BlackGirlMagic! HoverGirls follows cousins Jalissa and Kim Vasquez as they navigate the ups and downs of their life in the bustling city of Los Aguaceros. By day they’re baristas in at Big Chain Coffee slinging coffee and trying to make ends meet on a minimum wage salary. But, by night the duo masquerades as the monster-fighting duo the Hover Girls! After a freak storm, mysterious fish monsters started wreaking havoc on the city and it’s up to Jalissa and Kim to take them down…
The series just entered it’s second arc and you can read it for free over on Webtoons (modified for mobile reading) or directly from the HoverGirls site in a standard comic format. I also included a short interview with the creator of HoverGirls, Geneva B. at the end of the review!
Like most children of the 90’s I grew up watching the heavily edited anime dubs found on after-school cartoon blocks. I was much more of a Pokémon fan, but I still have fond memories of watching the classic Sailor Moon anime series. I was young so most of the subtler story elements went over my head, but I was enamored with the magical girl crime fighting—the cool costumes, weapons, transformation sequences, and yes the miracle romance. But, even more than the flashier elements of the magical girl genre, I always appreciated the fact that the series always went out of it’s way to portray the Sailor Scouts as girls first and “heroes” second, it made them more relatable, because in my eyes they were just girls who happened to have magical powers.
Strip away the magical transformations and life or death battles against evil and the Sailor Scouts were just young girls, just like me—and that is perhaps the most overlooked aspects of these types of series. So much emphasis is given to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding these unlikely heroes that we forget to see them as people. Sure Usagi/Serena is the reincarnation of a moon princess with magical powers, but at the end of the day, she is just a 14 year old girl worried about her looks, her weight, romance, her family and friends…
Geneva B.’s HoverGirls never forgets that the most extraordinary elements of it’s story isn’t the magical powers or the monster fighting, but the absolutely ordinary-ness of it’s protagonists. Cousins, Jalissa and Kim have recently moved from their small town to the big city of Los Aquaceros and we see them getting acclimated to their new home—setting up their new apartment, getting a job at the local coffee shop, interacting with locals… fighting fish monsters. The first few pages of the comic show Jalissa and Kim already decked out in their superhero duds taking down a giant jellyfish monster only to cut from that to the girls at their daytime barista gig. There is no epic origins story, at least not in the traditional sense, we get bits and pieces of the events leading up to their acquiring powers, because from the beginning the powers and the monsters aren’t the focus of the story, Jalissa and Kim ARE.
HoverGirls is billed as a magical girl fantasy series, but I am more inclined to call it a slice-of-life series. The story takes great care to show us Jalissa and Kim as characters first and foremost—Kim is a bubbly aspiring fashion designer looking to make it big in the city; whereas Jalissa is pragmatic and aloof, preferring to spend her time catching up on her favorite telenovelas and soap operas. I mentioned this when I spotlighted the series in my Four Webcomics Full of Black Girl Magic, but there is a Panty and Stocking vibe to their relationship, with Jalissa playing the straight man to her more over the top cousin, Kim. They’re relatable because their problems are always grounded in reality, bringing a human element to the story that is usually missing in most fantasy series. Even when they are fighting monsters around the city, the girls are still just Jalissa and Kim, they have flaws and emotions and sometimes that contradicts the idealized image of what we think a hero should be, because they’re allowed to be human.
Their dynamic is fun to watch unfold—Kim embraces their new status as magical girls, and we see her testing the limits of her powers, making cute magical girl outfits, and (trying) to establish their “brand” on social media—while Jalissa seems disinterested in their powers or crime fighting in general. They have very different approaches to life and it’s these fundamental differences that really makes them stand out as characters. They have their own unique aspects of their personality that I really enjoyed, like how the stoic Jalissa loves cheesy soap operas or how Kim loves is a touch on the naive side, as seen when she gets “taken advantage of” by a cute boy she meets on the beach.
But, what really drew me to the series was the fact that both Kim and Jalissa are Afro-latina women. I love that Jalissa and Kim aren’t defined by their “blackness”, sure it’s an important aspect of who they are as characters, but it isn’t the only aspect of their characterization. There are subtle nods here and there, like Jalissa having to straighten her hair in the morning (which I can totally relate to), but it’s never anything overt or forced. In fact, the girls’ race/ethnicity is never directly referenced in series, because it isn’t set up as a defining characteristic of the girls’ personality.
There has always been a distinct lack of diversity in Japanese media and when characters of color do appear in anime, they are usually relegated to background character status or worse these characters are little more than caricatures. So, anytime I come across a series with Black and brown characters in prominent roles and presented as just normal people, I take notice! There are several characters of color featured in the series, and even though most of the side characters are one off, it’s nice to see so much representation in one place.
Last, but certainly not least is the art. I am a huge fan of Geneva’s art style, her use of bright, vibrant colors really makes her characters pop and the character designs are distinctive. Kim favors cute, fashionable outfits, while Jalissa is more comfortable in more casual attire. I also want to mention that I appreciate seeing a character like Kim, who is more on the curvy side shown to be the more feminine of the two leads. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen larger characters portrayed as the frumpy/un-fashionable and it is so not the case! We need to celebrate those curves (though my own personal style is much more in line with what Jalissa wears LOL).
Geneva’s usual style is much more detailed, favoring realism over all else, so it was nice to see her take on the simpler, more fluid style of comics. HoverGirls can be read in two formats and while I admit the Webtoons version is more convenient for mobile reading, I find that it kind of messes with the flow of the story since it chops up the panels in a very unnatural way. I HIGHLY recommend reading it directly on the HoverGirls site since the traditional comic page format is so much better at focusing the narrative and flow of the story.
HoverGirls is a loving homage to the magical girl genre that both embraces and satirizes the genre from which it draws inspiration, while also throwing in some references to other anime series (Geneva B. is herself an anime fan). The girls’ powers are water based, a la Sailor Neptune, but like most superhero narratives how they girls use their powers is directly tied to their personalities—Kim uses a water gun to channel her water attacks and is prone to announcing her attacks like you’d see in magical girl media, while Jalissa materializes a water bat that she uses to literally beat enemies into submission.
It never gets too trope-y, leaning more towards realism in it’s portrayal of the girls and their powers, though the series isn’t above poking fun at some of the more unbelievable magical girl tropes. There’s a scene where Kim wants to record a “magical girl transformation” and it is actually played straight—at first— with a beautifully drawn sequence that Jalissa remarks took a grand total of eight minutes in real time. But, then Kim admits that she had to dash off to her room to change clothes mid “transformation” and it’s totally played for laughs. The overall tone of the series is lighthearted, it never gets too dark or overly dramatic, though there are hints at something more sinister is coming down the line as the girls uncover more about the strange goings on in Los Aquaceros (and the origins of their powers). This is still just the beginning for Kim and Jalissa and I can’t wait to see where this story takes us in the future!!
First let me say thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me! I am a huge fan of your works, I particularly love the way you manipulate color in your art, giving each piece an air of whimsy, even in some of the more realistic pieces. With that said, could you tell me a bit about yourself; how you got your start as an artist and the inspiration behind your vibrant colorful style?
I first wanted to get into art, when I played a PlayStation game called Chrono Cross as a kid. Its art, music and atmosphere really gripped me as a kid, and still does today. I want to inspire people and make them happy like this game did to me. My coloring style was originally inspired by an artist named Benjamin Zhang, who does exceptionally colorful work.
It’s important to spotlight artists and content creators that are dedicated to producing works that celebrate diversity, by representing characters and people from a wide range of backgrounds. As a woman of color, I am always drawn to artists that depict characters that not only look like me, but that represent the entire spectrum of human diversity. As an artist of color could you tell me how important diversity is to you, both professionally and personally?
It is quite important to see in both circumstances. I didn’t see much representation growing up, and that affected me as a teen for a while (it was “uncomfortable” to draw non-white characters; I struggled for years, even though I am black). There’s got to be other younger people struggling with the same thing, so representation everywhere can be a huge help.
A quick look at your online resume shows that your works have been featured in quite a few projects- illustrations for novels and children’s books, online publications, and even self published works like your webcomic series HoverGirls and children’s book, Allie & Gator. With so many projects under your belt, what has been your favorite to work on?
My favorite by far has been HoverGirls. It’s a thing owned by me without any expectations, so it’s fun to sort of do whatever I want with it, art- and story-wise. Though HoverGirls has been the hardest to work on, as I don’t know a thing about making comics. I wish I was faster at the comic making process!
HoverGirls is your self published ongoing webcomic series, about two Afro-latina cousins who moonlight as monster fighting magical girls. There are very few magical girl inspired works that feature characters of color in prominent roles. So, tell me, what inspired you to create HoverGirls?
I haven’t seen much like it so far? I hope I’m wrong! There’s very little representation in the magical girl space, much less if it’s comical, so I just had a strong feeling to feel this niche.
I cover a lot of anime inspired content on my site and you’ve stated on social media that you enjoy watching anime. Recently you spoke out against the hyper-sexualization of characters in anime related media, specifically the “pervasiveness of otaku pandering” and “fanservice tropes”. How do these views influence the types of characters you create/projects you take on?
I just want to make character designs that match the character’s personality that everyone can enjoy. I’m not against risque designs if that media itself is risque, or that is the character’s personality. I just mostly have beef with the problem in anime of teens/underage in lewd clothing being randomly injected into a story that was perfectly fine without it. It immediately narrows your target audience for the sake of a few more bucks; that makes me sad personally.
Lastly, I like to include at least one “random” question in with my interviews, to kind of shake things up a bit. So, for you… If you could live in one fictional world which would it be and why?
Probably Final Fantasy 12’s version of Ivalice. I love the amount of worldbuilding that went into it to give this world balance, despite all the magic and technological things going on in it. You can also probably live a normal life without fear of some great sweeping evil changing the landscape and making everyone’s lives miserable, ha
So, I highly recommend reading HoverGirls, the series updates fairly regularly on Webtoons and on the official site. Also be sure to check out Geneva B.’s social media channels and sites! Let her know how much you love her works and show some support for this phenomenal creator!