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Boys Weekend coverIn Mattie Lubchansky’s debut graphic novel Boys Weekend, Sammie Kavalski is living a cozy life in New York City. They have a quirky job, supportive friends, and a wonderful wife. Their chill existence is interrupted, however, when they leave to fulfill one of life’s most awkward obligations: a bachelor party weekend with old college buddies. The well-worn story of estranged friends reconnecting gets complicated by persistent low-key transphobia on the one hand (Sammie is the nonbinary femme “best man”), and on the other by Sammie’s growing certainty that something dark is lurking behind the gonzo activities of the weekend. Set on the floating garbage island/extreme casino resort of El Campo, this near-future anticapitalist horror-satire is one part The Hangover, one part The Purge, and a disturbing amount of Call of Cthulhu.

Readers familiar with Lubchansky’s comic strip in The Nib will find the same absurdist sensibility and acerbic humor in Boys Weekend. The lampooning of bougie fintech culture is pitched to stratospheric levels—Matt Groening would be jealous of the background signage offering chances to violate every imaginable taboo. Visitors to El Campo are incited to eat, dose, fuck, and kill their way through their time on the island. Alienated from the extreme violence and male gaze-y hedonism of it all, Sammie begins to notice things aren’t quite what they seem. Is there an undersea creature stalking the drug-laden party submarine? Has a member of their party been replaced by one of the low-functioning clones that populate many of the island’s attractions? Is this fleece-vest-wearing, corporate-lingo-spewing, info-session-holding organization actually there to summon an interdimensional world-ending monstrosity?

In classic Final Girl form, Sammie has to unravel these mysteries in order to survive, despite being dismissed as a buzzkill by their so-called friends. This trope gets an extra charge with the persistent denial not just of their concerns, but of their identity. In an early scene, Sammie mildly suggests catching a pop concert instead of going to the celebrity-clone strip club. The result is a wave of macho derision, in which their old friends repeatedly call Sammie “he,” “him,” “dude,” and “man,” all while extra-creepy party member and El Campo devotee Fred warns that they shouldn’t stray from the weekend’s planned events.

After Sammie storms off, the other party members struggle to figure out how to address them, coming up with, “It’s like, you just use his name only. Or something.” Following Sammie, groom-to-be Adam bemoans how hard it is for him to know how to talk about them to friends and family, but Sammie cuts through the simultaneous obsession with and dismissal of pronouns. “It’s not just about what you call me. It’s about recognizing who I am … And getting stuff wrong doesn’t make you an asshole, but never getting it right kinda does.”

The tension between how Sammie sees things and how the rest of the group experiences them escalates when they investigate the odd behavior of a party member, and wind up witnessing the birth of a monster, Alien-like, from his body. Instead of confirming their suspicions, Sammie’s failure to get a video makes them doubt their sanity and feel even more isolated. Like many Final Girls dating back to Halloween’s iconic Laurie Strode, Sammie’s distance from the hedonism of their peers is what gives them the perspective to survive. But for Sammie, it’s blockchain and misogyny they’re dodging, not teenage sex and drug use.

Works layered with pop culture references and tropes run the risk of being clever, but heartless; Boys Weekend avoids this because Sammie is an open book, vulnerable and conflicted. From the constant misgendering by other members of the group, to the bullshit lack of solidarity from a cisgender girlboss, to the exhausting calculations of how to present in every given situation and the burden of managing the feelings of cisgender loved ones who are “trying”: Sammie is put through the emotional wringer, even before having to stop an apocalypse. The stress of the trip on Sammie and Adam’s relationship, and their recurring attempts to come to an understanding, are particularly poignant. The two stumble toward overcoming the emotional limits of what their old male-coded, friendship was allowed to express, all against the backdrop of a tentacled beast ravaging the island.

Early in the graphic novel, Sammie revisits their own wedding picture, when Adam was their best man. Their former, bearded, masculine-presenting face stares back at them, and their ambivalence is obvious. Spending a weekend with people who deride their nonbinary identity and femme presentation (beardless, long hair, cute outfits) in favor of that older, defunct version heightens Sammie’s resentment of their younger self. This is given a violent outlet in a bizarro Most Dangerous Game outing, in which guests hunt clones of themselves.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Sammie’s face figures prominently in the visual language of the book, often punctuating scenes with close-up reaction shots. Their expressive eyes—wide with fear, cut with suspicion, rolling in disgust—allow readers an intimate connection to the feelings they cannot express out loud among their cisgender peers. In the novel’s third act, as chaos consumes the island and members of the party fall prey to a newborn monster/god, Sammie is confronted again by their past. The centrality of Sammie’s face—both for readers, and for Sammie themself—makes this final twist more than a reveal; it’s a redemptive gut punch.

Boys Weekend is a funny, emotional, outrageous, and gross adventure about navigating being out and staying out in hostile circumstances. As LGBTQ+ folks, we are targeted as monsters and ruiners, disrupting the peaceful status quo when we ask for the respect other people take for granted. But the status quo of Boys Weekend, it turns out, is a world-threatening syndicate (which in the age of climate crisis and rising fascism doesn’t feel fantastic at all), that deserves disruption. In the end, the occult crypto bros are their own undoing, and Sammie saves themself. As they sail off into the sunset, it’s clear they’ve done more than many Final Girls before them, who merely survived. They are thriving.

Amy Nagopaleen writes fiction from Queens, NY, where she splits her time between working, making art, and parenting her second-generation queer kid. Her writing can be found in Fusion Fragment, Solarpunk Magazine, and Pen + Brush in Print, and is forthcoming in PseudoPod. You can find her on Twitter @amynagopaleen.
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