Book Review: Crema by Johnnie Christmas & Dante Luiz ★★★★

Ghosts, coffee, arson and love – it’s a funny mix in Crema, a new supernatural graphic novel from writer Johnnie Christmas and PRISM Award nominated illustrator Dante Luiz.

Esme is a Brooklyn barista with the uncanny ability to see ghosts when she’s caffeinated to the hilt. When her café is about to be sold to a big coffee chain, she meets Yara, the heiress to the coffee plantation that provides her beans and sparks fly – but one nefarious ghost has plans of his own.

Crema, art by Dante Luiz

Crema is all about love. Love for each other, love of family, love of history and love of a strong cup of coffee. Told in three chapters, Christmas and Luiz take us from Brooklyn to Brazil and back as two complicated love stories play out – the romance between the very different Esme and Yara, and a love triangle from generations ago that still reverberates.

Dante Luiz’s art is coloured in warm coffee tones that reflect both the drink of the title, but also the history and age of the storylines. Subtle changes to the palate help differentiate the locations and time-periods. Luiz blends the historical flashbacks and the modern romance with clean lines and has a knack for subtle facial expressions. 

Johnnie Christmas (who recently helped adapt and drew the adaptation of William Gibson’s original Alien3 screenplay into graphic novel form) has made a story that pulls at a lot of different threads, some of which seem curtailed by the book’s length. Esme’s best friend, a ghost named Gerry who was a rising sit-com star before her death, is underserved, and the story’s ghostly villain remains off-panel for far too long. Other than Esme, I don’t feel like I got enough time to get to know the other characters as much as I wanted to.

Crema. Cover by Johnnie Christmas.

I’d have loved for Crema to be a bit longer, giving the story time to breathe and build on Esme and Yara’s romance, Esme and Gerry’s friendship and Yara’s complex relationship with the family legacy. It’s hard not to compare this to the other LGBTQ ghost stories currently playing out in comic form, Sina Grace’s Ghosted In LA, which plays out over 12 issues, giving us plenty of space to invest in the characters. Also…are ghosts the ‘thing’ at the moment? Is this a trend we’re seeing?

Crema is rich, bold and a cute, quick read. I wish I could have lingered longer with it.

By Chad Armstrong

Crema is available now via Kindle or the Comixology app.

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