Apsara Engine

Apsara Engine (2020)


The eight delightfully eerie stories in Apsara Engine are a subtle intervention into everyday reality: a woman drowns herself in a past affair, a tourist chases another guest into an unforeseen past, and a nonbinary academic researches postcolonial cartography. Imagining diverse futures and rewriting old mythologies, these comics delve into strange architectures, fetishism, and heartbreak.

Painted in rich sepia-toned watercolors, Apsara Engine is Bishakh Som’s highly anticipated debut work of fiction. Showcasing a series of fraught, darkly humorous, and seemingly alien worlds—which ring all too familiar—Som captures the weight of twenty-first-century life as we hurl ourselves forward into the unknown.

From: The Feminist Press

Notes on This Title

This graphic novel is a collection of eight short stories that vary in genre, tone, and representation. Several stories feature characters that are South Asian and/or queer, with the sixth story, “Swandive,” focusing on a meeting between two trans Desi characters.

A list of group discussion questions is available from the publisher.

Additional warning notes for this title: The third story, “Meena & Aparna,” includes a homophobic slur, not directed at any specific character. The fifth story, “Pleasure Palace,” deals with persistent implicit homophobia. The sixth story, “Swandive,” contains an instance of accidental misgendering. A few of the stories have moments of violence or violent intent that are brief and may be disturbing but are not very graphic.


2020 L.A. Times Book Prize Winner for Graphic Novel/Comics
2021 Lambda Literary Award Winner for LGBTQ Comics


Starred Review: “Richly hued, gorgeously lettered, and often exquisitely detailed, Som’s work, the writing as well the art, presents a brave new world of diverse women—talking, dancing, dreaming, plotting—living among friends, lovers, and chimerical creatures, in familiar cities and faraway landscapes, balancing the expectantly mundane with the utterly fantastical.” (Source: Booklist)

Starred Review: “Som’s provocative collection of short comics explores the idiosyncrasies of gender, desire, friendship, courtship, family, and culture through speculative fiction. Each of her eight stories, rendered in fine pen and exquisite watercolor, explores a different facet of life in distinct futures, with a focus on South Asian perspectives and cultures. … Som’s delicate lines are turned to sharply expressive faces and gestures, with subtle sepia tinting the stories and luminescent, layered colors on chapter openers reminiscent of retrofuturistic stained glass. And the font is a precise cursive, as if pulled from an illuminated manuscript. Som is a master of pacing, letting the emotion of her scenes churn and roil in the reader; her debut heralds the rise of new talent to watch.” (Source: Publishers Weekly)

“From the very front cover, Apsara Engine lets us know that it explores themes and structures where we may not be able to rely on comforting conventions, but that relinquishing those conventions can free us. This graphic short story collection is authored by Bishakh Som, a trans South Asian comics artist, and it portrays many South Asian characters with diverse body shapes and gender expressions, including multiple characters identified explicitly within their stories as trans or nonbinary.” (Source: APALA)

“Of course some of the stories … incorporate other tropes that only South Asian and South Asian diasporic readers might wholly recognize. These are not, by and large, stories about white people: I, a white trans lady, am certainly missing important dimensions of these Desi characters’ lives. They are, however, stories about trans and queer people, who—whatever our origins, whatever our other identities—require shifting bodies and extra worlds: undersea, in the air, in the future, where cities and gardens interact and intertwine, where we might sketch our next home.” (Source: The Georgia Review)

“Som’s alternate environments are never exclusionary; they’re just so unique that they lie beyond most people’s (read: cis men’s) comprehension. When I read ‘Swandive,’ perhaps the most radical celebration of South Asian queer culture in recent times, Som’s background in architecture becomes most apparent. A former architect, here she lays out a blueprint for another feminist utopia, one that is literally fed by the blood and sweat of the story’s queer protagonists, Onima and Amrit, and inhabited by fearsome Hindu goddesses. ‘I imagine trans geographies to be a means of using cartography as a generative tool rather than a descriptive device,’ Onima opines.” (Source: Hyperallergic)

“The cryptic, virtuosic ‘Swandive’ explores trans identity, a theme Som — who is trans herself — has addressed before. But even when Som’s not talking specifically about trans issues, Apsara Engine reflects what could be called a trans aesthetic. Evading standard categories and unsettling familiar narrative patterns, the book is a testament to how trans experiences can teach us entirely new ways of imagining our humanity.” (Source: NPR)

“In ‘Swan Dive’ Som brings the full force of her powerful narrative pacing together with a studiously restrained dialogue and the graphic impact of her watercolors. The effect is an urgent and powerful road map for queer, postcolonial storytelling.” (Source: Sequential Artists Workshop)

“Som’s uncanny visual style highlights emotional contrasts: Sharp lines form expressive faces, which are set against soft water-colored backdrops rendered in sepia tones. A dazzling but restrained color palette stops your thumbs at each story’s title page. And her meticulous lettering looks chunky and florid, like the enlightened handiwork of an ancient scribe.” (Source: them.)


Fierce Womxn Writing: “Bishakh Som – Author of Apsara Engine, a collection of graphic short stories”

HILOBROW: “Off-Topic (17): Universe and Chorus”

The Rumpus: “Queer Disruptions: Talking with Bishakh Som”

them.: “This Long-Awaited Graphic Novel Explores Surreal Femme Futures”

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