Pirate legends get a fabulously fresh and feminist reboot in Tell No Tales, the first original graphic novel by prolific author and pop-culture commentator Sam Maggs. Inspired by the lives of early 18th-century female pirates, this intriguing fictionalization imagines Anne Bonny as captain of her own ship, La Sirene, buoyed by her quartermaster and partner Mary Read and supported by their diverse crew. With great aplomb, they face down many dangers, including the Lophius, a tank-like killing ship commanded by Woodes Rogers, a zealot on a mission to eradicate pirates.
Anne Bonny’s wry comments afford a level of immediacy coupled with a diary’s intimacy: “My crew. I love ’em like my own family, but they gotta relax. Don’t they realize that I’m not worried because I know what I’m doin’?” Quick-witted dialogue flies between the crew mates, peppered with their captain’s quirky quips and terms of endearment.
Brooklyn illustrator Kendra Wells’s dramatic and well-paced cinematic artwork captures the sword-swinging and knife-wielding exploits onboard La Sirene, as well as quiet, tender scenes of Bonny and Read’s romantic, loving relationship.
The multi-layered plot democratically gives each crew member space to shine, highlighting their individual quests and showcasing conviction, bravery, cunning, strength, and kindness. This high-seas adventure stands out from the pirate pack thanks to the well-developed backstories of its LGBTQ2S+ characters.
As the endnotes elaborate, “So much of history is written by the victors – and, usually, the victors have mostly looked the same.” Tell No Tales successfully reclaims “some of our lost history – the history of women and non-binary and queer folks that must have existed, but has been hidden or kept quiet for so long that it may never be recovered.”