Niki Smith’s The Deep and Dark Blue was so close to reaching our Best Of list last year, and she’s remained a creator we keep our eye on. Her latest, The Golden Hour, is a meditative and thoughtful exploration of trauma and healing. Manuel is lonely; he feels he’s the only one struggling after witnessing an act of gun violence at his school and he’s anxious to keep his panic attacks under control. Using his love of photography, he finds a way to ground himself in nature, helped even further when he’s assigned to a class project with Sebastian and Caysha, leading them all to spending time at Sebastian’s family farm. A sweet budding romance between Manuel and Sebastian, as well as the deep friendship between the three, is built up charmingly and truthfully as Manuel makes his way to recovery. Smith uses light brilliantly, washing every panel in gold, a stark contrast to the dark lines that dominate during Manuel’s panic attacks. A rewarding and affecting read.