Steven is a regular kid and these comics are little stories, vignettes really, of Steven’s life from the early ‘80s. He is upset when his parents fight, wants the latest superhero doll, draws his own comics, and likes to play with his friends. And also, is trying to figure out what being gay means in a world that does not accept it.
Kelly does a good job telling the story from a kid’s point of view. That is, sometimes authors feel the need to either ascribe knowledge to a kid beyond their years or to have narration describing for the adult reader what the kid protagonist sees. Kelly does neither. When Steven sleeps over at his friend’s house, he is thrilled that his friend wants to drool over Donny Osmond and try on his big sister’s dresses. He doesn’t think “this is very non-conventional for a male in our early 1980’s culture. I wonder what this means.” He’s just thrilled to find a kindred spirit.
Steven often narrates the comics for you. That is, he breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader, like a kid giving you a tour of their house. It’s often what he doesn’t say that is telling. One comic has Steven talking to you:
“Hi! Today we’re making stuff out of newspapers. Comics work best. Christopher made this lovely hat. Tish decorated her new bike with streamers. And I made this beanstalk baton for our parade! C’mon Patches Pals!”
In the background, Steven is wearing a t-shirt that reads Girl with 100 Heads and holding the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, Christopher is using a Brenda Starr comic for his hat, Tish has on a Bionic Woman t-shirt, and a boy is peeking over the fence at Steven with a little heart coming off of him.
These are a series of autobiographical comics that Kelly drew in the ‘90s. He does have some commentary about the comics, which helps place them in time and explains their sequence a little. They were originally published sporadically, and this collection has them all in the same place for the first time. While the stories are all self contained, you do follow Steven’s life. And because of that, it leaves you wanting more. You see Stephen struggling to figure out who he is and also what is going on in his very dysfunctional family. And then, the comic stops. This is a short collection that leaves you wanting more.
Given that it is a comic that deals with being gay, I would have to recommend it for teens, although I think middle-schoolers could handle it. (No sex, no violence, family fights.)