In this unique collection, originally produced as a pre-sale Kickstarter campaign, 33 queer comics creators offer samples of their work, their stories, and their voices as both a statement of the existence of contemporary LGBTQ comics and a preview of what the future may hold for the often-overlooked world of queer comics. As editor, Rob Kirby, explains in his Introduction, Qu33r is “a snapshot of life as we see it, as only we can see it, here at the dawn of the two thousand and teens.” The pieces included in this collection are short, but that makes them no less evocative or provocative.
Diversity is perhaps the most clearly defined theme of this collection – diversity of issues, experiences, styles, approaches, and of voices. Expected issues like coming out and dealing with family reactions are included, but so too are the politics and realities of gender identity in the story of Chelsea/Bradley Manning, the dangerous realities of drugs in queer communities, dealing with HIV, and more. The stories span the range of human emotions, by turns heart-breaking, hilarious, touching, thought-provoking, and even confusing. Each piece is a literary appetizer, allowing readers to sample the possibilities of a creator’s work and seek out those creators whose work most delights.
Qu33ris an unapologetically adult collection, though many of the included stories include teenage or younger protagonists. Nudity, drug use, sexual situations, and adult language make the anthology one that would be challenging to include in teen collections. It is important to note though, that despite the adult nature of the work, this is not a collection that is designed to titillate. Instead, Qu33r attempts to shine a spotlight on voices and stories that are often unheard; as he notes, the publishing venues for queer comics are still limited, and it is a challenge to connect creators and audiences. As with any anthology, the quality and appeal of the included pieces varies, but Qu33r is a valuable and important volume because of its place in recognizing and highlighting the work of queer comics creators in the contemporary graphic novel scene.
Qu33r edited by Rob Kirby ISBN: 9781938720369 Northwest Press, 2014 Publisher Age Rating: Adult
The title, Anything That Loves, references the old adage, and oftentimes, insult, that bisexuals, unable to chose between women or men, are eager to have sex with anything that moves. The term was swiftly and proudly reclaimed by many members of the bisexual community — from 1990 until 2002, the San Francisco Bay Area Bisexual Network published a widely-read magazine called Anything That Moves to explore the complexities and diversity of the bisexual community. The comics anthology, Anything That Loves, picks up on their community-building and missionary spirit, working to educate readers on the possibilities of non-binary sexuality.
The cartoonists represented in the anthology range from comic strip writers to web cartoonists to experimental artists. Many reflect on their personal experiences of bisexuality, though some tell fables (which include mermaids) to illustrate their points. Cartoonists, Leanne Franson and Jon Macy, have been producing comics on GLBT topics for more than a decade and offer a seasoned perspective, while newer artists like Kate Leth, MariNaomi, and Sam Orchard offer fresh perspectives. Some stories focus on the challenges of explaining bisexuality to one’s partner, while others skewer prejudices in the gay community against a fluid sexual spectrum. A few explore other modes of non-binary sexual expression like asexuality, cross-dressing, and the transgender experience.
The project is ambitious — so many different ways to approach sexuality, so many different, colorful styles of illustration, from line drawing to manga-esque to retro-throwback. But, it doesn’t quite click. Much has changed for the GLBT community in the last 10 years: American culture has made great strides towards acceptance and inclusion, though it still has a long way to go. Within the GLBT community, the reclamation of the word “queer” and the younger generation’s emphasis on less restrictive sexual labels has broadened many people’s perspectives on sexual identity. With that in mind, the educational nature of many of these comics feels stale and obvious. At this point, most people picking up a sexuality-themed comic will understand that sexuality is necessarily complex and exists on a spectrum. Anything That Loves struggles to acknowledge that it understands that too. Though it might serve as a serviceable introduction to the bisexual experience for readers less well-versed in GLBT topics, more rawly emotional personal stories and fewer simplified, impersonal narratives would better enlighten those who’ve never encountered GLBT issues in any form before.
That said, this book is a wonderful example of how the queer community has embraced the comics medium throughout the decades. In a stroke of brilliance, Erika Moen’s personal narrative of evolving queerness is included and is also referenced in Lena Chandhok’s “Comics Made Me Queer.” Chandhok cites Moen’s work as a godsend in her own path to self-acceptance. This feeling of passing the torch, of chronicling the evolution of the GLBT community through comics may not have been the original intention of this book, but it’s a happy outcome, and makes the book worth a look, even with its imperfections. There’s some adult sexual content and some nudity, but only at the service of stories, so I would recommend it to any adult and mature teenagers.
Anything That Loves by Charles “Zan” Christensen, Carol Queen Illustrated by John Lustig, Adam Pruett, Agnes Czaja, Alex Dahm, Amy T. Falcone, Ashley Cook, Caroline Hobbs, Bill Roundy, Ellen Forney, Erika Moen, Jason A. Quest, Jason Thompson, Jon Macy, Josh Trujillo, Dave Valeza, Kate Leth, Kevin Boze, Leanne Franson, Leia Weathington, Lena H. Chandhok, Margreet de Heer, MariNaomi, Maurice Vellekoop, Melaina, Nick Leonard, Powflip, Randall Kirby, Roberta Gregory, Sam Orchard, Sam Saturday, Stasia Burrington, Steve Orlando, Tania Walker, Tara Madison Avery, Mike Sullivan ISBN: 9781938720321 Northwest Press, 2013
AIDS has been in the public eye for over three decades now. As understanding of the disease has grown and treatments have become more advanced, the stigma and fear associated with being HIV-positive has decreased, though they have not vanished altogether. Tom Bouden’s Positive offers hope for those living with or affected by HIV. It also serves as a powerful acknowledgment that in spite of all society’s supportive changes, managing HIV, emotionally and physically, is no walk in the park.
Positive begins by introducing us to Sarah and Tim, as Sarah is about to uncover her HIV diagnosis. She’s been feeling sick for a while, but wouldn’t have guessed that HIV had anything to do with it. She doesn’t know from whom she contracted it, and the comic doesn’t explore this — she’s too busy dealing with her imminent mortality, hurrying to write her will, planning to quit her job, and so forth. As she realizes the extent of treatment possibilities, and feels the strength of her partner’s support, life begins to look a bit brighter. But when drug cocktails start, so do their side effects — she’s constantly nauseous, dizzy, and tired. Much of the book focuses on how hard it is to find the right treatment, and how the side effects often need to be treated by more drugs. Managing HIV appears to be exhausting, tedious, and tenuous, but in Sarah’s case, it works out for the best.
The story also focuses on how an HIV diagnosis affects one’s view of their community. Sarah and Tim’s relationship is rock-solid, and his support of her and his concerns about his own status (he’s HIV-negative, but understandably nervous to get tested) are moving and well-written. Questions about their continued sex life (and it does continue successfully) are addressed with visual and verbal directness. Sarah’s relationship with her long-suffering, crabby mother, and her choice to not disclose her status to a woman so wrapped up in her own problems, is a great example of how not everyone will understand or sympathize with the illness. Finally, Sarah’s friendship with an African woman at the HIV clinic with a story far different and more difficult than her own, is a subtle reminder of how far the world has yet to go in preventing and treating HIV and AIDS.
At about 45 pages, this short comic is far from perfect. The story structure feels a bit like a pamphlet that would be handed to you at the doctor’s office. It’s purposefully universal and general — it doesn’t scratch far below the emotional surface, as Blue Pills, another AIDS-focused graphic novel does, nor does it focus on gay issues surrounding HIV. This is an interesting choice, given that the majority of Bouden’s work has been explicitly gay-themed. But, it’s earnest and straightforward, with bubbly, Tintin-esque illustrations, and just enough of a twist at the end to leave you feeling positive.
Positive by Tom Bouden ISBN: 9780984594092 Northwest Press, 2013
Freely borrowing tropes and motifs from the world of traditional folklore, Leia Weathington has created a swash-buckling heroine to follow and admire. In this gathering of six separate tales about Princess Rilavashana SanParite, or Bold Riley, as she became known, the reader is enveloped in the fantastic and fantastical adventures of this restless adventurer, as illustrated and coloured by a variety of talented creators. The prologue, written and illustrated by Weathington with bold strokes and strong colours, tells the origin story of Bold Riley: her royal birth, her training in martial arts and academia, and her need and desire to travel the globe seeking adventure. And, along the way, her sexual preference — which is presented as an essential but not explosive element of her character. The prologue effectively sets the stage for the subsequent adventures, introducing the reader to a vibrant world that is reminiscent of India, but with architectural overtones and echoes from other Eastern cultures as well.
In the following story, “The Blue God,” illustrated by Vanessa Gillings and coloured by Weathington, Bold Riley meets several folklore motifs: kindness rewarded, gods in disguise, dangerous satyr-like demons, and a cunning and resourceful heroine. At times the dense colour palate overwhelms the details in the illustrations, but the facial expressions of all the characters are well configured. Bold Riley’s proficient use and love of her sword is made evident in this transition tale. Bold Riley is definitely a force to be reckoned with and no longer a protected princess of the realm.
“The Serpent in the Belly,” illustrated by Jason Thompson and coloured by Vanessa Gillings, moves to a different location from the two proceeding tales, with a Mesoamerican aura and a tale of three women and the problems they are having with their respective husbands. Bold Riley soon discovers that they have all been deceived by the same man who has, unwittingly, been possessed by a supernatural character. Our heroine, still brave and clever, seems to have lost some of her clothing sense between this story and the one before it. Tenderness, ingenuity, violence, and quick sword-play all are displayed in this tale along with detailed backgrounds and a muddier, but effective, colour palate. Facial features are not as individual as previously, but the characters are not difficult to differentiate because of the clothing styles and status of the characters themselves. The folkloric echoes still resonate in this tale, though not as explicitly as before.
A shift in tone, mood, and setting permeates the fourth tale, a humorous episode that evokes a trickster element along with a ghost and some nudity. Marco Aidala’s “The Strange Bath,” coloured by Chloe Dalquist, is the shortest offering in the collection. The illustrations are less fluid and the colours very intense, working as another transition in Bold Riley’s continuous journey of discovery. The humorous interlude is necessary as the next tale, “The Wicked Temple” (illustrated with watercolours by Konstantin Pogorelov, with additional colour by Liz Conley) propels Bold Riley into a hectic and brutal expedition when she tries to get out of the rain. A supernatural helper aids her in an atmospheric and exotic stone temple, ostensibly deserted but, for Riley, filled with goddesses, dreams, passion, and damaging gluttony. Plenty of action, swordplay, bare breasts, and blood are energetically and vividly presented in a much less formal style of art. Backgrounds are essentially presented as splashes of colour, panel layout is dynamic, and the characters are less individualized than in the other offerings.
“The Golden Trumpet,” with art and colour by Kelly McKlellan, is the final tale, following directly on the footsteps of the previous story. Bold Riley’s wound, acquired in the battle with the evil deities, eventually brings her, literally, to her deathbed. She is rescued, nursed, and nurtured by Ghemuen, a young mysterious woman residing in a sacred grove. The two fall in love, but tragedy strikes in this touching tale of remorse, illumination, and self-realization. The artwork here is evocative and passionate and fills the large, irregular panels that are often wordless. The colour palate fluctuates from the bright greens of anticipation through to the murkier purples of sorrow, anger, and despair.
All of the tales in this collection celebrate the resourcefulness, courage, passion, intelligence, and loyalty of the main character, who happens to be female. There is a sense of equality in gender relationships of the characters that is welcome to this reader and is worthy of recognition as well.
The Legend of Bold Riley by Leia Weathington Art by Marco Aidala, Vanessa Gillings, Kelly McClellan, Konstantin Pogorelov, Jason Thompson ISBN: 9780984594054 northwest press, 2012 Publisher Age Rating: adult