Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Queer Comics

With wedding proposals, first kisses, lesbian heroinestrans characters coming out and Marvel and DC Comics being accused of having a gay agenda, queer characters seem to be everywhere in comics these days. But that’s nothing new for the world of comics at large. A new anthology shines the spotlight on some super non-hetero creators and stories.

Gay comics creators may have been a virtually invisible group for many years, but “Queer Comics” have been published for the past five decades. These days, creators are able to sell more books not despite, but because of their (or their characters’) sexual orientation. (Take Gengoroh Tagame for instance, the “most influential creator of gay manga in Japan to date,” a sort of Japanese Tom of Finland. Tagame was the toast of TCAF this year, releasing his first gay erotic graphic novel published in English in a print format.)
TCAF also held a panel on Queer Comics featuring Zan Christiensen, Justin Hall, Erika Moen, Chip Kidd and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (“You don’t have to be queer to make or read queer comics,” they informed us.) Los Bros Hernandez did much to de-stigmatize characters of different backgrounds and orientations through deep characterization and masterful storytelling in their groundbreaking and iconic Love and Rockets. Julio’s Day, Gilbert’s new book, is actually centered on the life and times of a Mexican gay man.

Justin Hall is the editor of an excellent new comics anthology, No Straight Lines, where he documents four decades of queer comics. The book is incredibly well-researched, and brings many pearls all the way from the late 60s to the 2000s. It features material that appeared mostly in underground comix, zines or as webcomics.  I missed not seeing what I consider one of the queerest comics strips of all time, Matt Groening’s Life in Hell, but the book more than makes up for it with several hilarious, poignant, historical, political, sexy and entertaining works from almost a hundred creators. The anthology is more of a sampler which leaves you longing for more, especially with so many different shades and flavors being passed in front of you; here you’ll find Dan Savage’s first time in drag, Alison Bechdel’s dancing phobia, “trannytoons,” a comic about things not to say or do after having sex, a Margaret Cho "fag hag" tutorial, a trip down memory lane with Canadian illustrator Glen Hanson’s Chelsea Boys, Howard Cruse's Wendel, a genie tale from Eric Shanower, an introduction by The Matrix’s Lana Wachowski and a lot more. Including, of course, a cover by Toronto artist Maurice Vellekoop.

Most of the material falls into the categories of autobiographical coming of age stories and humorous vignettes centered on the ins and outs of gay life/sex; however, it is remarkable to see the amazing body of work that queer creators have added to the comics conversation.

Excerpt from Oppressed Minority Cartoonist, by Alison Bechdel
Excerpt from I No Longer Cared, by Justin Hall
Excerpt from If I Were a Drag Queen, by Ivan Velez Jr. 
Excerpt from How To Be a Fabulous Gag Hag, by Ellen Forney
Excerpt from Stonewall Riots, by Andrea Natalie
Excerpt from By Accident, by Craig Bostick

All Images © Fantagraphics Books, Inc.
Speaking of no straight lines, I came across the art of Eric Kostiuk Williams – a freelance illustrator and comic book creator based in Toronto – through his illustrations in the “History Boys” feature appearing in a local gay newspaper, where he illustrates historical characters and events with a queer bent. His book, Hungry Bottom, is a great showcase for Williams’ talent and an unapologetic queer comic in its own right, exploring the creator’s life and experiences as a young gay man.


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