Comics have been a vital part of my life as long as I can remember, having been passed down my dad’s collection of antique comic books at a young age. Although my introduction to the comic book world was children’s comic books created for Baby Boomers, they were still full of fun stories about friendly ghosts, sarcastic rabbits gnawing on carrots, and lazy Monday-hating cats, most of which have continued to leave a cultural mark through the decades. Even though there was a generational gap between the original intended audience and myself, I really enjoyed reading them as a kid in the early 2000s!
Censorships were heavily enforced on these comics to follow strict family-friendly rules to stay within the Comics Code of Authority, established in 1954, which solidified their intergenerational readability. Comics are a unique medium of storytelling which originated are the early 1900s. Different branches of the medium stemmed from different cultural movements, ideologies, and needs. When America needed a hero to cheer up kids and their families during the tail end of the Great Depression, Joe Shuster and Jerry Seigel created Superman; when African Americans were fighting for equality in the 60’s, Marvel created the first black superhero, Black Panther; when the Comics Code of Authority was snuffing out the more “adult” themes in mainstream comics in the 1970s and 80s, the Underground Comix scene rose to popularity, celebrating queer sexuality and expression. And when Gay Marriage was legalized in the US in 2016, the comic book industry was loosening their grasp on the old Comics Code of Authority rules and more mainstream comics could be freely artistic, more independent, more queer!
To celebrate Pride Month this year, here are my three favorite queer comics that have been published in recent years, followed by some honorable mentions!
The first queer comic book I read was Lumberjanes (2014-2020), a collaborative graphic novel series by ND Stevenson (he/him), Grace Ellis (she/her) and Shannon Watters (she/her). It’s a young adult graphic novel series about a mostly-female scout troop spending the summer in an unusually magical campground with monsters and glitter alongside the usual camp adventures. Each member of the troop discovers a part of who they are throughout the summer, exploring their gender identity and sexuality in a safe space, surrounded with friendship, kindness and connection. Every “coming out” in the series is not over-exaggerated or done for dramatic effect, they’re often naturally occurring in the conversations between the girls and/or the monsters they’re fighting against. Instead, it’s a conversation that happens without question, with understanding hearts and open arms, as the roads to our own self discovery can be as exhausting as a fight with a larger-than-life hot pink Minotaur.
These realistic- and heartfelt- portrayals of self-discovery is often reflected in a writer’s personal life. When Lumberjanes started, ND Stevenson was in his early twenties. He had a lot of self discovery to do, and a whirlwind of exploration ahead. ND Stevenson came out as nonbinary in 2020 soon after his memoir The Fire Never Goes Out (2019) was published, and it’s obvious while reading the memoir how often Stevenson reflects on gender dysphoria and sexuality. His journey with his sexuality and gender expression during his young adulthood is also explored in raw depth within the drawings and handwritten diary entries in the book. One piece of symbolism throughout the memoir is the constant drawings of Stevenson’s persona with a hole in his chest, pointing to feelings of inner despair and emptiness. No matter what he tried to do in his early adulthood- attend art school, date boys, intern at Boom! Studios, create his break-out graphic novel Nimona, co-create Lumberjanes, marry his wife, become a showrunner for the reboot She-Ra Princesses of Power Netflix series- the omnipresent feelings of emptiness was always there. At the end of the memoir (spoilers!) it’s revealed that his innermost turmoil with his sexuality and gender was the cause of the hole and its emptiness, and his denial of these feelings fueled the titular metaphoric fire that never goes out. Through his journey of discovery, he’s been able to live and grow into his true self, accepting and truly embracing these feelings.
Netflix’s Dead End: Paranormal Park (2022) series surprised me with how fun and fresh and diverse a young adult animated show could be. The true icing on the cake is that the show is also based on a webcomic by Hamish Steele (he/they), compiled into a graphic novel series DeadEndia (2018-2019). The graphic novels follow a cast of two teenage best friends and a dog, who are working at a theme park during summer break, fighting off demons and navigating through crushes in their spare time. Barney, the main character, identifies as transgender- the theme park becomes his new home when his parents and grandmother don’t support his identity and refuse to call him by his new name and use his pronouns. Found family dynamics isn’t a new concept in queer communities, but DeadEndia has been able to redefine the boundaries of what a found family can be made of, through the complex relationships Barney makes at his new job and home.
Moonstruck (2018-2020) by Grace Ellis (she/her) – In a world where monsters and magic is the norm, werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on their first date to a magic show that might not be as sparkly sweet as they expected- in fact, Julie’s best bud, androgynous and dramatic Chet the centaur, has been cursed to a human body! It’s up to the trio to un-curse Chet and hunt down the magician before the curse sticks forever! Read the Moonstruck trilogy on Libby, Hoopla, SearchOhio, or OhioLink.
Be Queer, Do Comics (2020) by The Nib – An anthology of comics created by a variety of queer cartoonists about LGBTQ+ experiences, historical events, personal reflections and how being queer impacted how they make comics. Put Be Queer, Do Comics on hold at Westlake Porter Public Library here; or on Libby, Hoopla, SearchOhio, or OhioLink.
Heartstopper (2019-2023) by Alice Oseman (she/her)- It’s the typical queer love story, boy meets boy at school, they become friends, more-than-just-friends feelings develop, and then… well, I suppose you’ll have to read the series to find out! Heartstopper was also adapted into a Netflix series in 2022, and has received high remarks for being a positive and realistic representation of the queer experience in teens, without the looming doom of the “Bury your Gays” troupe in similar media. Put Heartstopper on hold at Westlake Porter Public Library here; or on Libby, Hoopla, SearchOhio, or OhioLink.
Gender Queer (2019) by Maia Kobabe (e/em)- An adult autobiographical graphic novel about Maia’s personal journey, exploring eir gender expression and sexuality in a culture that’s ever-evolving, yet still hesitant to accept neo pronouns and nonbinary gender expression. Put Gender Queer on hold at Westlake Porter Public Library here; or on Libby, Hoopla, SearchOhio, or OhioLink.
Transcartoonology (2023) by Ghost Shark Press – A zine-styled anthology of original comics and illustrations made by transgender artists, exploring gender expression and presentation through cartoons throughout the years. Including a personal comic made by one of our librarians, Cat! A copy of the anthology is to be donated to the library once the zine is released in July 2023.
The library continues to provide an inclusive environment that fosters learning, community growth, and connection in an ever-changing world. While the books included in this article may not appeal to all readers, it is important to share and embrace diverse stories of those in our world. Even the smallest stories of representation can make a big difference to readers.