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9 queer comics that go beyond pride

9 queer comics that go beyond pride
Image: Batwoman (DC Comics), On A Sunbeam (Tillie Walden/First Second), Wuvable Oaf (Ed Luce/Fantagraphics), Midnighter (DC Comics), Graphic: Allison Corr
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Pride month is all about celebrating the queer experience and showing the world that there’s no shame in loving who you love, but being queer isn’t always glitter and rainbows. Sometimes it’s tears and secrets and a seemingly never-ending stream of challenges. Over the years, comic creators have shown an eagerness to explore these different facets of queerness in their work, whether they’re telling grounded autobiographical stories or heightened genre tales. There’s a wide world of queer comics to explore, and these 9 picks offer strong starting points that approach LGBTQ+ content from different angles.

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (Seven Seas Entertainment) 

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Image: Nagata Kabi/Seven Seas Entertainment

The title of Nagata Kabi’s autobiographical manga tells you everything you need to know about the story, which delves deep into her psyche as it recounts an evening the mangaka spent with a lesbian escort. My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is a multifaceted character study that uses this specific night as a springboard for a larger personal narrative rich with internal conflict. Kabi’s struggles with gender identity, eating disorders, and self-harm all feed into her fundamental feeling of loneliness, and sexual gratification doesn’t fulfill these emotional needs. Kabi’s black, white, and pink artwork heightens the impact of the story with expressionistic visual storytelling, exhibiting the usual manga exaggeration while also embracing more abstract imagery that evocatively interprets her shifting mental state. Kabi’s honesty and openness create a strong empathetic connection with the reader, and even if their circumstances are different, readers from across the queer spectrum will find something in Kabi’s journey that speaks to their own experience with loneliness. [Oliver Sava]

Midnighter And Apollo (DC Comics)

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Image: DC Comics

As rare as it is to find LGBTQ+ representation, it’s even rarer to find it in superhero stories, and rarer still to know that at least part of the creative team is also LGBTQ+. It’s no surprise that Steve Orlando’s run on Midnighter and the subsequent Midnighter And Apollo had a lot of appeal for a lot of readers; not only was a beloved gay character back in a starring role, but his new adventures were crafted in an authentically believable way. The Midnighter solo title grew out of the pages of his guest appearances on Grayson, and Orlando and the artists on the book created a superhero book in which the character’s sexuality was an important part of his story, but far from the only part of it. For those 12 issues, Midnighter and his long-time partner, Apollo, were not together, which gave the character extra depth and edge as he explored who he is and who he wants to be outside of his famous and sometimes overwhelming relationship. Between the punching and killing, which was perfectly in line with M’s personality and history, there was a story about choices and identity, and the people that make up a family. [Caitlin Rosberg]

O Human Star (Blue Delliquanti, webcomic/self-published)

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Image: Blue Delliquanti

As it approaches the final story arcs, O Human Star continues to display some of the best, most inclusive storytelling of any comic. Set in a not-so-distant future where technology had advanced to give people access to reliable artificial intelligence and robotics, the story is about two people who were once in love and the daughter that one has adopted. Al and Brendan worked together for years, and their scientific achievements were a huge part of what gave the world access to that incredible technology. During that time, their relationship turned romantic, but Al’s death brought an end to any long-term potential for the two of them together. Years later, Al awakens in a robot body, and is quickly confronted with all that has changed in the interim; Brendan has adopted a robot daughter named Sulla, who was based on Al but is growing into a person of her own. Creator Blue Delliquanti carefully and gracefully navigates many different LGBTQ+ identities, including characters who are trans and nonbinary, but they also are intentional about drawing a world that reflects the grand diversity of humanity, with bodies of every shape and size in the main cast, as well as people of many different racial and ethnic backgrounds, not to mention people with disabilities. Like On A Sunbeam, it is in some ways deeply aspirational, showing a world not where all people are accepted immediately but rather one where many people have the opportunity to self-identify and live authentically. It’s the sort of story that will appeal to fans of Star Trek, a world where technology is built with the goal of helping people so that they can get on with the important business of living their lives as the truest version of themselves. [Caitlin Rosberg]

Batwoman: Elegy (DC Comics)

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Image: DC Comics

Batwoman: Elegy changed the game for queer superheroes. This storyline in Detective Comics #854-860 explores Kate “Batwoman” Kane’s history by pitting her against an enemy from her past: her presumed dead sister, Elizabeth, now alive, insane, and operating as supervillain named Alice. What makes Elegy stand out in the queer superhero canon is that DC immediately treated Batwoman like an A-list character, putting her in the hands of visionary creators who quickly made her one of the publisher’s most compelling figures. Writer Greg Rucka, artist J.H. Williams III, colorist Dave Stewart, and letterer Todd Klein are all comic-book legends in their respective fields, and they deliver a superhero tragedy that is as visually inventive as it is emotionally complex. Rucka gives Kate a compelling backstory that tackles major issues like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while Williams, Stewart, and Klein flex on every page, drastically altering the book’s visual style depending on the demands of any given scene. Subsequent Batwoman series have failed to reach the highs of Elegy, but the character has successfully left a mark on popular culture: Kate Kane is breaking ground off the page as the first openly gay superhero to headline their own TV show with this fall’s Batwoman on The CW, starring Ruby Rose in the lead role. [Oliver Sava]

On A Sunbeam (Tillie Walden, First Second)

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Image: Tillie Walden/First Second

Much of Tillie Walden’s previously published work has been deeply personal and at least semi-autobiographical. Spinning earned her accolades and fans, and just a year later On A Sunbeam hit shelves. Any creator might struggle to live up to a success so quickly, but On A Sunbeam built on the storytelling and characterization that Walden displayed in previous work, with an additional element of intensely imaginative world-building. A group of young women, some of them still girls really, staff a spaceship shaped like a goldfish—not to find adventure, but a missing loved one, a first girlfriend that disappeared into space. The entire cast of the book is female or nonbinary, but that’s not the focus of On A Sunbeam and Walden doesn’t explain it. It’s just a simple fact, stated and treated as such by both author and characters alike. Every relationship between the characters, platonic or romantic, is rooted in queerness. The art is gorgeous and the story sweet without being cloying or overly deferential to just how big first loves feel, but beyond that Walden masterfully creates an entire world where all of the interactions and emotions between two people are shaped by this paradigm of queerness in the best possible way. Reading On A Sunbeam will be deeply familiar to many queer femme and nonbinary people, reflections of youthful romance and the deep emotions it fosters, but it’s also an astonishingly aspirational book, asking readers to embrace something wholly new and revolutionary. [Caitlin Rosberg]

Wuvable Oaf (Fantagraphics)

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Image: Oaf Jadwiga/Fantagraphics

Oaf Jadwiga is a hulking former wrestler who cuts a very imposing figure, but he’s far more interested in hugs than body slams. The titular character of Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf is a cuddly bear learning to love himself, surrounded by people who adore him for his big heart and gentle demeanor. Tenderness is a key component of Oaf’s character, and it’s given an animalistic spin in Oaf’s relationship with his many, many cats, who treat him like one of their own. Luce contrasts Oaf’s sweetness with the aggression of the metal and wrestling circles that Oaf travels in, and there’s a lot of humor in how the low-key Oaf operates in these heightened spaces. Luce proudly celebrates kink culture, never passing judgment on what gets people off. He rejects labels in general, and rather than dividing people into separate camps, he unites them under one large umbrella of joyfully queer life. [Oliver Sava]

Check, Please! (Ngozi Ukazu, webcomic/First Second)

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Image: Ngozi Ukazu/First Second

Before its anticlimactic decline, Tumblr was the first home of webcomics that pushed the boundaries in traditionally published comics forward, attracting loyal and excited fans from all over the world. Ngozi Ukazu’s bright, funny story of college hockey players that fall in love is one of the most popular of that group, and after several successful Kickstarters to fund self-published copies of her books she earned a publishing deal with First Second. Check, Please! features all the best parts of college friendships, with inside jokes and roommate frustrations galore, but there’s also meaningful conversations about coming out and love. As Bitty and Jack come to recognize and act on their feelings, relationships are tested and strengthened. It’s not just a coming-out story, though. There are fun and funny characters at every turn, each of them with their own motivations and quirks. Ukazu’s world-building rich with detail at every level, and her skill with building characters from the ground up is what’s made her slow burn romance story so compelling and successful in the long term. It’s a YA-friendly story that’s soothing and sweet but not without drama, the sort of book that will continue to be invaluable to young queer people and those who love them as they go through the same cycles of romance, affection, and exposure. [Caitlin Rosberg]

Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin)

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Image: Alison Bechdel/Houghton Mifflin

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is basically the Maus of queer comics, a book that broke through to the mainstream to become a graphic novel gateway for queer readers. Detailing Bechdel’s sexual awakening while she reckons with her father’s secret homosexual affairs and suicide, Bechdel, whose Dykes To Watch Out For comic strips gave the world “the Bechdel test,” tells her painful story with delicate nuance, peeling back the layers of her memory in a futile attempt to find answers for her father’s actions. Fun Home is a masterpiece about using art to work through personal trauma, and through her micro examination of her family, Bechdel traces the macro evolution of the LGBTQ+ movement in the late 20th Century. She can’t help but compare her pride as an out lesbian to the misery her father must have experienced as a closeted queer man. Fun Home would go on to become a Tony Award-winning musical, and it stands as one of the richest, most thoughtful depictions of queer life in American musical theater. [Oliver Sava]

The Prince And The Dressmaker (Jen Wang, First Second)

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Image: Jen Wang/First Second

Many of the picks for this list have come out in the last five or so years, and many of them are marketed towards YA readers. There’s been an undeniable boom in YA graphic novels in the past decade, thanks in no small part to Raina Telgemeier, and stories about identity and love are tentpoles for that demographic. This shift in the industry toward YA readers has allowed for emotional and intimate stories about individuals struggling to find themselves in a world that might not want them to, and that kind of story resonates with teens and adults alike. The Prince And The Dressmaker is not the only book in that category, but it is one of the best examples. The pacing and structure will feel familiar to people who love Miyazaki movies and writers like Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey, and Jen Wang’s art and skill with characterization and expressions take the book to even greater heights. It’s a combination of Howl’s Moving Castle and Rapunzel, but this time it’s the prince that’s stuck in the castle and needs help getting out. The journey the characters take is one of friendship and self discovery, a common enough theme, but Wang handles Prince Sebastian’s pain and confusion with such care and consideration that it makes for a warm and sweet book, kind to both the characters and the readers. [Caitlin Rosberg]