Comics are a great medium for exploring inarticulate feelings. Like film, they rely on our subconscious response to a long shadow, a small smile, a lone figure against a stark backdrop. The traditionally small audience for indie comics also creates a special intimacy — that zine in your hands may be one of only thirty copies in the world. So it’s not surprising that indie comics (and now webcomics) have a long history of frank dialogue about sexual identity and behavior. Their honesty makes them some of the most exciting comics to read.
This Buy, Borrow, Bypass comes with the caveat that sexual identity is extraordinarily personal, and I hope that you’ll buy whichever book(s) bring you joy.
The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, edited by Hope Nicholson
Why, yes – I, too, am a geek girl, and I’ve had my fair share of crushes, questions, and questionable fanfic binges. In this collection, ladies of all ages, races, and orientations use their geekiness as a waystation for tales of love – romantic and/or sexual love, not the fannish kind. But fandom figures heavily into the way these women find themselves, from Sailor Moon serving as first exposure with same-sex relationships to BioWare games helping a writer learn to tell great romantic stories. The comics content (almost) consistently impressed me, but several of the text-only essays could use a firmer editor. Still, Marjorie Liu’s ice-down-your-spine contribution, about coming to terms with yourself in the wake of sexual abuse, is a highlight.
QU33R, edited by Rob Kirby
I’m doing this book a disservice by classifying it as an “anthology about sexuality” – it’s really a peek into the minds of 33 queer comics creators, many of whom create art that doesn’t directly address their identity. But the majority of these comics do tackle sex and gender in some way – partly because the contributors were brought together due to that aspect of their identity, and partly because queer individuals are forced to think about, fret over, and defend their sexuality in a more public and politicized environment than heterosexual people are. The creators and/or their characters have bad sex, have good sex, confront childhood bullies, confront their family history, dress up, dress down, dress in drag. It’s a great, glorious mess, and I hope there’s more.
Verdict: Borrow, unless you’re really into the history of queer/alternative comics – then definitely Buy and save for the next generation.
Anything That Loves: Comics Beyond “Gay” and “Straight”, edited by Charles “Zan” Christensen
An ode to bisexuality, that oft-misunderstood-even-in-queer-spaces identity, is long overdue. Focusing on one letter out of the QUILTBAG gives this anthology a firm through line while simultaneously highlighting the diversity of experience behind that one little word. Reader, I’ll be honest: when I read that one of these stories was the artist’s “official coming-out comic,” I teared up a little. (Plus, all royalties go to Prism, a non-profit that supports LGBTQA comics.)