The new year may have come and gone but fortunately 2015 left behind some great graphic novels to entertain you while you're snowed in and the TV's out.
As the graphic novel genre continues to mature, some artists stretch the boundaries of the literary art form by employing wordless scenes to convey the story (none as thoroughly and adroitly as Daishu Mu’s Leaf which conveys a compelling story entirely without text). Others are employing the graphic format to delve into nonfiction subjects or provide new insight into literary canon — as the cartographer Andrew DeGraff does with Plotted: A Literary Atlas that pairs imaginative maps with one page synopses of classics like Hamlet and Moby Dick and works by more modern authors like LGBT-inclusive SciFi legend Ursula Le Guin. The world of queer or queer-inclusive graphic novels expanded last year too, with entries from cultural perspectives, overtly sexual fat Japanese men, and new installments by favorite creators. Here’s the run down on the top graphic works you missed in 2015:
Adrian and the Tree of Secrets by Hubert, illustrated by Marie Caillou (Arsenal Pulp Press) is about a gay boy in a Catholic high school who can handle a strict and homophobic mother, being bullied and beaten by jocks, ditched by his best friend and even being expelled from school by a principal who considers homosexuality an illness. But when Adrian’s first loves rejects him to maintain a straight façade in the face of the pervasive homophobia; it all becomes too much. Listed as juvenile fiction, Adrian has the kind of emotional gut-punch not uncommon in modern young adult novels.
Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfe’ A. Monster (Self Published) features the work of 26 contributors in 18 engaging adventures starring lesbian pirates in space, trans dragon slayers, demon-adopting gay dads, gay and lesbian astronauts, gender-neutral aliens, LGBT fairytales and first people fables. Great introduction to the work of established and emerging artists.
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Season Nine Volume 3 by Joss Whedon, Andrew Chamblis, Jane Espenson. Illustrated by Georges Jeanty, and Karl Moline (Dark Horse). The talent behind the queer-inclusive Buffy TV show also shepherd the comic series, keeping fans happy and the universe cohesive. But that universe was rocked in Season Eight when Buffy severed the connection to hell dimensions and supernatural influence. Willow lost her powers and a new breed of zombie vampires was born. In this anthology, the gang go in search of another source of magic and must face a revengeful superbeing, a rogue Slayer and the ancient creator of vampires. Deluxe hardcover with great sketchbook extras.
Flutter Volume Two: Don’t Let Me Die Nervous, by Jennie Wood (215 Ink). Can you be jealous of yourself? That’s just one of the dilemmas faced by the gender-shifting teen at the heart of this unique graphic series that cleverly blends elements of romance, murder mystery, political intrigue, and superhero origin story.
Intro to Alien Invasion by Owen King and Mark Jude Poirier (Simon and Schuster) is a sweet lesbian love story wrapped in a sci-fi horror and set on a college campus; where the frat boys, lecherous professors, shallow sorority girls, and fee-hiking administrators all become fodder for an over-sexed alien invasion. The survivors are glorious outsiders — geek, goth, disabled, fat, lesbian — who band together to take back their school and save the world.
Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It Edited by Anne Ishii, Graham Kolbeins, and Chip Kidd (Fantagraphics) is a groundbreaking collection of Japanese gay manga and the first English-language anthology of its kind. Not only does it include some of the steamy XXX comics featuring big, burly, lascivious guys in various sexual stories, it also features revealing interviews with and essays written by the artists. This rare glimpse behind the creative curtain provides context to elements that Western audiences might find confusing (for example many of the stories feature straight men being “forced” into incredibly enjoyable sex with another man). Massive includes work by internationally renowned artists like Gengoroh Tagame, Jiraiya, Seizoh Ebisubashi, and Kazuhide Ichikawa.
At nearly 500 pages and years in the making, The Sculptor (First Second) is an epic story about art, love, life, and death. It’s the first work of fiction by Scott McCloud, whose nonfiction work like Understanding Comics has introduced thousands of students to the field of visual literature. While the Sculptor revolves around a straight man who trades his life for artistic abilities, his best friend is gay and plays a key role in the unfolding drama as things fall apart and love interferes in both men’s lives.
The autobiographical Snapshots of a Girl by Belden Sezen (Arsenal Pulp Press) mines her experiences of coming out and living as a lesbian with a foot in two cultures (Islamic and Western). Born in Germany to Turkish immigrant parents, Sezen is both rooted and rootless; her travels (shared in short vignettes) take her to America, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Reflecting the somewhat disorienting geographic changes, Sezen’s artwork shifts from just-above stick figure to photorealism and all points in between. She contrasts heartbreaking experiences with Muslim girls who can’t handle the realities of coming out with a heart-warming scene in which a small, traditional gesture conveys her mother’s acceptance.
Wuvable Oaf by Ed Luce (Fantagraphics) is a romantic comedy, the kind of rom-com that’s set in San Francisco and features Bears, Queer-core bands, a chef who takes the idea of farm-to-table way too far, a cat sanctuary, and a very special, special-needs kitty. It’s hilarious, sexy, and adorable.
It’s probably a stretch to call a book about beer queer — at least for those who didn’t grow up in gay bars — but I’d be remiss not to mention two other nonfiction highlights: Trashed by Derf Backderf and The Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith. Both books start with something mundane and lowbrow — beer and trash — and transform it into art while demonstrating the critical role it’s played in the development of human civilization.