EKW here — I can’t believe the month is already up! It’s been a pleasure being the CCOL’s Creator-In-Residence for January, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this special lil’ space.
Last weekend, I put together an artist talk covering several decades of queer comics (mostly) in North America. As I was putting the slideshow together, the thought occurred that it’d be worth putting together a master list of all the works I talked about, in case anyone wanted to follow up and do a deep dive. Soooo… here it is!
- Physique Pictorial men’s magazine (1930s-1960s) — published throughout the 50s and 60s, and featured early illustrations from Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland). Before Stonewall, queer media could only really exist in a subtle, coded way that would fly over the heads of mainstream audiences. Physique Pictorial was a great example of this, and developed a sizeable gay readership overtime.
- It Ain’t Me, Babe (1970) — released in the midst of the underground comix boom in the Bay Area, this comic was the first with all women contributors — the precursor to…
- Wimmen’s Comix (1972-1992) — an all-women comix anthology, created as an answer to the male-centric nature of the underground comix scene. An early issue featured the story “Sandy Comes Out” by Trina Robbins, believed to the first comic portraying an out lesbian protagonist (though Robbins herself is straight, and allegedly wrote the story about a friend of hers).
- Anarcoma by Nazario — a sexy, violent detective story featuring a trans woman protagonist. Nazario is a Spanish cartoonist who began producing gay-themed work in the 1970s. Unfortunately, much of his work hasn’t been translated into English!
- Gay Comix (1980-1998) — a breakthrough moment for queer comics! The first anthology with entirely queer contributors, with an emphasis on including both gay and lesbian content. Edited by Howard Cruse (Wendel, Stuck Rubber Baby) and featuring contributions from several major queer cartoonists, including Jennifer Camper, Roberta Gregory, and Phoebe Gleckner, among others.
- J.D.s (1985-1991)— a Toronto-based zine created by Bruce LaBruce and GB Jones, which sparked the queercore movement. Queer zines blew up across North America similarly to queer comics, and cartoonists and zinesters would often exchange and keep up with each other’s work through cross-continental mail art networks.
- Meatmen (1986-2004) — a male-focussed comics anthology specializing in erotic content. Though its storytelling was often on the lowbrow end, Meatmen would continue celebrating gay sexuality through the AIDS crisis, which was, in my opinion, a political act unto itself.
- 7 Miles A Second (1996) by David Wojnarowicz, James Romberger, and Marguerite Van Cook — a scathing, beautiful, and devastating work exploring the artist David Wojnarowicz’s upbringing, and his anger towards the US government’s indifference and hostility through the AIDS crisis. This book was one of David’s final works before dying from AIDS-related complications, and it stands as one of the best comics I’ve ever read.
- Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 (2017) by MK Czerwiec — after working as a nurse caring for patients with HIV and AIDS for several years in the 90s, MK Czerwiec taught herself cartooning as a way of preserving and sharing her experiences. The resulting graphic memoir, Taking Turns, offers an invaluable glimpse into both the structural failures and the intimate minutiae of medical care during the AIDS crisis.
- The ABC Book (1997) by Maurice Vellekoop — Toronto’s own Maurice Vellekoop burst onto the comics and illustration scene in the late 80s and early 90s, creating luscious, colourful work coming at sexuality with a joyful, celebratory spirit. The ABC Book plays out like a rhyming children’s book, but shows men in various fantastical sexual situations. It’s a hard book to get a hold of these days, but the Toronto Reference Library does have a copy in their stacks!
- Dykes To Watch Out For (1983-2008) by Alison Bechdel — a landmark comic strip following the lives of a group of queer women, as they navigate work, relationships, and the political turbulence of the day. In retrospect, the strip serves as an insightful time capsule for lesbian and queer issues throughout the 1990’s.
- Curbside Boys: The New York Years (2002) by Robert Kirby — in many ways, the gay counterpart to Dykes To Watch Out For, Kirby’s work approaches gay male life with a thoughtful, humorous sensibility. Rob would go on to edit several queer comics anthologies, including Three and QU33R — discovering and mentoring several younger queer cartoonists along the way (including yours truly!). He’s currently at work on a new graphic memoir, Marry Me A Little.
- Wuvable Oaf (2015) by Ed Luce — originally a self-published series, Oaf features a gay protagonist navigating life in the Bay Area, and nurturing his love for wresting, metal shows, and cats. The comic became a cult sensation, celebrated for its representation of bear subculture. The comic’s popularity inspired Oaf figurines, various merch, and a spin-off wrestling comic strip. The original series was eventually collected into a proper book by Fantagraphics.
- Gaylord Phoenix (2010) by Edie Fake —a hugely influential comic for the younger generation of queer cartoonists! I have a more detailed write-up of Gaylord Phoenix in my previous blog post.
- “Body Type” (20??) by Jasjyot Singh Hans (below) — a spot-on comic strip exploring the rise of hookup apps, and the long-held prejudices within the gay community surrounding race and body image, now quantified and laid bare through listed “preferences” on profiles.
- Hungry Bottom Comics (2012-2014) by Eric Kostiuk Williams — my first major comics work, fusing autobio, surrealism, and cultural critique — self-published when I was a mere twenty-nothing! The series recounted my experience moving to Toronto and immersing myself in the gay scene in the early days of the hookup apps and perhaps, in retrospect, the final days of cruising at the club.
- The Lie & How We Told It (2018) by Tommi Parrish — a thoughtful, and gorgeously drawn graphic novel. Tommi’s comics are tender, cathartic, and feel (in the best way) like therapy.
- ”RIPMOM” by Carta Monir — Carta is a total powerhouse presence in the comics galaxy, whose work explores connections between sex, gender identity, digital interfaces, and trauma. This short story was originally published in the Critical Chips anthology, and will soon extend into a proper book, I Want To Be Evil. In addition to making comics, Carta has also started up Diskette Press, a micro-publisher with a focus on releasing work by trans and queer identified cartoonists. She’s built a promising momentum, and I can’t wait to see what’s next from her!
- “The Lover of Everyone in the World” (2018) by Beatrix Urkowitz (below) — a hilarious, thoughtful comic strip on dating around. Bea is one of my favourite cartoonists, and I’d love to see more of her work collected in print!
- Futchi Perf (2018) by Kevin Czap — a gorgeous, lyrical graphic novella portraying a utopian version of Cleveland. This book unfolds organically, and leaves you feeling warm and hopeful. How dreamy is that?
- Pinky & Pepper Forever (2018) by Ivy Atoms — an amazing graphic novella exploring two lovers making their way through art school and navigating the creative process, BDSM dynamics, and suicidal ideation. Impressively pulled off with a deft balance of dark humour and sincerity.
- Flocks (2018) by L Nichols —a graphic memoir exploring transition and queer parenthood. I’d love to see more work like this, exploring the queer experience into middle age!
So, this list is by no means the authoritative List of Queer Comics — more a selection of works that have peaked my interest over the years. If you’re looking for a great primer on the history of queer comics, check out No Straight Lines: Four Decades Of Queer Comics (edited by Justin Hall and published by Fantagraphics). Its unofficial companion anthology, QU33R (edited by Robert Kirby and published by Northwest Press) serves as a snapshot of queer comics in the early 2010s.
The future of queer comics is super intriguing — the rise of webcomics and accessible self-publishing has facilitated a new wave of exciting, forward-thinking work throughout the 2000s and 2010s that continues to gain momentum. In recent years, queer comics have also experienced several mainstream moments (see The Prince & The Dressmaker, My Brother’s Husband, and Spinning) and are increasingly being commodified into the young adult publishing boom, for better and worse. Going forward, my hope is that queer comics can retain their subversiveness and sexiness in the face of increasing digital censorship and sanitization from large publishers. While venturing onwards into a fraught new decade, there’s much we can learn from the struggle and perseverance of our queer cartoonist elders.