With the legalization of gay marriage spreading across the country and President Obama’s recent endorsement, LGBT themes have become more pervasive in media, notably graphic novels. In prose publishing, the male-on-male love story has established itself as a subgenre of romantic fiction, with Harlequin among other publishers releasing new titles (see Bodice Rippers without the Bodice”).
In comics, yaoi/BL (boys’ love) manga is coming not just from Digital Manga and a few small presses but also from Fantagraphics and VIZ Media’s SuBLime imprint launching in June. Gay themes have gained more exposure and acceptance in mainstream American comics, also: witness Kevin Keller in the Archie universe.
Because of sexual content and nudity, the titles below are best for adult collections unless otherwise indicated. Thanks to Robin Brenner, Snow Wildsmith, and Mark McHarry for suggestions. For even more LGBT-themed graphic novels, see my 2009 roundup.
Alanguilan, Gerry. Elmer: A Comic Book. Slave Labor Graphics. 2010. 144p. ISBN 9781593622046. pap. $12.95. F
After chickens became intelligent from a freak virus, violence erupted among men and fowl until the birds were at last declared fellow humans internationally. A second-generation chicken-human, Jake finds his late father’s diary and reads about those older days with horror. But as he struggles to understand his species’ tumultuous past, he must also sort out interfamily tensions. His widowed mother is grieving her heart out, his movie star brother is gay, and his nurse sister wants to marry a hominid-type human. Alanguilan’s realistic, highly skilled black-and-white drawings make this feather-clad race relations parable quite serious indeed‚ think Orwell’s Animal Farm. See LJ review here.
Asou, Kai. Only Serious About You. Vol. 1. 2011. ISBN 9781569702314.
Asou, Kai. Only Serious About You. Vol. 2. 2012. ISBN 9781569702321.
ea. vol: Digital Manga. 200p. pap. $12.95. F
A single father running his own restaurant, Oosawa has no time for dating or romance, especially with bed-hoppers like Yoshioka, who changes boyfriends as easily as his shirt. But when Oosawa’s daughter gets sick and Yoshioka steps in to help, his love and home life both head for a makeover. Volume 2 sees the reappearance of his little girl’s mom, and new complications to this blended parenting. This may appeal to fans of the heterosexual drama/comedy, Bunny Drop.
Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama. Houghton Mifflin. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780618982509. $22. MEMOIR
Using the twin lenses of literature and psychoanalysis to peer into her life and that of her mother, Bechdel incorporates a metanarrative about herself to produce a complex, almost dizzying tour-de-force of storytelling. As the fun in Fun Home, her award-winning memoir about her father, was intended as irony, this comic drama is similarly multivalenced. Look for a rousing, intellectually challenging read folding in Dr. Seuss, psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, Virginia Woolf, Bechdel’s lesbian love life and childhood journals, and her talented mother’s curtailed theater career. See LJ review here, not to mention our recent interview with Bechdel.
Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre. McFarland. 2010. 280p. illus. index. ed. by Antonia Levi & others. ISBN 9780786441952. pap. $39.95. GRAPHIC ARTS
A collection of 14 essays exploring different facets of BL manga, also known as yaoi or shonen-ai and created primarily by women for women as a subgenre of romance narrative. Topics include audiences in different countries, comparison with slash fiction, fan groups and reactions, and valences of transgressive sexuality evoked in the stories.
Christensen, Charles Zan (text) & Mark Brill (illus.). The Power Within. Northwest Comics. 2011. 32p. ISBN N/A. pap. $4.99. F
This is a story created to address teen bullying and suicide. Thirteen-year-old Shannon just doesn’t fit in and gets picked on. When advice from parents and teachers seems irrelevant, he creates a superpowered alter ego to rely on whenever he’s threatened. Despite his fantasies and support from a few other students, Shannon remains a target. He considers jumping off a bridge until he finds a notice about a gay youth group with the message You are not alone, and he realizes that it gets better. With discussion questions and resources at the end, plus bonus pages from comics industry superstars, including Gail Simone, Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka, and Dan Parent. [This is free to youth groups and teachers; info here.‚ Ed.]
Cruse, Howard. The Complete Wendel. Universe. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780789322166. pap. $24.95. F/HUMOR
Wendel is a shaggy-headed, irrepressible every-guy‚ make that an every gay guy‚ who couples up with his crush, Ollie, and helps parent Ollie’s son Farley. Originally published in the gay newsmagazine The Advocate through the 1980s, Cruise’s series has been dubbed the first mainstream gay comic strip. While loaded with goofy humor and good-natured bawdry, Wendel and its large cast of characters also realistically incorporate such serious subjects as AIDS, gay rights, closeting, gay parenting, ex-spouses, jealousy, and gay-bashing and adds an op-ed edge. This collection includes the entire run along with a new preface from Cruse and an introduction by Alison Bechdel (see above).
Dow, Ryan Michael. Weekends with Carl. Introspective Comics/CreateSpace. 2010. 100p. ISBN 978144998644. pap. $12. F (order from http://ryandow.com or Amazon)
Geeky white boy Ryan moves from his small town to Minneapolis, finding short-term work but no friends at first. Then a gregarious fellow office worker takes him under his wing. Carl is African American, gay, friendly, and generous, and Ryan enjoys their friendship. Soon, however, Carl misinterprets Ryan’s interests, and this forces Ryan to be honest with himself and with his friend. It’s refreshing to see a same-gender relationship misunderstanding told without fear or violence, in the same matter-of-fact way as might happen for guy-girl romances that don’t succeed. Although the characters are past college age and occasionally use strong language, there are no sexual visuals, and the message would work for teens. Executed in simply drawn black-and-white art; originally released as a webcomic.
Gabrych, Andersen (text) & Brad Rader (illus.). Fogtown. Vertigo. (Vertigo Crime). 2011. 176p. ISBN 9781401229504. pap. $12.99. F
This noir draws on the seamy clichés and tough-guy dialog of the genre while twisting expectations about sexuality and gender. Boozing PI Frank Grissel goes searching for a missing girl and stumbles on an unsavory web linking murders of local prostitutes to an evangelistic millionaire, the Chinatown drug trade, and the demons of his own past and personal closets. See a sample of the gritty black and gray-toned art here.
Hagio, Moto. Heart of Thomas. Fantagraphics. Aug. 2012. 480p. ed. & tr. from Japanese by Matt Thorn. ISBN 9781606995518. $35. F
A founding mother of shojo manga (girls’ manga), Hagio and her work have only rarely been made accessible to English speakers. This book is considered a pioneering example of shonen-ai (boys’ love), often referred to as yaoi in the United States. In a German boarding school, young Thomas Werner kills himself because of unrequited love for a schoolmate, who is in fact in love with Thomas, but secretly. Unpacking the emotional threads among the boys and their fellows leads to a sophisticated and beautifully drawn melodrama. See an art sample and interview with Hagio here.
Heinberg, Allan (text) & Jim Cheung (illus.). Avengers: The Children’s Crusade. Marvel. 2012. 248p. ISBN 9780785136385. $34.99. F
In this complex story incorporating the Avengers, the Young Avengers, the X-Men, and numerous other Marvel characters, the Young Avenger known as Wiccan seeks the Scarlet Witch for personal reasons‚ he may be her son in one sense‚ and to urge her to undo some of her past deeds. His lover, Hulkling, is involved in the struggles and at the end helps him deal with unexpected consequences as the pair warmly affirm their commitment to each other.
LaCroce, James. Chimpy Discovers His Family. Self-published. 2010. 74p. ISBN 9781456309671. pap. $19.95. F (order from Amazon.com)
Chimpy grows up on an island preserve for orphaned chimpanzees, and he’s a bit different from his fellow orphans: he likes cold drinks with little umbrellas in them, picking flowers, and green banana facials. Although the chimps make fun of him, he does have a best buddy in Matthew Chicken. Humans visit the island sometimes, and one day Juan and Benji show up. The three become the best of friends, so much that Juan and Benji want to adopt Chimpy. Unfortunately, Miss Michelle at the Ape Adoption Agency thinks that a gay couple is disgusting, so Juan and Benji must leave without Chimpy. But Matthew Chicken steps in, plotting an escape that leads the two animals through many adventures until they find Juan and Benji again in Venice. LaCroce is a California psychologist; the colorful art suggests a child’s crayon drawings, and the story is fine for children through tweens.
Merey, Ilike. a + e 4ever. Lethe Pr. 2011. 214p. ISBN 9781590213902. pap. $18. F
Androgynous and beautiful, Asher Machnik is bullied by the other high school boys and suffers disdain from the girls. Only gangly Eulalie Mason‚ a tough-talking, gothish, dykish girl‚ befriends him. They share a good deal: both are socially ostracized outsiders, love to draw, and are Jewish. So they hang out, sketch together, talk art and music, become BFFs, and tentatively try to understand themselves and each other. Eu starts to fall for Ash, but Ash seems drawn to exploring his sexuality with trophy boys and pretty-pretty girls. Yet sometimes you have to leave a place to fall in love with it, and at last the spark between them rekindles more warmly. Created in striking ink-washed blacks and grays, this gender-fluid story won a Stonewall Book Award and was chosen for the Over the Rainbow book list, both distinctions bestowed by ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. For older teens and up.
No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics. Fantagraphics. Jul. 2012. 304p. ed. by Justin Hall. ISBN 9781606995068. $35. F
Uncloseted graphic novels have moved into libraries via Eisner winners Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby. Herewith a color and black-and-white sampler from a less-recognized underground of gay comics from the past four decades, including Bechdel and Cruse, Europe’s Ralf Koenig, and 2011 ALA keynote speaker Dan Savage (Savage Love; The Kid; It Gets Better). Fantagraphics promises “smart, funny, and profound”‚ and uncensored.
Parent, Dan. Archie’s Pal, Kevin Keller. Archie Comics. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9781879794931. $19.99. F
The new kid at Riverdale High is blond, cute, and hunky. Smitten, the fickle Veronica turns on the charm but to her consternation gets nowhere. After some good-natured, Archie-style chaos, she and her classmates learn that Kevin is gay. But no problem: Kevin is happy to be BFFs with Veronica while genially buddying with Jughead over their mutual love of food and making friends with the rest of the gang. Kevin was raised an army brat by loving parents who accepted his sexual orientation, and he wants to serve in the military. As the story progresses, Kevin throws a birthday bash for his dad, wins a Witmasters tournament for his school, gives a former bully a helping hand, and is elected class president. Great for teens.
Rucka, Greg (text) & J.H. Williams (illus.). Batwoman: Elegy. DC. 2010. 192p. ISBN 9781401226923. $24.99. F
Haunted by a family tragedy, Katherine “Kate” Kane fights her own private war as Batwoman. She’s able to save Gotham‚ and her father‚ from a toxic cloud unleashed by a madwoman known as Alice, but the fate of Kate’s long-lost sister hangs in the balance. Ironically, the original Batwoman was introduced in the 1950s as a love interest to shore up Batman’s heterosexuality. But this Batwoman is a Jewish lesbian, trying to balance her closeted love life with her vigilante ventures. Especially striking black-and-red art. (See also the Hydrology volume, under Williams, below.)
Ruckdeschel, Sandra C. & others. Female Force: Ellen DeGeneres. 2010. 32p. ISBN 9781450700177. $3.99.
Troy, Michael. Female Force: RuPaul. Jul. 2012. 40p. ISBN 9781467519311. $7.99.
ea. vol: Bluewater. pap. BIOG
Brief biographies with color art about these two popular show business people: Ellen the stand-up comic, actress, and talk-show host who married actress/comedienne Portia de Rossi; and RuPaul the gender-bending glamazon drag queen, model, singer-songwriter, and talk-show host.
Sakura, Sakuya. Endless Comfort. Digital Manga: June. 2010. 200p. ISBN 9781569700594. pap. $12.95. F
Masaki, a young businessman, returns to his childhood home for a death anniversary and connects with handsome dog trainer Yuu. Both men have baggage from troubled pasts, and moreover, Masaki’s ex-lover Yukii wants to get him back, even if Yukii is dallying with his own boss, Amamiya. As the two couples sort out their affections, Masaki and Yuu gradually deepen their bond. Dog lovers may enjoy this one.
Tachibana, Venio (text) & Rihito Takarai (illus.). Seven Days: Monday-Thursday. 2010. 200p. ISBN 9781569700662.
Tachibana, Venio (text) & Rihito Takarai (illus.). Seven Days: Friday-Sunday. 2011. 200p. ISBN 9781569702291.
ea. vol: Digital Manga: June. pap. $12.95. F
Touji is such a popular guy at school that he changes his girlfriends every week: he’ll go out with whatever girl shows interest on Monday and date her until Saturday, and then on Sunday he dumps her. But this week, it’s Touji’s archery club mentor, Yuzuru, who asks Touji out as a joke. Touji actually takes him up on the offer, so Yuzuru expects that their coupledom will be history by Sunday, even more so because Yuzuru’s another guy. But Touji’s feelings surprise both of them. With no romantic overtures beyond kissing, the series should be fine for teens.
Takako, Shimura. Wandering Son. Bk. 3. Fantagraphics. Jul. 2012. 200p. tr. from Japanese by Matt Thorn. ISBN 9781606995334. $19.99. F
A serious yet sweet fifth-grade drama about several boys and girls who want to change their gender. Unlike many manga involving boy/girl reversals, this one does not play gender issues for laughs, even if gentle comedy enters the picture along with serious emotional drama. Translator Thorn told Comic Book Resources that this and other titles in the Fantagraphics manga line is designed to “appeal to the twenty-something Sailor Moon/Pokémon generation that feel they’ve outgrown the bulk of what is currently available, and that will also appeal to intelligent grown-ups.” Up to 12 volumes in Japan. Sample the art.
Takanaga, Hinako. Little Butterfly: Omnibus Edition. Digital Manga. 2010. 560p. ISBN 9781569701591. pap. $29.95. F
Cheery high schooler Kojima decides to befriend a handsome but reserved classmate seen as a loner. He soon finds that the brooding Nakahara has good reasons for retreating into his shell: an uncaring, abusive father and a mentally unstable mother who make unrealistic demands on their son. As Kojima persists in pursuing a friendship, Nakahara comes to trust him, and he falls in love with his savior. Gradually, Kojima comes to love his friend in return, and helps him leave his difficult home life. Well-developed main characters and lovely black-and-white art.
Weaver, E.K. The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal. Vol. 1: Poor Boys and Pilgrims. Self-published. 2011. 127p. ISBN 9780983875505. pap. $15. F (order from http://tjandamal.com/)
An unexpected road trip shared by the newly out Amal, just disowned by his family, and the genial hippyish T.J. unrolls as a funny and poignant getting-ta-know-ya with potential for something more. Weaver’s writing sparkles as the pair argue, deal, slowly reveal themselves, and get into travel-related misadventures. As a Kickstarter project, this pulled three times the requested sum, so the fans are out there. Three volumes are anticipated. Originally a webcomic; recommended for adult slice-of-life fans and shaping up as a possible front runner for a new American yaoi aesthetic.
Weselcouch, Katy. The Floundering Time. SLG. 2011. 160p. ISBN 9781593622114. pap. $14.95. F
It’s graduation week for Emma and her women’s college classmates, an in-between time when everything is uncertain except uncertainty in love, and all that matters is who’s doing what‚ or not‚ with whom. They’d all survived their share of bad girl crushes, and now Emma obsesses on a transgender friend. Yet while Elliott seems to return her interest as he detaches from his needy boyfriend, Emma can’t seem to make a move to encourage him. High school‚ and college-age readers will recognize that feeling of constipated yearning, endlessly analyzed with BFFs but leading nowhere. Most of the characters identify as other than heterosexual, but their varying sexualities are not the focal point of the story. Simple pen-and-ink drawings; for older teens and up.
Williams, J.H. & others. Batwoman. Vol. 1: Hydrology. DC. June 2012. 160p. ISBN 9781401234652. $22.99. F
Still disturbed about what happened to her sister (see Elegy volume, under Rucka, above), Batwoman teams up with her cousin Bette, formerly Flamebird from Teen Titans, to investigate a case with a paranormal vibe. A spirit known as the Weeping Woman is said to be abducting and drowning children. Is this just an urban legend? And if so, why have all those barrio youngsters gone missing or turned up dead? Other distinctive characters include the skeletal Mr. Bones, who is director of the Department of Extranormal Operations; DEO agent Cameron Chase; and a Chinese Tong gang leader with a hook for a hand. Meanwhile, Kate learns that her new girlfriend, Det. Maggie Sawyer, considers Batwoman an enemy for interfering in her cases. The stunning art continues to make the series a standout.
- The Gay League: The fan site for gay comics readers and creators. News, articles, profiles, reviews, resources, fan fiction and art, message board, and links.
- Prism Comics: A nonprofit organization that supports LGBT comics, creators, and readers. Prism’s goal is to promote the work of LGBT creators, artists, and employees in comics as well as LGBT issues in comics in general. News, articles, interviews, creator profiles, a message board, an online store (heavy on self-published and small press comic books), and links. Look for a Prism booth at larger comics conventions.
- Yaoi Con: Official site for Yaoi-Con, an annual convention for all things yaoi. Definitions, conference information, and links to publishers of translated titles.
- The Yaoi Review: List of publishers, webcomics, reviews, and news. Unfortunately, the last post was October 2011, but the existing information is useful.
- Yuricon: Headquarters for a virtual yuri fan and creator community, which has held conferences and events as well as publishes several titles. Information, news, lists of characters and series, and links. The founder is librarian Erica Friedman.