LGBT Graphic Narratives Turn ‘Golden’

Posted by Kevin on April 17, 2014

no straight lines[Note: GLBT Reviews will now be adding columns periodically. The next one, scheduled for next month, will discuss contemporary lesbian romances of 2013. If you would like to contribute a column about LGBT media, please contact me at - Nel Ward]

During the last few years, graphic narratives, especially novels and memoirs, have expanded into a “Golden Age” of LGBT graphic literary books, beginning with Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, published eight years ago by the mainstream press Houghton Mifflin. The growing importance of LGBT graphic narratives is demonstrated by Lambda Literary’s new category, Best Graphic Novel, after 25 years of Lammy awards in other literary genres.  Last year, Lambda picked No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics (annotated below) as best LGBT Anthology last year, the first time that a graphic novel succeeded in that division.

The Band of Thebes website, which does an outstanding job of following the gay community throughout the arts, was especially enthusiastic about graphic bio finalist The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story. Writer Vivek Tiwary, artist Andrew Robinson, and cartoonist Kyle Baker debuted the book in Italy before Dark Horse Comics published it in November 2013. The book’s title comes from the reference of “fifth Beatle” for the band’s manager after he discovered the band in Liverpool and became its driving force to worldwide success.

Another Lammy nominations is Alex Woolfson’s Artifice (AMW Comics) illustrated by Winona Nelson.  The science-fiction novel follows the relationship of Deacon, the only android left on Da Vinci Four after he was sent there to eradicate the colonists, and lonely gay Jeff, the only remaining colonist. Originally a webcomic, the book, with its themes of isolation and humanity, was funded by the Kickstarter campaign. A third Lammy nominee, Calling Dr. Laura, is annotated below.

The most intriguing Lammy nominee, however, is J. Tana Ford’s Duck! Second Chances (Bang A Left). After learning that she was one of four nominees for this award, Ford wrote: “I cannot believe that a girl who worked alone in a chilly, spidery garage making comics about the Boston lesbian scene (albeit one that she loves with her whole heart) is in the same field as [Andrew Robinson]…. It does feel a bit overwhelming. There are perhaps 100 copies of Duck Second Chances out in the world and that is it. All of which I made myself. From conception to writing to final inks and figuring out the publishing details–all of it. There was no Houghton Mifflin peeking in to see how things were coming along. No one to make fancy video reels previewing the book. Just me and Katie C (whom I cajoled to come in and please god edit the thing!).”

Advocate’s “five of the best LGBT graphic novels of the year” selected by Jacob Anderson-Minshall has a different take on the “best.” The only book from the Lammy awards that he includes is Artifice. One of his favorites is the young adult graphic novel from Jennie Wood, Flutter: Hell Can Wait (215 Ink), illustrated by Jeff McComsey. The plot follows 14-year-old shapeshifter, Lily, as she changes herself into a boy so that she can have a relationship with the girl she/he pursues.

I do disagree with Anderson-Minshall in his choice of Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Color (Arsenal Pulp Press), the graphic novel turned into the film that won last year’s Cannes film festival. Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger, Blue’s maudlin story line of a high school junior lesbian and her affair with an older woman doesn’t live up to the fabulous illustrations.

Minshall-Anderson picked my favorite from the past couple of years. A finalist in last year’s Lambda Transgender Nonfiction category, Dylan Edwards’ Transposes (Northwest Press) uses six true stories of transgender to explore maleness. Funny, poignant, tragic, informative—all these and more are embraced in the book. As Alison Bechdel wrote in her introduction to Edwards’ debut book:

“Seeing ourselves reflected accurately in the world is crucial to a sense of well-being, to feeling whole and real. The reflections of queer FTM experience that Edwards gives us here are sharply focused, delicately nuanced, and shot through with a warm humanity.”

Anderson-Minshall’s favorite “five” are actually six. The other two are Anything That Loves and Julio’s Day, both annotated below.

The ALA/GLBTRT Over the Rainbow Committee (OTR), which selects the best of the year in LGBT books for adults, also noted the importance of graphic narratives through its inclusion of at least one title on its top ten since its inception in 2010, listing two in 2012.

2014: Anything That Loves: Comics Beyond ‘Gay’ and ‘Straight’ (Northwest Press), compiled by Zan Christensen, covering a wide range and nuances of bisexuality and the discrimination that bisexuals face from both the gay and straight communities.

2013:  Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Alison Bechdel’s sequel to Fun Home, complete with psychoanalysis and an in-depth look at Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

2012: The Complete Wendell (Universe Publishing), a new edition of the Howard Cruse’s classic from the 1980s; and 4 + 4ever (Lethe Press), Ilike Merey’s story of an androgynous boy and a dyke girl in high school.

2011: Batwoman: Elegy (DC Comics), Greg Rucka’s tale of Kate Kane after the lesbian is thrown out of Westpoint before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was overturned.

Some of my other favorite graphic narratives published during the last two years (* indicating inclusion on Over the Rainbow final lists):

Brad Bell & Jane Espenson. Husbands. (Dark Horse): A fun romp through diverse genre realms including superheroes, secret agents, Archie comics, and a Victorian drawing-room drama is initiated by a mystical wedding gift to newly married Brady Kelly and Cheeks.

*Nicole J. Georges. Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir. (Houghton Mifflin): The author describes her pain-filled life finding acceptance as a lesbian in episodic vignettes starting when she was two and her mother told her that her father was dead and continuing as 23-year-old when a palm teller reveals that her father is actually alive. (Finalist for this year’s Lammy Graphic Novel award.)

*Gilbert Hernandez. Julio’s Day. (Fantagraphics): The gay experience has drastically changed over the past 100 years as shown through minimal text and bold black-and-white drawings. (One of Anderson-Minshall’s favorites.)

*No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics. Ed. by Justin Hall. (Fantagraphic):  Queer cartooners show four decades of a changing society as artists and writers outside the mainstream publishing world imaged an uncensored analysis of the LGBT community through underground comics and punk zines.

*Christy C. Road. Spit and Passion. (Feminist Press): A Cuban-American teenager follows her angst-filled journey toward acceptance as a lesbian through black and white drawings showing her fascination with punk rockers Green Day.

*David Wojnarowicz. 7 Miles A Second. Illus. by James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook  (Fantagraphics):  Flamboyant art highlights this new edition of a 1996 combination of memoir and tirade about AIDS and the homophobia of the 1980s originally published four years after the author died of AIDS.

Zelman, David (Mohamed, Mohammed al-Muhammad & Youssef Fakish). Al-Quaeda’s Super Secret Weapon. (Northwest Press): When top-level jihadists see the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a way to destroy the U.S. armed forces and send an undercover gay man to learn about man-on-man love and sex, recruit Mahmoud learns only too well.

The rapid increase and variety of LGBT graphic narratives throughout the past few years has been enhanced by the Internet and the growth of self-publishing and small presses. Fantagraphics and Dark Horse have made LGBT graphic narratives available for several years, but a welcome addition to Northwest publishing is the press by the same name—Northwest Press.

And to start you off for 2014, there’s animator Diane Obomsawin’s On Loving Women (trans. by Helge Dascher, Drawn & Quarterly).  The brief, true anecdotes of first love between women and the feelings that come up—fear, joy, irritation, awkwardness—read like conversations. Although most of the vignettes are about adolescence, some occur during childhood, as young as six years old.  The anthropomorphic figures provide a surreal humor that lightens the pathos of the stories, a perfect mix for tales of lesbian love. To top off the delight of this book, the bar code on the back is shaped like a heart. Watch GLBT Reviews for a complete review later this spring.

With so many available, I’ve missed many favorites from other people. To paraphrase Frank Zappa: So many LGBT graphic narratives, so little time!

Other sources:

Nel Ward


Archenemy (Counterattack series)

Posted by Kevin on March 14, 2014

archenemy coverHoblin, Paul. Archenemy (Counterattack series). Lerner Publishing, 2013. $27.93. 112p. HB. 978-1-4677-0306-2.  

Part of the six-book Counterattack series by Paul Hobin, Archenemy tells the story of Addie, a biracial, teenage female soccer player in North Carolina coming to terms with her developing same-sex attraction.  While her parents are supportive of her, there is a scene with an unsupportive minister at her church.

The story follows Addie as she quickly connects with Eva, another soccer enthusiast, and the two become fast friends.  The girls come out to each other, but Addie does not want a relationship while Eva desires more than simple friendship.  The friendship sours, and Eva kisses a boy rejecting her same-sex desires after being rejected by Addie.

The word lesbian never appears in Archenemy, and there is no intimacy except for Eva’s post-rejection heterosexual kiss.  The story is actually more about bullying than same-sex attraction, but Addie’s feelings do come off as very authentic.   Unfortunately, the resolution is weak and contrived, as if the author had written himself into a corner.  Nevertheless, Archenemy is very accessible to teens–gay or straight–who want to avoid a more complex novel. The whole Counterattack series is clearly intended for teens who do not want to read a book much over 100 pages.

Reviewer:  Carolyn Caywood

Categories: Fiction,Youth

A Romantic Mann

Posted by Kevin on March 14, 2014

romantic mann coverMann, Jeff. A Romantic Mann. Lethe Press, 2013. $13. 234p. PB. 9781590211564.

A Romantic Mann is the kind of collection that not only left me wanting more but also made me wonder how I didn’t know about Jeff Mann before now. This collection repeatedly took my breath away. Deftly divided into four parts, each section explores a different broad idea of the sensual and erotic through flowing language and scintillating imagery.

The second part’s poems are all named after the seven modern modes of music, and the fourth section centers on Europe and the author’s experiences there. Probably the strongest part is the third. It contains the poem “Alan Turing Memorial – Manchester” with the line, “I will speak again and again of what men like you could not.” Later, in the poem “Virginia Fantasia”, the line “What I love is the world reimagined, revised” is written. These two lines specifically describe what the collection encompasses: accessible poems that completely captivate the reader. It’s hard to talk about the standout pieces, however, because most of the pieces shine in one way or another.

The poet isn’t shy about reflecting exactly what he wants to show; many of these poems have a heat and eroticism that few other collections I’ve read recently can match. If this set has a weak spot, it probably lies in Mann’s proclivity of using similar phrasing in poems that are grouped together. Although the repetition doesn’t hurt either poem, these lines occurring in different poems of relative proximity is a bit unnerving. The feeling of déjà vu jerks the reader out of the moment. Yet this is truly a minor complaint, one easily forgotten as the next poem starts.

A Romantic Mann is exceptional. Although it’s a bit early in 2014 to start making “best of” claims, I have faith that this will be one of the best things I’ve read this year. Make it a point to add to your list. This collection is recommended for any library that collects poetry or has a strong LGBT collection as well as for individuals who like their poetry with a bit of body and an approach to love that’s less Elizabeth Barrett Browning and more like a gay John Wilmott.

Reviewer: Mack Freeman

Categories: Adult,Nonfiction,Poetry

Boys Have Been…

Posted by Kevin on March 14, 2014

boys have been coverGaskins, Christopher. Boys Have Been… Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013. $14.95. 126p. PB. 978-1-937420-51-2.

In this anthology, Gaskins continuously explores love and relationships, how they work, and how they often fall apart. Every time I review a collection of poetry, I find myself trying to find a line in the collection that sums up the theme. In this one, the line comes from the end of “For James”: “Many poems, (well, ones like this one) /pertain/ to “the one” who certainly wasn’t”.

This is Gaskins’s first collection of poetry, and it comes on strong. The best part is the cycle of eight poems spread throughout the collection with titles that begin with “For” and continue with the name of the speaker’s past love interest. These narrative-style poems tell the stories of love found, used, and lost. Whether it’s through the realigning of perceptions when the speaker steals a book from Barnes & Noble while on a date or through a guy who says he’ll call but doesn’t (“My telephone number has never been changed but it just might as well be”), these poems offer intimate glances into a life littered with complicated loves. Over the course of the assorted poetics, the reader starts to cheer the speaker on, hoping everything works out for him. Nothing, of course, is ever that simple.

A personal favorite from this collection is “Ulterior Motives” that follows the narrator as John buys him things, gives him money, pays his bills, and keeps insisting he wants nothing in return. The narrator, burned by so many others and untrusting due to his past, keeps wondering where the hidden price is. This idea of overanalyzing aspects of relationships, both with friends and lovers, is another theme played out through this collection, appearing in other poems such as “A Blowjob” and “Returning Home Enamored at 4 A.M.”

Christopher Gaskins makes no bones about his subject matter as he swings from rage and paranoia to sadness and searching. These are not tales of love gone wrong, needing to be avenged; they are experiential and thoughtful in a way that simply getting even never can be. His style of poetry is very direct. While eschewing overly florid language in exchange for direct lines that tell a definite story, Gaskins maintains elegant wordplay that dances throughout the collection. A quick pace and a penchant for an alliterative turn of phrase make this collection a quick read.

This book is recommended for any library that collects poetry and for any person who knows that love often has more edges than simply, as Browning put it, “count[ing] the ways.”

Reviewer: Mack Freeman

Categories: Adult,Nonfiction,Poetry

Between: New Gay Poetry

Posted by Kevin on March 14, 2014

between coverBetween: New Gay Poetry. Ed. by Jameson Currier. Chelsea Station Editions, 2013. $16.00. 130p. PB. 978-1937627119.

This new anthology of gay poetry brings together 60 gay male poets both new and old to discuss one thing: the often-complicated relationships that exist between men.  The editor is the author of five novels and founder of Chelsea Station.

Most poems are short, and the direct, rhythmic style of most of them makes the collection flow quickly. I found myself at the end before I had even realized what had happened; I was kicking myself for not having read with a pen in hand so that I could underline my favorite passages.

Overall, the work in the collection is very strong. By proposing such a broad theme for this collection, Currier allows individual poets to pursue the subject matter in a way that is most meaningful for each of them. This leads to a great deal of variety of both content and style providing something for everyone. For instance, Stephen S. Mills in “Real Men Love Jesus” examines a relationship between a man, his boyfriend, the boyfriend’s fire-and-brimstone pastor father, and the random missionaries they run into in city life. The momentary infatuation with strangers is the focus in Benjamin S. Grossberg’s “At the Gym,” and the painfulness in the death of lovers is exposed in Kevin McLellan’s “Darkening” and Rangi McNeil’s “And Red to Gesture Where the Past Has Been.”

Each poet in this collection has a single poem, but the layout can be confusing. Although most author biographies are on the left page facing the poem on the right, bios for poets with longer poems appear in the bottom right. At first, I thought that some poets had multiple entries and found it hard to keep track of who contributed what. It’s a minor formatting issue but did take away from some of the enjoyment in reading the poems.

This collection is recommended for any library that collects contemporary poetry and for any individual with an interest in that field although it will it probably appeal most to gay men.

Reviewer: Mack Freeman

Categories: Adult,Nonfiction,Poetry

Butcher’s Sugar

Posted by Kevin on March 14, 2014

butchers sugar coverRichard, Brad. Butcher’s Sugar. Sibling Rivalry Press. 2012. $14.95. 71p. PB. 978-1-937420-25-3. $14.95.

“He tried to make a body out of words, to make words a body”, wrote Brad Richard in “The Body, The Word”; that sentiment seems to permeate throughout his 2012 collection Butcher’s Sugar. This collection tells the story of coming-of-age and entering sexual desire, with all of the complimentary emotions, beauty, and violence that this implies. In these poems, Richard doesn’t pull his punches.  Instead he presents tales of youth in sexual exploration, youth inaugurated into the world of sex with older men, and youth wasting away as age takes its hold.

Two parts of this collection deserve special notice. The first is the collection of poems that features the Greek god Hermes. “Dead Tongues,” “Hermes with the Corpse of Hector,” “Young Soldier Watching Hermes Sleep After Sex,” “Hermetic Nocturne,” and “Hermetic Psalm” all feature the god in various sexual exploits with different boys and men. The homage to Greece invokes the idea of institutionalized pederasty and a historical era where this sort of initiation to sex was an ordinary part of life. In addition, the language in these poems is smooth, ever flowing, and so memorable that you hate for them to end so quickly.

The other part is the poem “Eye-Fucking” based on the murder of Nicholas West in Tyler (TX) in 1993 that stands out from the rest of the collection for its length and narrative structure. Told from the perspective of one of the two men who bashed West to death, its chilling and remorseless language causes the poem to remain in memory long after other poems are fading.

The primary emotion I receive from Richard’s work is conflicted as he presents the sexual awakening of youth that does not hold back from its eroticism. We live in a society that places hard lines on the appropriate age to consider someone a sexual being, and this acknowledgement of sexual desire in teens and preteens is uncommon. Factor in the number of poems that consider violent sexual acts, pederasty, and other incestuous acts, and you might be left with the idea that this collection is only negative and dark. But that’s too simple: many of the poems are breathless romances. They are all aspects of the same beast, and some of the beast can be hard to view.

This is Brad Richard’s third collection after Habitations and Motion Studies. Currently, he is the chair of creative writing at Lusher Charter High School in New Orleans.

This collection is recommended for all libraries that collect modern poetry, but it will find its main audience among GLBTQ men.

Reviewer: Mack Freeman

Categories: Adult,Nonfiction,Poetry

Transgender Family Law: A Guide to Effective Advocacy

Posted by Kevin on March 13, 2014

transgender law coverTransgender Family Law: A Guide to Effective Advocacy. Ed. by Jennifer L. Levi and Elizabeth E. Monnin-Bowder. AuthorHouse, 2012. $19.95. 326p. PB. 978-1468552140.

The legal issues confronting members of the transgender community affect almost every aspect of life and vary widely from state to state.  Courts are woefully ignorant of the issues, often biased, and state laws lag behind current medical treatment.  The collection of essays found in Transgender Family Law: A Guide to Effective Advocacy functions almost as a textbook for lawyers considering offering services to the transgender community.  The book begins with preparing a law office and staff to welcome and make comfortable a client who is transgender.  For example, staff members need to inquire how the client wants to be addressed in different circumstances.

Other chapters, written by a variety of legal experts, cover other issues such as changing names and gender markers on official documents, marriage and divorce, protecting the parental rights of transgender persons, protecting children who are transgender, domestic and intimate partner violence, and estate planning.  The lengthy appendix has a range of useful sample forms and letters.  Additionally, the sample intake form in the appendix would prove useful in a variety of professions.

Though especially useful to those in the legal professions, the text of Transgender Family Law is understandable for non-lawyers, and reading applicable chapters will prepare transgender persons to be informed consumers of legal services.  People in other professions who provide services to transgender clients will be able to use the book as a model of best practices and as a guide to areas of potential concern for their clients. Public law libraries will want to make this book available to both lawyers and families that include someone who is transgender.

Reviewer:  Carolyn Caywood

Categories: Adult,Nonfiction

God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage

Posted by Kevin on March 13, 2014

god believes in loveRobinson, Gene. God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. Knopf, 2012. $24.00. 208p. HC. 978-0307957887.

God believes in love, and so does Gene Robinson. His book God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage explores his answers to common criticisms and questions he hears about the current gay marriage debate.

Robinson, of course, is no stranger to conflict. He exploded into the national spotlight in 2003 when he was elected the IX Bishop of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church, making him the first openly LGBT individual in a relationship to be consecrated as a bishop, serving from 2004-2013.

The book is structured around the common questions that Robinson receives about gay marriage and its place in modern society and religious life. He says in the introduction that he imagines this book to be a conversation with the reader about these issues, and this structure prevails throughout. The book covers topics from “Why Gay Marriage Now?” to “What’s Wrong with Civil Unions?” and “What If My Religion Doesn’t Believe in Gay Marriage?” These questions are tackled efficiently and effectively, laying out a plausible, succinct argument for same-gender marriage as both biblically and morally right. In fact, this book is structured very similarly to John Corvino’s recent book, What’s Wrong With Homosexuality? although Robinson’s book is more restricted in focus.

More secular readers may be nervous about the applicability of the content from a book written by a religious leader, but in this case the fear is unfounded. Robinson spends a portion of the book dividing out the spiritual and the civil parts of marriage. He explains (quite forcefully) the necessity for these two things to remain separate. In Robinson’s view, marriage is an institution that should be open to everyone in both a religious and civil context, but he believes that the civil issue of marriage (its legality) should be dealt with as a civil rights issue. In such a situation, religion should have no voice to silence it.

Gene Robinson has long been an outspoken leader in the LGBT community, and this book condenses many of the arguments in favor of gay marriage into a simple, easy-to-read book. God Believes in Love attempts to dispel the fear and ignorance that fuels the resistance to gay marriage of many churchgoers through compassion and reason. Even if the reader doesn’t have a religious bone in their body (like this reviewer), this book still has an important message for today’s world. This is recommended for every library.


Reviewer: Mack F.

Categories: Adult,Nonfiction

Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics

Posted by Kevin on March 13, 2014

irresistible revolution colorVaid, Urvashi. Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics. Magnus Books, 2012. $21.95. 238p. HB. 978-1-936833-29-0.

From outspoken advocate and LGBT community organizer Urvashi Vaid, Irresistible Revolution collects the author’s various speeches given to diverse audiences from lesbian feminists to Log Cabin Republicans. The collected essays push forward Vaid’s ideas concerning class, race, and gender equality within the LGBT community, with the hope that her ideas will eventually gain universal acceptance by the majority of Americans.

Many of the speeches included in Irresistible Revolution may be uncomfortable for members of the mainstream LGBT community. Vaid wants to directly challenge and force the LGBT community to reexamine how they treat those members who may be on the fringes. With recent federal progress on marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,”many believe the goal of equality is over.  Vaid argues that recent wins are only the beginning and the recent momentum must be harnessed to achieve true equality for all community members. The essay “What Can Brown do for You?” addresses the need for racial justice and equality describing how it will strengthen the overall movement. Moving from racial injustice to economic inequality, the entry “Assume the Position” speaks of the severe economic issues within the community, especially regarding those in the transgender community.

Throughout the essays, Vaid suggests the mainstream movement reach out to those living in poverty, listen to their needs, and join together to fight for their equality.

Irresistible Revolution would do well in any public or academic library expanding its LGBT section. Because it examines complicated societal issues, I would recommend this book to readers 16 years and older, especially to those patrons who are looking for books challenging mainstream ideas of the LGBT movement.

Reviewer: Talia Earle

Categories: Adult,Nonfiction

Blue is the Warmest Color

Posted by Kevin on March 13, 2014

Blue is the Warmest Color coverMaroh, Julie. Blue is the Warmest Color. Trans. Ivanka Hahnenberger. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013. $19.95. 156p.PB. 978-1-55152-514-3.

Blue is the Warmest Color is a superb, coming-of-age graphic novel.  Gorgeously illustrated, this debut novel from writer and illustrator Julie Maroh reflects the tragic love story between Emma and Clementine, two young lesbians in mid-1990s France.  Flashback scenes from Clementine’s diary are black and white with a splash of bright blue, emphasizing the importance of the color to Clementine.

While attending high school, Clementine struggles with her sexuality and dating boys.  Yet after a quick glimpse of Emma in the street and a later chance encounter at a gay bar, she slowly comes to terms with her own sexuality.  From there, the two embark together on a sweet but difficult journey.  Contemporary scenes in full, yet darker, color focus on an impending tragedy and parallel the overall mood of the characters in the scenes.

Ivanka Hahnenberger’s translation from French to English is perfect. The occasional explicit sexual situations make this title best for those 18 years or older.  Anyone, be they LGBT or not, who is looking for a great love story will enjoy this novel.  Both academic and public libraries would greatly benefit from purchasing this work for their institutions.


Reviewer: Talia Earle