The Toronto Comic Art Festival hit town earlier this month (or, really, last month), bringing with it indie artists, fledgling publishing companies, hordes of Canadian fans, and webcomic artists in droves. Among the festivities of the weekend, they held a queer coffee night, highlighting LGBTQ (emphasis on the Q) artists and publications (watch out for my reviews of ‘Pride High’ and other Rainbow Press releases in coming weeks). Erika Moen was one of the featured artists. Moen is one of my personal heroes – a fact I gushed to her in person last year while she drew herself farting onto the inside cover of her book – a young queer woman who kept a comic diary of her life before striking out as a freelance artist. The comic, DAR, deals with her confused feelings for a dude, her experiences coming out as a lesbian, her strange octopus tentacle fetish, tattoos and haircuts, and her confused feelings for a dude (now her husband). Not exactly the comic fodder you’ll see in the next weekly from Marvel or DC.
Webcomics offer a unique platform for the kinds of queer issues that gay people deal with on a daily basis. Because the artists are usually independent, there is no Comic Code Authority to appease and no bosses cutting storylines because they might offend readers. Instead of having a character’s faggotry (to quote Saved!) be the storyline of the week, it is often instead a part of the fabric of the comic’s universe that is no more remarkable than another character’s neon green hair. Instead of being treated delicately at the risk of offense, it is dealt with frankly and humourously, and thus in most cases a lot more truthfully than what could be produced by a larger company.
Which is all awesome.
I am especially proud (like I personally had something to do with it) of webcomics that aren’t about gay characters – they just happen to have the occasional gay character or two hanging out in their ranks. When I was talking to my wife about this article and coming up with the following list, her general response was “There isn’t a gay character in that – is there?” when I reminded her that one of the main characters was, in fact, queer as a three-dollar bill. These are some of my favourites in this category, all of them well-known:
- Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques. Never one to shy away from fart jokes and horrible sexual innuendo, Jeph introduced a wee dyke named Tai to teach us about the wonders of college lesbians and polyamoury.
- Girls With Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto. My wife utterly forgot that Thea, a main character from the beginning, is gay – despite the fact that the current storyline is all about her meeting her new girlfriend’s family and friends. Which is just as awkward as it would be for any straight girl or guy. Thea is also the Safe Lesbian Sex Angel.
- Shortpacked! by David Willis. One of Walky’s many, many, many comics, the anchor character Ethan is, finally, gay. He started off the comic as undecided or undeclared, but is now in one of the most adorable relationships involving Transformers roleplaying in the bedroom I have ever read. There is also the doomed Leslie who is in a relationship with confused straight girl Robin.
- Hijinks Ensue by Joel Watson. I talked with Joel at the recent TCAF about Josh, his big bald bear. He said that he didn’t even think about it when he was first writing the comic. He put his friends in it, and his friend happened to be gay, and then a hundred strips in or so his new boyfriend had to face the Three Bears in a Scott Pilgrim-style showdown.
And then there’s the comics which deal directly with gay issues, which are equally as important – if not more so. While the four comics above are awesome examples of how gay people are part of everyday life without having to be treated specially, the four comics below reveal the very special everyday life of gay people. The challenges we face (“That guy just asked if I was a girl . . .”, and the unique triumphs (“He called me ‘sir’!”). And how weird it is to deal with people. These are definitely not your Marvel fodder. Which, I think, represents a loss on Marvel’s part.
- Curvy by Sylvan Migdal. This one is definitely NSFW, sorry kiddos. Lots of monochromatic lesbian sex.
- Rooster Tails by Sam Orchard. A comic diary from a New Zealand transman, in a relationship with another transman, both of whom are transitioning in different ways and at different speeds.
- The Princess by Christine Smith. Little Seth just wants to play dress-up. After fighting with his mom and getting back-up from his dad, Seth becomes Princess Sarah! One little transgirl’s story of acceptance and change and being crushed on by confused straight boys.
- DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Webcomic by Erika Moen. Sadly, DAR has ended its run, but is still available online and in two paperback volumes. Erika’s also released mini-comics and pamphlets like Girl Fuck. She talks about everything from the importance of a haircut to one’s self-image to farting while cuddling – both issues which figure largely in my own marriage.