There's a long history of LGBTQ themes in comics, dating back to the underground comix movement in the late 1960s and early '70s. Those initial works, created outside of the mainstream public eye, were subversive and liberal in their portrayal about homosexual life in an era when it was largely misunderstood and demonized. Recently, works that tackle such issues have been increasingly common and lauded for treatment and showcasing of gay and transgender lifestyles. Here are 13 such comics that render the modern LGBTQ experience.
Bechdel’s examinations of her relationships with both her father (Fun Home) and mother (Are You My Mother?) are candid and resonant works that have become benchmarks in self-deconstruction as well as their treatment of LGBT issues. Bechdel intertwines her sexuality with themes of family and identity. Both books have garnered wide acclaim, and Fun Home was recently adapted into a musical nominated for 12 Tony Awards.
Kitchen Sink Press/Bob Ross. 1980–1998
Throughout its 18-year run, Gay Comix (later Gay Comics), created by Howard Cruse, was not only a place for LGBT writers to create stories that reflected their lives, but also a sort of newsletter for the community that surrounded it. Contributors included Cruse, Trina Robbins, Jerry Mills, Lee Marrs, Mary Wings, and Roberta Gregory. The comics were largely autobiographical, and the series was a pioneer in terms of inclusivity.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Julie Maroh. Glénat/Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010/2013
Emma comes to terms with her homosexuality when she meets alluring blue-haired Clementine in Maroh’s heartfelt love story. Aside from the taboo nature of their relationship, the two struggle to develop their initial infatuation into a stable communion. The book was adapted into a live action film, which won the prestigious Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.
No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
Edited by Justin Hall. Fantagraphics, 2013
Hall plumbs the queer comics scene, which existed alongside mainstream comics since the '70s, for an anthology that offers a wide array of stories about LGBT lifestyles in a variety of formats and tones. The comics are arranged mostly by chronological order to let the reader witness society’s shifting view of the LGBT community through the assembled works. Contributors include Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse, David Wojnarowciz, Ellen Fornay, and Dan Savage.
Edited by Rob Kirby. Northwest Press, 2014
Somewhat a companion to Hall’s No Straight Lines, Qu33r collects three years of comics from editor Rob Kirby’s zine, Three, and features decidedly contemporary gay-themed comics from over 30 contributors. The comics themselves have garnered numerous awards and nominations, and the anthology was successfully funded through Kickstarter.
Stuck Rubber Baby
Howard Cruse. Paradox Press, 1995
Cruse’s 1995 semi-autobiographical tale is the account of a young man’s coming of age and sexuality against the backdrop of the Civil Rights-era south. Toland Polk’s wayward life reflects the era’s social tumult as it dealt with issues like race and homosexuality. The book has been recognized as a landmark in LGBT comics as well as an important cultural text in general.
Astonishing X-Men #51
Marjorie Liu/Mike Perkins. Marvel, 2012
Marvel's first same-sex wedding occurred in the pages of Liu and Perkins’s Astonishing X-Men following the legalizing of gay marriage in New York State (where the publisher is located) in 2011. Canadian X-Man Northstar became one of the first openly gay superheroes in 1992 when he revealed his relationship to his sports events manager, Kyle Jinadu. The two married in the series's 51st issue, published in 2012.
Created by Dan Parent. Archie, 2012
While initially introduced as a love interest for Veronica, it is soon revealed that Riverdale newcomer Kevin Keller is a homosexual, making him Archie Comics’s first openly gay character. Keller quickly became popular and has appeared in numerous titles including his own series which began in 2012. In 2013’s Life with Archie #16, Kevin returns from war and marries his partner, Clay Walker.
The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga
Gengoroh Tagame, Anne Ishii, Graham Kolbeins, Chip Kidd. PictureBox, 2013
Gengoroh Tagame is one of the LGBT comics community’s most well-known figures, and his work has influenced artists from all over the world. His work is known for its realistic and unshy depiction of life for gay men in Japan. The compilation collects ten of Tagame’s short stories published between 1990 and 2012, as well as a new story created for the book.
Massive: Gay Erotic Japanese Manga and the Men Who Make It
Edited by Anne Ishii, Graham Kolbiens, and Chip Kidd. Fantagraphics, 2014
Tagame is one of a handful of Japanese writers and artists showcased in this anthology of gay manga including Kiraiya, Seizoh Ebisubashi, Kazuhide Ichikawa, Gai Mizuki, Takeshi Matsu, Fumu Miyabi, and Kumada Poohsuke. Aside from their work, Massive also includes interviews, photography and more to offer an in-depth look at the men who populate this largely underground community.
Takako Shimura. Comic Beam/Fantagraphics, 2002–2013
Gender bending has long been a staple in manga, but it’s rarely treated with the nuance and sensitivity of Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son. The series follows a pair of Japanese fifth graders, a boy and a girl – both of whom would rather be the opposite sex – and follows their everyday struggles with identity and puberty. The comic was adapted into a 12-episode anime in 2011.
Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag
A.K. Summers. Soft Skull Press, 2014
Summers uses her own pregnancy as the inspiration for the story of a butch lesbian’s experience carrying a child. Teek Thomasson is the opposite of girly, but when she and girlfriend Vee are expecting, she’s forced to deal with the overwhelmingly popular association of pregnancy with traditional womanhood. The comic offers an honest depiction of an often overlooked aspect of of homosexuality.
Dylan Edwards. Northwest Press, 2012
The intricacies of transgenderism are explored in six true stories centered on “queer-identified female to male transpeople.” Edwards keeps the tone light and humorous, and together the stories offer a frank look at the complicated but universal problems faced by transgender people.