Everyone else was making lists of their favourite what-nots at the end of last year, so I thought I’d use my knowledge and thirst to pull together a list of queer comics I *loved* in 2019. It was a fantastic year for queer narratives after all – with comics like The Witch Boy, Iceman, and Check, Please! finding their way into mainstream distribution. I didn’t want 2019 to end without sharing some brilliant indie projects with you, reader. Plus, ya know, I’ve got to get my nerd on.
This list reflects my personal taste in style and storytelling, and shouldn’t be the last place you look for queer comics. I’ve linked where I can for y’all to connect with these artists and support their work financially as I’m not in a position to do so myself. I encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comment section below so this isn’t a one-way conversation. Until then, here is my Top Eight comic news, publications, and reads of 2019:
1. Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge
Tags: #mlm #changelings #fantasy #adventure #magic
The Childe was taken from his parents at birth, and raised by the changeling king and queen in The World Below. When the cruel sorceress Hawthorne arrives to usurp them, The Childe takes his wax golem Whick and seeks out the changeling prince he was swapped with.
This brings them to Edmund: the rebellious boy trying desperately to hide who he is in The World Above. Worried about losing his family, Edmund agrees to help The Childe and Whick in order to keep his secret. But things get messy when Edmund’s sister Alexis tails them to The World Below and finds herself in danger.
Now Edmund has more than secrets to protect as The Childe succumbs to his own need for family. With all these distractions in the way, do the four adventurers have what it takes to defeat Hawthorne and save The World Below?
With a colourful art style between Brian Froud and Daryl Toh, Estranged has a generous heart at its core with characters who develop that ‘found family’ connection I cherish in speculative fiction. Alexis becomes the glue binding Edmund and The Childe together in a soul-warming scene that’ll give you butterflies – but I’ll leave those details for you to discover yourself.
It’s definitely the kind of story I looked for as a kid, dreaming of danger and adventure, wanting to defend useless boys like Taran and Curdie from certain doom (as well as themselves). Romance is kept to hard blushing here as Estranged *is* marketed to middle grade readers. However, I honestly loved seeing holding-hands romance normalised for unknowingly queer kids.
2. Full-Spectrum Therapy, by Alan Kaplan
Tags: #mlm #nonbinary #sciencefiction #aliens #superpowers
Quin and Damien grow up together in Scadia, USA, before Damien moves away to live with his father. Now that Damien’s back, Quin won’t let anything come between them again – whether that be the aliens or the empaths causing trouble around town.
But Quin’s vengeful ex-girlfriend, Tayler, has her own plans to win Damien over, as Kylee, Kim, and Kappy get busy figuring out why so many breaches are suddenly occurring around town. There’s also Quin’s powers to hide from the school’s new empath, less the government take him away to join the fight against these mysterious mind invaders.
With little on their side, will Quin and Damien rekindle the feelings that bloomed two years ago? Or will they lose their only chance at happiness to the darkness swelling around them?
There’s so much going on in Full-Spectrum Therapy, with classic science-fiction and horror tropes giving Alan’s narrative a real spark. Imagine Archie and his gang as a pack of super queer teen delinquents, mix in a little real world science theory, and have your characters take on everything all at once. Oh, and aliens! Don’t forget aliens.
Style wise, I’m going to pitch it between Sophie Campbell‘s Feeble Wanderings (Wet Moon #1) and Tim Fish‘s Cavalcade of Boys. This baby’s been in the works since 2015, and saw a short indie print run in September before Alan pitched it to publishers (fingers crossed for you, boo). Most of their brilliant updates were lost to the Great Tumblr Migration, unfortunately, but you can still catch some of their process via Alan’s Tapas and Twitter (links below).
3. Long Exposure, by Mars Heyward
Tags: #mlm #sciencefiction #superpowers #government #fostercare
More delinquents here, with Mitch and his gang causing trouble for literally everyone at Sellwood High. He’s white trash with no future, and nobody lets him forget it. But things change when he’s forced to group with the school loser, Jonas, on a school science project – forcing him to confront feelings for Jonas he just *does not* have the maturity to communicate.
Jonas, on the other hand, wants nothing more than stability for his sister after a long stretch of failed foster homes. His foster dad sucks – everything sucks – and Mitch’s shake’n’bake attitude is the last thing he needs to stay under the radar. Besides: who has time for romance anyway when it’s another thing he’ll have to leave behind after it all falls apart?
Add an accident in a mysterious research facility, strange new powers, and a government department suddenly on their case, and you’ve got a super cute little sci-fi comic about the most unlikely couple to ever fall in love.
Mars does their own thing with sci-fi tropes, but Long Exposure isn’t a far pitch from Stranger Things or Misfits with the whole powers thing. It’s a nice and comfortable genre read that pulls Mitch and Jonas’s romance to the front, which is actually a nice change from mainstream narratives that leave you waiting *forever* to see your gay OTP.
I’m a huge fan of how this comic explores each character’s backstory and how it affects their ability to have relationships with other people. Neither of these boys are in a position to succeed in life – in fact they’re barely hanging in there. But they have allies they can depend on, which is ultimately what you need to survive in a world pitted against you. I also loved seeing a foster kid character who wasn’t all dark and edgy: Jonas just wants some stability in his life, and that spoke to me as a foster kid.
Things are getting heated in the comic, so we’re about to see their desperation ignites in the coming climax.
4. Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe
Tags: #nonbinary #queerness #memoir #literary #academic
I loved seeing this comic come together through Maia’s short comic posts on Instagram. It follows eir journey from childhood, navigating the complexities of gender identity and performance from the perspective of a wild child who (rightly) doesn’t get it. But it’s also something for the reader to think about, with a conversational dissection of ‘what gender really is’.
E has a similar style and tone to Alison Bechdel, being both well-educated and well-read individuals with a strong dedication to promoting fellow indie comic publishers. Also like Fun Home, Gender Queer speaks to modern audiences through Maia’s relationship with media: visiting eir love for Harry Potter, rocking gay fanfiction, and eir relationship to family growing up wild in a media-heavy world.
5. ENIGMA, by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo
Tags: #mlm #superheroes #90s #mainstream #postmodern
Enigma follows Michael Smith as he struggles to understand why the villains from his favourite childhood comic are suddenly causing havoc in the real world. With the help of the comic’s author, Michael begins a journey of self-discovery and sexual awakening, falling for the mysterious being who’s assumed the form of his childhood superhero and coming to terms with his tragic past.
This incredibly sexy graphic novel was first published by Vertigo in October 1993, and is regarded as the first mainstream gay superhero comic. It’s a little slice of history – both in terms of art style and narrative – joining titles like Dykes to Watch Out For (1983) and Stuck Rubber Baby (1995) on the list of must-read queer snapshots. I loved how the story came together, and only wish there was a sequel.
Lucky for you, reader, this title is about to be republished.
6. Various Titles, by Aud Koch
Tags: #mlm #fantasy #mythology #traditional #zines
It’s hard to pick just one title from Aud and say ‘yeah, this is the one I want to talk about’. Having done work for The Wicked + The Divine and Marvel Comics, Aud probably doesn’t need a spotlight on this list anyway. Yet here we are, because her personal work needs to be seen: that traditional art style, those genre-defying narratives, and that methodical appreciation for mythical queerness.
Aud ends 2019 with the incredibly sexy Kismet on their list of zine publications, plus ongoing short comics Spider Kisses and Odin Sleeps available to Patreon supporters (link below). From fairytale funerals and vengeful fiancés, to gods waking up in the wild woods to reassess the world, Aud has what you need if you’re looking for a short trip into the unknown.
7. Eerie Crest, by Caleb Hosalla.
Tags: #mlm #trans #supernatural #mystery #murder
Dallas thinks Malek is still alive. He thinks the forest, or something in it, took Malek. I don’t really believe in such nonsense. But he is my friend, after all… – Poppy Rajkhowa
Dallas and Malek weren’t exactly ‘dating’ when Malek goes missing. But Dallas can’t accept that Malek is dead – even after they find his body dumped in the forest. Something out there is keeping Malek from him, and Dallas won’t stop until he finds him. But when he’s accused of murder, how far is Dallas really willing to go to find the boy he loves?
Fans of Welcome to Nightvale and Life Is Strange 2 will love catching up with this webcomic. Details are a little vague, but my understanding is this was originally a collaboration with the writing genius behind Always Raining Here. It’s both sweet and creepy, with dark themes free of visual gore. However, it does have issues with baiting and appropriation, which may appear problematic to some readers. It’s on this list because I’ve enjoyed being teased, and because I love love love Caleb’s art style.
8. Darkboy & Adler, by Edward Bentley and Dan Earey
Adler is the school loser, with the sex appeal of Lucas in Glue (2006) and Gio Black Peter as Rudolf in Otto (2008) (by which I mean none). He sews a doll together and uses voodoo magic in order to trap his crush/bully in it, who proceeds to shoot Adler in the head – totally calling on the senseless violence and creepy aesthetic of mid-noughties Jhonen Vasquez and David Firth. There’s obvious appropriation here, and readers may find the ‘loving bully’ trope a little overdone in queer narratives, but I’ll leave that for y’all to negotiate with on your own terms.
Technically this got published last year through their Kickstarter. But with news that issue #2 is done (oi give me something to work with), I wanted to pop it on this list so y’all know it’s coming. I loved Darkboy & Adler because it reminded me of my rough upbringing in the ‘burbs: watching runty boys muck around at school, and the jocks who beat them up, laughing at jokes about them getting it on with each other as though I wouldn’t be down for that. ‘Haha, yeah…’
Special shout-out to Liz Yerby, Shout Out, and Tripping Over You (yes, it’s still going) for making it too hard to narrow this list down to a ‘Top Nine’. To Kevin Wada for his work on Marvel’s Iceman, and Max Wittert for literally everything. And lastly to this article right here for doing that good work, making mainstream comics easier to find.
But that’s it! For now. If you happen to make a Top Eight list of your own, please leave a link or comment below so we can chat. You can connect with me on [Instagram], [Twitter], [Facebook], and [Tumblr]. If you like what you read here, or have some feedback for me, then hit that like button and leave a comment.