Image designed by Martha Cabot
Over the past year, I’ve found myself gravitating toward graphic novels whenever I have time for spare reading. Partially, this is because they are usually much quicker reads than text-heavy novels. It also helps that the covers are often colorful enough to snag my attention from the dozens of other books lining the shelves. Here is a list of my five personal favorites so far that are — of course — pretty gay.
1. “Pumpkinheads” by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
“Pumpkinheads” is a great book to read around Halloween. It revolves around two high-school seniors, Deja and Josiah, who are volunteering at their local pumpkin patch for the last year before they go off to college. Deja decides Josiah must finally speak to his co-worker crush, and they set off on a quest around the pumpkin patch in search of her.
Fast-paced and silly, this story is bound to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Although none of the characters’ identities are explicitly stated, it is casually mentioned that Deja has dated female as well as male characters, which is met with no biphobia or rude comments whatsoever. Another important detail about the book’s inclusivity is that Deja was deliberately designed to “push back on the idea that a girl needs to be small and petite to be completely adorable.” Protagonists aside, even the attention to background detail in this story is amazing. If you’re a pun-lover, then I highly recommend reading every poster and advertisement scattered throughout the pumpkin patch. They are signs that the authors are doing things right!
2. “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson
Originally released as a webcomic, “Nimona” was published in 2015 as a Young Adult graphic novel. It tells the story of the eponymous Nimona, a charismatic shapeshifter who becomes the sidekick of supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart, who is locked in a rivalry with his nemesis and former friend Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Not only does the story combine a fantasy setting with science-fiction tropes, but it also features (eventually) reconciled rivals and found family dynamics. Neither Ballister nor Ambrosius are straight, and Nimona doesn’t have a love interest — although some folks think of shapeshifters as inherently trans, since altering physical appearances at will is a great way to deal with gender dysphoria.
As an added bonus, fans of the 2018 reboot series “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” might recognize certain aspects of the story as characteristic of Noelle Stevenson, the show’s executive producer. The characters’ voices especially stand out to me as similarly quirky and humorous. Another commonality between the new “She-Ra” and “Nimona” is the refreshing character design. In much the same way as the redesigned “She-Ra” characters are not oversexualized like their older counterparts in the original series, Stevenson designed Nimona for cosplayers who aren’t “interested in looking particularly buxom or sensual.”
3. “The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang
“The Prince and the Dressmaker” is a soft story about a girl named Frances who is hired to be Prince Sebastian’s royal dressmaker. The prince, a boy about her age, is overwhelmed by his parents’ frantic search to find him a wife and would much rather spend his time gallivanting about in beautiful dresses. Unfortunately, he decides to keep that part of himself hidden from everyone except the royal dressmaker, for fear that his parents and the rest of the kingdom would be upset if they knew. Thus, Sebastian and Frances quickly become close friends, working together in secret to design the dresses of their dreams.
Jen Wang crafts a truly beautiful story with “The Prince and the Dressmaker,” in appearance as well as in substance. Each page is elegant and colorful, and the gowns look so beautiful and expressive that I (after avoiding dresses for years) wished they were real so I could take them for a spin. Unfortunately, the prince is never confirmed as trans, ace, bi, etc. Still, the story’s wholesome conclusion reads like a queer narrative, since it centers around Sebastian’s parents accepting him for who he is.
4. “On a Sunbeam” by Tillie Walden
As a science-fiction novel without a single man in it, “On a Sunbeam” follows a girl named Mia as she joins a team that travels around the Universe to restore fading works of architecture. The storyline jumps from her present work to her past education at an all-girls boarding school in space. Not only is the artwork phenomenal, but the scenery is both detailed and imaginative, creating an immersive world that makes it difficult to stop reading. Some of the story’s most distinctive visual features are the fish-like spaceships, which have elaborate tails and appear to swim through the air.
Like “Nimona,” “On a Sunbeam” began as a webcomic. In fact, it can still be read online for free on its official website. This graphic novel features two main relationships between women, as well as a nonbinary character named Elliot who uses they/them pronouns. Unfortunately, this book isn’t without transphobia, but the characters who disrespect Elliot’s pronouns are clearly portrayed as villains, and the other characters always stand up for their friend. One of my favorite lines in the novel came from one of those scenes, and it reads, “You don’t get to take the easy road out and just respect the parts of people that you recognize.”
5. “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel
The most sober of these five novels and the only work of nonfiction, “Fun Home” is the graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel. For those unfamiliar with her work, Bechdel is well-known for her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which ran from 1983 to 2008 and openly depicted queerness at a time when such representation was especially few and far between. The autobiographical “Fun Home,” published in 2006, tells the story of Bechdel’s childhood, focusing largely on her complex relationship with her closeted bisexual father.
At a glance, the title “Fun Home” is misleading, but folks who have read the book (or listened to the musical adaptation) know that it refers to the nickname given to the Bechdel family’s funeral home. Therefore, the book is especially death-and-suicide-heavy and contains some graphic images of dead bodies. So long as these dark themes don’t bother you, “Fun Home” is an incredibly captivating read, augmented by the well-established art style and minimalistic use of color.