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April 18, 2008

Look! Up in the sky!

‘Sequential art’ soars way beyond flying superheroes

The medium of sequential art--comics, for those not in the nerdy know--has always been a bit schizophrenic.

While the newspaper “funnies” chug along daily, and the adventures of colorfully-garbed superheroes spin through comic books monthly, there has always been a substratum of those who use comics to convey something outside of the ordinary, everyday punches and punch lines.

Tijuana bibles, for instance, were small comic books with naughty stories filled with fornication, a theme carried into the counter-culture ’60s by R. Crumb.

In the pages of the Gay People’s Chronicle are two examples of the joys of sequential art, alternating weekly: Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out for, a social and political commentary set among a diverse group of lesbians, and Curbside, Robert Kirby’s ever-changing world of young men looking for love.

One thing at which the comics medium has excelled is presenting the outsider viewpoint, whether that of a brightly-clad alien living in Metropolis or a cat, a dog and a hockey fan sharing an apartment.

That is especially true for LGBT people, who are becoming an ever-increasing proportion of mainstream comic writers and artists. Outside of the regular, save-the-planet superhero world, great things are being done in comics.

Juicy Mother 2: How They Met (Manic D Press, $14.95, trade paperback), edited by Jennifer Camper, is a prime example. Both the aforementioned Kirby and Bechdel are contained in Juicy Mother’s pages, as is the work of dozens of other writers and artists.

“A Perfect Match,” for instance, shows the work of four different creators, including Bechdel, Camper, Hothead Paisan’s Diane DiMassa and Joan Hilty. Each creator did two panels of the story, then passed it on to the next artist.

Because of this, in the space of two pages, the reader can see each artist’s take on the characters, as if seeing the world first through Hilty’s eyes, then DiMassa’s, Bechdel’s and Camper’s.

Especially amusing is Sara Rojo Pérez and Lawrence Schimel’s “The Anniversary,” where boy with two fathers and a boy with two mothers try to guess where those two fathers met. All of the fathers’ friends, it seems, met at sex clubs, but Thom and Victor won’t say. There’s a touching denouement at the end of the piece, and the artwork is adorable.

Perhaps the silliest and campiest of all is “Time Travel Tranny” starring Glamazonia, the Super Tranny. Creator Justin Hall releases a superpowered drag queen on a caper so insidious, it bounces between epochs, leaving destruction and devastation in its wake.

Oh, it’s silly fun!

Camper has done a fantastic job of bringing together artists whose work reflects a plethora of genres, pieces redolent of Crumb’s drug-induced manias or the clean lines of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. There are meandering fever dreams of personal confession and one-two punches of cute little jokes. It’s just a great book to have around, since an anthology like this never requires complete dedication for long periods of time on the part of the reader. Scope out a piece or two, then put it down if you wish.

Andy Hartzell’s Fox Bunny Funny (Top Shelf Productions, $10, paper), on the other hand, is not something you can put down in the middle and come back to later, it’s something you won’t even be tempted to stop reading for a second.

In a wordless world where foxes are foxes and bunnies are bunnies, one little fox doesn’t feel quite right. He doesn’t take joy in chowing down on bunny-flesh, being the big carnivorous hunter.

Those feelings stirring inside . . . the longing to crunch a carrot . . . what is wrong with our little fox?

As he grows, the feelings continue, although he manages to repress them. As is the case with things that are repressed, however, they are always in danger of breaking out.

Eventually, he is led into a strange world where roles are not so cut and dried, where foxes and bunnies can live together, be with one another, and the hero might be able to unleash his inner bunny.

Hartzell’s artwork is fantastic, adding to splendor of a fresh take on a hackneyed story. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor for LGBT readers, but done in such an engaging way. The bunnies! The foxes! They’re all so . . . cute!

Less anthropomorphic is Perry Moore’s Hero (Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover). Thom Creed has lived in his father’s shadow for his entire life. His dad, after all, was Captain Victory, the most famous non-powered super hero in history . . . until he failed, and 5,000 people died.

Dealing with his failure, his father drove his mother away, and now Thom realizes that Major Victory might not be so thrilled when he learns that his son is a major homosexual.

That is, until Thom realizes he has an even bigger secret to keep from his father, the fact that he has superpowers. He can heal people, and the League of Heroes invites him to try out.

Hmmm. That’s odd. There are no pictures, only words. Why is Moore’s teen fiction novel being included in a piece on comics?

Because it should be a comic. Written engagingly enough for adults to enjoy, Hero is just begging for some great artist to step up and adapt it into a miniseries. There are a number of companies who offer creator ownership, so Moore should find himself a collaborator, go to Image or Dark Horse or Icon or IDW and pitch this.

In many ways, it’s been done before. However, the addition of Thom’s homosexuality, the seemingly catastrophic failure that led to the end of his father’s career, his now-absent mother’s secrets, those are all elements that add freshness to what could have been the most clichéd coming-out story ever written.

Bravo to Perry Moore, but take that next step, man.

Let’s see you in the funny pages.

Fox Bunny Funny is available not only in LGBT and other independent bookstores, but also in comic book shops, as is Juicy Mother 2: How They Met.

Speaking of comic shops, May 3 is the latest installment of the annual Free Comic Book Day, when comic shops across the land have stacks of books to give away for free. This year’s offerings include works by queer-friendly creators like Grant Morrison, Matt Groening and Alex Ross. Go to for more information or the location of your local comic book retailer.




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