If these five are any indication, 2021 is going to be an amazing year for queer graphic novels and memoirs. I was lucky enough to get my hands on early copies of these books, and now I am screaming about them to everyone I know, and getting many “calm-down!” eyebrow raises from friends. (Just to make it very clear: you’re going to want to preorder these books ASAP.) If you enjoy graphic storytelling of any kind, you are in for a treat. These five books are wildly different in terms of genre and subject matter, but they are all extraordinary in their own way. From a historical, fat-positive sapphic romance to a collection of oral histories of queer and trans organizing to an introspective contemporary about family and parenting, these 2021 queer comics tell a wide and beautiful range of stories.
Patience & Esther: An Edwardian Romance by S.W. Searle (out now!)
Do you need an adorable, funny, thoughtful, fat-positive, erotic sapphic romance in your life? Obviously. Set in Edwardian England against the backdrop of the growing women’s suffrage movement, this charming story follows Patience and Esther, two women who meet and fall in love while working in service at a large country estate. Over the course of the book they move to London, get involved in suffrage, and slowly build a life together. It deals with some real issues, including the racism of the well-meaning white women who employ them, but overall it’s a very gentle, upbeat read, with a happy ending, swoony romance, and beautifully drawn sex scenes.
Red Rock Baby Candy by Shira Spector (Fantagraphics, March 23)
I honestly have no idea how to describe this memoir; it’s unlike any graphic storytelling I’ve ever experienced before. On the surface, it’s a beautiful and complicated story about loss, grieving, and healing. Spector recounts the years she spent trying to get pregnant while her father was also dying of cancer. It’s a book about queer parenthood, Jewish identity, partnership, being an artist, family, and so much more. It’s not linear or sequential. Every page feels like its own piece of art. There are so many styles, so many layers to both the art and the story. Open it up to any page and you’re met with an explosion of color, images, and words. It’s a truly unique book, one that will leave you with so much to think about, and desperate to read it all over again.
Stone Fruit by Lee Lai (Fantagraphics, May 11)
I’m always on the lookout for books about the messy realties of queer families, and this book is exactly that. Brown and Ray are a queer couple who love being aunties to Ray’s 6-year-old niece, Nessie. Spending time with Nessie allows them to be themselves, away from the sometimes hard realities of their life together. But as their relationship changes, so does their time with Nessie. They begin spending more time apart, and both of them reconnect with their sisters. It’s a quiet, messy, expansive story about how families grow and change, and the many forms that love can take. The art is sparse and expressive; the way Lai illustrates emotional truths that can be hard to say with words is stunning. The sheer humanness of this story took my breath away. It’s a book about ordinary moments, about the daily joys and struggles of partnership and parenting — but it’s anything but ordinary.
Our Work Is Everywhere by Syan Rose (Arsenal Pulp Press, April 6)
This beautiful collection of oral histories is so many things: a celebration, an inspiration, a witness, a call-to-action. Queer artist Syan Rose visited and interviewed queer and trans organizers, activists, artists, and healers from across the country, and she presents their words and stories in this book. Each piece feels like a gift. From a fat queer theatre collective and trans-led sex worker activism to powerful reflections on Black femme healing practices, every piece is full of wisdom and power. Rose’s art is transcendent; it doesn’t merely add to the words, but blends and merges with them. This is a book that centers queer and trans people of color; it’s a beautiful and messily real collection of work and words and prayers. It honors the radical work of our queer and trans elders, and offers a vision for a queer future defined by intersectional organizing, shared joy, and community care.
Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh, Yuko Ota and J.R. Doyle (Amulet, November 9)
I love a sci-fi book that explores big questions about what it means to be human by telling stories about AI characters. Set in a future with both AI and human augmentation are commonplace, this YA graphic novel follows two girls, Indira and Fawn, who work in the same art gallery. Indira is a human who was cybernetically enhanced after an accident. Fawn is a human-presenting AI. At first they mostly ignore each other, but when they’re forced to collaborate on a project they form a tentative friendship that slowly blossoms into something else. It’s a sweet love story, but it also explores a lot of big themes, and it never feels clunky. It’s about trauma and art and the ways identity does and does not manifest in the body. The characters are wonderfully real, and the balance of humor and banter vs. serious moments is perfect.
Can’t wait for these titles? There are plenty of queer comics, graphic novels, and memoirs you can read right now! Here are a few to get you started: 10 Queer Comics and Manga that Made 2020 Bearable, 9 Queer YA Comics, 8 Feel-Good Queer Comics and Graphic Novels, and 2019 LGBTQ Comics and Graphic Novels.