Comics/Graphic Novels

Looking for Love in All the Straight Places

Keri Crist-Wagner

Staff Writer

Keri Crist-Wagner spends most of her time thinking about Harry Potter, comic books, and writing. She has a Master’s degree in English, specializing in viewing literature and pop culture through feminist, postmodern, and queer theory lenses, and her graduate thesis was a YA fantasy novella. Originally from Ohio, Keri has lived in Massachusetts, Iowa, and South Carolina, plying her trade at various institutions of higher education. When not contemplating the vast array of available reading options, she enjoys playing roller derby, cycling, and taking her dog Albus for walks. Twitter: @devil_longbtm

I discovered my love of comics a little later in life than most readers. As a consequence, I get asked pretty frequently what brought me to comics. My go-to answer is to talk about DC’s Batfamily. Gail Simone’s first run on Birds of Prey, Rucka’s No Man’s Land and Gotham Central, Williams’s Batwoman – to me these titles represent my love of comics as art and storytelling, integrally linked.

small favorsExcept my entry into comics didn’t actually begin with DC. The first comic that ensnared me, the one that tossed me head first into comic book fandom, was an indie title called Small Favors, by the now Eisner Award winning Colleen Coover. And it was porn.

With taglines like “girly porno” and “pretty girls make people happy,” Coover’s characters Annie and Nibbil frolicked across the pages of eight single issues, engaging in lots of sex and infinite cuteness. The art was pure joy, black and white panels filled with body positive sexy adventures. But Small Favors, for me, was about more than the sex. Don’t get me wrong, the sex was phenomenal. At 24, I’d rarely seen queer women, women like me, reflected in the pages of anything, and here was this comic book showing women unapologetically loving each other.

Discovering Small Favors made me curious if there were other comics out there featuring queer storylines. Not knowing where to start, and definitely not interested in asking the fifty-something straight guy at the local comic book / baseball card store if he knew of any books that featured lesbians, I decided to begin my search with a comic guaranteed to have some lady love – Wonder Woman. (I can feel you judging me, but you know it’s true. If there are any queer women in your life, chances are they have some affinity for Princess Diana of Themyscira and her Amazon friends.) Conveniently employed by Barnes & Noble at the time, I asked a coworker to point me in the direction of the gay Wonder Woman titles. While somewhat disappointed to learn that WW didn’t necessarily play for the home team, I was none the less excited to be handed a copy of Greg Rucka’s The Hiketeia.

The cover is iconic. It didn’t matter if Wonder Woman was hiketeiaqueer or not. Her boot was on Batman’s face, and I needed to know why. So Wonder Woman led me to Batman and Batman led me to Birds of Prey. Once Barbara and Dinah, and later, Helena and Cassandra entered my life, there really was no going back. Here were women being written by a woman and kicking ass. Definitely something I could get behind, but still, I longed for that connection, or better said, the reflection of myself I’d seen in Small Favors.

At this point I was still exclusively reading trades. The comic book store still felt… like it wasn’t for me. It was a fluke when I picked up the first volume of 52. A copy had been received damaged at the bookstore and been written off. I snagged it before anyone else could lay claim. It wasn’t all that impressive at first, but Renee Montoya set my spidey-senses a tingle, if you’ll excuse the mixed Marvel/DC metaphor. Renee was a lesbian. Ok, I’m interested, but they’re never going to explore that in a major comic. Except they did. A series of panels showing Renee entwined with another woman nearly made me drop the book. But the revelation of Kate Kane’s identity as Batwoman cemented my absolute devotion to the series. Not one, but two featured characters were queer. I devoured 52 and quickly moved on to Batwoman: Elegy, where I met Maggie Sawyer. Kate and Maggie waltzed (literally waltzed, in tuxedos) across the pages. I was over the moon, and more importantly over the threshold of my local comic book store.

Almost ten years after poking a toe into the world of comic books I set up my first pull list. One title: Batwoman. My list has grown a bit since then, as has my acumen as a comic book consumer. I educate myself. I talk to my LCS folks. I follow creators on social media and read comics blogs. All those years I struggled to see myself reflected in the pages of comics, part of my difficulty was the dearth of material being produced, but I was equally complicit in my own inability to search out queer material.

It’s a great time to be a queer feminist reader of comics. Between Boom Studios, Action Lab, Marvel, Image, and the numerous webcomics being produced, I’m practically tripping over girls who love other girls. So go, find your Annie, your Nibbil, your Kate or Renee. They’re out there waiting.