I love reading queer women comics. Bi and lesbian books are my bread and butter anyway, but it’s especially nice to get those stories accompanied by beautiful illustrations. I will devour a whole stack of lesbian and yuri manga at a time, and there’s no better way to spend an afternoon than paging through an F/F comic or a bisexual graphic novel. It doesn’t have to be relegated to the world of fiction, though: there are plenty of sapphic graphic memoirs worth your time that shed light on aspects of bi woman or lesbian experiences.
I can hear your comments already: You missed Fun Home by Alison Bechdel! I love that book, and I definitely recommend it, but I doubt anyone clicking on this post needs the recommendation. I’d rather use this space to draw attention to authors that aren’t as well-known. In case you weren’t aware, though, Bechdel does have a new graphic memoir coming out in May, so keep The Secret to Superhuman Strength on your radar! While you wait for your preorder to arrive, check out one of these other bi and lesbian graphic memoirs!
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi
This title made a huge impact both in Japan and once it was translated to English. Nagata describes her experiences as a lesbian in Japan dealing with mental illness, including her overwhelming loneliness. She is open and honest about herself, describing her awkwardness and uncomfortable thoughts to the point where it’s hard not to cringe at times, but it’s also impossible to look away.
The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson
If you, like me, are still recovering from She-Ra ending, you’ll want to pick up the creator’s heart-wrenching memoir. If you’re familiar with Stevenson’s online work, you have likely seen some of these comics before. Their comics feel intensely vulnerable, but they’re also sometimes vague, not letting the reader all the way in. Because this is a collection of writings and illustrations over time, it doesn’t have a straightforward narrative, but if you enjoy their work, it’s well worth picking this collection to see how these pieces fit together.
Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir by Kimiko Tobimatsu and Keet Geniza
This is a short sapphic graphic memoir, only 106 pages long, that discussed what it’s like to be a queer woman of color going through breast cancer treatment. In her article on Rethink Cancer, she explains, “I didn’t want to talk about how to recover my sense of femininity despite breast scars and menopause; I wanted to explore how losing my breasts might allow me to lean into my masculinity. I didn’t want to talk about how changing femininity could affect a hetero relationship; I wanted to talk about the implications of breast cancer on queer relationships between women.” She notes the gendered dynamics, heterosexism, whiteness, and apolitical nature of these spaces dedicated to cancer and how alienated that made her feel. Check out my Lesbrary review for some of the panels!
Spinning by Tillie Walden
This is a memoir of Walden’s more than 10 years as a competitive figure skater. As a child, this was the point her entire world orbited around. It consumed all of her “free” hours. She discovers, as she goes into middle school and begins finding new friends and getting into art, that it’s also not something she particularly enjoyed. This is a moody, thoughtful story about Walden falling out of love with figure skating, as well as a bittersweet narrative of her coming out and having her first relationship in middle school. Spinning won a 2018 Lambda Literary Award!
War of Streets and Houses by Sophie Yanow
This slim, 64-page graphic memoir has an academic bent — it even has endnotes with sources! It covers Yanow’s time in Montreal during the Quebec spring 2012 student strike. It is partly about Yanow’s experience finding queer community there, but it focuses on urban planning and its connections to military tactics: how wide, modernist spaces also help police control crowds, while winding narrow streets can protect resistance. This is a fascinating read about a subject I knew very little about, and I loved how the illustrations matched Yanow’s tone and emotional state (on first arrival to Quebec, Yanow is a tiny figure dwarfed by a towering city).
Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash
Thrash looks back at her stay at summer camp when she first developed feelings for a woman — one of the counselors. It follows her confusion trying to deal with what this means for her identity. Because this is a true story, it’s allowed the messiness that queer narratives don’t always get to have, and it’s not wrapped up neatly in a bow. It represents teenage girls as their flawed, complex selves, not stereotypes.
Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me by Sarah Leavitt
As the title suggests, this is an exploration of Leavitt’s relationship with her mother as she descends into Alzheimer’s. It’s not a fun read; in fact, it made our Books That Made Us Ugly Sob group post. It begins with Leavitt’s mother forgetting small things, slowly worsening over time. This was made using the drawings and notes she took at the time. After her mother died, she spent four years using that material to create this powerful read about family, love, pain, and illness.
Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges
Georges describes her experiences dealing with a family secret — coping by calling conservative radio talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger for advice. She has just found out that the story she’s been told her whole life, that her father died of colon cancer, is a lie. She struggles to find the courage to ask her family for the truth, and she’s left reeling at how this lie has affected her sense of self. Her relationship with her mother is already fraught, and as she tries to reconcile with this new information, she also avoids telling her mother her own truth by coming out.
I’m a Wild Seed: My Graphic Memoir on Queerness and Decolonizing the World by Sharon Lee De La Cruz
This is a short (96 pages) graphic memoir about De La Cruz’s journey exploring her sexuality and identity. Because this is short, it often reminded me more of an in-depth essay than a graphic memoir, which isn’t a complaint! It’s packed full of memes, diagrams, and other visuals that I’m more familiar with on the internet than I am in books. She incorporates history as well as her personal experiences, and explains that she took so long to come out in part because she was busy trying to figure out her racial and cultural identity. This is a quick, insightful read.
This comic originally appeared serialized on Autostraddle, though this collection has more panels added. It follows the author’s experiences as a queer Chinese immigrant to U.S., balancing the many communities she is a part of, while also discussing gender and queerness in general. She explores the consequences of coming out as bi to her disapproving mother. Because this was serialized, there’s not as much of a clear narrative running through the book, but these vignettes are powerful and memorable.
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