Comics Gridlock 4/22: BELATED VISIBILITY

What country is this flag and why do all of the beautiful girls come from there?


So, I’m writing this on March 31, a.k.a. Trans Day of Visibility, an important day for transgender people on the internet, that I, like all transgender people on the internet, completely forgot about. In retrospect, it was possibly not my greatest idea to run the first installment of my column with a trans in-joke in the title on TDOV without mentioning … uh … any trans comics whatsoever. But hey, you know what, up yours, I am transgender, everything I do is trans visibility because I’m trans and visibly good at everything I do. But listen, you know, trans people in comics, amiright? Awesome, hella talented, hot as hell (are you following Carta Monir on twitter?????), and… frequently running out of money. It is a pain in the ass for any cartoonist to get ~exposure~ right now, especially online, and even harder to translate exposure into enough money to pay rent. Now multiply that by a factor of being trans in a world of institutional cisgenderism. Trans cartoonists are better than your fave, and they never get enough credit or compensation because the intersection of “gender non-conforming” and “alternative comics” is an empty wallet. I’m gonna write very briefly about five comics by some powerful trans talents with absolutely masterful cartooning chops. Dear reader, please give them all a boatload of cash and praise, they all deserve it. Rest assured I will be doing this again.

RIP MOU 2 by V.A.L.I.S. Ortiz, Gatosaurio, 2022. 

The second installment of one of the bravest zines I’ve ever read. Two pen names, one dead, one living. A woman born out of her past transgressions as a fetish artist. As Mou, V.A.L.I.S. drew stories, illustrations, doodles of leather-clad, overwhelmingly powerful cartoon women with dicks and cunts strong enough to knock teeth out, writhing in ecstasy, occasionally pausing to dominate strange, small, leering misshapen men. Consciously or otherwise, the artist soon-to-be-known-as V.A.L.I.S. was discovering her femininity, rejoicing in transsapphic pleasure, confronting her dysphoria viscerally and honestly. There are so many artists and creators whose work have made me ask “Could this person have been a trans woman? This story, this image, was this about wanting to be a woman?” There is something so special and beautiful about an artist with the bravery to say, right fucking now, in the pages of a compilation of her own making, “Yes, I am, I was, LOOK!” Could V.A.L.I.S. Ortiz make these comics today? Doesn’t matter. She made them, they are in the world, she bares all by choice. RIP MOU are singular comics, beautiful, drizzled in glitter like so much spray. Essential.

Cameraman by Sunmi Flowers, Diskette Press, 2019. 

I think about this comic all the time. I love romance comics, I love shojo manga, I love the softer, insecure, and beautiful visions of masculinity presented in BL (much as BL can fetishize and infantitlize masculine queerness), and I yearn for the gentle domesticity evoked in some of the sweeter gay fanfics. Cameraman is all of that – the nervous beginning of infatuation, the earthshaking emotions that arise when “could he ever possibly love me?” is answered “yes,” the beautiful moments in the wake of a cathartic union as you realize I could be happy every day with my love for the rest of my life, it could be so easy – and then a bit more. It’s a comic about two trans men struggling to find confidence in their proud and beautiful gender amid professional lives where they are the only trans people around, treated by their peers as something other than guys. When they meet each other, they recognize their bodies, they recognize their world. A man makes breakfast for his new boyfriend, they chat about top surgery, they kiss, their hairy legs touch under the table. I adore this zine.

The Dying Shadows by Ruby May Valentine, self-published/RMV Press, 2020. 

This one probably goes in the conflict of interest reservoir because I consider Ruby a friend and we may even collab on something in the future (eyeball emoji), but god this comic rips and tears or whatever it is the gamers say. There will always be a special place in my heart for bootleg corporate IP comics, and this dope smoked, rambling adventure really hits the spot, in a desert of highways and cacti that stretches on to the abyss where all kinds of silly shit can happen. Ruby is a compulsive, witty cartoonist with a casual flair for improvisation that is uniquely butch. By the time I figured out why *that* was the title I was losing it!! This one is for the gamers. Ruby does incredible, creative printing with limited means – I’ve got zines by her that fit in the palm of my hand, I’ve got zines by her printed on newsprint that are tall like euro albums and look crazy. All her comics go hard, all her prints go hard, so do her paintings  Give this bitch a risograph machine, please!!!!

Bodyseed Prologue by Casey Nowak, Diskette Press, 2021. 

The beginning of a hugely ambitious fantasy/SF epic already years in the making by one of the most recognizable, inspirational, still painfully underappreciated talents in small press comics today. Nowak begins their story in a complex, possibly interplanetary society in the best place possible, with some slackers sneaking around, goofing off, and exploring their town at night, when they aren’t allowed, hoping nobody sees. The young’uns learn a bit about their home, a bit about transition, a bit about each other, but not everything – so much is still a mystery for them (and us too!). A lot of Diskette Press’ titles explore transgender epiphanies with a refreshing slant that some things are already known, don’t need to be told in full, might not yet be totally known or resolved, but are part of the beautiful journeys of our lives worth capturing and celebrating in art – the aforementioned Cameraman and Emma Jayne’s wonderful Trans Girls Hit The Town hit these beats. What’s brilliant about Bodyseed Prologue is how Nowak explores that same revelatory space of learning and recognizing and beginning to know yourself better by finding another woven into a fantastic and totally fictional parallel experience, discovering a fantastic world for the first time in the pages of a story where children of that world discover it with you, wondering at some marvels while taking others for granted that all delight and enrapture you, dearest reader. Bodyseed is set in a world where everyone has got all kinds of genders and an enby with top surgery scars inspires awe and wonder in brave youths just like how seeing a pirate with an eyepatch is cool and inspiring in other adventure comics, you love to see it. I can’t wait to see what happens next! 

Skeleton Clocks by Coco Paluck, Random Man Editions, 2021. 

A collection of loosely connected strips and pin-up illustrations themed around cycles of time, a gender-bent, dolled-up mash-up of arousal and violence, safety, and dissociation. I reviewed Paluck’s Corpse Star Cycle for TCJ, and Skeleton Clocks continues many of those themes while foregrounding an aspect of her work that I think I understated in that review: the sexiness. The purgatory envisioned in Paluck’s pages is rife with traumatic breakdowns and body dysmorphia, but it’s also filled to the brim with ravenous wolfgirls decked with big hard (skeleton?) cocks, tall voracious women with ample, vibrant breasts, squishy fleshy bodys bound up in belts, ropes, zippers, and kisses, spilling everywhere. This is such a powerfully trans and viscerally beautiful portrait of sexuality – grief merges with ecstasy, aftercare for your distressed lover bleeding into the memory of your orgasm wonderfully, horribly. Paluck takes us to realms of the senses so frightening yet so necessary to explore through her graphic graphics, cartoons to hold our hands (and other parts) as we wander through the murky depths of our fantasies. We all need art like this.

So there you have it. Allies break out the credit cards, chasers please go away, transgender friends and siblings I adore you all forever please send me review copies and links to your shit. My friend Nina is still crowdfunding her laser treatment, if you have any money left after buying every comic I mentioned today and subbing to everyone’s Patreons and more please help her out or at least give a signal boost on social media. LOVE COMICS XO

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Today on SOLRAD, Helen Chazan is back with another COMICS GRIDLOCK column focused on horror manga because it's late November.

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