In the past couple years, Rob Kirby edited and published three issues of an anthology comic titled (appropriately) “Three,” where each issue had three stories by LGBT comic creators. It’s probably best known for Eric Orner’s short story “Weekends Abroad,” which was nominated for an Ignatz Award and included in the “Best American Comics 2011” hardcover compilation. With “QU33R,” Kirby’s stepped it up a notch; this book contains comics by 33 creators, serving as a companion volume to Justin Hall’s Eisner-nominated “No Straight Lines” compilation of queer comics reprinted throughout the years. With all-new comics from current creators, “QU33R” is the sort of book where there’s something for everyone to enjoy here.
There are a handful of stories in “QU33R” which are hard to shake after you’ve read them. Wisely, Kirby leads off with a new story by Orner titled, “Porno.” Orner’s autobiographical story talks about growing up in the closet even as John Wayne Gacy has just been arrested for killing young men. It’s a harrowing story involving desire, self-doubt, and tragedy. Orner’s story of staying silent at a critical moment that could have steered someone’s life in a different direction is heartbreaking, in part because Orner invokes that, “I should have done something” emotion that all of us carry, even if the exact situation is different. It’s one of the best stories in the collection, and it makes me hope even more for more comics from Orner.
Hall’s “Seductive Summer” is another one that’s hard to stop thinking about after you’ve read it. Also autobiographical, Hall’s story of a relationship that at first seems like a dream come true and then comes crashing down horribly also serves as one where even if the exact details might be different, you can relate to the overall gist of the piece. As Daniel’s fragile mental state starts to splinter here, Hall’s story works in part because the audience can see what the younger Hall can’t because of his closeness to the situation. In many ways, “Seductive Summer” turns into a thriller/horror story as it proceeds, with an unstable young man proving to be not ready for the world around him. I’ve always enjoyed Hall’s travel comics a great deal, both in his strong understanding of comic pacing as well as his hair-thin ink lines that can draw all body types perfectly. Whenever there’s a new comic from Hall, it’s reason to celebrate.
Dylan Edwards’s “The Transformers” is another great contribution; in five pages, Edwards tells a fantastic story about a childhood friend who made some Transformer toys into girls in a time when all of them were “male,” and goes from there into themes of fighting against gender stereotypes. Edwards’s “Transposes” collection from Northwest Press showed his ability to tell engaging stories of people’s lives in just a few pages, and “The Transformers” pulls that off again. We meet young Dale, get a grasp for what Dale was like, and ends it on a note that lets us wonder just what happened in the years since then. Add in some beautiful art, with its soft lines and gentle colors, and it’s a winner.
Last but not least among the top stories in “QU33R” is Steve MacIsaac’s “Vacant Lots,” which touches on going back to one’s hometown as an adult and encountering a face from the past. MacIsaac’s story infuses revenge fantasy with the understanding of how the world actually works, and that balance between desire and understanding what’s right hits a strong emotional resonance. It doesn’t hurt that MacIsaac’s always been an excellent artist; he understands how to draw large people both as strong and merely big, and he’s another comic creator from whom I’m always eager to see new contributions.
What’s great about “QU33R” is that the book contains all different sorts of stories, in all shapes and sizes. Eric Kostiuk Williams’s “Sissy That Walk” is an homage to the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” competition television show, with intricate drawings that bleed into one another, a gorgeous mosaic of carefully drawn drag queens that reminds me of John Totleben’s early work on “Swamp Thing.” Kris Dresen’s art pops off the page here, with gentle drawings that look like they were created with colored pencils, with every color having just the right saturation so that it’s almost impossible to look away. Carrie McNinch’s “Toot Toot Heyyyyyyy Beep Beep” manages to mix Skylab and disco music into sexual self-discovery, but it’s the wonderfully gawky, awkward way that she draws her characters that makes it utterly charming. And editor Kirby’s “Music For No Boyfriends” has a wonderfully wistful sensibility to it, one that is hard to look away from even as reality comes crashing into the dream of a relationship.
There are so many different styles and artistic approaches that it’s hard to imagine not finding stories you’ll like. Even the basic approach to the page varies a great deal; Dresen, Jose-Luis Olivares, and Annie Murphy both go for more of an image-plus-text style, while Christine Smith’s silent comic manages to still tell us a great deal with its cartoonish images. Carlo Quispe art gives us a rough, indy edge to his panels, while Howard Cruse’s appropriation of the “Blondie” newspaper strip’s characters and style is as clean and crisp as you can imagine, and Craig Bostick’s art continues to remind me of a queer Jaime Hernandez.
Initially funded by Kickstarter, “QU33R” is the sort of comics anthology that we need more of. Kirby’s assembled a great deal of unique comics voices for this book, and the end result is a real joy to read. This isn’t just a book of good LGBT comics, it’s a book of good comics, period. “QU33R” is well worth your time and money.