LGBT characters

LGBT Graphic Novels: Recommendations for Teens & Young Adults

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Good Graphic Novels for school libraries, teenagers and a Young Adult audience… with GLBTQ themes?

Over at „DC Women Kicking Ass“ (Link), one of my favorite feminist super-hero blogs, author/webmaster Sue opened an interesting discussion:

„A while back, I got a request for a list of LGBQT Young Adult graphic novels for a High School library.

So far I have Young Avengers, Runaways, Pedro and Me, Tough Love, Strangers in Paradise, Skim and Batwoman.

Please let me know your recommendations and I will compile a list and publish it.

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I read lots of „literary“, more serious graphic novels this winter (recommendations here, Link), so for starters, here are some strong, personal recommendations:

Inclusive, serious, engaging titles for a young audience that will work well in a school setting / book club / discussion group:

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1: JUDD WINICK, „Pedro and me“, 192 pages, 2000.

gay main character  |  HIV prevention  | activism  | reality TV  | gay-straight friendship  | Cuban immigrants  |  autobiographical

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2: ALISON BECHDEL, „Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic“, 232 pages, 2006.

lesbian narrator / main character  |  coming-of-age  | suicide  | identity politics  | family secrets  | living in the closet  |  homosexual parents  | autobiographical

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3: HOWARD CRUSE, „Stuck Rubber Baby“, 216 pages, 1995.

gay narrator / main character  |  journalism / documentary  |  coming-of-age  | civil rights  |  discrimination, politics, activism  |  1960ies small-town USA  |  pre-Stonewall

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4: DAVID SMALL, „Stitches: A Memoir“, 326 pages, 2009.

straight narrator / main character  |  throat cancer  | identity politics  |  coming-of-age | family secrets  | suicide  |  lesbian parent  |  living in the closet  |  autobiographical

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5: DAN PARENT, „Archie Comics presents: Kevin Keller“, 160 pages, 2012.

gay main character  |  middle school audience  |  coming-of-age  |  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell  |  cartoon / slice-of-life / humour  |  harmless / bowdlerized / non-sexualized

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queer-positive YA books with a focus on trauma, loss, bullying or teenage alienation:

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6: DANIEL CLOWES, „Ghost World“, 80 pages, 1998.

friendship between girls  |  alienation  |  dark humour  |  everyday life  |  post-high school career  |  small-town USA  |  hook-up culture  |  loneliness

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7: JOE KELLY, „I kill Giants“, 184 pages, 2009.

middle-school female narrator  |  alienation  |  magical realism  |  everyday life  |  friendship between girls  |  personal trauma  |  cancer  |  anger / abandonment issues

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8: SARAH LEAVITT, „Tangles: A Story about Alzheimers, my Mother and me“, 127 pages, 2010.

lesbian main character / narrator  |  Alzheimer’s  |  family secrets  |  mother-daughter-dynamics  |  loss  |  leaving for College  |  coming-of-age  |  everyday life  |  autobiographical

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9: BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY, „Lost at Sea“, 160 pages, 2003.

teenage, female main character  |  magical realism  |  coming-of-age  |  friendship  |  soul-searching  |  alienation  | road trips  |  acceptance  |  everyday life

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super-hero books with gay and lesbian heroines:

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10: GREG RUCKA, „Gotham Central: Half a Life“, 168 pages, 2005.

lesbian main character  |  police procedural  |  coming out  |  lesbian relationships  |  second-generation Puerto Ricans in the US  |  Batman  |  psychological thriller

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11: GREG RUCKA, „Batwoman: Elegy“, 176 pages, 2010.

lesbian main character  |  Batman  |  magic, monsters, horror  |  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell  |  power fantasy  |  family dynamics  |  military families  |  self-acceptance  |  loss

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in 2011, the – mediocre, crass and often poorly-written – monthly YA super-hero comic series „Teen Titans“ (Link) added a gay character, Bunker (Link). I can’t recommend the series, per se. But the character has gained a vocal following, and some media attention:

Notes from Bunker, Link (Tumblr)

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another note-worthy and worthwhile read / discussion is this (Link) letter column / exchange between Marvel writer Christos Gage (Link) and an anti-gay reader unhappy with teenage gay and lesbian characters in the „Avengers Academy“ series (Link).

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notable series / titles that I cannot recommend (because the LGBT part is marginal or the overall writing is too weak):

  • „Buffy: Season 8“ (Joss Whedon, Link)
  • „Y: The Last Man“ (Brian K. Vaughan, Link)
  • „Friends with Ghosts“ (Faith Erin Hicks, Link)
  • „Scott Pilgrim“ (Bryan Lee O’Malley, Link)

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titles I have not read myself, yet:

  • „Runaways“ (Brian K. Vaughan, Marvel Universe, Link)
  • „Young Avengers“ (Allan Heinberg, Marvel Universe, Link)
  • „Strangers in Paradise“ (Terri Moore, Link)
  • „Revolutionary Girl Utena“ (Chiho Saito, Manga, Link)
  • „Wandering Son“ (Takako Shimura, Manga, gender-nonconforming, transsexual (?) elementary school kids, Link)

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and finally: five LGBT prose novels / literary fiction for a High School audience that I enjoyed:

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related Posts:

The best place to start reading… Batwoman (and Renee Montoya!)

This is part 2 of my 24-part-series “Super-Heroes: Best Place to start” [Link to complete list… here!].

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You’re interested in Batwoman [Link] / Kate Kane [Link]?

To me, the best place to start is:

“Batwoman: Elegy” by Greg Rucka (Writing) and John H. Williams III (Art), a trade paperback collection [Link: review] published in 2010.

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What’s the appeal of… Kate Kane?

A socialite, a military brat, a proactive, aggressive vigilante with a personality, every bit as intense as Bruce Wayne…

Ever since Kate Kane was introduced in 2006, she provoked great character moments and raised smart questions on the nature of morality, duty and loss. A mature, charismatic hero – and the first high-profile lesbian protagonist in superhero comics.

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Kate’s main storyline starts in „Elegy“. But her foes, friends and romantic foils were introduced in other, earlier „Batman“ series.

For the whole picture, please read:

…as well as „Gotham Central“, a Greg Rucka / Ed Brubaker series that (co-)stars Renee Montoya, the most important side character / romantic foil in „Batwoman“:

after this – lengthy – backstory, the Batwoman character gets introduced in an important ensemble story (co-)starring Renee Montoya:

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both Kate’s and Renee’s story continue in:

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If you’re okay with missing *some* details, I recommend you skip these more peripheral and / or weaker volumes:

for a complete list of Kate’s appearances, please see [Link]

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common problems / grievances in “Batwoman” books:

  • Kate’s family has seen much drama, and Kate’s love life is equally complex. Since most „Batwoman“ characters bottle up their feelings *very* hard, it constantly feels like important conversation just… fails to happen: The comic has many cold, angry and bitter character moments.
  • Both Kate and Renee are fan favorite characters. Still, months can pass without either of them making an appearance. Where *is* Renee, right now? What is her status?
  • Introduced in 4 different books and drawn by too many different artists, Kate’s main foes, the cultists of the ancient „religion of crime“ have been a part of DC comics for 10 years… but still don’t feel conceptually strong or well-realized.

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Is the current monthly “Batwoman” book, launched in September 2011, any good?

Yes. Even though Greg Rucka, the writer who created Kate Kane in 2006, has left DC Comics, the current „Batwoman“ storyarc, „Hydrology“, is even better-paced and more complex than „Elegy“. It’s a busy story with lots of side characters and backstory – but it still works as a starting point, and draws you in very quickly.

Update, 2014: The first 4 books of the new „Batwoman“ series are excellent and tell one continuous and exciting story. Collections 5 and 6 are pretty bad and can be ignored.

Interested in other comic book heroes / heroines?

I’d recommend the character „The Huntress“ (Helena Bertinelli), „Manhunter“ (with vigilante attorney Kate Spencer) and „Starman“ (Jack Knight), another artful, atmospheric and more mature series.

Plus: the 1990ies DC cult series „Chase“, drawn by J.H. Williams III, has story connections… and seems to have a similar tone / appeal.

Here’s my full list [Link]!

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related Links:

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my German comic book journalism: