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Recently, I’ve turned to comics and other forms of graphic storytelling for little bursts of queer joy. There is something magical about not just reading queer joy stories, but seeing them too. I love to see queer joy come to life in the illustrations of queer people loving each other, celebrating together, finding ease in community, dancing. In these pages you will find love stories and coming of age stories, friendships and founded families. The subject of these books is often joyful, but also, above all, art. There are vibrant colors and people with bodies of all sizes are having fun. There are sweet and tender love scenes and faces filled with laughter.
I don’t think a book has to be 100% happy to embody queer joy. These books also have moments of grief and struggle. But each of them left me feeling lively and fresh. Each of them left me smiling. In one case, I got up and danced around my house. So, if you’re ready to throw your own mini queer joy dance party, just grab one of these amazing books. I’m pretty sure any of them will put you in that mood.
Juliette breathes by Gabby Rivera and Celia Moscote
This fun and touching coming-of-age novel about Juliet, a 19-year-old Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx, asked for a graphic adaptation, and I’m so glad it has one. Rivera’s writing is so alive, as are her characters, especially Juliet. Moscote captures all the exuberance and fire of this book with his warm toned illustrations. There’s a scene, where Juliette attends a BIPOC queer & trans dance party, which is essentially the essence of queer joy drawn right on the page. If you haven’t read this book yet (and even if you have), the graphical version is a real treat.
Incarnate: An Anthology of Intersectional Feminist Comic Book Poetry Edited by Wendy & Tyler Chin-Tanner
It is such a creative and unusual anthology of graphic poetry. Each poem is illustrated by a different artist, with the art reflecting their particular interpretation of the poem. Not all of these poems embody the strange joy; many of them face heartache and break-ups, transphobia and racism. I’m including it here because some poems absolutely do, and they’re so powerful. There are several illustrations of the joy, fun, and comfort of queer and trans incarnation, and I just wanted to look at these pages forever.
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto & Ann Xu
This hilarious, slightly magical, and poignant graphic novel follows Kumiko, an elderly bisexual woman who leaves an assisted living facility she hates, then fights death when it comes for her. There are too many queer happy moments to count. Some are mundane, like Kumiko enjoying a cup of tea alone in her apartment. Others are deeper, like the tender conversation Kumiko has with his ex-girlfriend after many years of separation. And the compassion with which Xu draws Kumiko’s aging body filled me with eerie joy as I read, even during the scenes that weren’t about being strange at all.
I am a wild seed by Sharon Lee De La Cruz
There are so many kinds of queer joy, and this book is one example. It’s partly a memoir of De La Cruz’s coming out and an exploration of his queer and racial identity. Throughout, she ties her own story to larger queer stories, weaving plenty of mini history lessons into this short book. She looks at various forms of oppression and how they have played out in her life. The queer joy is in her safety, her celebration of herself and her culture, and where she arrived after coming out in her late twenties. It is a serious book, but full of exuberance.
Patience & Esther by SW Searle
This sweet Sapphic historical romance is brimming with eerie joy. It’s a love story set in Edwardian England, featuring two women who meet while working in a grand mansion. The book deals with many real-world issues, but the romance itself is almost entirely conflict-free. Watching Patience and Esther – a fat white woman and a slim British Indian – fall in love on the page is such a balm. If you are looking for a positive oily erotic romance (illustrated!) Then this book is for you.
My life in transition by Julia Kaye
This collection of short Slice of Life comics portray six months in Julia Kaye’s life as a trans woman. I love how Kaye intersects moments of wrestling with moments of queer joy. Some comics deal with transphobia, microaggressions, gender abuse. But a lot of them talk about falling in love, gender euphoria, trans friendship, little moments of ordinary fun and self-love. It is such an honest and affirmative book.
That full moon feeling by Ashley Robin Franklin
This short and sweet queer romcom takes place over three magical (and semi-catastrophic) dates. It’s about a witch and a werewolf and all the messy things they navigate while falling in love … like online dating, monsters, and pesky feelings. If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted pick-me-up in the form of a comic book, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier & Val Wise (August 10)
This love affair between Annie, a cranky lesbian, and BeeBee, a trans cheerleader, is a delight from start to finish. It’s scary and full of teen drama, and it deals with all kinds of difficult stuff, including microaggression, performative alliance, and various forms of transphobia. But none of this takes away all the joy you’ll find in these pages. Annie and BeeBee are both such vibrant characters. It’s a book about friendship and first love and about speaking out for yourself and holding on to what brings you joy and how change sometimes means possibility. I read it all at once and did a little dance at the end.
Special subjects while being a human by S. Bear Bergman & Saul Freedman-Lawson (October 12)
Get your pre-order for this warm, funny, heartwarming, and beautifully weird advice for living life. Bergman offers thoughtful, practical suggestions for everything from how to make big decisions to how to offer meaningful apologies. And if you’re wondering how a self-help book embodies queer joy, well, you’ll see when you read it. Bergman writes in the friendliest, most loving, and inclusive manner. And the art is absolutely overflowing with strange joy. Freedman-Lawson draws so many body types: people of all races, genders, abilities and sexualities. Even as I nodded, thinking, “oh wow, this is something I should be working on in myself”, I was smiling too.
Looking for more queer joy in comic book form? Check out this list of 8 Feel-Good Queer Comics & Graphic Novels.