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Review: 'QU33R' from Northwest Press is a strong, well curated anthology

A comic review article by: Justin Giampaoli

From his editing projects, to self-publishing his own work, to his reviews at The Comics Journal, I’m always curious to see what Rob Kirby is up to, so I was quite excited to digest this thematic companion to Justin Hall’s No Straight Lines. It’s billed as 33 creators coming together to celebrate the diversity and examine the future by showcasing queer comics legends and new talents alike. There’s a confident and sophisticated set of experiences presented here, and I particularly enjoyed the market differentiation between mainstream and indie appearances of LGBT characters and ideas. In the intro, we’re told that there’s a social need for this book, because mainstream comics are largely concerned with assimilation and normalization, while indie comics are still responsible for offering a true insider’s perspective. There were only a couple pieces that didn’t resonate with me for whatever reason; here are the selections that really stood out to my eye…

Eric Orner opens the project incredibly strong, with a piece surrounding the “privilege and duty” to explore how people self-identify. Orner’s piece shows the internal monologue, a person fighting with themselves and struggling to find a comfortable place, caught in the social vortex between heteronormative behavior and the perceptions of judging eyes. The colors are sharp, with hefty line weight and liberal inks. I particularly enjoyed the occasional attempts in QU33R at quietly subverting genre comics, with things like “Hal Jordan is well hung” scrawled in bathroom graffiti here, or the mention of Dazzler later in an Ed Luce piece. Orner’s entry encapsulates the guilt built into hetero society for gay men, not to mention the shifting generational rifts. With its length, Eric Orner’s story works well to anchor this anthology, but it’s also strong enough that it could have stood alone as a solo mini-comic.

Annie Murphy follows with an interesting piece about different family members sometimes needing the benefit of distance and time to be fully understood and appreciated. There’s free-floating text with reproductions of photos set against black backgrounds that makes for a visually engaging composition. Mari Naomi uses long lean figures and relays a story of some apprehensions being universal. With washed out colors taking away stark contrast, she exposes the dilemma of bisexuality. Instead of opening up possibilities to both genders, sometimes it just doubles the complexity of relationships. There’s a full page shot of a wide-eyed cat that sells the sense of the sexuality of the moment, with only the hint of bare skin. It’s masterful. I also liked the inconclusive nature of the ending because it plays like the uncertainty of real life.

Ed Luce shows us how to survive the pit in such a distinct visual style and color palette. Dylan Edwards contributes a fun gender identity number steeped in Transformers and other pop culture ephemera of the 1980’s. Justin Hall’s “Seductive Summer” was one of my favorite pieces, running an in depth study of the correlation between power and seduction, mental and physical power, and the beautifully awkward phases of an atypical (as seen in traditional media) budding relationship. Danger is sexy, and Hall isn’t afraid to address the scarred personalities – gay or straight, the complexity of love, lust, and trust swirling around any romance, and scared the crap out of me with a freaky “scarecrow” of returned belongings. Hall’s lines are so sweet, reminding me of what Chip Zdarsky is currently doing on Sex Criminals at Image Comics, and considering this is another feature-length work, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d love to write a script for Justin Hall to illustrate.

Jennifer Camper’s piece about a noir hitwoman in Carbon City subverts this male dominated genre and many of the familiar tropes. There’s an interesting interactivity to it as well, displaying things like cock fighting that rely on the audience to speak aloud what they’re visually seeing in order to reveal the joke. There’s twist up on twist, some of which we can see coming the second the women meet in a bar, but it’s still quite fun and stylish. Eric Kostiuk Williams has a nice bead on RuPaul’s reality TV show “Drag Race,” rendered in slick duotone, that’s an interesting mix of meta, sentiment, and strategy. Kris Dresden uses a lush style and quite a bit of space to punctuate a single idea that kind of leaves the audience hanging with what happens next. I’m not sure the atypical layouts accentuate the storytelling, but the art itself is gorgeous.

Jennifer Camper and Michael Fahy team up for an uncomfortable story about predatory ways in the big city. I enjoyed the retro art style, but some of the illogic (would a young person plan arrival to a big city without first contacting the family they intend to stay with?) makes for an implausible cautionary tale. Edie Fake offers a quick entry that relies on witty wordplay in lieu of foreplay. Steve MacIsaac contributes a winner about the haunting memories of hometown, and how those can shape our adult personalities. I really liked the fine lines and great figure work. Rick Worley has some nice Paul Pope-ish portraiture accompanying a poetic excursion through San Francisco and several relationships.

Carlo Quispe’s piece is full of interesting political distinctions between SF and NYC, and punctuates these health care factoids with the unexpected burst of a hate crime incident popping off. Andy Hartnell experiments with an engaging take on the Bradley Manning transcripts, hitting on the intersection of gender identity and the national intelligence apparatus. Some of the stats are staggering, with half a million events in the Iraq War, and 260,000 leaked State Department cables regarding the systematic way the first world exploits third world countries. Carrie McNinch recounts a wistful experience about kissing a girl for the first time. It’s brilliantly juxtaposed with Skylab falling to the Earth, all about stars, and wishes, and dreams, and barriers being broken. It’s simple, but lovely. Rob Kirby contributes a short story about a date gone awry, his verbal shorthand with the dialogue is really slick.

Sina Sparrow dishes a good reminder (in the vein of The Perks of Being A Wallflower) that you only allow yourself the love you think you deserve. Ivan Velez, Jr. offers up a wonderful piece about a mask bar that’s a secret hangout for gay supers. There’s a gorgeous compactness to the art style, and more overt subversion of genre devices, drops to “Silver Age Night” and “Seduction of the Innocent” and even a character named “Indigo Bug” in lieu of Blue Beetle. I could use an entire graphic novel set in this universe. Craig Bostick presents a cool love triangle around the guitar, bass, and drums in a band. There are very deft palette choices as told from the alternating POVs of each member. Jon Macy discusses writing mentors, including Djuna Barnes – a 1930’s lesbian author, with a palpable sense of adoration and appreciation. I enjoyed the articulate mindset with which he wants to approach life, and the bold greens and blacks capture an evocative and contemplative mood.

The vast majority of the pieces in QU33R are strong, and it gets special points for avoiding one of my pet peeves when reviewing indie anthologies. Sometimes, in their rush to get a product out, things like a table of contents or a method for easily identifying which artist was responsible for which piece is overlooked. Not the case with QU33R, there are handy colored banners at the top of every entry letting you immediately know which creator is responsible for your favorite pieces. I appreciate that level of detail, as well as the fun bios in the back. Perhaps Howard Cruse’s reappropriated Dagwood Bumstead riff is an emblematic entry. There’s a certain aspirational nonchalance there to coming out as a young gay man, a matter-of-fact blurt-out from a closeted lesbian housewife. The people are just there, just living, and the future is wide-open, as indicated by so many of the inconclusive endings found in the entries. Kudos to Rob Kirby for the well-curated selections, along with achieving a rare narrative and aesthetic cohesion of all the themes and styles.

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