In 2004, The University of Florida’s Visual Rhetoric Research Group published “Webcomics: The Influence and Continuation of the Comix Revolution.” As the title suggests, they argue that webcomics are heir to the Underground Comix throne. This is because webcomic artists need not restrict their content to appeal to mainstream comics standards and readership. The article states that “many webcomics […] deal with issues that mainstream comics do not,” such as gender and sexuality. As a result, LGBTQ+ webcomics give artists a chance to explore many queer and otherwise marginalized identities. Likewise, these comics give readers a chance to see representations of queer identities in diverse and fantastic narratives.

As 2018 comes to a close, the comics landscape has shifted, but webcomics remain critical sources for unrestricted LGBTQ+ representation. Many comics publishers, including BOOM! and Image Comics, have started to provide a variety of intersectional and queer feminist options. However, webcomics still give readers vast universes for exploration. Uncensored by mainstream values and desires, webcomics can explore worlds in which magic happens for characters of every identity. With this in mind, I’d like to recognize 5 of my favorite LGBTQ+ inclusive sci-fi/fantasy webcomics.

1. WITCHY: Hair-raising Adventure!

Recently, I encountered WITCHY, an LGBTQ+ webcomic by Ariel Ries that follows a young witch named Nyneve. Nyneve lives in Hyalin, a fantastical realm where hair length predicts magical ability. Powerful young witches can become members of Hyalin’s prestigious Witch Guard. However, if a witch’s hair is too long and their magic too powerful, they become enemies of the state. After the Witch Guard murders Nyneve’s father for his enchanted locks, Nyneve must conceal her own powers and resentment. Nyneve hides in a world of magical research. While Nyneve’s passion for magical theory is admirable, she doesn’t fit in with the popular witches in school. Moreover, the trauma of her father’s death makes Nyneve rightfully critical of the Hyalin government. Naturally, trouble awaits her around every corner.

Reis’ artwork will be an instant hit with fans of STEVEN UNIVERSE. The beautiful landscapes and charming character design add to the magic of the WITCHY world. In addition to the artwork, this webcomic has a wonderfully dynamic and twisting plot. Nyneve is loveably awkward. Her friend Batu is as sweet as the giant dogs his family looks after. At the top of their class is Prill, a wealthy and powerful witch who disdains Nyneve’s lack of patriotism. Over the course of WITCHY, Prill and Nyneve forge a complicated friendship.

Importantly, WITCHY never questions the significance of having queer characters be a part of the story. While Nyneve’s gender and sexuality aren’t addressed (yet?), Reis understands the importance of thoughtful representation. In a critical turning point, Prill meets discrimination from her school because she is trans. Nevertheless, Prill rightfully asserts her place among the witches. Importantly, Nyneve never questions Prill’s identity, even when the two characters don’t see eye to eye.

2. ETH’S SKIN: Queering Folklore

ETH’S SKIN by the BEYOND ANTHOLOGY editor Sfé R. Monster draws from folklore to create a magical and genderqueer world. Eth (who uses they/them pronouns) lives in a small city of rafts moored to the craggy edge of a beach in British Colombia. After accidentally stealing a selkie‘s enchanted pelt, Eth navigates their seaside home on a quest to make things right. Luckily, Eth has many helpers, including merpeople, a harbor seal, and a few magically gifted “Beachwalkers.”

The black-and-white comic is sometimes eerie and sometimes sweet. Sfé captures the rugged coastal environment beautifully. Although the comic carefully addresses ethical issues of consent and inter-cultural communication, there is plenty of room for humor. For example, Eth’s Beachwalker friend Töby sinks his family skiff in the bay. Sfé also imagines what a selkie might have to say about meeting an orca. Importantly, ETH’S SKIN insists on quality queer representation. Rel the selkie may bitterly judge Eth for taking her skin. Yet she still asks to know Eth’s pronouns before she accuses them of being a thief. Moreover, Eth isn’t the token queer person in the story. Töby has two moms, and Eth’s merfriend Miira is in a polyamorous relationship.

LGBTQ+ Webcomics: ETH'S-SKIN
Image courtesy of Sfé R. Monster.

Sfé is no stranger to LGBTQ+ webcomics. They are dedicated to bringing genderqueer comics to readers. Along with ETH’S SKIN, Sfé has another ongoing genderqueer webcomic about a charming robot called Atticus.

3. LONG EXPOSURE: Opposites Attract 

No two LGBTQ+ webcomics are exactly alike. While WITCHY and ETH’S SKIN draw from fantasy and fairy tale genres, LONG EXPOSURE pulls more from sci-fi tradition. Artist Kam Mars Heyward explores the relationship between the high school bully Mitch and the very nerdy protagonist Jonas. While working on a group project, Mitch and Jonas trespass on the grounds of a mysterious building. The two come away with superpowers, as well as a budding romance.

LONG EXPOSURE’s characters embody their personalities to the fullest. While Mitch is lanky with an enormous, mischievous grin, Jonas is soft and sweet. As such, the two make an unlikely but compelling pair. In addition, the webcomic blends high school tropes with more serious topics, such as the high rates of abuse and poverty among LGBTQ+ teens. As ComicsVerse writer Ashley Wertz charmingly articulates, “This mix of coming-of-age, light sci-fi, and emotional subjects makes for one of the best ongoing webcomics for anyone who needs a queer story that isn’t just about being queer.” Wertz explains the many ways LONG EXPOSURE uses the medium of webcomics to reclaim narrative space for nuanced queer characters. 

LGBTQ+ Webcomics: LONG EXPOSURE
Image courtesy of Kam Mars Heyward.

4. TOBIAS AND GUY: Devilishly Fun  

Daryl Toh’s LGBTQ+ webcomic TOBIAS AND GUY combines two unlikely heroes: a demon and his human boyfriend. TOBIAS AND GUY is a Tumblr-based webcomic that started in 2015. The heartwarming (though occasionally NSFW) story humorously imagines what it would be like to have a demon boyfriend. For example, why not give your human boyfriend a hellhound for his birthday!? However, the comic also examines important topics like coming out, depression, mourning, and friendship. Tobias and Guy share a flat with Diego, who can see ghosts after his girlfriend dies. They are also neighbors with two adorable grandmas.

TOBIAS AND GUY references a variety of religious traditions – from Tobias’ sexy renaissance Satan vibe to Diego, who summons ghosts with Día de los Muertos sugar skulls. This plays with readers’ expectations about how queer identities fit into religion. By blending elements from different religious practices, the comic suggests that there is room for diverse interpretations of what’s “good” or “evil.” Additionally, even though Tobias is a demon, he helps Guy through moments of sadness with love and tenderness. The silly and sweet webcomic demonstrates a loving, albeit demonic, queer relationship.

5. BRAINCHILD: Ghost Adventures 

If Diego’s spooky love affair is more your style, you might also like Suzanne Geary‘s BRAINCHILD. Geary’s protagonist Allison is a girl who is figuratively haunted by her brother’s death and literally haunted by numerous ghosts. In the first days of a new semester at college, Allison gets a mild concussion and starts seeing ghouls. As a result, she teams up with a group of ghost hunters to solve the mystery of her brother’s death. 

BRAINCHILD isn’t overtly queer. There are no demon boyfriends or nonbinary enchanted beings. However, Geary includes lesbians and trans characters in Allison’s team of friends. This kind of queer representation is important because it acknowledges two things. One, that queer people exist. And two, that we enjoy adventures in the supernatural just as much as everyone else.

LGBTQ+ Webcomics: BRAINCHILD
Image courtesy of Suzanne Geary.

Support LGBTQ+ Webcomics and Queer Representation:

WITCHY, ETH’S SKIN, LONG EXPOSURE, TOBIAS AND GUY, and BRAINCHILD are all ongoing series. As the writers at the University of Florida point out, “the most significant aspect of webcomics is not their economic feasibility; it is their ability to explore new possibilities in making comics…” Because these talented artists (and many others like them) dive into the world of queer narrative building, their stories don’t always make it to the mainstream. However, making room for queer identities in fantasy spaces gives LGBTQ+ readers a space to explore their own identities within the magical worlds of webcomics. Hopefully, as readers continue to support LGBTQ+ storytellers, webcomics will continue “creating a new space for subversion, exploration, and change.”

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