As Pride Month begins, I have an impulse to dive into my favorite feel-good queer media. In film and television, queer narratives often create drama. Options range from the negative “bury your gays” trope to extremely campy narratives often involving drag queens on road trips. While these genres have their place and are enjoyable, gentler, sweeter representations of LGBTQ+ experiences can be hard to find. Luckily, queer characters are not uncommon in comics.

One of the most widely known graphic novels, for example, is Allison Bechdel’s FUN HOME, depicting her life as a lesbian with a closeted homosexual father. But luckier still, comics make room for more lighthearted queer narratives that embrace LGBTQ+ characters participating in normal (or sometimes paranormal) activities. In particular, cute queer fantasy comics make LGBTQ+ narratives more accessible and give LGBTQ+ readers more optimistic representations of queer identities.

Even in the comics world, in which the question of genre and medium is often joyfully nebulous, genre nevertheless plays an interesting role. Fantasy as a genre is arguably a little queer already in that it favors the strange and supernatural. Perhaps it is unsurprising to see comics creators cast queer characters as the leads. Furthermore, cuteness makes a difference. Instead of being morose or a source of drama, cuteness signals that these LGBTQ+ characters are okay. Fantasy comics involving endearing, queer characters prove that tragic coming-out stories or death aren’t the only queer narrative options.

The phrase “queer fantasy comics” may have some of you think of BOOM! Studios, with hits like Noelle Stevenson‘s LUMBERJANES. Or you might think of her other triumph, NIMONA. Other fabulous examples of cute, queer fantasy comics include Katie O’Neill‘s charming comics from Oni Press, PRINCESS PRINCESS and THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY. Others may think of Molly Knox Ostertag‘s graphic novel from Scholastic, Inc., THE WITCH BOY. These queer fantasy comics (and many others) embrace fantasy as a space in which queer identities can thrive, giving readers a cheerful example of LGBTQ+ characters flourishing in fantastic settings.

6 LGBTQ+ Comic Creators You Should Be Reading

Stevenson’s High Fantasy with a Twist

Like the comic’s heroine, Stevenson’s NIMONA shifts shape and genre. The comic switches between true fantasy and science fiction. Nimona, who magically transfigures, joins forces with Ballister Blackheart, the one-armed super-villain. Ballister uses high-tech gear to help his fight against the Institution that disdains him for his disability and queerness. Nimona and Ballister work together to challenge the Institution’s rigid systems.

NIMONA pokes fun at conventions with satisfying scorn. For example, Nimona provides snarky commentary to all of Ballister’s declarations. Indeed, her zeal for chaos is over-the-top. Stevenson nevertheless brings out the sweet side of Nimona and Ballister. As a result, it is hard not to closely identify with Nimona’s monstrosity. Moreover, as Stevenson queers fantasy and the expectations of good and evil, she offers a place in fantasy for queer characters and fans alike.

Queer Fantasy Comics
NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson. Image courtesy of HarperCollins.

Stevenson’s collaborative LUMBERJANES series is equally humorous and queer. The group of campers at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types face a strange magical force while staying at their summer camp. Jo, April, Ripley, Molly, and Mal work together and get up to many fantastic shenanigans. The comic is joyful. And LGBTQ+ identifying readers will wish their childhood summer camps were similarly accepting and fun. Summer camps can be especially enlightening for LGBTQ+  kids because they are often sites of significant friendships and early romantic relationships. Stevenson and her LUMBERJANES colleagues succeed in creating a universe in which LGBTQ+ identities thrive without question. On occasion, the writers even set up scenarios that call this miraculous system into question, only to sweetly confirm that anyone who wants to be a Hardcore Lady Type has a place with the Lumberjanes.

LUMBERJANES Vol. 7 Review: Paw-sitively Adorable

Relaxing with TEA DRAGONS or Saving the World with PRINCESS PRINCESS

Like Stevenson, O’Neill’s characters manage to take on strange and fantastic adventures wrapped in an incredibly charming art style. PRINCESS PRINCESS features gender nonconforming Princess Amira who helps rescue the tenderhearted Princess Sadie. The short comic is sweet and attests to the power of being true to yourself. Both Amira and Sadie find success by supporting each other’s identities and living authentically. PRINCESS PRINCESS contrasts with similar narratives that might situate princesses as star-crossed lovers who couldn’t end up together due to homophobia. The comic subverts expectations that there will be overt homophobia. Instead, O’Neill makes it clear that Amira and Sadie help forge a society that accepts people of all identities.

Queer Fantasy Comics
PRINCESS PRINCESS by Katie O’Neill. Image courtesy of Oni Press.

O’Neill’s following work, THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY, develops the themes found in PRINCESS PRINCESS. When blacksmith’s apprentice Greta finds a small tea dragon, she discovers a world of magic. Her friends, the tea master Hesekiel, his partner Erik, and their guest Minette, form the Tea Dragon Society. The society is queer, multi-generational, multi-species, and points out that queer characters have a place in traditional practices alongside older generations. Greta carefully participates in blacksmith work and tea preparation, even though in the universe, those arts are fading. O’Neill’s characters embrace patience and mindfulness, making THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY a sweet, calming comic.

Queer Fantasy Comics
THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY by Katie O’Neill. Image courtesy of Oni Press.

THE WITCH BOY: Finding Acceptance

Ostertag’s THE WITCH BOY challenges traditional perspectives in a different way. Namely, Ostertag’s young hero, Aster, fights against the rigid gender roles in his culture. Instead of being a shapeshifter like the other boys, Aster’s calling is to be a witch. Due to Ostertag’s cute character design as well as the fantastical setting, Aster’s nonconformity is less challenging than if the comic was set in the real world. As a result, Ostertag delivers an important message about acceptance wrapped in a fantasy that is easily digestible for younger and older adult readers.

Queer Fantasy Comics
THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag. Image courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.

In fantasy settings, rule-breaking is both more common and accepted by readers than in other genres. From Harry Potter to Peter Pan, fantasy characters demonstrate disobedience in order to support a greater good. Aster in THE WITCH BOY is no exception. The comic demonstrates the dangers of following rigid social rules. Like many gender non-conforming people, Aster faces bullying from his peers and shaming from adults. When he tries to conform, his life gets even harder. But Ostertag emphasizes the hopeful side of Aster’s experience. THE WITCH BOY shows the dangers of conforming to oppressive social rules and lets Aster find success being who he is.

Why THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS is a Love Letter to All Geeks

Queer Fantasy Comics: In Conclusion

How do artists like Stevenson, Ostertag, and O’Neill accomplish the feat of creating marvelous queer fantasy comics?

Firstly, with humor. For example, the LUMBERJANES’ five young heroes explore a magical forest, all the while shouting phrases like “What in the Joan Jett?” O’Neill’s PRINCESS PRINCESS takes place in a pseudo-medieval world, which does not stop Princess Amira from referring to another character as “Butthead” and listing her “kick-butt hair” as one of her main selling points. The use of humorous modern lingo breaks from the tradition set by other fantasy narratives. As a result, these comics change our expectations about what fantasy can include.

Additionally, the artwork queers fantasy. O’Neill’s physically diverse tea dragons are the adorable antithesis to Tolkien’s greedy Smaug. While occasionally terrifying, Stevenson’s shapeshifting heroine in NIMONA is often a friendly shark or cat. Even the antagonist in Ostertag’s WITCH BOY is about a precious as evil dragons can get.

Finally, while helpers play a huge role in traditional fantasy, these comics take friendship to another level. The mantra of the LUMBERJANES is “friendship to the max!” In Ostertag’s THE WITCH BOY, Aster befriends a non-magical human who accepts his gender nonconformity. PRINCESS PRINCESS and the TEA DRAGON SOCIETY highlight friendship and empathy. Similarly, NIMONA emphasizes the friendship between Nimona and her mentor as key to her recovery from trauma. Superficially, this may not seem particularly queer. However,  “chosen families” and close friendships are cornerstones to queer communities. Stevenson, Ostertag, and O’Neill demonstrate bright relationships between LGBTQ+ characters.

Representing LGBTQ+ characters in cute queer fantasy is an important tool for positive representation. As charming as they are, queer fantasy comics are not overly sweet. Rather, they provide an important space in which LGBTQ+ characters — and readers — can have fun.

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!