Webcomics are a beautiful thing. A great queer story is hard to find in media controlled by larger companies because it’s still a risk apparently. As much as we want to claim we’re accepting of everyone (especially in the United States) there’s still a lot of hatred directed towards the LGBT+ community. Larger media companies often opt to push queer characters to the sidelines rather than risk offending their more judgmental consumers with an overtly queer narrative. Even comics, a medium that has been kinder to the LGBT+ community than most, still have a problem with representation. But with independent webcomics, creators can make the story as queer as they want, and not in the token gay best friend kind of way. In LONG EXPOSURE, writer and illustrator Mars tells the story of two high school boys, Jonas and Mitch, as they deal with adolescence and their fresh new superpowers.

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. That’s not to say that queerness itself shouldn’t be talked about, as it’s an extremely important topic as well. However, it’s important for queer people to see themselves represented as fully realized characters in books, shows, movies, and comics. Media is a powerful tool that validates your own existence in the world. And if we only see straight cis white men as the heroes, where does that leave the rest of us? There are way more stories out there to tell.

An Unlikely Pair

If there’s one thing I love, it’s combinations that shouldn’t work but do: pineapple on pizza, french fries in milkshakes, maple syrup and bacon, and so on.

READ: Learn more about Alison Bechdel’s DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR and other queer webcomics!

Mitch is a foul-mouthed, lanky bully. On the other hand, Jonas is a short, freckled teddy bear. For both, there’s more to them than meets the eye. The two don’t get along at all at first, but after a teacher pairs them up for a science project, they learn and understand a lot more about one another. And when the two stumble upon a sketchy hidden facility in the woods and gain powers from exposure to the place, they have a pretty good reason to bond.

LONG EXPOSURE
Image courtesy of LONG EXPOSURE by Mars.

And bond they do. But as friendship quickly turns into something more, it definitely doesn’t seem like the right time to discuss dating. And neither are willing to admit how they feel about each other just yet.

Expressive Faces and Colors

Many comics and cartoons suffer from “Same Face Syndrome.” Think of most recent Disney princesses with their huge eyes and button noses. The characters just look the same, which is a problem when you want people to actually connect with them.

But in LONG EXPOSURE’s case, every character is distinct. Their designs convey personality in a way that writing out basic character traits can’t. With his huge grin, Mitch usually looks like he’s on the verge of pantsing somebody. But around Jonas, his expression is much softer, which says a lot more than simply stating “he fell for Jonas.”

WATCH: Tee Franklin talks BINGO LOVE at Five Points Festival 2017!

LONG EXPOSURE
Image courtesy of LONG EXPOSURE by Mars.

This style is reminiscent of old Cartoon Network shows like ED, EDD N EDDY where expressive features are key. LONG EXPOSURE is definitely not kids’ show material, but its art does exaggerate like a cartoon would. Every emotion is clear, not only due to facial expressions but the entire body as well. The style isn’t extremely detailed, but it does highlight important aspects in other ways.

The comic is black and white, but color does make an appearance from time to time. Usually, the color is just an accent, but sometimes the whole page brightens up. The combination of expressive drawings and color takes a scene to another level.

When Jonas finds out about his own powers, swirling lights that match his emotions, it’s obviously a pivotal scene. The way the lights look also plays into the title of the comic. Photos taken in the dark with a slow shutter speed will pick up any light and follow it, creating a trail from the light source. Basically, it looks a lot like Jonas’ lights.

LONG EXPOSURE
Image courtesy of LONG EXPOSURE by Mars.

Sci-Fi Elements

Though most of LONG EXPOSURE focuses on realistic situations like school and family feuds, it also adds a touch of the supernatural and science fiction to the mix.

CLICK: Need more queer kids with powers? Check out DESTINY, NY vol. 1!

Clearly, there’s something going down in the deep woods, and things are just heating up as strange people start following Mitch and Jonas. But what’s more interesting is how the boys’ newfound powers complement them each so well. Mitch’s telekinesis is just as volatile as he is, but he learns to control it fairly quickly, even if it means pushing himself too hard. However, it’s difficult to suppress it when he’s feeling especially frustrated or angry.

LONG EXPOSURE
Image courtesy of LONG EXPOSURE by Mars

Jonas’ power is tied to his emotional state as well, but it manifests in a much more serene way. He becomes shrouded in colors, each signifying a different emotion. And as somebody who doesn’t like to divulge his deepest feelings, the colors tend to give him away. However, this beautiful power is much stronger than you’d think.

Identity Struggle

Queerness is a huge theme in LONG EXPOSURE, though it doesn’t entirely overtake the story. However, it is important to how the characters behave in some aspects. Particularly, queerness and identity play a big role in the comic.

WATCH: Andrew Rivera takes on unfortunate queerbaiting in media in Intellectual Property episode 2!

In Jonas’ case, he lives in a household that actively shuns any kind of queerness. His adoptive father, Dean, is extremely masculine and tries to enforce that kind of “manliness.” Jonas is a timid, short, chubby boy so Dean puts a lot more pressure on him than the other siblings. And on top of that, Jonas is struggling with his bisexuality. He tries to repress any feelings he might have for Mitch and relies on his class crush, Carmen, to convince himself that he isn’t queer.

LONG EXPOSURE
Image courtesy of LONG EXPOSURE by Mars.

Mitch, who is outwardly intimidating and more “masculine” than Jonas, is actually pretty comfortable with his own sexuality. He’ll probably fight you if you have a problem with him being gay, but it’s not because he’s ashamed. Character design is important here because usually, the media depicts gay men as a stereotype: flamboyant, “feminine,” “obviously” gay, etc. Jonas, the more kind, passive, and therefore stereotypically “gay” of the pair, surprisingly has a harder time accepting his queer identity. It’s clear LONG EXPOSURE’s creator is aware of how her characters defy stereotypes, and how trite and reductive these stereotypes can be.

Heavy Topics

Though the comic is hilarious at times, it does explore some sensitive themes, particularly those that affect many queer people. Abuse, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety are just a few. Jonas clearly battles with a lot of these problems. Mitch does as well, but his struggle is more subtle.

CLICK: Check out some more amazing LGBTQA+ webcomics!

At one point the comic implies that Mitch struggles with an eating disorder. We don’t know many details yet, but Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is fairly common in gay men. BDD is a mental illness that causes the sufferer to obsess over their body and the endless flaws they perceive. Within the gay community, particularly for men, there’s a push to be more masculine or fit to gain acceptance. And seeing how harshly gender is still policed, many young queer boys are punished for exhibiting “feminine” traits.

BDD may not be the particular case for Mitch’s eating disorder, but it does explain some of his behavior. Additionally, Mitch has always had trouble with the father figures in his life, which probably contributes to his closed-off attitude. He is indeed attention-seeking, but it’s usually in a negative way. He also tends to push people away to avoid rejection. And though he wants to be close to Jonas, it takes him a while to work up to the point when he can let his guard down.

LONG EXPOSURE
Image courtesy of LONG EXPOSURE by Mars

Support LONG EXPOSURE

Many creators struggle with the question of how to “write queer characters.” And the answer is to just write characters as you normally would. They can go through struggles that target the LGBT+ community, but characters shouldn’t be watered down to a stereotype. It’s awesome that LONG EXPOSURE has queer main characters, but that’s not the only thing that matters. The non-stereotypical character designs reflect that, as anybody can be queer regardless of physical appearance. And it’s just fun to see queer people front and center in a story that isn’t a movie in the “Gay & Lesbian” section on Netflix.

Important stories like these are hard to keep up without support though.  Whether you’ve been a fan from the start or are just starting to read, it’s always important to give back to independent creators. You can support Mars on Patreon, buy printed issues of the comic, or even snag some sweet merch like buttons or prints. But, if you don’t have the money to spare, you can still support the comic by sharing updates on Twitter.

READ: See more stereotype-crushing in SUNSTONE!

Making webcomics is no easy feat. It takes a lot of time and effort, so it’s nice to thank the creators who make it possible for us to enjoy such high-quality stories for free. This Pride Month, try to support as many queer comics as possible (but don’t stop when June ends).

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