From the wildly popular website, magazine, book, and newsletter publisher The Nib, Be Gay Do Comics is a comic anthology of queer history, satire, memoir, and cultural awareness that is both caring and irreverent. The book features 244 illustrated pages by 40 artists and writers, with 56 individual comics. The stories date back to the Revolutionary War, and are as recent as the publishing of the book this month.
(Mostly) Safe For Work
The first thing you should know is that this book is 100% celebratory of queer people, their history, their various cultures, and their various medical needs. It does not shy away from topics of attraction, anatomy, bodily functions, or sexual activity. It never crosses into “NSFW” territory, unless your workplace in bigoted, and I can’t do anything about that, so use your judgment.
There are bare breasts depicted, though, so if you think that is a sensitive issue, you might want to consider that. However, I would point out that discussing breasts in a non-sexual way is a healthy thing to do with your friends, family, even children, regardless of gender. As depicted by Mady G in Boobs Aren’t Binary, Western culture has some hangups and misconceptions about male breasts which could be best dealt with by talking about breasts as if they aren’t exclusive to females, because they aren’t.
Funny, Edgy, Informative
At its heart, Be Gay Do Comics is a comic anthology, and features a huge array of comedy, from satire and irony to ribbing and self-deprecation. But the stories are often more heartfelt and raw, setting aside comedy to tell a true story readers deserve. Other stories specifically call out cultural flaws and history that can make readers (including LGBTQ readers) uncomfortable as they face their own biases and complicity. Every story, though, makes a point and tells a story. I did not find a single comic I couldn’t learn from despite being a bisexual trans (nonbinary) person myself.
The history of LGBTQ people is a common theme, as one might expect from a Queer anthology. Topics covered include significant people and events spanning centuries, reminding us that queer people have always been here and always will be here. Specific examples include a leader in the Revolutionary War, the Gay Bill of Rights, the origin of Pride, and the Lavender Scare.
Several stories stood out to me as being exceptional examples of writing, composition, style, and color. Some also struck a chord or touched on a topic I found particularly relevant. I can’t cover all 56 stories, though, so be aware that this is just a biased selection of my own tastes.
Alison Wilgus’s “I Came Out Late In Life and That’s Okay” is a heartfelt and much-needed perspective of someone who didn’t “always know” they were queer. It took me years, personally, to come to terms with my bisexuality and trans identity, so Alison’s comic felt a bit like coming home, and it’s a story I think more “baby queers” need to hear.
Maia Kobabe’s “Dancing With Pride” is a wonderful example of the treatment enbys (nonbinary folks), agender folks, and trans folks can only hope for, but rarely find in society. Thankfully, Maia gave us this example of eir experience to live through vicariously.
“Am I Queer Enough” by Jason Michaels and Mady G addresses the universal stress of baby queers who are looking for a place in the LGBTQ community, only to find that gatekeeping makes them feel unwelcome.
“Nothing is Wrong with Me” by Dylan Edwards is a painstakingly beautiful account of an asexual trans man, learning how to cope with romance, sex, and personal identity in a world that demands men be hyper-sexual creatures.
“The American Revolution’s Greatest Leader Was Openly Gay” by Josh Trujillo and Levi Hastings is an expository account of Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben, an openly gay Prussian general who found his way into the Revolutionary War effort. Despite speaking almost no English, Steuben established the exacting military standards which became the foundation of our military protocol and saved countless lives. The Blue Book was used for over a century before being converted into modern military regulation. Despite being gay, Baron Von Steuben was a personal friend of George Washington’s, who awarded him an estate and exchanged letters with him for the rest of their lives.
“What’s it Like to Raise Kids in Malaysia When You’re LGBT?” by Kazimir Lee is probably my favorite comic in the book, because it shows a struggle that was previously invisible to me. Queer adults in Malaysia face extensive legal and social discrimination, which affects education, employment, parenting rights, and much more. I can only suggest you read Kazimir’s account yourself.
Anything That Loves is a piece we previously covered which touches on similar topics, with a focus on relationships and attraction. Anything That Loves is more direct in some ways, and less funny, but still a great place to get more queer anthologies. The major difference between the two works is that Anything That Loves is decidedly NSFW. See our review for more detail.
Gumballs by Erin Nations is a comedic variety show in illustrated form, featuring one-page gags, visual diaries, and reflections of self and humanity. Erin’s style and content is influenced by being trans, a triplet, and genuinely hilarious.
Be Gay Do Comics is a great choice for any household, whether you’re queer and looking for stories like your own, or you’re an ally who wants to understand queer issues better. Honestly, you can be somewhere in between those two extremes, too, and that’s okay! This book is for everyone, and is only $18.99, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer for most folks. The topics covered are diverse and informative, and give humor, education, consolation, and a heavy dose of sheer personality to the reader in a wonderful array of color, writing style, and cultural perspective. And if you can’t afford to buy it yourself, you can safely endorse the book to your local library the next time you’re talking to your librarian.