Columns > Published on May 31st, 2023

Celebrate Pride with These Speculative Graphic Novels

I’ve been having a lot of discussions about gender and sexuality lately, and as a new mom (and a cisgendered woman), it’s something I’m hyper aware of now that I’m raising a little human, one who I forever want to be supportive of and able to intelligently talk to and interact with. As such, I’ve been reading a ton, not only for her, but because I want to be a source of comfort and allyship for my students and for those around me in my community. With that said, I took a course at my university this spring that was titled The Psychology of Sexual Behavior and we engaged in a lot of discourse about sex work, gender dysphoria, the transitioning process, and a bunch of other topics, and it showed me—if I’m being completely honest with all of you—how much I didn’t know.

So, back to the library I went!

I first picked up Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe because I saw that it was constantly being banned in schools across the country. I read it in one sitting, absolutely captivated, heartbroken, and excited that this story was out there and being shared, because as the world changes and evolves, it’s always been my feeling that we need to learn to adapt and evolve with it, and again, I’m certainly not well versed in what it feels like to be anything other than what I am: a cisgendered woman. This book is a lesson in active listening, empathetic action, and most importantly, kindness, and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s always the books that should be mandatory reading that get censored. So do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

I then dove into Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure by Lewis Hancox, and it was so incredibly raw and informative and eye opening, and I appreciated how much vulnerability he showed while writing it. The graphic memoir talks about these cycles of denial, shame, loneliness, and desperation that he felt growing up, and it helped put into context how much gender dysphoria can cost a person, both mentally and physically. It also tackled bullying and highlighted the issues he faced while feeling socially misplaced or attacked and seeing that gave me a cultural perspective on how the trans community is received and othered by people from such a young age. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of beautiful, heartwarming moments in this book, but the fact that there is balance between the approval and disapproval of self and others, showed me how much work we all need to be doing to ensure that there is a safe, open, and supportive network for children (and adults) that are questioning, transitioning, and/or living as their authentic gender.

Some other nonfiction and/or fictional reads I’ve enjoyed are The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata, and Body Music by Jul Maroh (who also wrote Blue is the Warmest Color, which I think was my first queer graphic novel read), but you folks know me—I need to have some SF/F/H in my life and so I went on yet another journey to find some magical and spooky reads to celebrate Pride and here’s what I found.

"Mooncakes" by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Sometimes I like my supernatural with a side of cozy, and Mooncakes is the perfect choice for that kind of vibe. In a delicious story about romance, identity, and witchcraft, this graphic novel will wrap readers up in a world of occult libraries, monsters, ancestral support…and furry forest friends. Here readers will see the power of transformation and the beauty in acceptance, and trust me, you’ll want to pair this read with a floral cup of tea and a plate of lemon-honey cookies. You can thank me later.

Get Mooncakes at Bookshop or Amazon

"Taproot" by Keezy Young

Nothing makes me happier than a ghost story, and Taproot delivered on so many different levels. Here we have a ghost named Blue who is pinning after a gardener named Hamal, who coincidentally is also in love with Blue. The two of them go on a journey together that spans days filled with flowers, nightmares of dark forests, reapers, and of course, a city of the dead, and throughout it all, the two are faced with the definition of love, loss, friendship and what it means to be a family. I read this in one sitting and spent the rest of the evening with a smile on my face…and a pretty strong desire to go buy a car full of succulents. 

Get Taproot at Bookshop or Amazon

"The Girl from the Sea" by Molly Knox Ostertag

First love, selkies, and stolen kisses at the beach? You had me at selkies, but water magic aside, this book is filled with sweetness and emotional honesty as Morgan struggles with her sexuality at a time when her family feels raw and untethered. I appreciated how Ostertag handled secrets and a desire (born out of fear) to keep things quiet all while juxtaposing that against the need/want to be honest and authentic to ourselves, our partners, and the world we interact with. This story was the sting of salt water and the soft brush of lips as Morgan wrestled with coming out, accepting love, and putting trust in her friendships. I wish I would have had this book growing up.

Get The Girl from the Sea at Bookshop or Amazon

"Squad" by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle

I’ve been on a bit of a werewolf kick lately after reading Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder and Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison, and this was the perfect YA addition to a reading pile that was already filled with queer narratives and stories about female rage and hunger. And honestly? I loved how relatable this story was (murder aside) because I think we’ve all wanted to be desired, ached to be strong, and were desperate to fit in at one time or another. From a horror perspective though, the violence and ferocity were way higher than I was expecting, and that made the reading experience—and visuals—all the better. More angry women, please!

Get Squad at Bookshop or Amazon

"When I Arrived at the Castle" by Emily Carroll

This is not an easy read. Carroll is surreal, bizarre, and unapologetically unique in her approach to a vampire story that pulls from Sheridan La Fanu’s Carmilla, Angela Carter’s “The Lady of the House of Love” and maybe a bit of Leonora Carrington’s “The Debutante,” which is all to say that the narrative is filled with erotic body horror that straddles the line of violence and seduction. I’ve read this one a few times, and my experience with it is never the same. There are themes of hunger, transformation, and the hidden self that all come together to walk through various doors that lead to various confrontations and examinations of our id, our desires, and what we’re willing to do for them and give in to. My suggestion is to go in without expectations and to just let your mind wander and have fun with it. Let yourself come to different conclusions every time you read it or look at the artwork because sometimes things aren’t meant to be fully understood or have one definite meaning.

Get When I Arrived at the Castle at Amazon

Sometimes we can all be more than one thing. And that’s where we'll find the beauty. I hope you enjoy these books. 

About the author

Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous venues such as Weird Tales, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Fantastic Tales of Terror, Year's Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, and most recently, The Apocalyptic Mannequin. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Follow Wytovich on her blog at stephaniewytovich.blogspot and on twitter @SWytovich. 

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