There are two types of transgender comics in the world. This fact is not a judgment of quality so much as it a statement of taxonomy.
I've featured the first kind in the past two weeks' posts; "Closetspace" and "Venus Envy" present transgender people facing issues that come up in transition. The situations that arise, problems that develop, and plans that form are, for the most part, based on some form of reality. These are the stories of transgender people.
"Abstract Gender," however, falls into the second category of transgender comics: the "magic change" comic. By far, these comics are more prevalent and are oftentimes more irreverent than the comics falling into category one. Instead of dealing with the issues of transition, these comics often poke fun at gender roles, leaning heavily on dramatic irony to make their point heard.
And, for the most part, Abstract Gender succeeds at being a "magic change" transgender comic.
The comic centers on Ryan -- and, to a lesser extent, his friend Bryan-- in the moments leading up to and following the accident that turns them into women. They are captured after entering a haunted house and wake up as women. Seriously. That's about as far plot and backstory goes in the beginning, and the change takes approximately ten strips to take hold. Nick is able to change back and forth with a thought. Ryan, however, is stuck as Rachel.
From there, the comic moves to familiar, "what-if" territory. Ryan -- now Rachel -- has to go shopping as a girl, tell her family about her change, enroll in her old school as a girl, and generally learn to be a new person in a town where seemingly everyone knows Ryan's name. Comedy ensues as the storylines lean heavy into moments of dramatic irony. For example, Rachel / Ryan meets her girlfriend at the mall, in that sort of "do I know you" bit of dramatic irony everyone knows and loves. I'd have loved to see these situations played out a bit more - there's certainly more "juice" to get out of the situation.
The author leans on gender roles to deliver most of his jokes, and for the most part this works out quite well. Rachel finds herself suddenly "locked out" of many of the things she appreciates. Instead of wrestling, she takes up volleyball. Instead of being accepted as "one of the guys," she's suddenly thrust into female social circles. Instead of jeans and T-shirt, her mother insists on a new, "respectable" wardrobe.
Speaking of her mother, the big reveal of Rachel's secret to her mother is certainly notable. It's nice to see an author show a little disbelief about how easy coming out can be. I admit, its probably one of the better jokes in the early stages of the comic.
Abstract Gender is not without its quirks, though. The spelling and grammar are a little lax at times, and if you're a grammar person like me this may be a little grating. (Please, no jeers about my typoes!) And, admittedly, the charm of the gender-change jokes wore a little thin on me after the first year's worth of comics; after a few panels of high school life I found my interest fading a bit. The jokes are spaced too sparsely to hold my attention at times. And, as far as I can tell, the comic stopped updating in 2007.
For what it is, though, Abstract Gender is a fun little romp. The stories are simple and funny, the dialogue mostly on-target, the delivery dry and almost sitcom-esque. I definitely recommend Rachel's coming-out moments for a few laughs, and if you can stand a little bit of filler here and there some laughs can definitely be had.