Adam Polaski

Help Me Pick a Work of LGBT Graphic Nonfiction!

Filed By Adam Polaski | September 28, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: Alison Bechdel, graphic nonfiction, Judd Winick, Pedro and Me, The Real World

PedroandMe.jpgI've been back at school, in my senior year at Ithaca College, for about a month, and classes are now totally in full swing. Besides quickly learning that whoever told me that senior year was a breeze was a liar, I've been using the year to intimately explore specific class subjects that I've never even thought about.

One of my journalism classes, for example, is a course about the art of graphic nonfiction - using comic books to tell nonfiction, journalistic stories. We've already read the powerful Holocaust story Maus, by Art Spiegelman, and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, and the book list further includes Charles Bowden's Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez, Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, Joshu Neufeld's AD: New Orleans After the Deluge, and Joe Sacco's Palestine.

By the end of the semester, we have to analyze a work of graphic nonfiction of our choice, and I want to use the opportunity to explore a book focused on an LGBT-themed story. We're already assigned Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, but I'm sure there are other excellent true stories told in comic form out there.

I tried to compile a list earlier this week, but, after accidentally typing "Gay Graphic Novel" into Google and coming up with little more than gay comic book erotica, I've only been able to find one that sounds like a good fit for the project: Pedro & Me, the book by Judd Winick of The Real World about the life and activism of Pedro Zamora, who played out his struggle with AIDS on The Real World in 1993. The book looks promising, but I'd love to hear whether it's a good read worth analyzing.

That's why I've decided to turn to Projectors for some help. Have you read Pedro & Me? Or do you have any recommendations for LGBT-themed works of graphic nonfiction?

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A great graphic novel that explores homosexuality and race, homophobia and racism, in the 1960's Black Civil Rights Movement South is "Stuck Rubber Baby" by Howard Cruse (

It was written back in 1995 and was originally published by one of DC Comics' side labels, Piranha Press. It won several awards: the American Library Association's Lesbian and Gay Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, Eisner Award, "Best Graphic Novel" by the United Kingdom Comic Art Awards and the 2002 French Prix de la critique. The book is now owned by Harper Collins who have just recently put it back into publication this year.

The book allegedly borrow heavily from Cruse's experiences growing up during the time period and as a native to Alabama, but unfortunately, it is generally a fictional account. Perhaps it's still justifiable for an analysis in the class? (You can read his description of the process of writing "Stuck Rubber Baby" here: If it can't be used, that's too bad, but it's still an astounding read.

A friend dusted off his hardcover, signed edition and let me read it. At first, I used it as a bathroom reader, but by the second chapter, I was staying up late just to read one more page. Finishing it made me want to own my own copy, so I bought one, and wanted to buy every person I knew a copy as well.

While its protagonist is white and male, the main character is unique for the genre in that the content focuses on characters of color and their actions, while he observes, instead of being focused solely on "privileged people's valiant and invaluable contributions assisting downtrodden minorities' struggles for freedom" ala "The Help" or "I Dream of Africa". The work really bears witness to the strong and fundamental activism of the black community, its allies, and existing and emerging queer identities.

Coupled with the lush and detailed artwork, the work itself is absolutely breathtaking. I had really hoped that the news of its return to publication would be brought up in a space like Bilerico.

If your professor is familiar with the work, I would ask them if they would be open to its use for the assignment. If not, at least you have one stunningly unique graphic novel about the intersectionality of queerness and race in one of the country's most defining eras of social justice.

I'll look around for some others that may be slipping my mind just now, but that's the first and best thing I would suggest, with the sadness of knowing that it is only "drawn heavily from experiences" instead of being non-fiction.

As a follow up, I bumped around the internet and found this autobiographical graphic novel "Fun Home" by "Dykes to Watch out For" cartoonist, Alison Bechdal (

I haven't read it, but it received positive reviews and placed in several top reading lists.

Oh, I guess my first comment was lost. Anyway, I gave a gushing review of the fictional "Stuck Rubber Baby" based off the life experiences of author Howard Cruse. See if your prof will let you use that one.

I would strongly recommend "Stuck Rubber Baby" by Howard Cruse (Wendel)

"Stuck Rubber Baby" is set in Alabama during the most turbulent years of the Black Civil Rights Movement. the protagonist, Tolland, is a closeted white southerner who is dealing with the violence against his black friends and the racial hatred of his white neighbors while discovering his own homosexuality and his attempt to use his then girlfriend as an emotional life-raft. Much is based on Cruse's real life experiences adapted into a very moving story that pulls together all of the cultural struggles for freedom of the time with Tolland's inner emotional struggle for his personal freedom.

Stuck Rubber Baby has won many awards from both LGBT and straight literary communities.

Another vote here for Stuck Rubber Baby. An amazing book!

I would highly recommend Khaos Komix - it's a four book series simultaneously released as web comic at Each book follows a different teenage couple as they explore sex, gender, relationships, bullies, and internalized fears. Currently, book 1 and 2 are published, books 1, 2, 3 and part of book 4 are on the web.

Also, a big recommendation for Rent Girl.

And while it's less of a novel and more a series of shorts, I really liked Bitchy Butch, and feel there's a lot of space for analysis there.

Seconding Khaos Komix. I recommend it to just about anyone who gives me an excuse, and it's extra good because it covers more than just L or just G which gets very old. There's mentions of bisexuality, two transgender characters and even a touch of demi-sexuality.

I third the recommendation for Khaos Komix. Absolutely beautiful in storytelling, art, and writing.

Two historical overviews:

The Other Side of Silence - John Loughery - Holt - 1998

'What transpired in Boise Idaho, beginning in the autumn if 1955 was a classic witch hunt... by the time the nightmare ended 1,500 men had been questioned about their sexuality."

Out of the Past - Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present - Neil Miller - Vintage - 1995

"Arrive in the Mar Chica, all-night bar where everybody goes after midnight. With me an Irish boy who left England after a spot of trouble, and a Portuguese who can't go home again..." William Burroughs to Allen Ginsburg

And one must read book:

The Pink Triangle>/i> - Richard Plant - New Republic Books - 1986

"I fled Frankfurt am Main on February 27, 1933, the day the Reichstag went up in flames..."

Take a look at Mary Renault's classic The Charioteer ... a WWII tale with a gothic feel, and it is so timely now with the recent repeal of DADT and the surrounding public debate, finally the public is ready to accept a story about American/British soldiers being gay ... I'm amazed someone hasn't written a screenplay and made a movie out of it ...Hint: The movie must be shot in black-and-white ...

Ooops! ... You said nonfiction ... I goofed! ... as Gilda Radner used to say, "Never mind ..."