Lesbian love in webcomics: Punch and Pie

February 18, 2009

Punch and Pie is a collaboration between the creators of Queen of Wands (which has finished, and was completely amazing!) and Striptease (which is ongoing, but which has somehow failed to capture my imagination.) The story follows a side character from the Queen of Wands story, Angela. None of the main characters recur and most of the story involves new characters, so you don’t have to read Queen of Wands first, but you should, because I loved it. However, Queen of Wands isn’t nearly as interesting on the lesbian front.

Punch and Pie begins with Angela moving in with her girlfriend, Heather. At first I was really excited because it was the first comic I’d read where the lesbian couple was just established, right from the very beginning, no angst about getting together. And then they made a very sweet couple, and it was a fun slice-of-life comic. And then, well, plot things happened that were even more interesting and rare, but this is a review, not a critique, so I don’t want to give anything away. 🙂

I’ve now reviewed four comics with prominent lesbian characters (Red String, Penny and Aggie, and two by Rosalarian), but this is the first in which the sexual orientation of the women in question provokes almost no commentary from the other characters. Red String and Penny and Aggie both had primarily-straight casts in which, significantly into the story, a well-known character comes out. YU + ME focuses entirely on its lesbian relationship, and the obstacles it faces, and especially the ways that those obstacles are tied to persistent homophobia. And Punch and Pie just has the Angela and Heather, in a universe where one’s orientation is one’s own business. (I suppose Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Other Space! falls into the same “nobody cares about the gay” category overall, since the few exceptions are played for laughs.)

I think that with this series, I’ve been trying to articulate how to tell lesbian stories “right,” looking at what I considered to be good examples, and I’m learning that there are a lot of “right” ways. At first I thought, well, it should be part of a larger story, so it can’t be seen as a “special case,” to normalize it for other people. But then I thought of YU + ME and thought, no, it should reflect our real lives, the stories should be about us, so people can see it from our point of view and empathize. And now I’m thinking, why do we have to make a big dramatic deal about it at all? Isn’t it better to just treat it as what it is, i.e., a fact of life for a huge number of otherwise ordinary people? But the conclusion I’ve come to is that they’re all valuable, and important, and probably even necessary ways to tell lesbian stories. Any story that treats its lesbian characters with respect and understanding is a good one, regardless of the general focus of the comic.

So, add Punch and Pie to the list of comics that really succeed. The main characters identify as varying flavors of queer, and the story doesn’t shy away from that, but their orientations don’t define them. The story is really well-done, too; it feels like a gag-a-day comic (and a good one, too!) when you’re getting the updates one at a time, but when you read through the archives, you see that it’s actually a narrative comic. (Queen of Wands did the same thing, quite successfully.)

And I really wish I could find more to say on Punch and Pie specifically, but what’s wonderful about the story is the way it is a gradual surprise, something I can’t do justice in any summary even if I wanted to do a proper critique. And with sexual orientation being so unexceptionable to the characters themselves, it leaves me without too much to say on that front, either, other than “hey, good job!”

So– hey, good job! Folks, you should really take a look.

(Check out my other “lesbian love in webcomics” posts here!)


Lesbian love in webcomics: Penny and Aggie

February 12, 2009

I’ve been reading Penny and Aggie for a million years; it’s a fun and interesting highschool-drama sort of story, with popular Penny and activist Aggie constantly competing with each other, at least until recently, as social-climber Karen’s tactics to take down the opposition have gotten more and more out-of-line. (Please note, this post, unlike the one on Red String, is a critique, not a review, meaning it will contain spoilers.)

I’m going to gush on a more personal level for this one, but I want to note that it’s not because I think the strip is superior to Red String. (In some ways, and especially early on in both strips, Red String has the more complex narrative, as it extends beyond high school politics.) However, a part of what makes Red String so effective at what it does is the Japanese setting, which is perfect to the story, but which I can only relate to in general terms. Penny and Aggie, on the other hand, is basically my life.

I probably read the comic for at least a year until the first hint of possible lesbianism came up (I found the comic long after it had become well-established– I spent days going through the archives!). One of Penny’s friends, Sara, was really fond of the theory that Penny and Aggie fought all the time because they were secretly in love with each other. As soon as Sara suggested it, I knew it was impossible (because lesbians don’t show up in non-lesbian-themed media, and certainly not as the main characters!) but also secretly adopted it as my personal interpretation, since there was juuuust enough wiggle room to pretend (like with Xena and Gabrielle.)

Except then, it was made irrelevent! Because there was a real lesbian! It was Sara all along! Somehow it came out of nowhere and was perfectly foreshadowed months in advance. It explains why she was convinced Penny and Aggie were interested in each other (projection!), why she overreacted to Lisa’s nose-kiss (more projection!), why she was always particularly frustrated with Michelle’s man-craziness (the opposite of projection!)

And then, once she came out to herself, it was utter perfection. It was exactly what coming out felt like in high school, including accidentally offending everyone around you with your rampant self-absorption. And then she sort of settled into it, and didn’t talk about being gay too often any more, except when it became relevant. Which is also exactly what coming out was like for me. At first it really did feel like I was trying to adopt a new identity, one that felt totally right but also totally unfamiliar, but then it became normal and comfortable again, and I was so much happier but also not all that different.

And then there’s Daphne, too, who is also me! She’s been quietly lesbian for a long time, and helps Sara out with the coming-out process, and she is sick of being single, and sick of getting her hopes up again and again over girls who are either completely straight, or “bi at parties,” but certainly not interested in a relationship. I love Daphne.

And when Daphne and Sara talk, especially about being gay? It’s the best ever! I think I’ve had this conversation from both sides (just a note, it sucks either way), but even in smaller actions it just rings so true that I just want to read it again and again.

The writer, T. Campbell, has included lesbian characters in several other works, which is nothing but good news, because he is seriously good at it. Very few lesbian stories have made me as happy as Sara’s. So, thanks!

(Check out my other “lesbian love in webcomics” posts here!)

Lesbian love in webcomics: Red String

February 8, 2009

It occurred to me recently that I’m reading a number of awesome webcomics that include massively enjoyable lesbian characters, so in honor of Valentine’s Day, that upcoming celebration of patriarchal heteronormativity, I thought I’d do a mini-series on lesbian love in webcomics. I know for sure that I’ll be talking about Penny and Aggie, Fans! and YU+ME — if you guys have any other recommendations, let me know!

First up: Red String!

The title is a reference to the “red string of fate,” which is an idea from Chinese legend, basically saying that men and women who are destined to fall in love are connected by a red string. So, Red String is a webcomic that explores the concept of love.

At first glance is looks like a very typical manga– soap-opera-y relationship drama, cute girls in short uniforms, and so on. However, the more I read it, the more I am amazed by its depth, and by it’s un-manga-ness. (As a note, I know I am making gross generalizations about manga here, and that it’s a hugely broad category of story-telling. I am referring here to the non-magical, shoujo romance-type stories that form a large subsection of manga. Also, for the record, I adore all the manga I’ve read. If you find yourself offended by any generalizations that I make, please, I don’t mean your favourite manga. I’m just trying to identify trends.)

Now, when I check the F.A.Q., I see that the author outright denies any claim that her comic is manga–

As an American I create comics, not manga. Red String does not claim to be anything else. My art is influenced by many different artists and writers, both American and Japanese. My work reflects those influences. As for why I set my story in Japan, as an author, I find that if something interests me, I want to write about it. I am interested in Japanese culture. I have tried my best to write a tale as accurate as possible to the traditions and nuances of the culture. However, this story was primarily written for an American audience by an American author, so pacing and style will obviously be different from Japanese manga stories.

I find that the interplay between manga conventions and the American writing produces something that I haven’t seen anywhere else. A Japanese high school is an excellent setting to explore ideas of romance, self-identity, and social politics; although the people are very much the same deep down– i.e., awkward teenagers with all the accompanying problems– the stricter societal norms can really highlight the conflicts inherent in that time of life. There can be drama in just who is speaking to whom, or where one sits, and so on. Some of these were topics of conversation in my own high school, but not all of them, and certainly not to the extent which they seem to be here.

But Red String does something unusual, in taking that setting and then doing something with it that actual manga rarely does, in exploring constantly-changing plots. At least in my experiences with manga, a series tends to be defined by its “pitch,” and so a story about three high school students dealing with will-they/won’t-they relationships is always going to be a story about those three students dealing with their relationships, until everything gets resolved at the very end, or until the series just fizzles out and stops. In Red String, on the other hand, the author is not at all afraid to change things, even extremely important things. People actually get past the flirting and indecision, and date each other. And they break up. “Friends forever” who in traditional manga really would be friends forever move away or drift apart. And then they make new friends. Sworn enemies soften and learn to understand each other. The story is always changing, always focused on the same themes of love in all its forms, but always fresh and interesting.

And then there’s The Gay. Same-sex relationships are not uncommon in manga, but they are almost always implied, rather than acknowleged, especially female ones. Part of this is the way that all romantic relationships in manga spend long periods of time in that will-they/won’t-they stage, but there’s something extra going on with the gay relationships. The characters will rarely state sincerely that they would like to have a relationship. It’s all joking innuendo; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lesbian couple in a manga that could’t be interpreted as “just close friends.” Even those who are probably intended to be seen as “more than friends”– Tomoyo’s feelings for Sakura in Cardcaptor Sakura, or Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune– never quite go out and say it. Which is why I am thrilled to say that Red String continued to be very un-manga-like.

Quoth the author:

This comic’s main theme is LOVE. It is not confined to just heterosexual love. It deals with all forms of love; romantic, parental, platonic, heterosexual, homosexual, unrequited, etc. I believe if you have love, you are a very lucky person. I believe in not discriminating against people who have love in their hearts. Love is better than hate or prejudice. Also, some people have brought up the religious aspect. I am writing a story set in Japan and most Japanese are Buddhist or Shintoist. Less than 2.5% of Japanese are Christian. It would be grossly inaccurate to push Christian beliefs on characters that obviously were not raised in that religion.

Later I will probably talk about the specific gay characters and how fantastic and refreshing I’m finding their storylines to be, but for now I just want to say: AWESOME. Especially because there’s no way to pretend that we’re just talking about “admiration” or “close friendship.” The gay characters talk to their friends, and to each other, and they are honest, and they kiss. That’s the best part! KISSES! Right there! On the page! Unambiguously romantic! AWESOME!

This is not, by any means, the only reason I enjoy this comic; Red String, does, after all, deal with all forms of love, and it deals with them all in fascinating and refreshing ways. It’s just particularly refreshing to see a comic that talks about love without shying away from homosexual love.

To those who are just joining the blog from Red String, welcome! If you want to read some more of what we’ve got here (and I know you do!), why don’t you check out my other “lesbian love in webcomics” articles here? Or you can check out some of my old favourites! I’ve always loved “More Xena; also, thoughts on pregnant heroes“, as well as my critiques of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kiki’s Delivery Service. I hope to see you again– and please share your thoughts in the comments!

The Comics Curmudgeon

January 22, 2009

This is a quickie, but hopefully you’ll forgive me because the Comics Curmudgeon is so funny that you can read the archives for days of near-constant giggles. I’ve been reading for a long time, but especially lately it’s been my go-to source for good laughs.

It used to be that the Daily Show could always guarantee a smile, but during the primaries I had to stop watching, as something about the coverage of Hillary Clinton combined with the severe underrepresentation of women on the staff (on-screen as well as writing backstage) made it much more hit-or-miss. That’s kind of a post for another day, though.

What I really want to tell you is that Josh Fruhlinger is funny, and in a consistently feminist-friendly way. He reads all the most terrible newspaper comics, and mocks them mercilessly (the title of the blog used to be “Josh Reads the Comics So You Won’t Have To), and he’s not at all shy about pointing out (in hilarious ways!) the misogyny that shows up in comics, though he doesn’t really use those words.

Today, for example, he brings us this strip:


It’s from Marvin, a (terrible!) comic strip about bizarrely-intelligent babies, and poop jokes. Josh has a number of choice things to say about this strip, but he concludes with the following:

And as a human being with a shred of decency, I am disgusted by the idea of a baby making her profile sexy, what the hell, this is monstrous beyond description.

It makes me giggle, and it’s a strong feminist statement on a topic that flies under the radar for most people!

He doesn’t identify as a feminist, as far as I know, but that doesn’t always matter; as smadin recently articulated, getting caught up in whether or not someone is A Feminist (or A Racist) tends to just distract from whether their words or actions are feminist (or racist). So, I don’t care if Josh is A Feminist– the Comics Curmudgeon has been a pretty feminist-friendly place, and if you enjoy laughing at things that are so bad they’re good, you might want to check it out.

Dinosaur Comics, and The Myth of King Midas

November 29, 2008

Just wanted to point you towards a great creation from one of my favourite comics, Dinosaur Comics:

comic2-1382Just for reference, here’s a decent summary of how the Midas myth is usually told:

The most famous myth about King Midas is when he received the golden touch from Dionysus, god of the life force. Dionysus was associated with intoxication and was followed by a group of satyrs — half human, half goat individuals with a lust for wine and sexual pleasures. The leader of the satyrs, entrusted with Dionysus’ education, was Silenus. One day, completely in character for a satyr, Silenus became intoxicated and passed out in Midas’ rose garden. The peasants found him and brought him before their king. Luckily, Midas recognized Silenus and treated him well for five days and nights. During this time, Silenus entertained Midas and his court with fantastic tales.

Dionysus came to Midas and was glad to be reunited with Silenus his surrogate father. He decided to reward Midas for his hospitality and granted him one wish. Midas wished that everything he touched be turned to gold. Dionysus warned him about the dangers of such a wish, but Midas was too distracted with the prospect of being surrounded by gold to listen. Dionysus gave him the gift. Initially, King Midas was thrilled with his new gift and turned everything he could to gold, including his beloved roses. His attitude changed, however, when he was unable to eat or drink since his food and wine were also changed to unappetizing gold. He even accidentally killed his daughter when he touched her, and this truly made him realize the depth of his mistake. Desperate, Midas pleaded to Dionysus for help. Dionysus instructed Midas to bathe in the headwaters of the Pactolus River, and the wish would be washed away. Midas went to the river, and as soon as he touched the water, the river carried away the golden touch. The gold settled in the sands of the Pactolus River and was carried downstream to Lydia, one of the richest kingdoms in the ancient world and the source of the earliest coinage.

This myth is ethiological since it explains why the Pactolus River is rich with gold and how Lydia came to be one of the richest kingdoms. It is also carries a common motif in Greek folklore – the “short-sighted wish”. Midas let his greed blind him to the future. Most notably, this myth has aspects characteristic of myths of Dionysus. Child sacrifice is a frequent theme in Dionysian myths. Frequently, Dionysus would punish mortals indirectly by having them kill their own children. King Midas kills his daughter by turning her to gold. He pays for his greed.

Check out those last two lines again: King Midas kills his daughter by turning her to gold. He pays for his greed.

Even though the whole thing is to teach HIM a lesson, SHE is the one who has to die (and, I think, she usually stays dead). Is this the first woman in a refrigerator, motivating a man by her death?

It always bothered me that the daughter was ranked along with all his other posessions that were “lost” because they turned to gold. I mean, she ranks the highest– it’s her death that motivates him to change– but she’s still an object, not a person. In fact, she becomes a literal object, and most tellings of the story don’t even bother to mention whether or not she stayed that way. HE learned his lesson, so the story’s over now.

That’s why I love the Dinosaur Comics version so much– not only is it legitimately a creepier image, and much more effective at portraying the same story– I mean, the fine ash covering his corpse!– but it also keeps the focus, and the punishment, where it belongs: with HIM.

Kate Beaton, and clever, clever comics.

November 4, 2008

Click on that, and read it, folks!

It’s a genuine Kate Beaton comic! Kate Beaton is one of my favorite webcomic artists; I love her so much, I forgive her for her somewhat un-intuitive website. She doesn’t usually tell “girl jokes”– instead, she hilariously recounts historical events, with occasional glimpses into her life on the Atlantic coast in Canada.

I don’t really know what to say, except that hey, here are comics. You should read them.

Read the rest of this entry »

More on pregnant heroes

August 23, 2008

The Order of the Stick, one of my favourite webcomics, has a fantastic installment today that’s all about the concept of pregnant heros:

Rich Burlew is a great writer, and does a really good job of handling gender in general. Here’s the first comic— check it out!