On the Fairy Tales Queer Comics Exhibit

Written by Tom Miller


            One important thing to know about me is that, given the chance, I will talk to you about comics until you want to fill your ears with quick-drying cement. I love comics. I think they’re the perfect literary medium, they play host to some of the most gifted writers in the English language, and many, though not all, are genuine works of art that are published on a monthly basis. DC’s Young Animal imprint is telling superhero stories at the very edge of the genre at the moment, beautiful, weird, wonderful stories of transformation and discovery. Moore’s From Hell is the equal of any of the great postmodern novels, and definitely eclipses a few I’ve read. So I love comics.

            One thing I credit comics with, certain ones, is making me the man I am today. I’ve never become jaded about the superhero, as many do. To me, the best superhero stories are the ones that we learn from, the ones that inspire us to become the better selves that we know, deep down, we can be. Superheroes teach us to be strong and kind, at their best. They also teach a queer kid the importance of a secret identity. The propensity these days for superheroes to have public identities hopefully speaks to a lessening of the need for secrecy about one’s identity. Superheroes, it seems, have also taught me optimism.

            In my twenties, I discovered, through comics, that stories could really and truly change you. Even as the Vertigo wave of writers in the 80s and 90s crafted some of the most elegant narratives you can possibly imagine, with some really and truly great queer characters, one or two comics stood out as something more than the others. After reading them, I re-examined myself, my world, and made decisions about how I wanted to be that have really influenced everything I’ve been and done in the last 20 years. I won’t say which ones they were. For each comic fan, it’s a different answer, even if it’s the same comic. Some stories tell us about the people that we’d really like to be.

            (Didn’t I tell you I could talk forever about comics?)

            But now we reach my point – the Fairy Tales Comics Exhibit is drawn (see what I did there) from a diverse array of sources. Much of it hails from the same archive from which the Outliers exhibition, currently running at Lougheed House, does. There is a vast wealth of queer cartooning and comics in this archive, one that I’m looking very much forward to exploring more. What I’ve found thus far, however, I think you’ll enjoy. Wait until you see “Homo Land, My Homo Land!” Many of the continuing strips fall into that variety of telling us stories about the people we’d like to be, though slightly altered. More often what we see is stories about the world the way we’d like it to be, a world in which queerness isn’t the problem, it’s the background. In other strips, the laughter is bitter, a shared smirk at dismal treatment that is universal, a place to shout back at the world with relative safety.

            I’ve dug through my personal collection, too. I’m a mainstream comics kind of guy, I love my superheroes, and there’s a fair bit of queerness in that genre. No surprise, really. From Apollo and the Midnighter to the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, queer characters are everywhere. Though there are reticent groups within comics fandom, I think most would agree that the recent spate of diverse characters and creators has generated some of the best comics of the last few decades. A literature can only be enhanced by a diversity of voices. We’ll have some examples at the exhibit, and the mainstream comics are probably even available at the library.

            Oh, which is where the exhibit is going to be. May 24 – June 2, concurrent with the Fairy Tales Film Festival, at the new Central Library in Calgary. You honestly won’t be able to miss us. Look for rainbows.