Trans Man Walking #1
Sorry Mom Comix
I’m very excited that the third and final zine I’m reviewing for Chicago Zine Fest is also debuting at the festival! Andi Santagata, the artist behind American Spirits: Freelance Ghostbusters—a webcomic that’s unsurprisingly about ghostbusting—just released a brand new zine called Trans Man Walking #1. It’s a collection of pen-and-ink comics about Santagata’s life, with a bit of sci fi and connect-the-dots games thrown in.
I have been reading a lot of Julia Wertz comics, which means I have been laughing at some very dark jokes about addiction, illness, and loneliness. Santagata’s work is quite different from Wertz’s, but carries a similar tone. In the six-panel strip that opens the zine, Santagata’s mother forces them to come out during a very aggressive phone call. Their mother’s harsh words spill out of the phone as exclamatory symbols that literally drown Santagata, until only the top of their head is visible. It’s a Charlie Brown-esque gag that injects humor into a heavy moment and sets the tone for the rest of the zine. Final-panel punch lines, caricatured background figures, and dialogue with comedic rhythm are all reminiscent of humor comics like The Perry Bible Fellowship or Three Word Phrase, but the subject matter largely focuses on Santagata’s adverse experiences.
Wertz and Santagata both explore the communicative range of humor comics. Telling a dark, too-real joke allows an audience to laugh instead of openly confronting the reality behind the humor, and subsequently lets the joke-teller present their experience to a myriad of audiences. While Wertz’s comics can be viewed as tools that help her deal with her alcoholism and lupus diagnosis, they also bring those topics to readers who are simply expecting some crass comedy. Similarly, the humor in Trans Man Walking #1 feels less like a coping mechanism and more like a blatant reveal of the different facets of transphobia and homophobia in Santagata’s life. As a reader, I was empathizing (especially with the comic about hair), recognizing the complicated nature of transphobia and masculinity, and enjoying Santagata’s efficient and cutting punchlines all at once—an incredible range for such a short zine!
Stylistically, Trans Man Walking #1 differs from the brightly colored American Spirits: Freelance Ghostbusters. The crooked panels, grey shading and roughly outlined backgrounds brilliantly communicate Santagata’s negative emotions. Perhaps the best example of this is a sketch of a room that appears close to the end of the zine. The lush parts of the room—comforters and curtains—stand out as symbols of a comfortable refuge, but the shading casts an anxious, melancholy tone over the drawing. As I sat with this sketch, I felt like Santagata was reminding me that while the necessity of refuge is inherently sad, it does not negate the comfort it provides.
Trans Man Walking #1 is the first in a series that Santagata is releasing from their one-man imprint Sorry Mom Comix. Santagata described the imprint to me as a place to distribute “weird little zines,” and I’m excited to see where how their weirdness manifests in future comics!