Zine Review: Nonbinary by Melanie Gillman

The cover of Melanie Gillman's Nonbinary. Image courtesty Gillman's Gumroad store.

The cover of Melanie Gillman's Nonbinary. Image courtesty Gillman's Gumroad store.Nonbinary

Melanie Gillman

If you’re a webcomics reader, you may be familiar with Melanie Gillman’s beautifully illustrated As The Crow Flies. Nonbinary still features Gillman’s extraordinary shading and color-sense, but jumps genres into nonfiction, autobio comics. In sixteen pages, the artist crafts a highly accessible and very personal portrait of their experience coming out as nonbinary.

I’ve talked about how zines can provide advice and guidance, but Gillman’s comic skirts those labels. The first two thirds of the zine consist of vignettes that show some negative and positive moments from Gillman’s coming-out process. Emotional moments of acceptance and understanding from friends and family are contrasted with nasty comments from Internet jerks, and the stress and anxiety that arise when it isn’t safe to be out. These stories provide insight into Gillman’s personal experience, and will especially appeal to nonbinary people looking to feel less alone.

The final third of the zine delves into educational territory. Gillman challenges the idea of gender as a spectrum (they suggest a more complicated galaxy that relies less on a binary basis) and introduces my new favorite acronym: FAAQ, Frequently Asked Asshole Questions. I adored this part of the comic, because it briefly creates a danger-free zone in which Gillman can snippily answer the rude questions often thrown at nonbinary people. It’s very satisfying to read, and I advocate for many more FAAQs!

Gillman suggests an alternate structure for conceptualizing gender. Image courtesy Mel Gillman.
Gillman suggests an alternate structure for conceptualizing gender.

Those unfamiliar with Gillman’s art are in for a serious treat. Gillman uses colored pencils, and that medium paired with some incredible shading results in a style that is much softer than many current cartooning styles. (I would say the art most stylistically similar is EK Weaver’s work on TJ and Amal, but, like As the Crow Flies, that comic features panoramic nature scenes, so maybe I’m just comparing nature with nature.) Nonbinary is all yellows, pinks and purples, and the simple color palette allows small details to really pop. I love the way Gillman draws their hair, and it’s fun to see all their very stylish outfits! If you’re on the hunt for a new fashion icon, Gillman’s autobio comics will help you live your dreams.

Nonbinary ends with a reflection on the pressure that comes with working in a very small genre. There’s not a lot of literature created by nonbinary people available, and Gillman is understandably wary of speaking for others. However, their zine does not step into spokesperson territory. The stories Gillman shares are personal, and the comic ends with a call for more nonbinary people to share their own stories. This message speaks to something beautiful that zines can do: because DIY culture encourages support over competition, zines can help a myriad of unique, marginalized voices speak up without being forced to step on each other’s toes.

I’m all in for more nonbinary literature, and for more comics by Melanie Gillman. To snag a copy of Nonbinary or their other color penciled artworks, visit Gillman’s gumroad store, or catch them at Cartoon Crossroads (Columbus), Webcomic Rampage (Austin), Short Run (Seattle) or Comic Arts LA (LA). You can also keep an eye on the Otherside Anthology website to learn more about the queer, paranormal romance anthology Gillman is editing.

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa is a queer librarian and intense cat mom. She spends her days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts at @alenkafiga.

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