On Orlando and Supporting QTPOC Comics Creators

Chicago Alternative Comics Festival (CAKE)

Early in the morning on Sunday, June 12th, 49 people were murdered and 53 injured at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It quickly became clear that these were QTPOC (queer, trans people of color). A quick scan of articles about the club revealed that Puerto Rican and other Latinx drag queens were scheduled to perform at Pulse, and the following weekend was scheduled to be Dominican pride. Outlets such as NPR and Buzzfeed began to collect information about the victims of the shooting, and slowly their pages began to fill with images of black and brown faces; the Orlando Sentinel now has a complete list of obituaries. This is, undeniably, an attack on a largely Puerto Ricanqueer and trans Latinx community.

I watched as queer, trans, and people of color lit up Twitter with their fury, grief, fear, and love. Amidst calls for gun control, accurate reporting of the incident as a homophobia-fueled hate crime, for people to donate money to the victims’ families and local LGBTQ organizations, and to stop Islamophobic hate speech, people posted images of love, support, and, for those of us in the comics community, comics.

In Chicago, there was still an entire day of CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Festival, ahead. At the panel on Poetry and Comics I attended, we sat in silence for a minute, recognizing the tragedy that had occurred in Orlando. Moderator Tony Trigilio recognized that we were in the Center on Halsted, a resource for Chicago’s LGBTQ community, and that CAKE—along with many other alternative comics expos and zine festivals—was a space for people who live on the fringes. For many attendees and exhibitors, the QTPOC community was also their community. And yet, we carried on.

I was struck by the cloud of excitement that still hung over the expo. Grief, celebration, and happiness all exist side by side. As we grieve, we must remember that there are also living, breathing QTPOC whose voices we should uplift and value. Combating racism, islamophobia, transphobia, and homophobia can take many forms, but in our community that can mean valuing and signal boosting the voices of QTPOC who are often shunned by mainstream publishing.

In that spirit, we’re highlighting ten Latinx and Muslim creators whose stunning comics are missing from your collection. Support them with your voice, your money, and your love. This list is by no means meant to be comprehensive. Because of the nature of this incident, I wanted to focus on Latinx and Muslim cartoonists and writers. Now is a particularly fraught time for those communities, and we stand with you. However, the QTPOC comics community is huge! If you’re seeking out more of their voices, there are a number of resources to note.

Cartoonist MariNaomi monitors databases of queer cartoonists and cartoonists of color. Crossing over into zines, the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) houses an impressive digital archive free for your perusal, Brown Recluse Zine Distro distributes zines made by people of color, the POC Zine Project helps zinesters of color share and distribute their work, and Autostraddle made a handy dandy, still-relevant list of 50 zines by queer people of color a couple years back. I found some of the Muslim artists on this list by scanning this Tumblr about being queer and Muslim, which also offers a look into the varied and robust queer and trans Muslim community. Even more names popped up via the #queerselflove hashtag on twitter, which is amazing.

These creators are everywhere, writing and drawing in all genres, and their work does more than just blow our minds with its beauty, creativity, and skill. Reading about people with identities other than our own builds empathy, and a largely white, cis, straight, hetero media lends itself to prejudice and violence. (Shoutout to Mel Gillman for linking that on Twitter.) Without further ado, here are some beauties.

Espinosa did a little Star Wars fanart, including adorable noses! Image from Espinosa's tumblr.
Espinosa did a little Star Wars fanart, including adorable noses!

Anissa Espinosa

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Anissa Espinosa’s art is cute noses! I love cute noses, and Espinosa draws them extra cute. Scrolling through her Tumblr will reveal lots of adorable art, but the comic she illustrated for the Beyond Anthology, “Barricade,” is action-focused. If you really want to see Espinosa showing off her chops, I highly recommend it; in just a few pages she whisks you through a heart-wrenching moment in which a queer couple nearly lose each other. I’m very annoyed by action comics that are hard to follow, but Espinosa’s work is clear, emotional, and wonderful. She’s currently working on a book for First Second called Cast No Shadow that is set to come out in 2017, and it belongs on your bookshelf.

Cristy Road

You’ve probably heard of Cristy Road. Maybe you’re an old school zinester and read her Green Day fanzine Greenzine. Perhaps you encountered her memoir Spit and Passion and Indestructible and cried onto the pages as you followed her through exploring sexuality as a punk teen both emboldened and constricted by her conservative by loving Cuban family. There’s a solid chance you’ve read a book with her art on the cover or seen it on a poster, maybe even one for a show her band the Homewreckers was playing. Road draws gorgeous, queer, punk women of color with hairy legs, pulling out their hearts and guts. If you haven’t encountered her work yet, get ready to fall in love.

A panel from Helios' comic on being genderfluid. From E. Helios' tumblr.
A panel from Helios’ comic on being genderfluid.

Helios E

I found Helios’ art on Tumblr, where they posted a comic about being a genderfluid Muslim who wears a hijab a couple months back. Their Tumblr largely features bright, adorable video game fanart, but Helios has recently thrown in autobio comics that are simple, but make smart, succinct points and are very well done! I’d love to see more. If you are in the market for some super cute commissions, especially if you’re a gamer and want a cute phone case, they take commissions!

MoJuicy/Mohammed Fayaz

On his website, Fayaz describes his artwork as “illuminat[ing] the otherwise esoteric experience of being a queer person of color in New York.” I discovered him through a profile on The Creators Project that highlighted his incredible portraits. Each person he draws bears a super chill, knowing look that makes me want to befriend all of them (except I don’t think I’m cool enough.) Seeing these gorgeous LGBTQ people of color chilling in their underwear and hanging out with friends is wonderful and refreshing. He’s also taking commissions, so hire him!

A panel from Clear Quartz, complete with cool word bubble. Image from Joamette Gil's Tumblr.
A panel from Clear Quartz, complete with cool word bubble.

Joamette Gil

Joamette Gil is a jack of all trades. She dabbles in fiction, autobio, and educational comics (check out her work with Everyday Feminism to see the latter!) in addition to hosting Gutter Queens, a podcast in which Gil and her co-host Zoey Hogan discuss all things comics. She also runs her own publishing company/distro called Power and Magic Press! Her style lends itself well to her educational comics—clean, simple lines, minimal coloring, and diverse characters of different races with different silhouettes. However, she throws some of this out the window in her fictional work to create gorgeously colored stories with some of the coolest word bubbles I’ve ever seen. (Check out Clear Quartz!) This seriously talented cartoonist can do anything!

Rio Aubry Taylor

Rio Aubry Taylor‘s comic Love, Currently describes the internal world of a man ripped apart by grief after the death of his daughter. Xir ability to mix abstract imagery with prose to depict such a heart-wrenching story is stunning; when it comes to storytelling, Taylor is top-notch. The sci-fi-esque creatures and psychedelic, abstract illustrations that Taylor draws feel perfect for a self-described alien-cat-sorcerer. Xe is currently creating a wild, cyber-punk comic called Jetty that follows a strange cast of characters as they cope with a world in which the sun has gone out. Subscribe to it via Patreon.

A sample panel from Best Song Ever. Image from Suzy X's flickr.
A sample panel from Best Song Ever.

Suzy Exposito (Suzy X)

Suzy X is a writer, illustrator, and punk whose work is littered with reflections on being a punk of color, helpful DIY advice, and women of color taking names and kicking ass. A couple years ago she published a little comic through Rookie Mag called Best Song Ever that followed the adventures of a group of high school aged women of color who are in a punk band. The stories ranged from lighthearted vignettes in which the girls pick band names and enjoy each other’s company to the more emotional moment moments of teen girlhood—like realizing deciding to move forward with your life means moving away from your friends. Read her essays and comics at Rookie Mag, Bitch Magazine, and Rolling Stone.

Madeleine Flores

Confession: While Flores’ webcomic turned print comic, Help Us Great Warrior, is a fabulous, hilarious, and basically the goofy femme comic of your dreams, when I hear name I still think, “Oh, the post-it note artist?” When I started to become webcomic-obsessed in college, I followed Help Us Great Warrior sporadically via Tumblr, but thought her post-it note comics were spectacularly creative. The simple, round shapes in her work—check out this amazing cat—combined with the novelty of comics on post-its just bowled me over. Buy her stuff and follow her on Tumblr!

A sample panel of Autumn Crossman-Serb's work, from her tumblr.
Super expressive eyes from Crossman-Serb.

Autumn Crossman-Serb

Crossman-Serb is one of those illustrators who can communicate so much through a characters’ facial expressions; a simple scroll through her comics reveals relationships between characters and emotional arcs. Her characters have great hair and fabulous style, but the pacing and emotion are what really stand out. This is a storyteller to keep your eye on! Hire this person.

Amanda Aponte (Jahnny Vommit)

Aponte and me with her Steven Universe and Rick and Morty fanart. She mixes punk, goth aesthetic with anime influences to create characters who look a bit like what I imagine a Visual Kei band would look like if they were dropped into a Cristy Road illustration. Her style feels perfect for a generation of young comics readers who grew up with Barnes & Noble manga sections, wider access to zines, and a readiness to embrace the re-emergence of Riot grrrl. If I wanted to get my young, punk, nerdy former students inspired to make comics, I’d direct them to her Tumblr and her webcomic Journal of Doom!

This is also a call to action!

Comic lovers, tell us about the QTPOC creators you love in the comments and on social media! Publishers: I found most of the people on this list via quick searches through social media or existing databases. These artists want to be heard, and they are undeniably talented. HIRE THEM. QTPOC creators, please pitch to us, and share your work with us for review! We see you, we love you, and our big, weird, queer, trans, nonbinary, and multi-racial community of goats wants nothing more than to share your incredible art with the world.

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka is a queer librarian and intense cat parent. They spends their days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts @alenkafiga.