These Comics Will Make You Queer: Short Reviews from CAKE 2017

Failing Sky by Villainette:Scout Tran, image via Villainette

It’s been about a month since I attended CAKE 2017, but, as always, the work that I picked up at the expo stays with me. One of the most exciting and intimidating experiences of such an event is meeting dozens of talented artists. It’s impossible to walk out the doors without feeling that you’ve just been surrounded by the future of the comics industry.

Last year when I wrote about CAKE, I was really writing about the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. As that time of year rolled back around I found myself thinking more and more about Pulse, loss, and the feeling I had last year while walking around Center on Halsted, not actually saying words but feeling this powerful grief and kinship with queer creators. Grief was an undercurrent that followed us everywhere, but I don’t think I spoke openly about it once.

Picking up the books and minis I bought or discovered at CAKE brings back that sense of connectedness. It’s stunning to jump from genre to genre, from fantasy to poetry to experimental webcomics, and connect immediately with each piece. It’s magic, like all the work that they’ve made, the buckets of coffee, stress dreams and late nights spent bent over long-handed staplers culminate in something so vulnerable and beautiful, it grabs you right from the first panel.

This is the future of comics. Less dramatically, this is also a very belated round-up of short reviews celebrating creators I met at CAKE.

's House Cover image via Believed BehaviorBaba Yaga’s House

Krystal DiFronzo

I love stories about Baba Yaga, but this minicomic is actually about her chicken hut and its ponderings on what it means to be a home uninhabited. While none of us have probably been a magical house, we’ve all had those moments when we wonder, what do we really mean to this person? Do they value us as much as we value them? When we feel so involved, so obsessed, who are we when separate from our obsession? DiFronzo’s agitated blue and purple pencils create a perfect setting for an afternoon of upset introspection. Grab a copy over at Believed Behavior.

Failing Sky

Villainette a.k.a. Scout Tran-Caffee

I stopped by Scout’s table to thank her for the pair of bisexual baseball bats I ordered from the Degenderettes after the Presidential election–yes, these are real things you can and should buy–but left with a postcard advertising her stunning webcomic Failing Sky. Failing Sky is a set of 30 interconnected stories that circle around Qiao, a teenager working to reunite six elderly friends. Some of you may remember that I’m a sucker for experimental webcomics that play with movement and pacing; Failing Sky uses tactics similar to Decrypting Rita and To Be Continued to build a story that often disorients the reader, asking them to scroll one way or another to follow the action. This disorientation is strangely pleasant; fans of stories like Paprika or other works by Satoshi Kon will enjoy how Scout plays with the nature of memories. I was particularly dazzled when the comic urged me to click on an object and then plunged me into a new story; these are the kinds of transitions that can only work in webcomics! Read it here, and fund Scout’s Patreon!

Short Gay Stories

H-P Lehkonen

Short Gay Stories Cover via H-P LehkonenI’ve reviewed Lehkonen’s work before, but he somehow always surprises me by doing something new or different that totally blows me away. It helps that the first comic of this zine opens with a grad student having a breakdown. *Cue hysterical laughter.* Short Gay Stories is exactly what the title promises: an anthology of short comics, plus added commentary from the author himself. The comics are silly, political, romantic, occasionally a bit sexy, and always have punchlines that make me laugh out loud; however, what really blew me away was the author commentary. Writers of course put pieces of themselves into their stories, but Lehkonen draws out those personal pieces and pulls them all together in an end note about coming out as a trans man. This commentary is a unique look into the subconscious side of the writing process, and is a testament to the power of creative work. Also, this zine might make you gay. Snag a copy from Cow How Press or, for shipping outside the US, email hanna (dot) pirita (at) gmail!

Night Hag cover image via Protein BooksNight Hag

Rayne Klar

Horror, magic, punk bands, and sexy dreams–this comic has everything! The story opens with a cute punk rocker having a seriously spooky nightmare, but if you’re not so great with horror, I encourage you to hang on and still give this short comic a try! Klar’s character designs are really cute; the punk rockers have sweet, pointy noses, curly horns, and hairy legs; they look like your beloved queer friends that you get to see on the weekend after a long slog at your suit-and-tie day job. Even with the eyeballs and drippy walls, you’ll want to hug these precious characters. The magical scenes, while short, are enveloping and fit perfectly into a comic that largely looks like our reality. Diving into a pile of mystical forest leaves actually feels quite close to being in nature in real life! Or maybe I’ve just spent too much time in the city? Get this delightful, witchy comic at Protein Books.

Love Poems are the Worst

Anna Archie Bongiovanni

As the title alludes, this is a poetry zine, not a comic zine, but Bongiovanni is a cartoonist known for their beloved Grease Bats, so this still counts as the future of comics. This zine has a funny, denial-themed tagline on the cover, so I didn’t expect the poems to feel so vivid in a strangely familiar way. I can’t personally relate to many of the moments described in these poems–although, who hasn’t done ridiculous things for a crush–but Bongiovanni pulled me in anyway with a series of intense experiences, both happy and not. It’s the high-waisted cut-offs, the wrinkled shirts, and the secrets kept for better or worse that queers coming from all backgrounds will recognize. Bongiovanni is a slick poet; they build images through words just as skillfully as they do with pencils and inks. Love Poems are the Worst isn’t available online just yet, but you can catch Bongiovanni at SPX to grab a copy, and in the meantime, read all of Grease Bats here!

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.