Dates 3: Adventure was delivered to my door in September, and as a long-time fan of the massively uplifting and beautifully-rendered anthology series, I was so excited to take my time with the publication. The Kickstarter for the comics anthology launched in early 2019 and was fully funded within a month. Kickstarter works like a preorder gauge for small presses and publishers, giving them seed money to pay for the production of the book, artists’ commissions, distribution, and any other expenses that pop up.
Dates III: Adventure
Zora Gilbert & Cat Parra (Editors)
(Editor’s Note: Zora Gilbert is a regular contributor to WWAC)
Dates itself is a series of comic and fiction anthologies dedicated exclusively to queer historical fiction. Any time before 1965 is fair game, and all ethnicities, bodies, genders, and sexualities are represented in every single issue. The only rule: no sad endings. So, I took a few hours, sat down with some tissues, Hozier on repeat, and a stiff drink to get me through all the lovely comics and stories without becoming a total wreckage of a human.
Reader, I was not disappointed. These stories are emotional. While many are romantic, that is not the only kind of intimacy shown in the anthology. There are genderqueer people living their lives, playing double-ball (“Run Hard,” by Shaina Lu & Sunny Ôchmuk), taking off their makeup (“Parts,” by Maie-Anne Dt), or searching for a friend’s buried treasure (“Bachaav, by Sonia Liao). The theme of ‘adventure’ runs throughout these stories, with characters in each traveling, trying new things, taking on challenges, and pursuing the things that make them happy.
It’s hard to talk in generalities about the anthology because of the range of stories written and created. All the art is beautiful, all the stories touching, and all the writing brings something new to the table. There are Roman boyfriends, polycules in ancient China, wild west adventures of all kinds, and a neo-noir detective story that gives me a butch lesbian dreamboat helping trans people live new lives under new names and identities (“The High Line Passes”). There’s a little bit of everything for everyone, but I’m going to highlight some of my favorites.
We start out strong with one of the first stories, “Y Heolydd o Chwedlay” (Welsh for “The Roads from Chwedlay”) by A D’Amico, following an aged queer elder as she passes down the stories of her land to another wanderer. The story touches on the ways in which queer people gain their history from listening to the elders of our community, not necessarily our parents or older relatives. As we pass through Wales and learn of the folklore and tales tied to the land, we see it illustrated in beautiful outlines, giving a ghostly, unseelie effect within the panels.
This piece is not explicitly romantic, but it doesn’t need the tension of a love story to carry us through. Readers feel the elder’s loss as she relates the stories nobody seems to know, explaining that she has no apprentice, and admitting that she feels as if these stories will die with her generation. It’s a profound take on queer history and revisionist storytelling, and reminds queer people everywhere of the importance of our own stories and lives, lived fully and authentically.
Another beautiful story is “Songweaver,” by Kelsey Leigh. Set in Mali in the 1500s, the story is about a lesbian couple as they exchange gifts on the day of their departure. The bard sings a beautiful love song to her beloved, telling them of their love, their passion, and how much they look forward to meeting again. They embrace and the story ends with a promise to meet each other again. As the bard sings, Leigh draws the words together with fantasy illustrations and loving detail, creating a history of love that is wonderfully genuine. There are only happy tears at the end of “Songweaver,” and the symbolic passing on of jewelry is remarkably touching.
A third incredible comic is “Saddle Up,” by Fawn Prince. Drawn with loose brushstrokes and colored in a grey wash, this unique style helps embody the stark Mexican-American drama on the family ranch, evoking older comics and soldier’s illustrations.
“Saddle Up” tells the story of Gideon and Alonzo as they adapt to life raising and herding cattle. This story stands out among so many other incredible stories because it is not the tale of how two men met and fell in love, but starts out with them together and in relationship with each other, openly affectionate and caring, without judgment. It’s incredibly affirming and beautiful to see men being in love without any punishment, and the movement of the story is such that their love for each other is only ever built up and made stronger. The comic ends on an adorably sweet panel after Gideon proposes to Alonzo. Reading stories like this, seeing queer joy on the page, without apology or repercussions, is so necessary.
The queer community needs stories that are happy, non-exploitative, and without emotional trauma. Queer people should be allowed to exist without the burdens of expectation to be representative of their entire community. These stories, all of them in their own way, allow queer people to exist, be in love, and go on adventures without implicit threat of punishment for simply existing in an authentic way. Without a doubt, Dates 3 delivers on all fronts. I’ve highlighted only a few of my favorites in the collection, but there is definitely a story for everyone between the covers.
In addition to narrative fiction and sequential art, there are also full-page illustrations sprinkled throughout, with more than a few lesbian pirates within the book’s pages. (On pg 169, by Schpog, and on 170, by Caroline Dougherty.) What I’m getting is that we all want more lesbian pirate stories, and everyone should write one or several to fill the need.
I’m never disappointed by the Dates series, and I look forward to their next collection. The art, both in full color and black and white, is consistently spectacular. The sheer range of stories told is also incredibly, wonderfully impressive. Every person can find a reflection of themselves within these pages, and any omissions are surely covered in previous editions. The radical and considerate inclusivity is a balm needed in times like these when queer work and queer lives are being questioned and threatened. Zora Gilbert, the editor, writes in their forward, “Dates 3 is about…making change outside of what the world has said is allowed.”
Dates 3 takes conventional history and rewrites it with queer stories at the forefront and center. Queer people are heroes, adventurers, storytellers, wisdom-keepers, and strongholds of love and care. Dates is a series so desperately needed in the comics landscape as a trauma-free refuge of queer joy, hope, and strength. Queer people are affirmed and represented, and showcases what queer people need now, more than ever, are stories that bring us together without tearing us apart.