LGBTQ graphic novels to add to your bookshelf.

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

There is a strong tradition of LGBTQ writing in fiction and maybe you’ve already read some of these books – peruse our essential list if you are in need of suggestions on where to start. Happily, that tradition runs through graphic novels and comics too. Here, we pick some of our favourite illustrated LGBTQ stories and memoirs.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006)

Published when Bechdel was in her 40s, Fun Home documents the author’s life up to her early 20s (including her coming out in late adolescence) and her father’s life during the same period. Exploring her father’s closeted sexuality, the story shows us – through Bechdel’s sweetly gothic illustration – his obsessive restoration of the family’s Victorian home, distant parenting and involvement with the family babysitter. Drawing from her father’s favourite books and authors, Fun Home is peppered with literary references, in addition to Bechdel’s thoughtful analysis and philosophical ponderings. It’s a classic of the graphic memoir form and deserves to be a part of any LGBTQ library.

A spread from Alison Bechdel's Fun Home depicting her finding an old photograph after her father dies.

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home explores the author's relationship with and realisations about her father.

Song of Myself by Walt Whitman (1855)

Though Whitman’s sexuality is continually debated, he is usually described as either gay or bisexual, and 'Song of Myself' – the epic poem at the heart of Leaves of Grass – was slow to gain public acceptance when first published as it went against the period’s accepted norms of morality with its obvious depictions of human sexuality. 2560 hours in the making, Allen Crawford’s illustrated (or perhaps more appropriately, illuminated, like medieval monks with their holy scriptures) version of Whitman’s poem is a thing of beauty with its earthy colours, rough simplicity and a lushness that serve to keep Whitman’s original meaning at its heart, while being a incredible work of art in its own right.

This mesmerising video shows Crawford’s work in progress interwoven with quotes from Song of Myself – and will leave you wanting to delve into the book immediately.  

Howl by Allen Ginsberg (1956)

Allen Ginsberg was a visionary poet and icon during the Beat movement. His poem 'Howl', which was originally written as a performance piece, features his quintessentially fearless verse attacking what he saw as the destructive forces of materialism and conformity in the USA at the time, and takes on issues of sex, drugs and race, simultaneously creating what would become the poetic anthem for US counterculture. Unsurprisingly it was ahead of its time and became the subject of an obscenity trial when first published in 1956.

Stitches by David Small (2009)

Similarly to Alison Bechdel’s Fun HomeStitches is a graphic memoir which tells the story of a family, their secrets, and of pain and triumph. Written from a child’s perspective, we see a younger Small dealing with throat cancer but alongside, we also find out more about his unhappy childhood which involves a mother who was a closeted lesbian, and a father who is numbed by the knowledge that he has likely caused his son’s cancer through multiple X-rays during his early years. Stitches is brilliantly illustrated and the power of the story is enough to appeal to anyone with or without an interest in graphic novels.

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel (2008)

Long before Fun Home was published Alison Bechdel was chronicling the lives of a number of characters in her regular cartoon strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, which ran in 50 American newspapers for 21 years. Following a band of counter-cultural friends – academics, social workers, booksellers – these strips see them fall in and out of love, negotiate relationships, raise children, switch careers and cope with aging parents. Riotously funny at times, the strips are also a record of cultural change in the LGBTQ community over the years.

Spring Fever from Alison Bechdel's The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.

Alison Bechdel's The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For chronicles the lives of a group of friends.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes (1995)

Perhaps not an LGBTQ graphic novel in the strictest sense but Ghost World could certainly be described as a queer-positive book. This is the tale of Enid and Rebecca, teenage friends facing the unwelcome prospect of adulthood; friends who love each other but who are also growing apart as their personalities develop. Ghost World is often hilarious but also understated, melancholy and tender. This book is such a joy to read and should appeal to everyone because, after all, everyone can relate to that uncertain time after leaving school when you’re completely free and everything is possible yet you’re also seized by a strangely nostalgic fear of what the future holds.

Daniel Clowe's graphic novel Ghost World.

Daniel Clowe's Ghost World is about two friends growing up and growing apart.

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