People often talk about a hierarchy inherent in the acronym LGBT: that gays and lesbians garner the most attention and representation, while the "B" and the "T" get left out of the conversation or are excluded on purpose, even within the queer community. Meanwhile, some identities are left off altogether.
Northwest Press' new release, Anything That Loves: Comics Beyond "Gay" and "Straight," an anthology edited by Charles "Zan" Christensen, seeks to fill that void of representation. In fact, one of Randall Kirby's contributions even addresses the acronym problem, although what he ends up with is a GBLT (a gay bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich).
Funded by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that allows the book to be distributed to comic stores nationwide, Anything That Loves tells the stories of people whose sexualities don't fit into neat boxes. It features comics from a wide breadth of creators, including known names side-by-side with artists who have never before been published. The anthology offers an expansive sampling of sexuality in the "gray area," covering bisexual, trans, asexual, and queer stories, along with some that defy any categorization. Given how underrepresented these sexualities are in any media, Anything That Loves is a welcome addition to the LGBT library.
Many of the comics are autobiographical and a good chunk are written in a monologue format. Bill Roundy talks about how his relationships with transmen are often invalidated in "Orientation Police," while Agnes Czaja discusses the feeling of being caught between two dichotomous worlds in "Queer! A Game of Ambiguity." I particularly enjoyed "In Between," by Alex Dahm, about the pressure to feel "trans enough" and the difficulty of finding the "right" identification, in which the author asks, "Why go through all the trouble of coming out as a boy – If I don't get to decide what kind of boy I want to be?"
These autobiographical pieces are great to read in comic form and I'm a fan of the personal monologue because it humanizes the often highly charged topic of sexuality. It's also refreshing to hear personal narratives from real people whose sexualities and stories have been coopted and stereotyped by others. (See: the destructive myth of the slutty bisexual.)
Alongside the autobiographical work are narrative pieces, which span from the downright fantastical to the starkly realistic. In Ashley Cook and Caroline Hobbs' adorable comic "Biped," a merwoman is conflicted about her newfound attraction to humans until she finds the ultimate treasure: the conch of self-acceptance. Asexuality, kink, and serendipitous friendship are explored in "This Time It's Personal," by Powflip, and "Split Spectrum," by Tara Madison Avery and Mike Sullivan, tells a story of isolating biphobia from intimate partners.
All these comics and many, many more are included in this anthology. They talk about personal discovery, discrimination, and just daily life, along a scale of myriad of identities. Bisexual men are well represented, which is something of a rarity. As with all anthologies, some will speak to you more than others—for example, Sam Saturday's depiction of transwomen did not sit well with me—but certainly there is something for everyone within this book. The art is varied and high quality, and the stories are compelling.
As a side note, it's useful to know that some of the comics included were previously published; attentive readers might recognize strips from Erika Moen's DAR comics, or Kate Leth's taco comic, which floats around Tumblr with over 6,600 notes. Ellen Forney also contributes some of her popular "Lustlab Ad of the Week" comics. However, this is definitely not a "best of" anthology of older work. Even if you're a frequent reader of queer comics, there is plenty of new work for you to enjoy and new creators for you to discover.
From Erika Moen's DAR
From Kate Leth, Kate or Die.
Taken together, the comics included in Anything That Loves show a wide range of what it can mean to exist between gay and straight. As Carol Queen states in the foreword, "With so many bi-behaving people hesitant to identify as bisexual, it's a little hard to state exactly what we are. But a good place to start is 'diverse,' and that's one reason this book is so fabulous: it doesn't just spell that out, it shows you, too." With the dearth of bisexual and queer representation in comics and media at large, Anything That Loves is a vital contribution. As Lena H. Chandhok's piece, "Comics Made Me Queer!" explains, seeing your own experiences in print can help you process your feelings, feel more comfortable with your identity (or help you name your identity at all!) and position yourself in a larger context. Chandhok's comic even referenced Erika Moen, who is included with Chandhok in the anthology.
The royalties from the sale of Anything That Loves will go to Prism Comics, a nonprofit that's been championing LGBT comics, creators, and readers for ten years. Small publishing companies like Northwest Press add valuable, unique contributions and new voices to the generally monolithic comic industry, and they survive on reader support. If Anything That Loves piques your interest, consider grabbing a copy.