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Display of materials for Kluge Center conversation April 16, 2023.
Display of comics and periodicals during Kluge conversation with Maia Kobabe, April 12, 2023.

Let’s Talk Comics: Identity, Gender, and Comics

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In celebration of Pride month this June, I wanted to share some items that were recently displayed for a book talk at the John W. Kluge Center with Maia Kobabe, author of Gender Queer. Maia uses Spivak pronouns e/eir/em, and Gender Queer is a graphic memoir detailing eir path to understanding eir own sexuality and gender identity. In 2020, Gender Queer won the Alex Award from the American Library Association (ALA).

Cover of Gender Queer (2019). Courtesy of Maia Kobabe.

My colleague Meg Metcalf (LGBTQIA+ Studies Collection Specialist) and I selected over thirty items from the collections that included comics, graphic novels, and periodicals that were created by or created for the LGBTQIA+ community. In particular we chose to highlight additional comics by Maia as well as collection items focused on trans and gender non-conforming experiences.

Display of comics and periodicals during Kluge conversation with Maia Kobabe, April 12, 2023.

The display (pictured above and below) took place in the beautiful Thomas Jefferson Building. The materials ranged from homophile publications from the 1950s and 1960s like the Ladder, to early trans organizing periodicals including Transvestia and Turnabout, which often featured comics and comic art. In addition to these historic items, the display also featured recent graphic novels, such as As the Crow Flies (2017) and Super Late Bloomer (2018) that are based on webcomics.

Display of comics and periodicals during Kluge conversation with Maia Kobabe, April 12, 2023.

Many of the creators and titles featured are award winning items. As the Crow Flies, by Melanie Gilman, is an Ignatz Award and Stonewall Book Award winning series, and the webcomic was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2014. A number of items included ‘firsts,’ such as the first issues of Gay Heart Throbs (1976), which is widely considered the first “all gay” comic book, but ceased publication after only three issues. Gay Comix, another early series, (later Gay Comics) enjoyed a longer run, published from 1980-1998. The Gay Comix series included the work of transgender comic creator Diana Green as well as the work of now famous comic artists like Howard Cruse, Alison Bechdel, Jerry Mills, Roberta Gregory, Mary Wings, and more.


The subjects and topics included everything from narrative fiction, ‘auto-bio’ comics, award winning anthologies, collected editions of long running comic strips, comics guides, and even superheroes. Many of these illustrate the creators lived experiences and encompass a wide range of drawing styles and designs. The September 1993 issue of Doom Patrol (no. 70) features the first appearance of Coagula, a transgender lesbian character created by transgender artist and activist Rachel Pollack. Coagula was the first openly transgender character in the DC Comics universe.

Pages from Doom Patrol no. 70 (September 1993).

We also were able to feature numerous items by Maia that are part the Library’s Small Press Expo Collection, including our signed copy of Gender Queer. During eir visit, Maia also kindly gave the Library a copy of eir mini-comic, Nonbinary: A Zine Conversation with Maia Kobabe and Kori Michelle.

Works by Maia Kobabe: Gender Queer (2019), Tom O’Bedlam (2015), Nonbinary (2020)

While the conversation with Maia was only livestreamed, I wanted to share a few images with you of the display to highlight our collections, and invite you to come see these materials in person! We have a mini-display in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room for the month of June that features just a few of the items. Come check it out!

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Comments (2)

  1. I wish these objects were available for viewing more than just June. Visibility matters.

    • Jay, the items that we’ve discussed here are available any time in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room! We try to highlight specific items through blogs and displays to let people know about them, but our collections aren’t just for show. They are meant to be used! I hope that you are able to visit us sometime to see more of our collections.

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