Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’, out May 15 from Lion Forge Comics.

Cover to 'Gender Queer: A Memoir'. Art: Maia Kobabe/Lion Forge
Cover to ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’. Art: Maia Kobabe/Lion Forge

by Arpad OkayLike most journeys, Gender Queer: A Memoir starts as small steps, seemingly unlinked pieces that chain together, breaking into a runner’s pace. Ultimately it’s an avalanche of information on identity, a connection forged between author and reader. This comic is more than memoir, it’s sorcery. Give Maia Kobabe your heart and your time and together you’ll come out on the other side enlightened. Maia: monarch of snakes, teller of stories, gender queer.

Gender Queer is Kobabe’s quest to find em true self. More than that, it is a study of all identities: the ones Kobabe tries and rejects, the ones forced on and embraced by em, all the people who make up the life and world outside em, the intensely personal place e arrives at in the end.

Brace yourself to be smitten by Maia’s unguarded honesty. Gender Queer is a work of maturity, totally in touch with innocence, fear, ardor, confusion, so many raw human emotions. Gender Queer is a first-person exploration of existence, where identity is a process. There is a core of self and a life lived that brings that individuality into being. With resilience, encouragement, curiosity, and diligence, Kobabe finds—and lives—eir truth.

And Kobabe’s an artist, a youth. E is now and e is us—so there’s a steady current of pop culture that flows through Gender Queer. The music, movies, books, and beyond that become milestones in Kobabe’s path to self-discovery are celebrated, a pantheon that surrounds and guides em.

Gender Queer rests in perfect balance between direct storytelling and metaphorical imagery. David Bowie lounges, a cassette stands in as a panel, an exuberant friend is wreathed in stars. Plants grow through pages with leaves of symbols and statements. Nature imagery abounds, as well as lettering full of flourishes. Word balloons grow long, twisting tails. Gender Queer is a diary and looks it.

It is also people and self and body and relationships. Gender Queer is anchored in talking heads and personages floating in space, wreathed in words. I think that this is essential for good diary comics. This is our experience. Sitting. Talking. Our biggest moments with each other aren’t detached cinematography, Dutch angles and establishing shots, dynamic staging. It’s person to person. It’s faces, bodies, words. Connection. Gender Queer connects.

Years of consuming comics and manga (you will be awed by Kobabe’s reading list) and, of course, making comics, drawing, and telling stories have enabled eir straightforward narrative to hit home as a whole and also sparkle with a thousand little moments of finesse. Kobabe might be struggling figuring out who e is, but e grasps the way comics work with ease and authority.

Pitch perfect for the story being told is Kobabe’s deceptively simple art style. The uncomplicated compositions and minimal linework evokes children’s lit. And, like good kid’s books, this simplicity is achieved with enormous talent comfortably self-restrained. The youthful buoyancy of Aliki paired with the maturity of Megan Kelso’s Queen of the Black Black.

Phoebe Kobabe’s colors are warm and mild, with contour lines rendered in color as well. The whole book is soft and delicate. The blossoms of fulfillment elevated by art that suits it. The pain (and there’s pain) becomes all the more jarring. Mostly, it feels authentic. It feels special.

Maia is special. While eir desires related to eir identity are currently considered outside of the mainstream, many other aspects of eir persona are omnipresent in youth—heck, omnipresent in everybody. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, fantasy, One Direction, Johnny Weir, Oscar Wilde, erotic fan fiction. And, bless, works like Gender Queer are expanding our cultural dialog so that identities like Kobabe’s are more seen, recognized, and respected.

Part of that foothold that Gender Queer has in making Kobabe’s identity easier to experience as a reader with a different perspective is eir very powerful narrative voice. Gender Queer is more than the reader being informed. We’re spoken to. Eir experience is unique, but Kobabe’s intimacy brings you in to eir company, eir space.

And it fosters a love for em, and eir struggle.

It is inspiring to embrace one’s identity, and in Gender Queer, we are lucky enough to walk with Kobabe as e does it. Pleasure in eir victories, anguish and triumph in em wrestling to find what e wants, building the strength to say no. As Maia learns, so do those readers who are outside eir experience. Gender Queer taught me; it expanded my horizons, gave me knowledge.

Gender Queer is a profoundly moving book, an act of bravery and passion from Maia Kobabe. The story comes all the way around so that what seems like small moments from childhood loom late, large in simile. Gender Queer is self-fulfilling prophecy, Gender Queer is a gift.

Lion Forge / $17.99

Written by Maia Kobabe.

Illustrated by Maia Kobabe.

Colors by Phoebe Kobabe.

Letters by Maia Kobabe.

9.5 out of 10

‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’ hits comic shops May 15. (Diamond code: MAR191862) Its bookstore release is in June.

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