Media round-up: Comics about our reproductive lives
Visuals are so important to the way we live our lives and narrativize our experiences; we think and plan and dream in pictures, and oftentimes visuals lend new and unique dimensions to the stories we tell — especially those about our reproductive and familial lives!
I believe strongly in the power of the visual in creating what is possible in our world and am excited to bring you this awesome list of comics that tell the stories we need the most but see the least. Comics are one of the places where my wife’s and my interests intersect most fully (especially around reproduction, which you can read more about at the end of this blog), and we both love discovering new work — so, with a little input from my wife, I put together this list of awesome comics that deal with themes of reproduction, including sex, loss, abortion, pregnancy, birth, parenthood, pleasure, and more! Enjoy!
Hands down, my favorite on this list. Seriously, if you only look at one text from this whole list, make it this one! Summers delves deeply (and often humorously) into her negotiations with identity and embodiment as a queer butch who carries and births a child, exposing the taken-for-granted femininity and heteronormativity of pregnancy culture with her engaging, Tintin-inspired art style. It will help you gain a better understanding of what is universal in pregnancy and birth and what is unique to folks who are marginalized by gender identity, sexual orientation, gender presentation, or family structure — knowledge that benefits us all in the very human endeavor of building a family.
Okay, this one doesn’t technically come out until 26 February, but it looks promising, and here’s an excerpt for you to check out while you wait! It deals with themes of fertility, loss, pregnancy, and (potentially traumatic) birth in Knisley’s trademark (Eisner-nominated) informative-humorous confessional style. Knisley is just also an all-around awesome author and illustrator and, btw, will be at Porter Square Books on 2 March.
This one follows two very different women through their processes of seeking out and getting abortions — I highly recommend it for people who are unfamiliar with abortion, as it is both informative and humanizing. It’s a no-shame, no-judgment walkthrough that allows for a range of emotions, from fear to relief to humor. And, as some reviewers on goodreads have pointed out, the nondescript title and cover make it accessible to those who exist in contexts where it is difficult to find and read materials about reproductive choice.
Good Eggs: A Memoir (Phoebe Potts)
Quickly likened to Fun Home and Persepolis, but with a very different focus: (in)fertility. This one makes the list because of its skillful interrogation of the class and race privileges that led the author to assume that becoming pregnant would be easy and straightforward, and because of its honest reflection into Jewish family life in a Boston suburb. (Bonus: local author/local setting.)
Most of the themes explored in the texts on this list seem very adult, so I include Honor Girl here as a way of balancing that out and validating the sexual and reproductive lives of young adults. As sexual-awakenings-in-comics-form go, this one has had the most impact on me as a queer person for its complex treatment of the conversations young people have with themselves and their peers about bodies, identities, and desires. It foregrounds a religious setting to ask readers to consider how our context shapes our experiences of our reproductive lives in a way that is firm yet lovely.
Anthologies and Collections
This collection brings together 60+ amazing comics artists, including full-spectrum doula Mick Moran of DIY Doula: Self-Care for Before, During, & After Your Abortion. Perhaps the most important thing about this collection is its commitment to marginalized voices, as it broadens the conversation from middle-class white women to trans, nonbinary, and queer people, people of color, older people, low-income people, and all varieties of activists and storytellers that are often missing from dialogue about abortion. So far, it has raised over $20,000 for the National Network of Abortion Funds!
My love for this one is a holdover from my days as an academic, mostly because Graphic Reproduction both makes theoretical concepts about reproduction approachable and invites scholars to think in more innovative ways about their theoretical concepts. But you don’t have to live in the ivory tower to enjoy it, I assure you! It covers everything from pregnancy and (home)birth to (in)fertility, abortion, and loss in a way that encourages readers to consider both the individual narratives and the sociocultural contexts in which they take place.
Another gem from Soft Skull Press (publisher of Pregnant Butch, above), and another comic that unflinchingly validates the sexual needs and experiences of young adults, this time crafted by young adults who have been left out of contemporary sex education dialogue. This one gets knocked by critics for its “amateurish,” zine-like feel (elitist, much?) but really, that is the key to its importance — the stories are about things like gyno exams, masturbation, consent, and harassment from the perspective of young people as they experience them, not from adults reminiscing on their coming-of-age sexuality. It’s the comic I didn’t realize I needed as a closeted queer teen in an evangelical high school that didn’t teach sex ed (we can unpack that some other time). (Bonus: Autostraddle’s review of NYMM).
I include this one cautiously, as I have yet to read it and it does boast a story about eugenicist Margaret Sanger, but you can make your own judgments. The neat thing about this one is that it includes both realistic and fantastical stories, inviting readers to imagine various futures with varying organizations of reproductive politics (à la Margaret Atwood) and invites discussion of otherwise difficult topics through whimsical styles and narratives. I would love to hear more about this one from someone who has read it!
Webcomics and Comic Strips
Webcomics are truly the gift that keeps on giving! These gems are based online and (usually) can be read individually or serially, so you get all the goodness of comics in a low-commitment format. The only downside is that you might have to wait a week or two in between comics after you’ve binged the archive all in one sitting! Here are some of my favorite webcomics (comics made for the web) and comic strips that have been archived on the web:
Mini-comics and zines
A Christmas gift from my wife and now one of my favorite birth-y comics! It’s made up of 11 comics, ranging from autobiographical to metaphorical, in which Galloway explores her first pregnancy and birth, the addition of her second child, and the negotiations with parenthood, work, and identity that an expanding family brings. Galloway’s comic “birth story” is particularly important because, after visualizing her responses to 10 “facts” of birth, she writes, “labor and birth are unserved by language. birth has nothing to do with the facts of birth” — which anyone who has been witness to birth knows to be true.
Rotman is the current artist-in-residence at Scarleteen, a young-adult destination for inclusive and comprehensive info about sex, sexuality, and relationships. Her sex-ed mini-comic You’re So Sexy covers safe sex practices, consent, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases for all bodies and identities from a relatable, no-shame perspective. It is super informational and practical — it even includes a condom on the back! (Bonus: here’s an interview with Rotman for Women’s Comic Month.)
Last but not least: Our dissertations
And now a brief personal tidbit, because my love of comics comes from somewhere! My wife and I both hold PhDs and, although our dissertations are not technically comics themselves, they are about comics, and people are sometimes gracious enough to follow me on tangents about what it’s like to be a recovering academic.
My dissertation sits at the intersection of gender/sexuality, family sociology, and sociology of medicine, and follows a handful of lesbian couples who gave birth to their first child in the last decade (exploring what the literature calls the “transition to parenthood”). What makes it different, though, is the visual component — every few weeks, the couples and I would get together and talk through a stack of photos they had taken of their process, essentially creating living comics that I then analyzed as a researcher and turned into a few different publications (which I’ll share, if you’d like) as a way of archiving what queer fertility and family-building looks like in the 2010s. One particular chapter opens with a page from Pregnant Butch and focuses on the embodied experiences of the gestating parent in several of the couples, which was, and still is, completely novel in my field. Watching these couples navigate a hostile medical system on their own is why I became a doula.
My wife’s dissertation is in English with a concentration in Comics and Visual Rhetoric. She charts a new conceptualization of the archive as she tracks queer women’s comics from the 1970s to the 2000s, challenging the maleness of the Underground Comix Movement as it is often remembered and bringing to light the visual resistance embodied in comics made by queer women over the past few decades. Her analysis is historical and formal in that she looks at the potential of the space between panels (the “gap) for imagining new forms of queer living and loving. She’s got a whole host of awesome comics in hers, from Dyke Shorts to Pregnant Butch, and has more alternative comics knowledge than anyone else I’ve met.
So there you have it! You may not want to write/read an entire dissertation about comics, but if you’re looking to dip your toe into this exciting and diverse world, now you’ve got a place to start. And my wife and I are always happy to help readers discover new comics, so if there’s something else you have an interest in I’ll find you a comic about it!