Arts & Entertainment
5 min

SUMMER READING: Guide to graphic novels

Scenes of violence, sex, drama and silliness

Ahh, summer. With vacations abounding and only so many hours that you can spend drinking on the various patios, the summer months are the perfect time to enrich your mind while improving your tan. We’re talking summer reading.

What better way to pass those hours on the beach (or holed-up in a cottage on a rainy day) than with the most popular, cutting-edge books on the shelf this season? Graphic novels, of course! We’ve got grownup comic books for every taste and situation — great reads that mark you as both smart and young at heart… particularly since all that UV will age you 10 years by the time September rolls around.

Graphic novels for every occasion!

Bare-assed days on the beach

Three great reads for when you’re not trying to hide anything, anyway.

Stripped: The Illustrated Male, edited by Claus Kiessling and Joris Buiks published by Bruno Gmünder. 352 pages; approx $39.95.

A well-produced collection of contemporary erotic gay illustration and art, this book is light on words but features page after page of hot guys, immaculately rendered by a host of gay cartoonists from around the world. As with any anthology, not all the content will turn your particular crank, but from Vancouver’s Patrick Fillion (recently profiled in Xtra) to Chelsea Boys artist Glen Hanson and fellow Canadian Steve MacIsaac, the range of art on display will ensure anyone picking up this weighty tome will find something to enjoy. When the day at the beach is over, you can use the handy biographies to visit all of the artists’ websites, where you can enjoy some, ahem, quality time with their art in the privacy of your own home.

Porky #1 & Pornomicon #1 by Logan. Published by Class Comics. 32 pages; $9.95 each.

In the past year Class Comics has begun publishing gay comics from around the world and these two comics from France’s Logan (so hot he only needs one name) are downright dirty, in all the right ways. Featuring worlds seemingly comprised entirely of hot’n’hairy muscle bears with impossible proportions, anyone searching for something a little more hirsute in their smutty summer reading will have it made in the shade. A word of warning: If guys with PIG tattooed on their tummies and sex with the Octopus-faced baddie from Pirates Of The Caribbean and all that entails make you squeamish, Logan’s work is definitely not for you.

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Rainy-day cottage reading

Curl up on the couch and sink into someone else’s life with memoirs.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel published by Mariner Books. 240 pages; $18.95.

What? Seriously? You mean you haven’t read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home yet? It’s a gripping memoir of the Dykes To Watch Out For creator’s coming-out in the shadow of her father’s closeted homosexuality. Even Time Magazine picked it as their Book Of The Year — not “gay” book of the year, not “graphic novel” book of the year, but the big prize, the top one. It’s very good, and now it’s even available in a handsome paperback edition that won’t break the bank.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie, published by Drawn & Quarterly. 160 pages; $21.95.

Not strictly a memoir (although maybe in the James Frey sense), Aya is nonetheless a wonderful story of strength, resilience and family. Writer Marguerite Abouet paints a vivid picture of a prosperous and positive period in the history of Africa’s Ivory Coast and the time she grew up there. As much a comedy of errors as it is a love letter to the past, Aya tells the story of the titular character preparing for a life outside of her village while her friends and family experience big promotions, surprise pregnancies and shotgun marriages. Light on queer content but long on heart.

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Cravings for men in spandex

Three essential books for the spandex set.

All Star: Superman Volume 1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, published by DC Comics. 160 pages; $23.99.

The Superman you’ve been dreaming of is finally here, courtesy of one of the top superhero writers of the past decade. Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely present the hero we were all hoping for in last summer’s blockbuster film: a little sappy and saccharine, but still willing to punch a giant robot in the face when necessary. In the six chapters presented here the creators manage to touch on the key characters of Super-dom (Lois, Jimmy, Bizarro, even Krypto The Super-Dog) while still managing to make everything seem… super. With superhero comics getting darker, moodier and more “realistic” than ever, it’s nothing short of fabulous to have a comic book out there that reminds us all what a real hero looks like.

Casanova Volume 1 by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba, published by Image Comics. 160 pages; $28.99.

James Bond and Nick Fury? So last century. Meet a super-spy who romances androids, takes other-dimensional drugs and isn’t afraid to let it all hang out. Casanova chronicles the first adventure of Casanova Quinn, a freelance spy in a world filled to the brim with shadowy organizations with acronyms for names — it’s EMPIRE versus WASTE versus XSM for the fate of the space-time continuum! When Cass is abducted across dimensions to impersonate his own dead clone, he has to avoid having sex with a duplicate of his sister, navigate the tricky path of being a triple agent and maybe even get into a naked kung-fu match with the Beatles-obsessed head of an island that runs on pure sex energy. Sexy, fun and dangerous: What more do you want from your heroes?

Prism: Your Guide to LGBT Comics 2007 edited by Jonathan Riggs, published by Prism Comics. 144 pages; $5.95.

Although it bills itself as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) guide to comics, superhero fans are likely to find a lot more to enjoy in this annual guidebook than anyone looking for the next Fun Home (which, strangely, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the guide). From finding out what’s gay in the big Marvel and DC superhero books to a copyright-skirting Amazonian Princess paper doll, to the history of HIV in comics and profiles of queer comic creators and retailers, the Prism Guide is a great resource for anyone curious about exactly what’s gay about comic books. Bonus: Lots of actual comic stories and creator profiles makes it easy to discover more about the wealth of available queer comics. You probably can’t find a better way to spend $6 at the comic-book store.

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Must reads before the Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Shirtlifters #2 by Steve MacIsaac. 56 pages; $9.95.

Canadian comics creator Steve MacIsaac makes his triumphant return to Toronto this August at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. He’ll be débuting Shirtlifters #2, the second issue of his one-man anthology of queer comics. MacIsaac’s work is very grounded, offering up portraits of men who are wrestling with modern queer issues — marriage and immigration, integrating families and queer identity — all of these are starting points for sometimes sexy, surprising stories that will hit close to home for many men.

Young Bottoms In Love edited by Tim Fish, published by Poison Press. 368 pages; $24.95.

Sure, the cover bills it as a “romance” comic, but the book is called Young Bottoms In Love (YBIL) and it should come as no surprise that these are sexy, funny, racy takes on the romance comics of long ago. A virtual who’s who of gay cartoonists, YBIL features comics from Tim Fish (Cavalcade Of Boys), Paige Braddock (Jane’s World), Jack Lawrence (BritDoodz.com), and even gay comics icon Howard Cruse (Stuck Rubber Baby)! Bottoms, tops, circuit queens and bears alike will love these comics, as they move from realistic tales of love and lust to outré affairs with ghosts and Bigfoot, himself. YBIL is the perfect book for a long vacation, reading best in short doses and being savoured the way one would a box of chocolates…. Oh, who am I kidding? The box of chocolates and your copy of Young Bottoms In Love will be devoured in a single sitting! Luckily, editor Tim Fish has plenty more comics in print, and you can meet him at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival as well and buy them in person.

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