graphic novels are my love language

If I love you, if I’m trying to keep you around in my life, then there’s a good chance I’ve dragged you into a comic book store.

And I’ve talked incessantly about a title that you have no real connection to until I put a single issue or trade into your hands. I’ve made awkward eye contact with you, and placed way too much promise on a story that I’m fairly certain will become a mainstay in your life. Honestly, it’s because I want the best (storytelling) for you.

Comic book stores are the places where I can loudly and confidently proclaim my nerddom, explain the major plotpoints of several POC- and queer-centric titles and demand the specific titles I want. Yes, I know what I’m talking about. I’m looking for Evil Empire Vol. 2. Yes, I need The Beauty Vol. 3. What you mean y’all still haven’t gotten in my copy of Bitch Planet’s triple feature trade?

Right now, I’m fluctuating between six different titles, all with queer female protagonists of color and all equally captivating my imagination and creative juices:

  • The Beauty, a story where humans can’t get out of the way of their own vanity to save themselves from an STD;
  • Saga, a modern sci-fi love story epic that manages to shock me with a full color spread at least once an issue;
  • The Wicked and The Divine, a fantasy that questions our beliefs in gods and foundations;
  • Bitch Planet, which is exactly what it sounds like;
  • Paper Girls, where four teenage girls mix with aliens and time travel;
  • And Rat Queens, a fantasy/action adventure romp full of pages and pages of women kicking various ass.

(And before you say something, yes all of those are printed by Image Comics. Idc.)

These stories are more than Marvel and DC superheroes that we can maybe name but not really talk about outside of the countless movies and Netflix shows that have dominated pop culture. I’m an Image boi myself. Alternate universes, captivating illustrations, savagery of all grades and species done hauntingly well – I’ll never be able to unsee Prince Robot’s grey penis – that it sits with you long after you’ve finished reading.

White men bow to me in comic book stores as they appreciate the depths to which I know what I’m talking about. I know this because it’s the only time white men give me free things. I’ve had several workers slip a single issue into my bag after I’ve drug them around the store being black and loud af, yelling out all the back issues and trades that my collection is missing. And I’m grateful, because how many spaces do I enter where white men immediately get the fuck out my way and bring me what I need?

None. Not ever.

But my comic book stores, whether they are Keith’s Comics in Dallas or Chicago Comics, are mythical exceptions, and in the stories I pick and stay enthralled within, the best and realest parts of me are reflected. There, a world can exist that centers a black queer woman, that allows her to be honest and hopeful and curious and aware. I can forget about the poorly written and stereotypically destructive plotline that is America and live in a colorful dystopia.

I didn’t grow up with comic books. My modest education didn’t begin until college when I took a film adaptation course. We read and compared several titles that have been chopped and screwed for the silver screen, but when we reached The Watchmen’s portion of the semester, life changed. I’m already the type of person who obsesses and dissects story and metaphor until it’s in small puddles on the floor, so The Watchmen set me on another level. I remember a very distinct Arsenio-Hall-how-come-you-ain’t-tell-me-about-the-cheese moment.

By most folks’ count, I’m still a beginner in this game, but I’m down to tell you all I know. In this space, I’ll try to get my shit together enough to share a title you may not have read or considered. If you haven’t peeked into the six titles above, I’d start there, but we’ll talk about them, too, so no worries.

I once introduced a homie to graphic novels and the next time I saw her, she cried in my arms. and now, I’m opening my arms to you, love. It’s OK now. The mediocre titles won’t hurt you anymore.

(Photo caption: I never thought I’d be the type with a shelf of graphic novels on my bookcase, but here we are. It’s gotten worse since this was taken.)

Princess McDowell is a poet, writer and journalist from Dallas, Texas, and Rebellious Magazine's Special Projects Editor. She's also a cohost of the Feminist Erotica Podcast. As a writer-in-rebellion,...