Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read. Except this entry isn’t really about a web comic.
Murphy’s Manor: The 30-year Wedding by Kurt Erichsen. I first encountered Murphy’s Manor in an anthology of queer-themed comic strips that I picked up at one of two gay bookstores in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, when I was only just starting to come out of the closet. As I got slightly more comfortable with people knowing that I wasn’t straight, I started hanging out (and learning to dance at) a (no longer existent) gay country bar called Timberline. And then led to me occasionally being at other gay bars semi-regularly. And one of the things most of those bars had in common was that there were piles of free papers somewhere in the bar. Seattle had one officially gay weekly newspaper at the time, and at least three or four other alternate weekly papers that were all at least somewhat gay friendly (a second explicitly queer weekly newspaper joined the line up a couple years later). One of those papers carried the Murphy’s Manor strips and so I started reading it more regularly.
Murphy’s Manor was a slice-of-life gay comic about Murphy (Murf) who owns a large house in the Black Swamp, Ohio, and the various people who rent rooms in his house, and their friends, significant others, et cetera. Erichsen drew the first six strips in early 1981 after a friend showed him an advertisement in a gay magazine called International Justice Monthly. Someone was trying to form a gay/lesbian comics syndicate. Kurt had one of his stories (published under a pseudonym) accepted for publication in a zine called Gay Comix, so he was interested. He sent in the six strips, but the syndicate idea fell apart. It occurred to him that he could try to syndicate his strip himself. As he explains:
“Nearly every city in North America had gay bars, each with a cigarette machine. On top of the cigarettes: local gay newspapers. It was the beginning of community infrastructure. There were two kinds of newspapers: ‘bar guides’ that advertised gay bars, published photos, listed social and political activities, and which bars had 2-4-` well drinks. They had minimal news. Larger cities had gay newspapers that were more journalistically ambitious. Remember, no internet at that time. Both types of paper were usually free, selling advertising space for bars, baths, and classifieds.”
Erichsen sent his sample strips to every one of these papers with the offer: they could run the samples he sent for free, and if they wanted to continue after that, he would sell the weekly strips. About 70 of the papers subscribed to his service, and his strip was suddenly appearing in a bunch of papers.
Over the next few decades Erichsen drew more than 1100 weekly strips. Murf, the title character, started dating Mark fairly early in the strip’s history.
In 2003, the fight for marriage equality his an interesting stage: various government officials starting decided that the ban on same sex marriage didn’t make sense. Various city, county, and state governments or officials would start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Other officials would intervene and stop the licenses after a while. Or, if it was an entire state, other states and the feds (thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act which had been passed years before) would simply refuse to honor the licenses. Every time one of those jurisdictions started handing out licenses, Erichsen drew a series of strips where Mark and Murf would run off to whereever it was and get married, having various funny misadventures along the way. This plot line continued off and on for the next few years.
In 2008, many of the papers where Erichsen had been selling his comic had either gone out of business, or moved most of their publication to the web, and it no longer made sense for them to pay for a comic strip that readers might be able to read elsewhere. So Erichsen discontinued the strip. Since then, marriage equality has become legal (at least until the Trump-appointed Supreme Court justices take it away, and that is definitely their plan). Erichsen decided he needed to finish Mark and Murf’s story. So he drew 22 new strips, set in the present, in which they decide that the 17 marriage licenses that were subsequently nullified that they collected between 2004 and 2008 needed to be replaced with a real one.
Which brings us to the book I am reviewing (the picture above is my copy). Erichsen went through those 1100+ weekly strips and pulled out a bunch to show the story of Mark and Murf’s relationship, with the final chapter being the 22 new strips about them finally getting hitched for real.
Throughout the book he adds some commentary to explain things in the strips that younger readers may not know where going on in the real world at the time, or just to explain why he went with that particular topic. He also comments on the fact that for the origin 27 year run (1981-2008) of the comic, while he did update the hair and clothes styles of the characters, he never actually drew them as aging. But he decided for the final 22 strips, that the sheer length of time that Mark and Murf had to wait for the marriage to be recognized under the law required him to show that aging. So the characters (with one exception) are all drawn to show the passage of time in the last chapter.
This collection tells a coherent story tackling some important issues, but because it was a weekly comedic strip, it is also funny. I think Erichsen did a great job of pulling together a novel-style tale out of the strips. And you may need a kleenix near the end–or maybe that’s just me.
Comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.
“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.
Life of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.
Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.
Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.
“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson concerns the adventures of 9-year-old Phoebe Howell. One day, Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, and the skipping rock hit a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. This happened to free the unicorn from her own reflection, so she granted Phoebe one wish. Phoebe wisely wished that Marigold would become her best friend. If you like the comic, you can buy the books here and enamel pins and other stuff here.
Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul HébertThis blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. Hébert looks at various sequences and themes and long arcs from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels.
The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.
Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.
“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!
Madeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.
The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.
Scurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.
Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.
The Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.
Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.
Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer. The author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!
“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?
Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.
The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.
Muddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.
The Young Protectors: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.
If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.
Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.
But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.