Growing up, there were whole genres of books and movies that I avoided because I thought I would never see myself in them. Science fiction, historical fiction, mystery novels, and comic books were just a few places where I failed to connect, no matter how good the stories were. Where was I in these stories? Why does everyone have impossibly large breasts and blonde hair? Why should I read stories about simpering white ladies getting saved all the time? Where were people who looked like me? Where were the girls who wielded swords, wore wild curls and pants, saved the day, and (sometimes) got the girl?
I didn’t have the words for why I didn’t like these stories yet. I didn’t have words like neo-colonialism, white privilege, cultural appropriation, windows and mirrors, colorism, heterosexism, homophobia, or color blindness yet. “Spaceships and aliens are stupid,” I would scoff. “I don’t like science fiction.”
I’ve yet to come across the perfect piece of media that blends my identities as a half-black/half-white, introverted/shy (but strong and ambitious!), cis, queer woman. I know, I know . . . maybe I should just write what I’d like to see and manifest it myself. And, let's face it, most of these graphic novels are by white people and NOT black and brown writers/artists. We still have a long way to go toward fair and accurate representation. But there are good ones out there! So please enjoy this list of books I’ve come across that show us that strong black, brown, and queer girls exist, they matter, and they have personality, depth, and voice.*
*NOTE: Not all of these stories are about black and brown characters or queer characters. Not all of these books have black/brown/queer writers either. In a perfect world, there would be a comic by a black/brown AND queer writer about black/brown AND queer people, but the publishing industry just isn’t quite there yet.
1. Bingo Love by Tee Franklin
If you get kicked out of your home for being queer, to whom do you turn? Well, in the case of Bingo Love, that person is Grandma Hazel! To comfort her grandchild, Hazel tells her own love story spanning the last 60 years of her life. Hazel describes how she found, lost, and then rediscovered her first love, Mari, all thanks to the game of bingo. Hazel talks about LGBTQ discrimination when she was growing up and how she stayed in an unhappy marriage for decades because that was what she thought she was “supposed to do.” But when Hazel and Mari meet again in their adulthood, they have a chance to start over again. Both beautiful and tragic, this love story is definitely worth a read!
2. Akissi: Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet
A lovely collection of hilarious short comics about a wild little girl tearing up her Ivory Coast town and getting into all sorts of trouble. Akissi chases down thieving cats, kicks the ball so hard at a soccer match that it goes over a wall, accidentally poisons the neighbor’s baby, tries to pull out her own tooth, stays up late watching sci-fi cartoons, and runs around barefoot with all the neighborhood boys. In other words, Akissi is a clever and strong tree-climbing, animal-loving child learning about the messy mistakes of life.
3. Goldie Vance by Hope Larson
Goldie is a crime-fighting, mystery-solving, drag-racing, and hard-working girl reminiscent of Nancy Drew. Goldie is biracial girl whose mother is a performer and whose father manages the hotel and whose friends are of different races and classes. Her girlfriend Diane is one of her crime-fighting partners. Though set in 1950s Florida, the story lacks the pesky racism and homophobia from the time period that make a queer person of color ask “Hmm, what use would time traveling powers be for me, anyway?” Goldie is strong, smart, and charming, a main character any girl can look up to.
4. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Amy Reeder
Luna, a nine-year-old superhero and super-genius, is trying SO hard to be normal, but trouble always seems to find her, whether it’s travelers from other dimensions, a T-Rex, or meddling superheroes like The Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Doctor Strange clamoring to be her mentor. Using her new inventions, she defeats baddies and then returns to her secret lab to tinker with her creations. Touted as the smartest superhero of ALL time, Moon Girl has a lot of growing and learning to do as she steps into her superhero shoes. But I expect great things from her!
5. Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson
The comics are all about empowering girls to take on the world (both real and supernatural) through a series of oddly fantastical encounters with shape-shifting bear ladies, arrogant Greek Gods, and zombie-fied male campers. Each issue is packed with adventure, puzzle solving, and a range of kick-ass women-power. A lesbian romance develops between two of the young ladies in the cabin (but I won’t spoil it by saying who!)
6. Afar by Leila del Luca
Boetma lives in a small African village on the edge of the desert, but soon her unique abilities take her to new worlds as a spirit traveler. At first, she is scared and exhilarated by seeing other creatures and other walks of life. But other worlds have their own political struggles and oppression. She must find a way to save the other worlds before someone discovers her secret.
7. Princes Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
In all her faux-hawk, handsome glory, Princess Amira arrives to rescue Princess Sadie from a tower, the princess who spends her days sabotaging her “rescuers” (AKA irksome princes). On their journey they save towns from dancing ogres, pick up a prince who’s REALLY bad at fighting, and defeat the person who put Sadie in the tower in the first place. And, of course, there’s a fairytale ending complete with a royal wedding and bushels of rose petals.
8. World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay
In a series of short scenes, a romance story about warriors Ayo and Aneka unfolds. The story takes place in tandem with Ta-Nehsi Coates’s reboot of the Black Panther comics, so it might be best to read these first. I found some parts to be confusing and not fleshed out as much as I’d like (even though I had read Ta-Nehisi’s work!). I really wish we’d gotten to dive deeper into Ayo and Aneka’s stories, but seeing kick-ass warrior women in a loving relationship while rebelling against the patriarchy was still gratifying.
9. Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga
Although this manga series is cheesy and over-the-top sweet, it holds a special place in my heart as the second lesbian comic book I ever read (after Skim by Mariko Tamaki). It’s a typical high school romance book about two friends who become . . . dun dun dun . . . more. This comic is all very PG, but it covers regular high school things like boys, diets, fashion, and school life. If you’re into something fluffy and not fraught with tension or politics, this manga is for you!
10. The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale
This non-fiction historical comic takes Harriet Tubman’s story and makes it into an exciting (and completely true) adventure story. See Harriet as you never have before, during her traumatic childhood, as she overcomes her disability, and beats all odds to save 400 slaves using the Underground Railroad. As she says, “I never lost a passenger.”
11. Peritale by Mari Costa
Periwinkle is the only fairy who can’t perform magical spells or fly. The friends and family surrounding Periwinkle show a wide range of queer representation, relationships, and gender presentation. This story doesn’t do as well with racial diversity, but it creates a beautiful, believable, and original fantasy landscape where fairy godmothers and magic are real. You can read the whole webcomic here: peritale.com/comic/promo
12. Little Robot by Ben Hatke
This is a (mostly) wordless comic about a child who likes to run off and have adventures in the junkyard. She befriends and fixes robots, and then teaches them about human things. But soon a large yellow chomping robot tries to destroy all that she’s rebuilt. Can she protect all of her robot friends and restore peace to the junkyard?
13. Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley
Raven has lost everything. Her inheritance to the pirate throne, her long time best friend who she’s secretly in love with, and her backstabbing family (but who needs them anyway, right?). So she does the only thing she can: starts a brawl, assembles a pirate crew, and takes to the high seas for revenge. Raven herself is a queer woman descended from Chinese pirates and her crew is just as diverse, including a black demolitions expert and chemist, a biracial bad-ass acrobat elf, a deaf weapons expert, a Latina cartographer, and a handful of other strong ladies, both queer and straight.
14. The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
After reading this comic I can safely say that my next pet needs to be a tea dragon. This comic contains all sorts of gender presentations, queer characters, disabled characters, and a diverse cast. Along with the magic, magical creatures, and a dash of romance, this book beautifully and sweetly drawn and written. This summer what promises to be the cutest Tea Dragon Society card game will be released. I hope to see more from this artist!
15. As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
This comic book gives me all the feels, from the queer kids at Christian summer camp to being a black woman in a white feminist world . . . I’m here for it all! Charlie confronts the inconsistencies and racist tendencies of Christianity with a few trusted friends (a trans girl and a mixed-race native camp counselor) and in her own mind, where she has anxious monologues with herself and god. “What if this was all a mistake?” Charlie thinks. “No, it can’t be. You told me to be here. Please, talk to me again. Don’t go silent. Please. Please. Don’t leave me here alone.” You can read the whole comic here: melaniegillman.com/?p=96
16. The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
Told in a series of stories about a diverse group of kids, this book shows what unites kids: the love of magic and pretend. These children create elaborate maps, identities, costumes, stories, and a whole universe within their neighborhood. When the cardboar