Local Comic Artists on Race, Politics, Self-Love

These Bay Area creatives tell nuanced, chaotic, healing stories.

Life is too short and catastrophic to waste on verbose introductions. And, as fans of comic books and graphic novels know, sometimes words just get in the way. So we’ll keep this brief:

Turn off the news, pull your eyeballs away from the doom scroll, and slow down with the help of these talented Bay Area cartoonists.

From Sophie Yannow’s recollections of hitchhiking across Europe with an aspiring anarchist, to Lawrence Lindell’s memoir of living with PTSD and bipolar disorder as a queer Black artist, these works ruminate on self-love, dissect disappointing friendships, and rhapsodize about fictional horses with birds flying out of their eyes. You’ll find pathways for healing and chaotic energy in these books.

From Truth With Truth
Lawrence Lindell
$25 | lawrencelindell.com

Crafted with the creative spirit of a zine, From Truth With Truth charts a path of healing through Lawrence Lindell’s experiences with bipolar disorder and PTSD. The tale begins at a Black Baptist church in Lindell’s hometown of Los Angeles, eventually leading readers to the present day, where Lindell draws comics and runs the BAYlies, a collective for Bay Area-based queer cartoonists of color. In the preface are a few lines written with the rhythm of a mantra: “I am Black (and proud). I am queer (you don’t have to be). I have mental health issues (I’m not crazy). I am love (you are love). I am life (you are life).” 

In this graphic memoir, Lindell redraws himself — the selves running on the high of mania, the selves sinking into depression, the selves obsessing with intrusive thoughts — with tenderness, reimagining his image with care and candor, validating the complexity and vulnerabilities of his struggles. On one page, Lindell overlays his baby photo over a journal entry written after a suicide attempt. It’s an example of the tension Lindell draws through the graphic memoir: If only we could offer ourselves the love that we would give to us as infants — the care that everyone needs to survive; if only the world made it easier for us to do just that. From Truth Within Truth is a brilliantly creative and honest memoir, one that helps us find that compassion for ourselves once again.

The Contradictions
Sophie Yanow
$24.95 | Indiebound

Bay Area artist Sophie Yanow turns her Eisner Award-winning webcomic, The Contradictions, into a graphic memoir. Dubbed a “masterpiece” by Fun Home author Alison Bechdel, The Contradictions follows Yanow in her college days, when she meets a self-described anarchist while studying abroad in Paris. It’s exciting to Sophie, whose parents were “adventurous lefties,” quite contrary to her own risk-averse nature. For spring break, the two hitchhike across Europe, attempt shoplifting and squatting, and do mushrooms while trying to avoid spiraling into existential questions.

Exploring Europe and living without restrictions might sound glamorous, but The Contradictions is aptly named, humorously examining the ways reality doesn’t always live up to your expectations. Yanow’s book — with its neatly organized six-panel pages, observant narrator, and simple black-and-white illustrations — is surprisingly calm for all the wild events that happen, but that’s probably the point. Across all the adventures, Sophie’s doing her best to find herself. And eventually, she’ll find her way to a place where she can call home.

Be Gay, Do Comics
The Nib
$24.99 | Indiebound

Brought to you by the comics journalism site, The Nib, this extraordinary anthology features lushly-colored illustrations about dating while trans, witty critiques of the corporatization of LGBTQ+ rights, and artists from all over the world, including the Bay Area.

“Queerness has always been transgressive, regardless of its legal status,” associate editor Matt Lubchansky writes in the introduction. “The world has come seemingly far even in just my lifetime, but I fear the ground will never be as solid as we want, the gains not as permanent as we deserve.”

That tense history is still ongoing, but Be Gay, Do Comics is a way for queer comics to “tell our stories, remember our history, advocate for our dreams, make each other laugh.” In the anthology, remembering non-Eurocentric histories is a significant theme among Bay Area illustrators Breena Nuñez and Trinidad Escobar. Nuñez draws a comic on Indigenous definitions of gender fluidity, and Escobar illustrates what it means to decolonize queerness in the Philippines.

“The process of decolonizing our gender and sexuality is non-linear,” Escobar writes. “Sometimes, the evolution of language isn’t an upward trajectory but one that returns, full circle.”

I Want You
Lisa Hanawalt
$21.95 | Indiebound

Before Lisa Hanawalt was designing Bojack Horseman, she was a student at Gunn High School in Palo Alto with show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg. I Want You is a collection of Hanwalt’s earlier work from her 20s, well before the Netflix series brought her iconic style to animated life in one of the most devastating shows of the past decade. 

In I Want You, Hanawalt first reflects on what it feels like to look back at her earlier work, which carries her signature style of fantastic “gross” aesthetics and a fascination with the untrimmed, unpolished human (or animal) body. (“It feels like taking a shit and not flushing it,” she writes.) In these pages, baby birds spill out of a horse’s eye sockets, sex bugs (which you might have seen on Tuca and Bertie) splash around on a lube-drenched keyboard, and worms crawl out from bruised fruit. Hanawalt is a master of excess, and her early work is a marvel.

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