A Review of "Queer: A Graphic History"

Liam Arne reviews Queer: A Graphic History written by Meg-John Barker and illustrated by Julia Scheele, a textbook in the style of a graphic novel. Read below to see his thoughts on how it offers a great starting point for those wishing to explore queer theory or whether it approaches the topic with an intersectional focus!

For my birthday this year, a close friend gave me a book named Queer: A Graphic History. It was a perfect choice to get me into queer theory as a non-literature student and I cannot be more thankful to her generosity following my completion of this fantastic text.

Queer: A Graphic History is part of a larger series which attempts to tackle complex literary theories or theorists’ work and make it more digestible for someone just starting on their academic or recreational path toward exploring the topic. They do so by partnering an author (Meg-John Barker) with an illustrator (Julia Scheele) who complement each other’s work, melding textbook and graphic novel to construct a singular book that neatly and creatively introduces a difficult subject.

Queer theory is notorious for its dauntingly lengthy texts that ramble on and off topic, so this fun and light format lends itself very well to its goal of providing an accessible introductory text to demystify queer theory’s alleged perplexity. Barker ensures that they never assume too much about the reader’s level of pre-existing knowledge surrounding gender, sexual, and queer topics while also refusing to condescend (though occasionally willing to dip a toe into controversial intra-theoretical debates).

Queer: A Graphic History remains incredibly informational while progressing smoothly from page to page, each page delving into a new foray of queer history, theory, or inquiry. This page-by-page format encouraged me to never put the 176-page book down but also left me feeling anxious that I may be leaving at an inappropriate part as two- or three-part portions were common, forcing me to race through the text perhaps more quickly than I would like or would be useful for soaking up the information.

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The book starts off by clearly listing its goals for the reader, seemingly exposing its textbook basis but redeeming itself from the land of academic dullness by offering suggestions of ways to implement and explore its tenets rather than simple knowledge goals. Additionally, the text bounces between focusing on themes and their real-life applications and highlighting theorists who contributed to the field, even playing characters in the latter category against each other as opposing figures. Barker maintains attention on intersectionality as the book continues, always willing to explore different perspectives on a topic to “queer” it even further.

Scheele’s role in Queer’s excellence is undeniably important both structurally and its promotion of its individuality. The fun, black-and-white illustrations’ usage to demonstrate abstract concepts, arrange dialogue or text, or give a profile of an author engage the reader as feeling part of a conversation about queer theory rather than a disciple or a student. The illustrator clearly understands the book’s intersectional focus and depicts a variety of figures from different backgrounds that may relate to the queer theoretical approach.

Queer: A Graphic History stays true to its origins as a textbook by informing and guiding the reader through such a complex topic like queer theory with long and convoluted texts. Nonetheless, Queer remains easy to read and enjoyable, particularly through the pictures adorning every page and adding substantively to the text’s content. Unlike the typical introductory textbook, Barker and Scheele’s work does not shy away from asking questions from its audience even more than supplying information, demonstrating the ability for the reader to be a part of queer theory’s evolution, too. There’s no wonder it is leading the charts for Gay & Lesbian Criticism & Reference Literature and Critical Theory books on Amazon!