If you could copy the mind of your life partner and resurrect them in a synthetic body when they die, would you? Blue Delliquanti poses this question in O Human Star, their ongoing webcomic about the robot revolution, the people who started it, and the complexities of coming out as queer or trans later in life. A winner of the 2012 Prism Comics Queer Press Grant, O Human Star has also been nominated for an Ignatz and a Lambda Literary Award. It also won Best Self-Published Work and Best In Show at the 2016 DINK Awards. The Beat also recognized O Human Star as one of the Best Comics of the 2010s.
These accolades are impressive, and they are very well-deserved. Too often, transhumanist stories fail to take gender and sexuality into account in a way that feels progressive or even interesting. With O Human Star, Delliquanti manages to explore gender, sexuality, romance, found family, life, death, resurrection, morality, friendship, and the uncanny ability for queer or trans people to identify each other in a crowd — as well as what that means in a world where human-like artificial intelligence is slowly becoming more commonplace.
Here’s the full synopsis:
Alastair Sterling was the inventor who sparked the robot revolution. And because of his sudden death, he didn’t see any of it. That is, until he wakes up 16 years later in a robot body that matches his old one exactly. Until he steps outside and finds a world utterly unlike the one he left behind – a world where robots live alongside their human neighbors and coexist in their cities. A world he helped create.
Now Al must track down his old partner Brendan to find out who is responsible for Al’s unexpected resurrection, but their reunion raises even more questions. Like who the robot living with Brendan is. And why she looks like Al. And how much of the past should stay in the past…
When I first dove into O Human Star, I worried that it would be a story that romanticizes a May-December gay relationship without examining any of its implications. I was quickly proven wrong; instead, Delliquanti crafts a tale that tackles some of the most complex aspects of the queer experience, through multiple fully-realized characters with vastly different stories.
Brendan struggles to reconcile the last words he said to Al after his death; Al struggles to navigate being returned to his body 16 years later, when those words are still fresh in his mind but are so far in the past for his partner; Sulla struggles to make friends with humans her age, not just because she’s synthetic or just because she’s trans, but because both of those things together make her feel especially different.
This comic is conceptually and visually stunning. Using a flat orange palette for the past and a flat blue palette for the present, Delliquanti focuses on facial expressions and body language to express characters’ inner thoughts and feelings, often with contrasting dialogue to paint a clear picture of how their behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect their internal reality. It’s a beautiful, emotional read, and one that deserves as much recognition for how much actual history and science is involved as it does for its deftly-handled LGBTQ rep.
Currently in its eighth and chapter, O Human Star has been running since 2012; you can catch up from the beginning and read weekly updates at ohumanstar.com. There are physical and digital copies available of the first two volumes, which collect chapters 1-5, in Delliquanti’s online store. You can also support Blue Delliquanti on Patreon or follow them on Twitter.