Queerness in Comics: ABO COMIX

Welcome to Queerness In Comics, a bi-weekly column by Avery Kaplan, which will explore queer representation in comics. This week, Avery is exploring A Queer Prisoners Anthology: ABO Comix Volume One, which was originally released in 2017.

ABO Comix
ABO Comix Volume One.

Publisher: ABO Comix 

One of the benefits of comics is that they can be created in a wide variety of locations, conditions, and circumstances, with minimal materials when necessary: all that is required is something to draw and write on, and something with which to mark it.

A Queer Prisoners Anthology: ABO Comix Volume One is a collection of short comics made by queer prisoners that takes advantage of the fact that comics can be made under nearly any circumstances. The resulting collection is a singular glimpse into a queer experience that is considerably removed from many of the stories covered by this column.

ABO Comix Volume One

The collection includes work from 22 different incarcerated queer prisoners and as a result, the book includes a full spectrum of different types of comics.

Many of the comic stories in the collection feature their creators as the focal point. Some of these comics explain how the creator came to be incarcerated, while others provide a glimpse into their daily experiences.

The first piece, by E.L. Tedana, is an essay that describes the difficulty involved in even accomplishing the minimum requirement for making a comic: the materials with which to do so. However, the desire to make comix is the mother of invention: Tedana describes several techniques developed to make comics in prison, including using a tightly rolled newspaper crossword puzzle to use as shade sticks.

One of Tedana’s subsequent offerings in the collection, a comic titled “Time & Chance,” depicts a meeting between the creator and a newly arrived prisoner who admires Tedana’s art, spurring “E” to pass along some of the techniques used to accomplish the finished product.

In “The Diatribes of Morning Starr: Episode 1: The Price Daniel Make-Up Scandal” by Krysta Morning Starr, we are taken through a day in the creator’s life, concluding with a page-long diatribe (as promised by the title) offering her insights and thoughts on her experiences.

Other comics offer completely fictional stories, such as “Street Soljaz” by Rahman, which features two super-powered street fighters meeting one another. “Queer Crusader” by Roman Gaylord features abstract concepts that have been represented by cartoon characters (including some literal squares). And in “Can Man” by Metro, the titular Can Man: Spray Can of Justice faces off against his last-cookie eating roommate, a Number Two Pencil.

Some of the comics are a mix of fact and fiction, sometimes offering elements of the creators’ experiences filtered through fictional lenses. One example is “Kevin and Hell” by Kevin Bowling, which explains in a one-page prologue that the United States Department of Justice purchased Hell from the Devil before sending its protagonist into a horrifying afterlife in the government’s “newly acquired correctional facility.”

Another example of mixing the real with the fantastic is the first comic of the collection, “Geremy,” a prisoner in a cell wrestles with literal demons before being granted reprieve thanks to a letter he receives through the Black and Pink pen-pal program, highlighting how important the work undertaken by programs like this can be for queer people who have been incarcerated.

And in “Doing Time: Trans and Beautiful as Can Be” by Jamie Diaz, the creator has a conversation with a diminutive angel and demon pair while working on her comic in her cell before heading to the cafeteria and talking with one of her girlfriends.

In another instance, a page dedicated to ABO Comix’s new friend Mecca highlights one of the harsh realities of making comics in prison: while working on his submission, Mecca was placed in solitary confinement after he defended a friend from an attack and his work-in-progress was confiscated and destroyed.

There are also several one-page pieces of pin-ups, allowing for some very nice artwork additions to the collection.

ABO Comix
ABO Comix Volume Two.

In addition to volume one, two more entries have been added to the ABO Comix series. Both sequel volumes include work from both new artists and returning contributors. Volume Two was awarded the Prism Award for Best Comic Anthology at San Diego Comicon in July 2019. And in December 2019, Volume Three was released.

ABO Comix
ABO Comix Volume 3.

The collections each intentionally include both experienced comics-makers as well as first-time creators, in an effort to ensure that the voices of as many queer prisoners as possible can be amplified by the collection. This is especially important given that proceeds from the sales of the collections are returned to contributors, allowing them to purchase items from the commissary and gain access to gender-affirming healthcare and items, and all three collections are sold on a sliding scale.

Be sure and follow ABO Comix on Twitter to keep up with their most recent projects, and check out their website for more information on their mission and work.