Welcome back to Erin Ptah, who’s here with her sixth installment of webcomic recs!
I started these recs with a set of webcomics featuring nonbinary characters, so it’s high time we got around to binary trans characters, don’t you think? Especially with Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.
As usual, I’m focusing these recs on characters whose transness has been indicated (even if only briefly) in the comic itself. Except for the first one, because it was too adorable to hold off.
(1) SpectraSpell by Lisa Harald
13 year old Vera has recently moved to the small town of Vättered, Sweden — a seemingly unremarkable place at first, but strange things are happening and everything might not be what it seems. SpectraSpell is a story about kids and magic, and what it really means to be different.
Modern fantasy, ongoing. Vera is an autistic tween girl who’s trying to figure out how much of what she does is “normal”…and “what she does” now includes seeing creepy-cool magical effects take over the scenery. The regular art is drawn in a nice clean manga style, all black-and-white lines and tones, which makes it especially striking when things switch into subtle greyscale watercolors.
Vera and her family have met a handful of locals, but so far the only other person who’s seen the magic is Linnéa — a chatty, friendly trans girl who clicked with Vera immediately. I love the way their personalities fit together, how Linnéa can be alternately pushy and gentle in a way that works really well for Vera.
The overall plot is shaping up to be, not a traditional magical-girl story, but one that hits a lot of the same tropes and will appeal to the same fans. Not to mention fans of anything that’s utterly charming.
(2) Chroma Key by Brandon Dumas & Laura Reyes
When Kim and her friends were young, they used to watch a show called SUPER FIGHTING MIGHTY FIGHTERS. It was kitschy and brightly colored and involved a lot of dubious costume work. After ten long years of growing up and moving on, they should be too old for such things. However, when a mysterious alien creature enters their lives, offering the opportunity to live out their childhood dreams and save the world in the process, the lure of the past may prove difficult to resist.
Sci-fi, ongoing. Cute multiracial group of kids grows up into a pack of young adults with highly #relatable levels of displacement and ennui. When a pseudo-Mighty Fighters transformation watch shows up in Kim’s room, she’s immediately on board. The rest of the group is…a lot more dubious.
Presumably they’ll rethink their suspicions when they meet their first monster.
Also, Fuchsia has figured out she’s a trans woman, Parker now describes their gender as the opening riff of “Welcome To The Jungle,” and deaf/signing Emily has gone full roller-derby lesbian. Good times.
Don’t pick this up expecting to jump right into the action scenes — it’s been updating regularly for most of a year, and our heroes still haven’t seen any aliens, much less gotten into any fights. No matter how those turn out, though, I’m really enjoying it for the characters, and how well the writing is capturing this particular headspace of [queer geeky] young-adulthood.
(3) Sanity Circus by Windy
Attley is a young girl in the strange city of Sanity. Things become stranger when her best friend turns out to be not what she seems, and soon discovers that may apply to the entire city itself.
Fantasy, ongoing. It’s a city full of magic. People who can shapeshift into animals, although it wears down their ability to become entirely people-shaped afterward. Talking instruments who can shapeshift into people. And Scarecrows, a kind of fear-based soul-eater that haven’t been seen for hundreds of years. Until now, of course.
So they’re after Attley, for mysterious reasons. (Although in Posey’s case I’d bet there are un-Scarecrow-y Feelings involved.) She ends up scrambling all around the city, trying to stay ahead of her pursuers and picking up a ragtag crew of misfits who think figuring out the secrets of her past will help unravel their own. One’s a flute. Another has invisible limbs. Fletch is the trans one. He can turn into a seagull.
The comic has reached a point where some of the mysteries are being solved and hidden backstories revealed. Which is pretty exciting, even if it does keep raising new questions. Also, the art is lovely, with a warm soft coloring style and lots of neat visuals, in the little details as much as the big splashy action scenes.
(4) Sad to Gay by Phallically Impaired
A humorous webcomic about the every day struggles of being a gay trans guy.
Semi-autobiographical slice-of-life, ongoing.
Some of the strips are general one-off gags about trans feelings. Those are highly rebloggable, so if you’re on LGBTQ Tumblr at all you’ll probably recognize the art style — lineless and textured and atmospherically colored, way fancier than your average highly-rebloggable gag comic.
The one-offs are interspersed between an ongoing story about our hero, Vincent, figuring things out in therapy and coming out to friends and family. Also, chatting with his imaginary horse-to-unicorn sidekick. (The unicorn’s name is Packer. You might be able to guess that from the NSFW running gag.)
(5) Venus Envy by Erin Lindsey
Venus Envy is a typical high school romantic comedy, with the welcome addition of lesbians, crossdressers, and of course transsexuals. The story follows Zoë, a teenage male-to-female transsexual, as she comes of age, tries to keep her secret, and tackles life’s challenges. Meanwhile, she makes friends with several of Salem’s most colorful residents, including an estranged lesbian, a deep-stealth female-to-male with way too many connections, and the drool-worthy bad boy who wants to reform.
High school drama, perma-hiatus. This one is a classic — it was one of the first, if not the first, webcomics about a trans character. (Also, one of the first few that introduced me to “webcomics” as a concept. So on some level, all these rec posts can be traced back to Venus Envy.) Beginning in 2001, it ran for almost 1000 strips until the regular updates petered out around 2009.
It starts off with its own set of one-off gags about trans feelings, then quickly develops into Zoë’s ongoing story, with arcs ranging from slapstick to melodrama. At the most angsty extremes, it deals with sexual assault and attempted murder. At the fluffiest, it’s “uh-oh, these two mismatched trans kids have to take care of a baby together! Hijinks ensue.” The shadows of dysphoria, transition, and outing are never far away, but there are plenty of sweet and fun scenes in spite of them.
The early art is very rough; it goes through a couple stages of evolution as the years go on. Stick with it anyway. Mostly because the writing is solid, but also because it’s a cool look into the early years of the medium, and the recent history of trans activism.
Erin Ptah likes cats, magical girls, time travel, crossdressing, and webcomics. She’s the artist behind But I’m A Cat Person (where a previously-questioning character who talked about dysphoria in 2012 has finally figured it out) and Leif & Thorn (which has an MtF vampire hunter and an FtM vampire, thankfully never in the same room). Say hi on Twitter at @ErinPtah.