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Your June Reading List: LGBT Pride Month

Warren Ellis & Jason Howard’s TREES envisions a world where extraterrestrial existence has made itself irrefutably known. Colossal structures resembling gargantuan, branchless trees land all over the world in a catastrophic global event. A decade has passed since the trees inextricably planted themselves on Earth, and human life has gone on in their shadows. This life includes all manner of relationships, including a young man in China falling in love with a trans woman and learning that he can define his own sexuality however he wants. This relationship is particularly powerful because it exists in the shadow of an overwhelming alien presence that is indifferent to human life. Love is love, love endures, and we are who we are born to be, not who society tries to tell us we are.

Borne from a desire to reimagine Homer’s classic epic poem The Odyssey into a science fiction adventure for his daughter, Matt Fraction teams with Christian Ward to create the cosmic epic ODY-C. This reimagining sees warrior queen Odyssia setting out to return to her home planet of Ithicaa after a century-long war with the planet of Troiia. While this version starts out as a science fiction interpretation of The Odyssey with a cast predominately made up of women, Fraction & Ward quickly branch out into other epics from the likes of The Epic of Gilgamesh to One Thousand and One Nights. All manner of epic poetry is ripe and ready for Fraction’s inventive reframing and Ward’s breathtakingly psychedelic visuals.

Central to ODY-C’s adventure in galactic watercolor are the concepts of love and home, just as with the original Homeric epic. Odyssia and her compatriots are stirred by love both in the platonic sisterhood and romantic senses. Sex and violence spur the narrative, the former simultaneously filling and widening the void of loneliness while the latter punctuates story beats. Fraction and Ward deliver a gorgeous sci-fi reimagining for the definitive epic poems of Western civilization in ODY-C.

The island nation of Jamaica is still very much under the hold of homophobia, with homophobic hate crimes often ignored by the authorities while homosexuality is openly condemned in public. Steve Orlando & JD Faith’s original graphic novel VIRGIL is set in Jamaica and stars a gay cop who has a fulfilling social life but lives in the closet at work. After his secret comes to light, Virgil is caught in a murderous homophobic assault that claims the lives of his friends and loved ones. Outed, but not down and out, Virgil takes to the streets of Kingston with a singular goal: revenge.

Orlando & Faith create the ultimate story in “queersploitation,” but VIRGIL is much more than its self-described genre suggests. VIRGIL serves as a tale of LGBTQ empowerment while standing as a rock-solid, hard-boiled revenge yarn, up there with noir classics like Point Blank and Dark Passage.

Things don’t get much more personal than Sina Grace’s autobiographical comic SELF-OBSESSED. Delving into Grace’s life as a comic creator trying to make a living by living his dreams working in the comic book industry, SELF-OBSESSED sees Grace lay himself bare. He reveals his origins growing up with a single mom, his darkest fears, and his brightest hopes. Honest without being overbearing, Grace showcases a variety of vignettes from his life, presenting everything from sketches to comic strips to prose as he enters adulthood, tries to make a career for himself, and navigates his own love life in California. SELF-OBSESSED has also been adapted as a web series on YouTube, which has since been renewed for a second season. No matter the medium, SELF-OBSESSED offers an intimate look into Grace’s life that is, at times, both comical and heartbreaking, but always comes from a place of genuine honesty.

In Chip Zdarsky & Kagan McLeod’s KAPTARA, wisecracking spacefarer Keith Kanga crash-lands on the dangerous world of Kaptara, where he learns he has been drafted into a desperate effort to save the Earth! Even with such high stakes, Zdarsky & McLeod provide a comedic romp that’s a blend of both science fiction and fantasy. Keith becomes the reluctant hero that this alien world needs against all odds. McLeod proves more than a match for Zdarsky’s signature humor with his imaginative visuals, while Keith himself serves as a hilarious protagonist; if VIRGIL features a vengeful main character in the tradition of Humphrey Bogart or Toshiro Mifune, KAPTARA features a goofy main character that skews more towards Jerry Lewis or Seth Rogen. A fun and funny genre blend, KAPTARA is just a great feel-good comic book.

LGBTQ pride is the pride of knowing that love knows no societal restriction or prescribed gender roles. It blossoms in the face of extraterrestrial menace in TREES. It defies gravity and interplanetary war in ODY-C. It grows like a flower despite the harsh conditions depicted in VIRGIL. It comes from a heartbreakingly real place via the self-examination of SELF-OBSESSED. And it isn’t afraid of poking fun at itself in KAPTARA. LGBTQ Pride Month is a reminder that love is to be celebrated, not mandated or regulated. Love is love.

Sam Stone is a veritable pop culture guru living just outside of Washington, D.C. He is the producer and co-host of the Geek Out Show podcast on iTunes and knows a stupidly unreasonable amount about The Beatles. You can find him on Twitter @samstoneshow but should probably consult a physician first. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.