Hazel Newlevant’s “Queer Uprisings” : How History Lessons Should Be Done

Long a proponent of sexual and bodily autonomy (see Sugar Town and Comics For Choice, respectively), cartoonist Hazel Newlevant has always shown a frankly uncanny facility for communicating the political and the moral by means of the personal and intimate, but Newlevant’s 2019 self-published mini Queer Uprisings takes a different, though equally successful, tack : originally published on The Nib website, this is a nuts-and-bolts recounting of various instances of largely-impromptu LGBTQ+ anti-injustice rebellions that actually predate Stonewall and place the community’s struggles and triumphs as they exist today within a larger — and, who are we kidding, lengthier — historical framework than many are/were aware of previously.

And, let me be perfectly clear so as to not to absolve myself of any lame-ass ignorance on my own part : that “many” includes me, which means that I’m squarely among the audience this work aims to educate.

If you knew that trans sex workers threw donuts at cops in 1959 Los Angeles over bogus and harassing “cross-dressing” busts at one of the community’s favorite hangouts, or that a Philadelphia lunch counter’s refusal to serve a group of non-binary teens in 1965 touched off a civil rights demonstration of another sort at a time when black liberation was just entering the public consciousness of white America in a sustained fashion, or that trans women and gay men first stood up in unison in the Bay Area in 1966 in response to harassment and police brutality in and around Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, then congratulations on being a lot better informed than I was prior to reading this. Straight privilege being what it is, I suppose, I could try to contend that I had no particular reason to know any of this stuff, but that’s an abdication of my own responsibility as a purported ally of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters (as well as those who identify with both or neither designation), and I damn well know it. So, guilty as charged for being a bit of an ignoramus — but at least Newlevant’s book doesn’t make me feel like one, even if I arguably should.

Much of that is probably down to the engaging, non-professorial tone the comic’s narrative takes, a wise and inclusive choice that pre-supposes nothing on the part of any reader and consequently speaks respectfully to all of them, it’s true, but much of the credit should and must go to Newlevant’s fluid and vibrant art. which draws the eye to where it needs to go intuitively before inviting it to explore the actions that are taking place in the background, and a healthy amount of praise must also go to the watercolor-influenced hues, which are uniformly bold, lively, and reflect the book’s overall celebratory and liberating tone. This is a chronicle, after all, of steps forward, and the writing, illustration, and color all reflect and amplify that trajectory with natural and entirely unforced grace. It’s impressive, to be sure, but more importantly, it’s also accurate when considering a full view of history.

And, hey, a full view of history is what this is all about, right? You’ve gotta figure that almost every American, at the very least, knows about Stonewall — at least you’d hope so — but by placing that event within a broader, larger context and educating, as opposed to lecturing, the informed and uniformed alike on its precedents, we not only gain more and better insight into what the LGBTQ+ community has endured, we get a better idea of how much righteous bravery they’ve had the courage to engage a largely homophobic and heterosexist society with for a heck of a long time.

I may not be the best person to review this comic, I’ll be the first to ‘fess up to that, but by the same token, I’m also probably the first person who needed to read it, and I came away from it very highly impressed — Newlevant is a talent well worth following to any given project, and if you pass on this because it’s short, or not particularly easy to find, you do so to your own detriment. This is one of the more artistically and historically literate minis to come along in recent memory.

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Queer Uprisings is available for $5.00 from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/queer-uprising

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

4 thoughts on “Hazel Newlevant’s “Queer Uprisings” : How History Lessons Should Be Done

  1. Pingback: Fake Bonanza (This Week’s Links) - Avada Classic Shop

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