Book Review: Queer: A Graphic History by Dr Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele*1:00 pm
* Icon Books kindly sent me a copy of Queer for review, but my opinions below are just that: my opinions! *
'Activist-academic Megan-John Barker and cartoonist Julia Scheele illuminate the histories of queer thought and LGBTQ+ action in this groundbreaking non-fiction graphic novel. A kaleidoscope of characters from the diverse worlds of pop culture, film, activism and academics guide us on a journey through the ideas, people and events that have shaped queer theory. From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do, and how culture can shift out perspective of what's 'normal'.'
This review will begin with two thank-yous for Icon Books. The first: thank you for sending me a copy of Queer: A Graphic History for review! The second: thank you for your 'Introducing' series. Without it, I certainly would not have done as well in either my degrees. Shout-out to Introducing Freud - A Graphic Guide. Never has death drive made so much sense.
Icon Books specialise in non-fiction and publish on a range of subjects including science, politics, psychology, and philosophy. Their books are academic and thought-provoking, sometimes introducing subjects to readers for the first time, but also sometimes serving as a space to expand on knowledge already gained. In simple words: some of their books are really easy to read and some of their books are a bit more complicated. As I mentioned before, their 'Introducing' series is a very good one if you're interested in a subject (maybe a type of critical theory, a religion, a philosopher) and don't really know where to start. Think of them as primers.
I would say that Queer: A Graphic History is one of the more advanced of their publications. I've studied queer theory before during my postgraduate studies, but a lot of this was very new to me still and took several reads to wrap my head around. But this is fine, because learning is fun, right? This book details queer theory from its precursors and beginnings through to its uses and applications today. It's full of sources, quotations, and suggestions for further reading: a very good summary of primary texts for those looking for a comprehensive background to the subject. I wish this had been around when I was writing my dissertation because it includes all of the people I was writing about (Adrienne Rich, Teresa de Lauretis, Monique Wittig), but oh so many more too!
For those who haven't yet been introduced to queer theory, it's a type of post-structuralist critical theory that looks at existing texts through a 'queer lens' ('queer' being a sort of umbrella term for people who are not straight or cis-gendered), but also questions what 'queer' is. Like a lot of critical theory, it sounds pretty complicated. A lot of queer theory discusses and deconstructs gender, gender norms, sexuality, what is classed as 'normal' and 'other', as well as how race, disability, religion, and cultural background feed into all of this. It basically covers all bases of society and looks at how these 'norms' we're so used to are imposed unnecessarily, especially the use of binaries (male/female, straight/gay, cis/trans, white/black, good/evil, right/wrong, able/disabled.) A much more elegant and comprehensive explanation can be found in this book, or anywhere online if you do a quick search. I certainly don't claim to be an expert!
More on the book itself: I would call Queer: A Graphic History a real must-have for anyone studying or interested in learning more about queer theory. It's comprehensive, clearly-written, and a lot of fun! Icon's graphic guides are wonderful for taking critical theories, breaking them down into manageable chunks, and providing helpful imagery to aid your understanding. Illustrations provide refuse from the huge blocks of text we can get used to when studying. Another aspect I loved about this book was the application of queer theory onto popular culture, branching away from traditional discussions by showing how these things are actually used by people everyday on the internet when they read between the lines of their favourite shows and create fan/slash fiction. Critical theory put into a contemporary context = <3
Queer: A Graphic History will be published by Icon Books in September for the UK and November for the US, RRP £11.99/$17.95. You can follow Meg-John and Julia on Twitter at @megjohnbarker and @juliascheele.