Present day. The bleed between high culture and popular culture grows ever more blurry, opinion and news is diffused via social media as opposed to authorised broadcasting channels, and for better or worse, bloggers and you tubers alike hold just as much sway as news anchors and politicians. The UN employs an ambassador who’s most famous for defeating Voldemort but is making feminist waves because she’s part of a generation where pop culture intersects with political debate.
70s. As I child, I spent my Saturday allowance on candies and a comic book. I learnt and communicated through pictures. Later on, language helped me communicate my needs and desires more directly; it lent structure to my thoughts. Words replaced pictures as educational tools and in the mainstream, comics were designated to the broadsheet corner next to the crossword puzzles. I was told to put away ‘childish’ things and comics were most often discussed in terms of a genre incapable of literary merit and were denied credibility as a medium of expression.
Then Maus arrived. Art Speigelman’s – part memoir, part history, part fiction – gave voice to the holocaust survivors and won widespread academic recognition thanks to a Pulitzer prize in 1992. Comics grew up and officially came out of the underground closet. But whilst Maus legitimised political commentary through comics, other Very Important Battles like those of gender equality, relationship rights and sexual freedom continued to be fought in the mainstream through policy documentation, traditionally determined by lobbying NGO groups and development funds.
This was still the serious domain of those qualified in human development – academics, noted activists and politicians. Policies shrouded in verbiage, were decided upon by an educated governing body. They were implemented along a push model through a formal network from central HQ to regional offices and field workers; a hierarchical model which at its best meant a change in law (if not attitude) but at its worst meant that a privileged elite enforced normative standards on our hugely diverse society.
In the vast majority of countries for the LGBTQIA community, educational policies were and continue to be decided upon by a predominantly white mostly male heterosexual normative group of people. Educational policies define our level of awareness as a society and awareness – as a key metric of our achievement in the fight for equality – is not easily achieved in this elitist top down model. And here’s where popular culture can achieve real change, from the grass roots level.
Today’s comic books are no longer the quiet solace and expression of an alternative community. The mainstreaming of high fantasy and Marvel’s recent success in bringing their comic universe to the cinema gives mainstream credibility to those seeking to make their minority voices heard through pictorial form. One polyamorous web comic creator Kimchi Cuddles, is using this springboard to achieve poly, queer and genderqueer awareness, within a comic format.
Power is gained through unified voice, and the past years have seen LGBTQIA growing to include other minorities extending the acronym and associated activities. They have fought, and won, many Very Important Battles. Polyamory is the latest expression of sexual freedom to lobby for inclusion. It is gaining traction thanks to recent media exposure, but as a movement it is fragmented, due in part to its intersectionality–it is adopted by a minority who can be of any persuasion. It is gender and sexual identity neutral. On pride marches, the polyamorous quotient is under-represented because those who identify as polyamorous will usually be marching under another banner. Such a movement is difficult to lead from the top; we won’t be seeing any development funds set up for it soon.
Kimchi Cuddles – also part memoir, part fiction – unifies this coalition. Asexuality, gender fluidity, various sexual inclinations and trans* awareness is driven through a set of diverse characters living in an ever expanding polyamorous ‘intentional family’. It can also answer some of the most controversial questions posed to polyamorous folk today, on the nature of parenting.
Since its inauspicious debut on May 1, 2013 Kimchi Cuddles immediately gained a few hundred followers and according to creator Tikva Wolf, now has hundreds more following every week. Such is its rising popularity throughout the community that a crowdfunding initiative for a longer graphic novel was launched on May 4, 2015 by Thorntree Press which specialises in publishing non-fiction books on alternative relationships.
Kimchi Cuddles is a relaxing space which doesn’t overtly fight for awareness. The battles are not positioned as Very Important polarising points of view.
And this is why I think, Kimchi is well positioned to achieve more awareness than other more angry queer comics because it provides a glimpse of the diverse extraordinary, made comically ordinary.
Full disclosure: Thorntree press is also my publisher, who I think do Very Important Work