Comics are for everyone. Or at least, comics SHOULD be for everyone.
Traditionally though, mainstream comics have mostly catered to the white, straight male demographic. Fans who fall outside this grouping have often found themselves left out in the cold as a result.
Although industry heavyweights DC and Marvel have slowly but surely taken steps to introduce diversity into their superhero universes, the best bet for fans who don’t fit the preconceived notion of “comic book fan” looking to find material that speaks to them still remains the indie comics scene.
Which brings me to this month’s review of Flutter Volume 1, which is by no means a perfect book, but is still – thanks to its focus on outsiders and its transgender subtext – an important one.
It’s a little hard to give an overview of the plot to Flutter, given there’s a fairly major plot twist only 27 pages in! In the interests of not spoiling anything, those keen to approach the story completely unspoiled should probably skip the next three paragraphs.
The basic gist is that there’s a girl named Lily who isn’t like other girls: she can’t get sick and she can rapidly heal from virtually any injury.
Pursued by shadowy forces (ain’t that always the way?), Lily and her secretive “father” move to a new town, where Lily tries to fit in at her new school. Along the way, she forms a crush on a girl named Saffron, who soon starts dating a boy named Jesse.
The twist? Lily IS Jesse, as her powers allow her to shift genders. As this unconventional love triangle grows increasingly more complicated, those hunting Lily begin to make their presence known…
Up front I want to say that Flutter writer/creator Jennie Wood has absolutely nailed what it feels like to be a teenager, and each character is either someone the reader knows or even once was (or possibly even still is).
Complementing this is the art by Jeff McComsey, which – while not a style that particularly suits my own tastes – is a good fit for the material, and boasts some great colour work.
On the downside, it has to be said that the whilst the narrative is quite gripping for the most part, the plotting is occasionally a bit murky – even for a story with conspiracy elements (although it’s quite possible this murkiness clears up in subsequent volumes).
This sense of confusion isn’t helped by the fact that several characters in Flutter look very similar to each other, which can make it hard at times to work out who is doing what and why.
Those gripes aside, where the book truly shines, however, is in how it tackles sexual identity and (fluid) sexuality in a way that will really speak to anyone who is struggling with both these concepts, regardless of their age.
Look out! Spoilers!
Wood has dedicated Flutter to “anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable in his or her own skin”, and those who fit this description are highly likely to find that this is a story that speaks to them.
By giving Lily the ability to morph into Jesse, and by presenting her attraction to Saffron and later Penelope – both as Lily and as Jesse – as perfectly normal and unremarkable, Wood not only challenges blanket labels like “straight” or “gay”, she also gives transgender readers quite possibly the first comic book romance that they can directly relate to.
As a straight male, I can’t truly say whether Lily’s story – by the end of Volume 1 she has re-adopted the Lily persona, so that’s how I’ll refer to her going forward – accurately represents what it feels like to be trans, but I can say that her journey is written compassionately and truthfully, which is surely what matters most.
The spoilers! They’re…they’re gone!
I’ve written before about comics that matter, and I’m pretty comfortable placing Flutter in this category.
True, creators Jennie Wood and Jeff McComsey haven’t produced the greatest comic ever made, but they have told an engaging story that will appeal to an audience sorely under-represented in pop culture arena, and that alone is something worth celebrating.