Recovering the forgotten forms & communities of queer comics

May 30, 2023
Eric J. Van Giessen

by Eric J. Van Giessen, PhD Student in Sociology at York University

History is often seen as a stagnant and impartial record of the most important or notable moments of our collective past. Yet, what we regard as 'history' has been constructed by unknown and unnamed persons who often possess privileged positions in society, deciding which cultural elements, figures, and ideas are worth preserving. In simpler terms, 'history' frequently represents the narratives that white, heterosexual, cisgender, Euro-American academics have deemed worthy of remembrance. 

“The archive is primarily the product of a judgement, the result of the exercise of a specific power and authority, which involves placing certain documents in an archive at the same time as others are discarded. The archive, therefore, is fundamentally a matter of discrimination and of selection, which, in the end, results in the granting of a privileged status to certain written documents, and the refusal of that same status to others, thereby judged 'unarchivable'. The archive is, therefore, not a piece of data, but a status” (Mbembe, 2002, p. 20).

In a profound refusal of this selective recollection, Dr. Margaret Galvan's (Assistant Professor of Visual Rhetoric in the Department of English at the University of Florida) archival research brings to light a frequently overlooked segment of queer history by introducing us to the vibrant world of queer comics from the 1980s and 1990s. Galvan’s research contributes importantly to the construction of public memory regarding LGBTQ+ history, activism, and robust support networks through her exploration of queer cartoonists and the diverse range of publications they crafted and contributed to. 

Her lecture, "Recovering the Forgotten Forms & Communities of Queer Comics," delved into some of the most notable queer comics series and publications from the 1980s-1990s, such as Gay Comix and Out in Comics, and drew particular attention to the influence and social contexts of lesbian and bisexual cartoonists, such as OH…. Dr. Galvan's dynamic and visually appealing research features diverse publication covers, themes, and artistic styles, offering a glimpse into the lively network of cartoonists claiming and creating spaces for their work, narratives, and communities amidst the HIV/AIDS epidemic—a context that was predominantly hostile to LGBTQ+ individuals, their narratives, and social relations. 

Galvan’s research centres in on pedagogy and the importance of teaching these queer histories. LGBTQ+ individuals have been leveraging artistic activism to claim space for themselves across various cultural and literary mediums for generations. Bringing attention to these figures and their work helps us remember that queer people existed and fought for their right to live their lives in public long before our present-day debates. Galvan's work resuscitates these queer narratives, artwork, and activist materials, defiantly rejecting their systemic erasure and silencing. In doing so, Galvan safeguards queer history and promotes the cartoonists and activists whose early grassroots organizing deserves recognition and remembering. 

Galvan's upcoming book project, "Comix in Movement," will investigate how queer cartoonists leveraged an extensive network of grassroots channels to produce their comics. By exploring how queer cartoonists generated their comics within this vast network, Galvan's research elucidates the deep ties between comics and LGBTQ+ social movements, offering a fresh lineage for contemporary artists, and redefining the history of comics and the collective activist endeavors they aided. Galvan's previous archival research will be available in her forthcoming book, "In Visible Archives: Queer and Feminist Culture in the 1980s”. 

Dr. Margaret Galvan's website: offers an abundance of pedagogical resources, including assignments, syllabi, and artistic reflections. Follow her on Twitter at @magdor. 

Additional resources from Dr. Galvan: 


Mbembe. (2002). The Power of the Archive and its Limits. In Refiguring the Archive (pp. 19–27). Springer Netherlands.