Growing Up Queer: Should You Be Reading ‘As the Crow Flies’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it's hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there's so much to choose from that it's sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading... ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
As the Crow Flies is a fantastic webcomic by queer creator Melanie Gillman that pushes readers to consider the way we talk about gender, race, and sexuality by following the interactions of a group of queer preteens.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
As the Crow Flies is a coming-of-age comic about Charlie, a 13 year old queer girl of color who finds herself at an all-white Christian backpacking camp. From day one she immediately feels out of place and has a hard time connecting to the other campers. That is, until she meets Sydney. Sydney, a 12 year old trans girl, is perceptive, stubborn, and bold. Brought together by their withdrawal from the rest of the group, their bond only grows stronger as they hike up the mountain towards a mysterious ceremony.
The camp itself it steeped in tradition. Camp Three Peaks sits on the site of an old mining town, and the hike follows the trail of Beatrice Tillson as she led the women of her town on a yearly journey to commune with god, nature, and each other. This tale plays an important role throughout the comic as Gillman uses it to point out the exclusionary practices of Tillman’s early feminism. By extension, she draws attention to the micro aggressions suffered by Charlie, Sydney, and other girls at the camp.
WHO'S IT BY?
Melanie Gillman is one of my favorite webcomic creators. They have been writing and drawing As the Crow Flies since 2012, and have been nominated for a Cartoonist Studio Prize and an Eisner Award. Their works has been included in several anthologies, including 30 Minutes to Live, Queerotica, and The Sleep of Reason. They recently co-edited The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
Visually, Gillman's choice of tools immediately sets this comic apart: the entire comic is illustrated in colored pencils. Gillman expertly blends their colors to add depth and texture to every panel. I am constantly amazed by the way they mix dozens of colors where other artists would have only used one. For example, green trees are green, blue, and brown, while black hair is silver, white, blue and purple.
Gillman’s style is also very cinematic. They introduce the comic with an establishing shot that follows the movement of a feather on the wind, and there are pages of gorgeous landscape scenes. In this way, the mountain setting Gillman has chosen almost becomes a character in its own right.
My favorite thing about webcomics is watching an artist's style and ability change over time. While the early pages of As the Crow Flies were fantastic, it is clear that Gillman has only improved as an artist since day one.
Gillman also immediately establishes that this comic will deal with some heavy topics. In the first few pages, it is clear that they plan to challenge many aspects of Camp Three Peaks, from its stance on sex and gender to its Christian roots. But Gillman isn’t out to uncover the evils of these views; rather, they show how the more subtle symptoms of internalized prejudices can come from even the most well-meaning people and marginalize others. For example, how referring to a purification ceremony as a “whitening” suggests the superiority of whiteness, or how a comment like “girls with boy names” reinforces the gender binary and conformity to gender roles. But rather than condemn those who make these errors, Gillman shows how they learn and grow from listening to the concerns of their fellow campers.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
As the Crow Flies takes its sweet time getting anywhere, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for action or adventure. However, if you love well-developed characters and relationships, or are looking to read more about race, queerness, and gender, then this is the comic for you.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?
It’s published online, roughly every Monday and Friday. It’s free to read, but if you feel like supporting it with your dollars and cents you can do that on Patreon. Melanie Gillman can be found on Twitter and on Tumblr, where they will occasionally post sketches and extra comics.