Put aside everything you once knew about comic books. Not just the domain of prepubescent boys or their desperate thirty-something-year-old counterparts, comic books have grown up since the days when these stereotypes rang true. Now they’re referred to as graphic novels, and comic book artists are taking the medium to new areas, tackling big subjects and offering people, particularly from the GLBT community, greater heroes than a bunch of spandex-clad men.

Take Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the bestselling graphic novel on The New York Times list, which artistically and honestly tells her autobiographical tale of coping with a gender identity crisis while growing up in Pennsylvania. Or Pedro and Me, which tells of creator Judd Winick’s friendship with AIDS educator Pedro Zamora. Then there’s Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby, which explores the protagonist’s struggles to accept his homosexuality while growing up in the bigoted world of the 1960s southern states.

Kinokuniya’s comics consultant, Chew Chan, says that while gay and lesbian comics may not be bestsellers, they are undeniably popular.

They are hugely popular, particularly the shonen-ai (boys’ love) and yuri (lesbian) manga. They’re probably the fastest growing subgenres of manga because, while they’ve been around in Japan for a while, they’re relatively new in the west. They’ve only been here for about four years.

This Saturday 3 May, Kinokuniya bookstore will be celebrating the international free comic book day -“ an industry initiative which encourages bookstores worldwide to give out free comic books with the hope of enticing new readers into a lifelong addiction.

For worldwide info on the day, head to www.freecomicbookday.com. Kinokuniya’s events will be held at the Galleries Victoria store, lvl 2, 500 George St, from 10am.

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