Archive Binge: Venus Envy
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The webcomic that I am discussing this week is an old one from the early 2000s. As such it reflects a lot of the popular views of that time which are now edging towards being unacceptable. It also makes use of the manga style artwork that was intensely popular among every vaguely nerdy and arty American teenager of that time period. In other words, everyone that was drawing webcomics.
Venus Envy is a high school drama, with a heavy emphasis on the drama, with the twist that the protagonist is a girl named Zoe when a year before she was living as a boy named Alex. It is written and drawn by a transgender creator and while it is not autobiographical, as evidenced by the ridiculous levels of drama throughout, there are definitely thought processes on display that give a clear insight into the experience of living as a teenager dealing with all of the extra problems that being transgender can create.
That personal insight is what sets this comic apart far more than anything else. Not all of the truths being spoken are comfortable ones, many of them are unpleasant all around. At the time of its original publication there were very few comics available with a transgender protagonist and none of the biographical ones that I have come across since have contained such an unvarnished look at reality. More than just being willing to share parts of her life and the emotional roller-coaster that was entailed, the creator actually makes jokes out of what must have been awkward and painful memories. Some of the quips in Venus Envy feel like catharsis and hard won self-acceptance as much as they feel like punchlines.
Thanks to the time period and the relative lack of understanding of gender we get to experience an unsupportive parent of a transgender character who is not automatically assumed to be the villain. Zoe’s mother is certainly antagonistic, but the thread of logic that drives her actions comes from a very familiar place for anyone that has ever clashed with their parents. Her mother firmly believes that she knows what is best for Zoe and is willing to interfere with her life in the short term for what she believes will be longer term happiness.
As the comic is not biographical it falls into the pattern of many queer comics, it diverges into a degree of fantasy by populating the rest of the cast with so many other queer characters that it dilutes the feeling of isolation that many people experience. In one way this is wonderful because there is a massive variety of lifestyles on display. On the other hand it makes readers who are experiencing that isolation in real life feel even more like outcasts because they do not have a cast of supportive supporting characters around them.
The comic has inconsistent quality in the artwork and many of the storylines will make you uncomfortable, but Venus Envy is a raw look into a life that most people will never experience. Which may just be the entire point of art.