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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Venus Envy

A webcomic

What's it about?
Venus Envy is about young Zoe Carter, a male to female transsexual living in Salem, Pennsylvania.  It's a high school comedy focused on Zoe's life as she negotiates the perils of high school - dating, keeping secrets, making friends, overprotective parents and irritating younger brothers.  The normal sort of stuff with the normal high school cliches, but set against Zoe's life experience as a trans woman.

The creator, Erin Lindsey, is trans but this is not an autobiographical comic.

What's good about it?
There's a wide cast of characters, ranging from Zoe's lesbian best friend, to psychic goth Brianna, object of desire Eric and fellow transsexual Larson, and Zoe's mother who is firmly in denial about her daughter's gender identity.  When Venus Envy started, it was one of the first webcomics to put trans people's life experiences front and centre.  As the series progressed a whole host of LGBT characters were developed and built into the series, making this a rather unique addition to modern sequential art.

Having said that, this is by and large not a political comic.  By that, I mean that Zoe does not go on transgender rights march, she doesn't lobby her local senator or the government for trans or bisexual equality, she just gets on with her life as best she can.  But, because she is trans (and bisexual) there are things that impact on her that would not be an issue with cisgender people.  For example, here where Zoe is talking to Lisa about her life pre-transitioning, or here, where Larson goes to the doctors.  With that in mind, each year has seen a Transgender Day of Remembrance strip, and there is a subplot dealing with sexual abuse.  Unfortunately, transphobic violence is all too common and the webcomic deals with this in a sensitive and affecting manner.

It's also funny.  Proper laugh out loud funny.  Lots of the things Zoe goes through are because she is a normal teenage girl, so the chances are that the reader will recognise various situations and cultural tropes that are used.

Zoe is thoroughly likable - she's sweet, funny, a bit neurotic, but overall a fun character.  Like all webcomics, Venus Envy is produced in short strips, making it easy to dip in and out of.  Each installment has a punchline at the end so it's easy to digest, but all feed into the overarching plot.

What's bad about it?
There are a lot of spelling and grammatical errors throughout the webcomic, likely to annoy your inner pedant.

At the time of writing, the last installment in Venus Envy was in March 2010.  It's something of a nail biting cliffhanger and it's a somewhat frustrating way to end, if indeed the comic has ended - it's fate isn't very clear.  I gather that the author has had a lot on in her personal life the last few years and as such the comic has been produced sporadically in this period.  This doesn't really matter if you're reading it from the start, but is bothersome when you get to the last entry.

In line with this, not every entry is a Venus Envy one.  Some are fillers about the author's own life (but usually have one of the VE characters in the panel) and some are fillers by other artists drawing the VE characters.  On the whole these are interesting and maintain the same sense of humour as Lindsey's work, so it's not really a negative aspect, per se.

What's the art like?
As with most webcomics, Erin Lindsey's art style has developed over time.  Comparing the older strips to the newer strips you can really see how she has improved and evolved in her style.  Lindsey also makes good use of the visual nature of the comic medium to portray metaphors such as the demon within.

Other information
For anyone wanting to learn more about trans issues, find trans resources or find more trans webcomics there is a helpful links page.  Due to the aforementioned sexual abuse subplot a trigger warning should really be given.  This link will take you to the first episode of Venus Envy.

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