Comics have proved a particularly adept medium for communicating trans experiences in recent years. So much so that we have been building up a resource list here at Broken Frontier of work that tells those stories with clarity and empathy. What perhaps marks out Joris Bas Backer’s Kisses for Jet: A Coming-of-Gender Story as a little different is its timeframe. Kisses for Jet is set in the pre-millennial world of 1999; one where trans lives and the fight for recognition have yet to have been projected onto the wider consciousness, where social media is in its infancy, and where the support mechanisms that have emerged in recent years have yet to become established.
It’s 1999 and society is fixated on the Millennium Bug and an impending Armageddon that will never come. In a small town in the Netherlands Jet has been placed in a boarding home for teenagers while their parents work abroad. In this chaotic environment, full of wayward youngsters and the drama that entails, Jet is beginning to realise that their identity is not wrapped up in the trappings of a teenage girl. As they start to question and re-evaluate who they are, they embark on a journey that will lead to an ultimate destination of self-realisation and acceptance…
Kisses for Jet combines and interweaves running subplots surrounding the various inhabitants of the boarding home around the central focus of Jet’s tale. In their own ways each of these strands feeds into and elaborate on Jet’s narrative, from an awkward near-intimate encounter with fellow student Ken to an obsession with the building’s resident bad boy Stef. A constant steadying presence is Jet’s friend Sasha who picks up on the realities of their situation long before Jet does.
In 1999 awareness of the trans experience was arguably not as prevalent as it is in 2022, and Backer presents us with a protagonist for whom that question of identity feels always just intangibly out of grasp until a final act moment of epiphany. Backer’s art shifts from a loose realism to affecting metaphor (Jet literally becoming boxed up to depict their confusion after making out with Ken for example), and visual characterisation explains as much about Jet’s mindset and feelings as dialogue does throughout.
Backer uses a muted blue palette which ensures that on the very odd occasions that red is added to the mix on the page it signifies a key emotional or thematic point. His use of lettering is also cleverly employed to add emphasis to characters’ reactions or moods. Kisses for Jet is a very likeable blend of coming-of-age drama and humorous insight (an ongoing Y2K subplot comes to a cracking punchline end for example), and an excellent addition to this growing and topical comics genre.
Joris Bas Backer (W/A) Ameera Rajabali (Translation) • Nobrow Press, £14.99
Review by Andy Oliver