Celebrating Pride Month! Part of First Second’s History Comics series spotlighting pivotal points in history for younger readers, The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights is an obviously timely release for Pride Month this year. Written by Archie Bongiovanni and illustrated by A. Andrews it uses a time travel twist to explore the events of the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a popular Greenwich Village meeting point for the gay community at the time, and the subsequent uprisings in response that were to prove such a vital driving force in the fight for gay rights.
Natalia, Jax and Rashad, three teens of today, and Natalia’s abuela are mysteriously transported to the past and to the fateful night in the late ‘60s of the Stonewall stand-off and the events that occurred in its wake. Having been in a relationship with a woman that she was forced to keep secret before she met Natalia’s grandfather, abuela has already lived through the prejudice of those times. So here she acts as a guide to her young charges to the attitudes and realities of the era. As history plays out around them, the teens encounter key players in events like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie, and learn important lessons about the fight for the rights they have today.
By setting the opening sequence in the present day and then taking contemporary characters into the past Bongiovanni underlines that the lived experiences of many in the LGBTQ community means we are still directly linked to an era when being queer had major legal consequences, when there was no gay marriage, and when an entire community had to meet in clandestine environments for their own safety. It’s this very juxtaposition of experiences between the teens and the LGBTQ activists of 50-plus years before that makes The Stonewall Riots such an excellent introduction to queer history for its target audience.
Andrews’ art has an accessibility and a clarity to it that will draw those younger readers into the cast’s time-jumping adventures. Their expressive cartooning is an important factor in, firstly, ensuring we empathise and connect with the modern day cast and, secondly, in elaborating through visual characterisation the emotional range experienced by the 1960s players. By necessity there’s a certain amount of exposition-led dialogue but it’s to Andrews’ credit that their layouts are inventive enough in terms of perspective and character placement that those sequences never deteriorate into talking heads syndrome.
The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights finishes with a potted history of the years between 1969 and today that hones in on relevant points on the timeline in the ongoing struggle for civil rights for the LGBTQ movement. This is an excellent introduction to the issues tackled that underlines how the fight for equality that the generations before engaged in lay the foundations for the further battles to be fought by today’s queer activists and their allies. A book that should absolutely be on every school library’s shelves.
Archie Bongiovanni (W), A. Andrews (A) • First Second, $12.99
Review by Andy Oliver