Graphic novels have always been a progressive medium, especially when it comes to issues related to race and sexuality. Comic books created by black artists and starring black heroes began appearing as early as the 1940s, while the film industry is still struggling to overcome its problem with inclusion, over 70 years later. Black Panther is a great example of this point – his first comic book appearance was in 1966, and yet it took Hollywood over half a century to translate his story to the big screen.
Considering comic books’ significant cultural impact, it is hardly surprising that one of them is currently leading a quiet revolution on Tumblr. The webcomic, entitled Puu (“flower in Tamil) is created by a twenty-year-old US-based artist born in Chennai, going by the pen name Akshay. Puu gives voices to queer minorities in India, taking a stand against Islamophobia in the process, and has attracted the attention of thousands of fans in just over a year.
The story revolves around two Muslim men – Jameel and Saboor – who live in a shared accommodation in Chennai, and discover that they have feelings for each other. Complex and endearing, the characters draw the reader in and, more importantly, give LGBTQ Muslims protagonists they can identify with and relate to. Both Jameel and Saboor have difficult pasts which showcase the challenges queer minorities often face in Southeast Asia. Saboor, hailing from a strict Hindu Brahmin family, finds himself discriminated, both because of his sexual orientation and due to his decision to adopt the Muslim faith. As for Jameel, his childhood was marked by society’s unacceptance of his gender and a tragic loss. Yet the two men find a safe place and happiness in each other’s company and share a deep and profound love, described in tender and poetic terms.
We also meet the protagonists’ neighbor Alamelu, a lesbian who enters a fictitious marriage to a male friend worried about her safety. Alamelu’s girlfriend Noor is a Muslim lawyer who defends members of the Indian LGBTQ community but nevertheless feels reluctant to come out to the public.
All of Puu’s characters are realistic and multilayered. There are no drop-dead gorgeous personages, nor overly-sexualized depictions. And herein lies the comics’ greatest triumph – Saboor, Jameel, Alamelu, and Noor are ordinary people, trying to create a safe space where they can celebrate their love for each other. It is a tender depiction of a quiet pursuit of happiness everyone can relate to.
Puu updates with four pages once a week. You can find all of its released chapters here.