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Dirty Little Secret
Don't be confused. Venus
Envy, by Erin Lindsay is neither dirty nor particularly
secret. The dirty part is that despite the strip's longevity,
quality, and popularity, VE has thus far flown below the radar of
most of the webcomic world and its reviewers. Oh, we know about
it, it's been on my weekly trawl for years. But, despite its
relative tameness, Venus Envy is a lot like TA
Ghastly Comic, and Sexy
Losers, because, while thousands of people read it, admitting
you read itespecially if you're a middle-aged man admitting it
to the World Wide Webseems somehow dirty. Venus Envy is
nothing like any of them. It's not sexual. It's not
dirty. The awful truth is that VE is one of the best comics on
the web. But it is about a pre-op transsexual and
the difficulties she encounters in high school.
That's the thing, it's a semi-serious comic about a pre-op transsexual. Not about someone accidentally turned into a girl by a stoned wastrel angel, or somebody becoming a magickal princess due to the machinations of Nordic gods, or even someone accidentally feminized (then cloned) by his best friends wacky science experiments. Venus Envy is about a girl who was born into the body of a boy, and is seeking to correct her problem. And it's good. It's very good. Which is part of the problem. All talk about open-mindedness and right-to-choose aside, those of us who publicly air our opinions are not generally prepared to post anything that might give people the impression that we are anything other than the exact mainstream of society. Transsexuality is an okay subject when it's two guys converted to girls by angry ghosts, it's even okay if it's the melodramatic hook of an Austin-based art comic, but a good humor/life comic that treats transsexuals sensitively, where the humor derives from their humanity and not wacky situations...that makes it hard. Like the sexually oriented comics with which it shares the web-closet, it opens questions in people's minds. "You read that? hmm... I see...And how long have you felt this way?"
You don't have to feel "this way" to enjoy Venus Envy any more than you have to be a lesbian to enjoy Melissa Etheridge's music, or a California Motorhead Beach Bum to enjoy the Beach Boys. All you have to do is enjoy a good story and sympathetic characters. Because that's what good webcomicking is about.
It may help in her expression of the transsexual mindset that Lindsay is a transsexual (Lindsay points out on her site that while she is medically a transsexual, she has been a woman for some years, now), but I doubt it. The thing that makes VE good is that it's not really a transsexual comic. If you exclude the early one-offs featuring transsexual-oriented humor, you could replace transsexuality with any other individualized issue and most of the strips would work just as well. After the one-offs, Venus Envy is about Zoe Carter, a teenager going through the difficulties of her early transition in transsexuality. This is easy to forget unless Lindsay specifically mentions it. Zoe acts like every other teenage girl on the planet. In the most recent arc to complete, Zoe went through all the dopey high school angst of obsessing about the school's "bad boy", courting him, watching him improve himself for her benefit, and then blowing it by being shallow and needy. Actually, re-reading that sentence makes the strip sound like a John Hughes movie. Enh, maybe it is.
The art is sound but it often seems more sketched than drawn. A quick scan of the archives, however, will show even the most casual observer how much Lindsay has improved as an artist. The humor is usually spot on; when it's not, it's generally because Lindsay has indulged in a little TS in-humor which may fly past mainstream readers.
If you're looking for a good story with serviceable art, and don't care much about the touchiness of the subject matter, give Venus Envy a look. It's good. If Transsexuals and other "deviants" make your skin crawl...well, I understand today's Ziggy is very funny.
Venus Envy by Erin Lindsay
Caveats: Mature Content, spider clones.