Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Unquestionable Content

By Starla Renee Trimm

I'm still pretty much a 20th Century soul. Alhough I use the Internet every day, a lot of the more contemporary uses for the medium are of little interest or use for me.

One area in which I have been totally unschooled is the world of webcomics. Frankly, I don't even follow regular comic strips anymore (my knowledge of and interest in those pretty much ended with the demise of Calvin and Hobbes and the passing of legendary Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz). 

Sure, I have been aware of the existence of webcomics and have even sampled a few out of curiosity. I couldn't, if pressed, name one off the top of my head. But I have noted that there is a lot of talent out there on display in the medium.

I've also noted that there are several webcomics written and drawn by trans folks dealing primarily with trans issues. And some of the other webcomics out there not by or primarily about trans people may feature a character or two who happen to be trans.

One in the latter category is Questionable Content (QC) by a gent named Jeph Jacques. It is a “slice-of-life” type comic about the exploits of a group of young adults. I learned that there is a trans character in the comic after stumbling onto a few strips that popped up on my Pinterest feed. And the main story arc involving that character really spoke to me.

The main protagonist of QC is Marten Reed, an indie rock aficionado, who lives with a roommate (Faye, a young woman, who is his platonic best friend) and a short, anthropomorphized computer/robot named Pintsize.  (The QC universe is pretty much like ours, except that sentient artificially intelligent robots live, work and play alongside us.) It also features a supporting cast of friends and neighbors that has grown considerably over the years. (Mr. Jacques launched the strip in 2003).

One of those later additions to the cast is a redheaded trans woman named Claire, a library intern. Marten and Claire become friends and eventually lovers in a long arc scattered among other storylines. It is a very sweet story that I found at times cute, touching and inspiring.

The introduction of Claire earned both praise, condemnation and lots of “kudos for introducing a trans character... however, ...” criticisms. Apart from the usual cretins objecting to the mere presence of a positively-portrayed trans character, other readers appreciated the inclusiveness, but felt that the new character and storyline was shoe-horned into the strip in an “anvilicious” manner dominating things for too long as other storylines fell by the wayside or ended abruptly. (As well as being seen by some as a bit too “saccharine” for their tastes and out of place in the overall atmosphere of the QC world.)

Some trans readers welcomed the character, but found Claire and her relationship with Marten (and the world, in general) more than a little “too good to be true” and not representative of most trans women’s real-life “storyline.” 

Claire is very petite (the shortest and smallest, it seems, of the comic’s human characters), quite pretty and feminine, has a successful job, a supportive mother (with whom she lives) and brother and is liked and accepted by the few she is “out” to and apparently successfully “stealth” with those in whom she has not confided. 

And it is odd the way she almost immediately tells Marten, a cis male, of her gender status (when they are just starting to become casual friends) and the way in which he seems totally nonplussed by the revelation, eventually falling in love with her in spite of her unconventional anatomy. (It is never stated outright, but strongly implied that she is pre-op. The author will not comment on this and discourages forum speculation on the subject saying that it should not matter to us and is none of our business. “They’re called ‘private parts’ for a reason,” he likes to say.)

These are all valid points IMHO. In fact, there is one strip in which Claire speaks of the difficulties and dangers she faces on a daily basis as a transwoman, which makes you wonder, “Really?” because we never see any such obstacles or roadblocks. Claire seems to be living an almost perfect transgender existence, sailing through life while many in the real world regularly encounter storms on their seas.

Is depicting such a nice life so bad? Sure, we all know that reality doesn’t work like this and Claire's experience is not typical. But must all fiction be totally realistic? We sometimes need a little escapism – to see a world that doesn't really exist, but should. 

Hell, the Claire/Marten saga is not very realistic, but neither are sitcoms, rom-coms and romance novels. (Growing up in the 60s, I wanted to be one of the Brady kids, though I knew that such perfect families simply do not exist.) The Claire/Marten tory shows what it should be like for us – a world in which transgenderism is seemingly no big deal to others.

It’s a “feel good” thing to read. I am in no ways a romantic; rather, a cynic dealing with the country I love falling apart (VOTE, people!!!) and the concurrent slow deterioration of my body due to Parkinson's Disease. And yet, I found myself grinning at the exploits of these two souls, rooting for them to end up a couple, feeling some strong emotions. (I cried a little at the scene in which Claire first disrobes in front of Marten; her hesitance and fear, and the beautiful way he responds.) Yeah, it's silly, but it was nice to experience a little joy in the midst of the crap pile a/k/a my life.

You can find Questionable Content at – all the strips are there. The primary Claire/Marten arc starts at about strip #2323 (when Claire first reveals her trans status to Marten) and culminates at about #2901, after which Claire becomes just an ensemble member rather than the focus and her trans status is hardly mentioned. (And even when it comes up, it tends to be dropped matter-of-factly, as in the very funny strip #4187.) 

If you find QC to your liking or at least interesting, go buy something on Mr. Jacques' website – QC-related stuff is his main source of his income,and talent like his deserves some financial support. Especially someone so trans-friendly.

Wearing Kirundo
Wearing Kirundo


  1. "AJ and Magnus" has a trans character (but the main characters are two gay men and their son). Offhand, I can't think of any others (although "Meaning of Lila" has one gay character who seems to like dressing up).

  2. I loved 'Chick Peas'. The name totally works! Whereas "Garbanzos" would not!
    Google 'Peanut Tweeter'-- re-dialogued peanuts cartoons. Peanuts characters pondering 'why paintings of Adam and Eve have navels'

  3. There's a comic strip called Skin Horse, which is pretty way out. It features a cross-dressing psychologist, a kinda TG zombie, a talking dog and ditto lion, a total nut-case inventor, an AI helicopter and various other weird characters and it's off-the-wall funny. It's free and available from Google (although the writers do ask for donations).


  4. I think that with writing, it's really hard to cover many of the experiences out there. At least with the web comic, it can be a place where trans readers catch a break from the negativity of other media. Plus, if such a strip helps normalise things or educate others, is that a bad thing?