• Jessie Jackson-Vasquez

The Sketchbook - Why We Love Venessa Kelley

Times are changing and representation in the queer community has come a long way. Movies like Love, Simon and books like Red, White and Royal Blue are finding their way into mainstream media and consumers are hungry for it. But the entertainment world still has a gap to fill, especially for LGBTQIA+ people of other minority groups, which is probably why movies and books of this category have such an immense cult following. Fans scour the internet for more information or similar stories, and absorb artists’ interpretations of their favorite characters and scenes.



One such artist is Venessa Kelley, who has gained her own fierce online following. If you’ve watched her social media accounts (vkelleyart on tumblr and VScrivanoKelley on twitter), you’ve likely travelled with her from the Harry Potter fandom to Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow series, where she’s helped disillusioned wizarding world fans find their way to the magical story most of us didn’t realize we were searching for, by touching one of the book communities’ most loved queer relationships with her own style.



Those that appreciate Kelley’s rendition of characters like Baz Pitch and Alex Claremont-Diaz will likely enjoy her original work in her graphic novel Manu.

Manu is an urban fantasy about Manuella Villanueva, a twenty-two-year-old Puerto Rican-American lesbian with a preternatural connection to music. After being estranged from her family for years, a frantic phone call brings her back to the island. At her grandmother’s sick bed, Manu learns that there is more to her musical senses than she realized, and that she must learn to wield her power or lose everything.

The characters in Manu have the same spark that drew fans to Kelley’s work, and there are some fun background cameos of a few of her other popular projects. Manu’s relationship with music, though supernatural in this story, is a genuine expression of the love and understanding real world musicians have with music and how it translates in the world around them.



The struggles that Manu faces with her family’s lack of acceptance of her sexual orientation is an experience that is still all too common among queer people in “traditional” families. Manu’s decision to live authentically and pursue her own happiness is a story that needs to be told, as is the guilt and uncertainty that often comes with the choice to live without family. Both take strength and should be talked about.

You can read Manu at https://manu-graphic-novel.tumblr.com/ (look under the "catch up" tag for back issues), and you’ll soon be able to find it on Tapas. Support this comic on Patreon here https://www.patreon.com/join/manugraphicnovel so we can see the story grow!

© 2020 Alyus Vasquez Rainbow Alphabet Collective

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