The Pervert, written by Michelle Perez and illustrated by Remy Boydell, is that big, difficult, trans, queer-as-shit, pull-no-punches sad fucking comic that I’ve been waiting for. And now it’s here, out from Image, shipping now. You need to read it. Unless you’re a trans woman, in which case you might have already basically lived it.
Ok, I know this is supposed to be more of a “review” so let’s do that part real quick. The Pervert is told through a series of connected vignettes, broken up by full-page illustrations. The story is uniformly told through a very sober six panel grid, separated by lots of white space. Remy is an extremely gifted artist, and her cute, Peanuts and Garfield-inspired characters move in and out of solid, real-life environments with ease. Michelle’s writing… takes a spectacular, fucked-up, gonzo look into some painful, funny, and intimate experiences.
The Pervert is as much a book about sex work as it is about transness. The book opens with Felina, the Snoopy-inspired main character, fucking a cis man in a closed McDonald’s. She’s dissociating, like she does throughout the book, and as she leaves she contemplates the danger of what she’s doing, finally concluding “I’m getting used to this.” She’s not vetting her clients, and she’s frequently finding herself in compromising situations, both emotionally and physically. The storytelling perfectly captures the out-of-control feeling of tumbling through your early to mid twenties.
Reading The Pervert is an intense experience for me. Honestly, I need to stop reading every few pages to catch my breath. If I think about this book too hard it makes me want to scream, because I feel it, I feel it. These aren’t specifically my own experiences, but fuck, if you could hotswap memories in and out, these ones wouldn’t seem too out of place next to my own. This book definitely deserves a big content warning, but it never oversteps its bounds. Remy and Michelle both understand how much care it takes to talk about serious subjects, and the dept of their compassion shows through in every panel.
A specific example: early in the book, the protagonist goes on an OK Cupid date with a woman who turns out to be a beautiful, cis cat girl. The protagonist isn't out as a trans woman, instead adopting an extremely relatable soft boy disguise that doesn't work nearly as well as she needs it to. She comes out to her date as a sex worker, and they go home together. As they start getting intimate, the date's boyfriend, drawn to look like Jon Arbuckle, pops around a corner and asks how much it would be for him to join in as well. Our trans protag is suddenly in a dangerous position, and caught between fear for her safety, betrayal, and financial need. This isn't an unfamiliar negotiation for many trans girls, and Remy's art captures the stress, arousal, and frustration of the moment beautifully. Something that could be a mean-spirited joke on the character from another artist becomes a genuine and tense moment from two trans artists who know how serious this stuff actually is.
It’s not a book that shies away from trauma, or triggering situations. The trans girls in this book are constantly moving through these difficult, potentially dangerous negotiations between intimacy, safety, money, and desperation. This isn’t an optimistic book so much as it is a loving one, one that cares about its characters and wants them to be ok, even while accepting that things are mostly not ok, and might never get there.
The trans girls in this book are my friends, I feel that I understand them so deeply, and the cis people in this book are my neighbors here in Michigan. I worked in a Michigan call center, like a lot of other trans girls, like Felina. I’ve been afraid for my safety and the safety of my friends, and I’ve taken comfort in the company of girls like myself. If you want a happy reading experience, this isn’t it. But if you want to read something fucking real - like, almost too fucking real - this is the book of the decade. This book doesn’t deserve a review - it deserves study, it deserves to be taught, and it deserves term papers be written about it. Like trans girls, this book deserves everything.