This is the description to Firebugs, a life-changing comic book by Nino Bulling, a freelance cartoonist and author living in Berlin, whose work operates at the boundary between documentary and speculative fiction. I picked up Firebugs at Documenta 15, where Bulling presented a series of drawings on silk that expand on scenes from the book. I gravitated around this installation and book for its sincere representation of queerness that one doesn’t often come across to.
Through contemporary art and publications such as Firebugs, queerness may be investigated in deeper and more meaningful ways, beyond the neoliberal facade of superficial support for the LGBTQA+ community that occurs through normalised expressions such as a sticker on a fucking water bottle. The characters in the book do indeed capture a very personal reflection of how I experience reality.
As a person new to Queerness, this book introduced me to “a genuine and insightful story about love, transitioning and all the greys you can find between gender identities, bodies (those damn bodies 😈) finding yourself, holding each other up and holding space, new beginnings and so much more.” It showed me how beautiful and at the same time how complicated the nature of queer relationships is.
The story admits that the journey to self-discovery is long, and this is something I relate to. Ingken is in a queer relationship with Lily, who is inspiring to Ingken for being content with herself. Like Ingken, I feel that I’m still looking for myself. The reason it is taking me this long is because of the context of Cyprus, which makes it very hard for queer people growing here, or at least this was the case for me and my peers growing up. It is empowering to see how the local scene in Nicosia is experiencing a new wave of queer community, coming together through projects like Sessions, a programme of queer happenings, and Queer Wave, the Cyprus LGBTQIA+ Film Festival.
Growing up in the Orthodox environment of Cyprus, did not allow me to express myself as a gender non-conforming person whilst growing up. Thankfully, in my queer relationship I find the space to delve into the very much needed self-discovery again, like a teenager all over again (lol). The chance for self-discovery through a queer relationship allows me to shed off the old skin that Orthodoxy has forever damaged.
Beyond the world of partying and the public experience of queerness, it isa daily private struggle to exist in an Orthodox society that only supports cis-gender relationships and behaviours. Even with an early recognition of this patriarchal state of being, our self expression is controlled by it still. Unfortunately, the Cyprus context makes existing as a queer person quite negative, and we experience a great dissonance between how their own experience of themselves and what society is projecting onto them. It is very disorientating, and sets off a lot of self-doubt and anxiety. In this sense, Firebugs even reminded me that the norms of my surroundings now are not the only ways people can live — its a cathartic feeling to find yourself in a book while travelling, it can change a lot in terms of breaking out of habits of thinking.
The story of Ingken itself is situated in Berlin, the heart of queer community in Europe. Through the backdrop of climate change, the story is also cleverly contextualised in the broader global picture. It is doing so by including visual references to environmental topics as part of the mise-en-scene, that are mentioned in the dialogue in a very natural and skilful manner by the writer. This level of awareness in regards to the global picture acts as a reminder that our individual experiences of queerness do not happen in a vacuum. It made me think of some personal concerns in regards to bringing children into this world. The rhetoric of the nuclear family and its function as an ideological machinery on behalf of the hegemony, is largely questioned and threaten by queer relationships because queer relationships liberate oneself from certain expectations such as not requiring of you to have children and therefore contribute to the perpetuation of producing workers that would eventually conform and serve Capitalism, which enslaves oneself to the point of not affording to think about the things that are actually bothering us all, such as global catastrophes and their knock on effects. As the book asks, do we have to burn everything down in order to define ourselves anew? What can I hold on to, if anything at all?