Series Spotlight: Rock and Riot, and the reclamation of mainstream nostalgia by and for the marginalized

The relationships that LGBTQ+ people and PoCs have with nostalgia can be a fraught one. We cannot long to return home to a time before the present, or at best the very recent past, because society in that time was decidedly not our home. In fact it often set out with the direct intent of excluding us, to one degree or another, from public life. And yet many, especially in the LGBTQ+ community, bear a sincere love for the aesthetics and entertainment of yesteryear. It’s hard to think of a time period that exemplifies this dichotomy more than the 1950s.

Enter queer New Zealand cartoonist Chelsey Furedi, aka cheriiart, who at the age of only 18 years old, gave the internet a big gay ’50s-themed gift: today’s subject, Rock and Riot.

Wisp, author of queer webcomics review blog Yes Homo, describes Rock and Riot as “something of a power fantasy”– a light-hearted romcom set in a version of the fifties where a trio of racially-diverse, all-queer (though not openly so until later) rival greaser gangs– the all-female Jaquettes, the all-male Rollers, and the all-otherwise Bandits– vie for dominance in a school where prejudice is weak enough that a handful of teenagers can navigate it as handily as they do the blacktop of their favorite drag-racing site. It is, in short, nostalgia for the fifties that could and should have been. The cast sports a wide spectrum of identities across a sweep of gender, sexual, and romantic minorities, as well as a range of body types, races, and colors.

The story plays out over the course of 16 “episodes”– short chapters, ranging from about a dozen pages in length to perhaps twice that. It’s mostly a slice of life format, but towards the last few chapters a more defined overarcing plot develops as Prom looms closer and the three gangs have to band together to find a way to have a night that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

All in all, Rock and Riot is a big gay ball of fun for anyone who likes queer romance, the 50s, or slice-of-life comics, and you have no excuse for missing out on it now that you know about it. The whole comic can be read here. A print version in three volumes was briefly available from the comic’s official shop, but has been temporarily removed from circulation due to difficulties with shipping it internationally that are being resolved. In addition, the first chapter has received an animated adaptation from Cherii herself. As far as I know, animating the rest isn’t on her schedule at this time, but I remain hopeful that she’ll want to revisit it someday.