Joana Estrela Takes Us To Pride in Lithuania in her comic “Propaganda”

Just in time for pride month, I got a chance to read Joana Estrela‘s wonderful, touching and personal comic PropagandaPropaganda tells the story of Estrela’s time working with the Lithuanian Gay League, helping to organize Baltic Pride and hanging out with friends in one of the most anti-gay countries in the European Union. Having the look and feel of a journal (in the absolute best way), this book really made me feel all the most cliché emotions of a book review: I laughed, I cried, I cheered and I got lost in the story.

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The characters in this comic are so likable and funny in the most relatable and familiar way. The way they talk about things like how all the prettiest girls happen to be queer, whether or not Robyn is gay and how one of them has a gluten intolerance (of course) made me not only laugh, but also made me want to go out and hang out with all of my queer friends. Estrela really did a brilliant job of capturing what that kind of friend group is like. Joana herself is boundlessly likable. There are little moments, like when she uses her giant map as an improvised umbrella, or when she tries to take a selfie and just gets a shot of the very top of her head that really make me fall in love with her as a character.

There are also some familiar things (or things that are vaguely familiar, but to much less extreme levels) that aren’t so funny. One of the characters, Elena, talks about how she was a part of a Living Library where the main thing that people said to her was that they just wanted to see what a lesbian looked like. The characters also bond over the willful ignorance that their parents and peers had when they came out to them.

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Then there are some parts that are even more frightening. Joana and some friends are at an art gallery when they overhear one of the artists say “Gays can be cured, they just need a good beating, that’s all.” Throughout the book, the group has to navigate around the various anti-gay laws that exist already and then deal with new ones that get passed. It must be so frustrating to have the news constantly edit what you say and to have laws constantly preventing you from even just saying that you’re proud to be gay on TV. Things get even more tense when one of their commercials is banned because two women hold hands and then anti-gay posters start to get plastered all around town.

When Baltic Pride week arrives, I breathed a sigh of relief. Even though the comic up until then featured a lot of little stories from Estrela’s life, where she would go to bars or walk around town or hang out with friends, most of the parts that discussed getting ready for Pride were extremely stressful and made me worried for the people involved. Despite all of the problems, things seem to go pretty well. They get Eileen Myles to come and read some poetry, they have a zine fest and of course, they have the parade. The end of this comic, for me, was a really cathartic experience and even brought me to tears.

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I am super in love with the art in this book. Estrela uses clean line drawings, no color, little shading and a lot of handwriting. This all makes it seem so much more intimate, like this is something that is personal and just between friends. I really enjoy this kind of art, it always seems so homey, journal comic, and it really hammers home the fact that this is actually what happened to a real person in a year in her life. There are also misspelled or missplaced words crossed out here and there, which makes the comic even more charming and personal.

This is really a wonderful comic and I can’t stress how much I think everyone should check it out. I loved the art, the characters, the story and the peek into what it’s like being queer in a part of the world other than the US. You can check out the publisher, Plana, to buy a copy or download it or check out this other retailer. Estrela graduated from the Fine-Arts Faculty of Porto and has made a couple self-published zines before working on Propaganda. You can keep up with what she’s doing on her tumblr, her facebook and her blog.

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Mey is a lesbian Latina trans woman living in Idaho. Her areas of expertise include comic books, trans issues and pop culture. She has an English Degree, a cat named Sawyer, a tumblr that she uses a lot and a twitter that she only uses occasionally.

Mey has written 154 articles for us.

7 Comments

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    I’ve visited that part of the world – specifically Latvia – and it’s beautiful, but I’m aware that it’s one of the hardest places to be queer in Europe (I wasn’t out when I went, so I don’t have any firsthand experiences). Thanks for letting us know about this comic!

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        I also visited Latvia and was not out at the time either. I do know, since I do have relatives born in Latvia, still living in Latvia, it is a very touchy subject. I have been wondering how to tell my Latvian relatives that I’m gay. There is a bit of a language barrier. I could care less about my relatives in the U.S. but the ones I met in Latvia were just so sweet, loving, and made the best food.

        I need to read this comic. I love all the Baltic countries.

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    AAAH, SO EXCITED. I am Latvian living in Riga and it makes me incredibly happy to see something this relatable on Autostraddle. Here, just like in Lithuania, people are very prejudiced (younger people are very open-minded though!), quoting my disgusting biology teacher – “homosexuality is an illness like diabetes for example, I don’t understand why we are forced to take it as a norm.” I suppose it may be even worse in Lithuania knowing there are very many devout catholics there (not the gay-friendly ones).

    Estrela’s comics are super cute, now I want to read them all!

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    I had never thought that I’d see something about Baltic countries on Autostraddle. :) I’m from Lithuania and I’ve been volunteering in Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) since February.

    Since I’ve lived quite a sheltered life, volunteering at LGL opened my eyes to all of the homophobic stuff that is sadly happening here in LT.

    And we are trying to change that. But it’s hard when most of the politicians don’t want to acknowledge us or just want to limit our rights that much more.

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    Ah! I ordered a hard copy because this speaks to my interests so much. I followed the whole legal struggle to get a Baltic Pride march in Lithuania last year, and the morning of, I logged on to twitter to see all the beautiful things people were saying when it actually happened! I haven’t been back to my home country in 15 years now, but paying attention to that organizing gave me a lot of perspective (and honestly was a way to help come to terms with some of the things my relatives have said about queer people)

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