The last decade has seen a steady increase in the representation of the LGBTQ+ community in popular media, particularly in comics and graphic novels. Thanks to the efforts of pioneering writers and artists who aren’t afraid to challenge societal norms, LGBTQ+ characters and relationships have become an increasingly common sight in graphic novels, even making their way into genres that were once the epitome of heteronormativity.
Released a little over a year apart, Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms (by Crystal Frasier, Val Wise and Oscar O. Jupiter) and The vanguards (by Carly Usdin and Noah Hayes) are both sports-centric graphic novels aimed at young adults that all feature queer love stories. While their stories focus on radically different sports, Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms and The vanguards the two star LGBTQ+ teens learn to be part of a team and discover their identities with the help of a supportive group of friends
Published in 2021 by Boom! studio, Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms follows the romance that blossoms between Annie, an antisocial straight student who reluctantly joins her school’s cheerleading team to complete her college resume, and Beatrice, the school’s popular and outgoing cheer captain and first team transgender cheerleader. Despite the initial tension caused by their clashing personalities, Annie and Beatrice form a friendship as they juggle joy practice, school work, and respective personal issues, slowly realizing that their feelings for each other can be more than platonic.
Originally published by Boom! The comic as an issue-by-issue series before being condensed into a trilogy of graphic novels, The vanguards tells the story of Charlie Bravo, a tomboyish former college basketball player who transfers to Georgia O’Keefe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, an all-female arts school where she feels horribly out of place. However, Charlie’s fortunes change when she is scouted by the school’s eccentric but enthusiastic basketball team, who help her figure out how to position herself on campus and come to terms with her budding feelings for teammate Olivia. .
At the time of their respective releases, Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms and The vanguards were acclaimed by critics and casual readers alike and received praise from GLAAD, a media monitoring organization that advocates positive portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community in the media. Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms was even nominated and ultimately won Best Graphic Novel/Anthology at the 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards held earlier this year.
Emulating the pattern set by teen sports movies like The Karate Kid, Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms and The vanguards both follow teenagers as they struggle to master (or in Charlie’s case, re-master) the basics of their chosen sport while managing their personal lives and learning valuable lessons. However, unlike many of their contemporaries, Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms and The vanguards often allow their respective sports to take precedence over the budding relationship between their leaders.
Whereas Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms and The vanguards each comes off as a compelling coming-of-age story, their different take on their similar plots and main themes makes them work surprisingly well as a sequel read. Both stories center on LGBTQ+ protagonists who gradually discover themselves through the influence of a diverse and quirky ensemble cast that serves as both a source of wisdom and moral support.
In Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms, Annie and Beatrice’s relationship takes center stage, with their membership in the cheering squad serving as a vehicle through which Annie and Beatrice help each other overcome their issues of social anxiety and transphobia, gradually progressing towards their inevitable admission of love. In contrast, The vanguards focuses more on Charlie’s efforts to help the titular team challenge their rivals and make a name for themselves and off campus, with the LGBTQ+ relationships of the various team members playing the role of subplots .
Despite these differences, the two Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms and The vanguards also share many of the same strengths. Both feature engaging lead couples who share a strong chemistry that makes every scene enjoyable to read. Each is also written with a down-to-earth style that leaves room for both humor and drama while keeping the reader’s focus on the engaging relationship between their protagonists. Although they may reuse familiar tropes, Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms and The vanguards are unique stories that capture the modern LGBTQ+ experience.