Sunday, 25 October 2015

Picking a side: Michelle Magorian, Germaine Greer and ManMulan

So, if you missed it, my Sunday was started by Germaine Greer being transphobic on a national platform. The general thrust of her arguement is that identification does not affect a person's gender and that "a great many women" feel like trans women do not "look like, sound like or behave like women". Hateful as I might find this I'm aware it's a fairly widespread view, that a good proportion of the population - female or otherwise - feel that one's ability to 'pass' as any specified gender is more important than one's own sense of it.

As a philosphocial arguement, of course, it fails. It's a bloody ridiculous standard. If gender is decided by comittee, then where do we stop? Because there are transwomen who pass in the eyes "a great many women" and *whispers* there are those who biologically female who don't. And, of course, what with my chosen soapbox being Twitter, I was halfway through my rant before I realised what I was doing.

Oh, bollocks. I was coming out.

Making it all about me:

Because I'm a special snowflake, I am. There, the self-denigration required my Englishness being done, can we ditch it? Excellent.

The fact is, my life has been haunted by my failure to exist as that nebulous thing called "a woman". Every time I've been in a meeting where a comment was made about how "we're all girls here" so "multitasking won't be a problem", I would smile falsely, flinch, and find myself excluded tacitly. Every time a friend has consoled another, "Oh, but real women have curves", I'd cross my arms over breasts that look more like mosquito bites and try not to think about the way I was wearing jeans that fell down because they were cut for someone with hips. I'd be told that women were less violent when I spent most of my adolescene with brusied knuckles from punching walls, that women 'prefer an emotional narrative to straight up pornography' when honestly...? That women have high voices, when my contralto is lower than some tenors. That oh, sigh, you know what girls are like about shoes when I have four pairs in total (walking boots, gig boots, smart boots, sandals.)

And, yes, this is all essentialist crap. But the fact is, "a great number of women" have a very narrow and exclusionary view of what womanhood entails. It didn't matter to 'a great many women' that my chromosones were XX, that I had breasts and a uterus, that I menstruated, that I have birthed and lactated - despite all of that, I didn't "look, sound or behave" like a woman. If we left it up to them, it wouldn't just be transwomen who wouldn't qualify. I'd be out on my ear as well.

But... but surely that was all just social constructions? Surely the real thing to do was just continue on my way. I am a WOMAN, hear me ROAR. Surely I'd ditched all that crap along the way. I didn't need social constructions of gender to inform me, I was a gender-nonconforming woman, I was an honest woman who didn't buy any of that bollocks, as the omnipresent e-card company has it...

Not a tomboy. Not a girl who likes boy things. Not a girl who isn't girly... @SAIBRPR @amyalisha @CCriadoPerez

 Yes. About that.

When the meme came up for the first time, I felt something inside me wince. I stopped, I rationalised. No. It was great. Behaviour is not destiny. The whole binary is fucked. Who cares if I liked comics and broadswords and tailcoats? Who cares if, at thirteen, being told that, yes, I had breasts now and should probably start wearing a bra, I asked my horrified mother "couldn't I just bind them?" So what if Viola has been my hero since I was seven years old, or that my crush of Gwynneth Paltrow stems entirely from her part in Shakespeare in Love?

None of that undermined my right, my ability to be a woman. Did it?

And, anyway, wasn't I more radical here? As a woman? Undermining all this backwards, sexist bollocks? Wouldn't I do more good as the voice of "well, actually, I'M a woman, and..."? And, yes. That would be a good thing to do. That was an important thing to do. My feminism required it.

Except... except.

Look, on the best days, on the perfect days, I don't think about my gender. It's irrelevent. Like, if you asked me what I was I'd answer like Eli in Let the Right One In, like my eldest daugther did when she was 3, "Just Eli", "Just [Sprog1]". That's me. I'm not straight, I'm not gay, not bi, not male, not female. I don't want to think about it. I'm "just Alys." Can we forget about this now?

But perfect days are pretty bloody rare. Always, there'll be someone. "I think this young lady was before me," "Oh, we're all girls here", "Come on, ladies, let's apply ourselves to this." A touch of fear, a flinching. Not always, not every time it happened. Sometimes, YES, I was a woman, thank you for noticing.

Why the gratitude? Of course I was a woman. Anyone would see that.


Surely it was just that bloody binary, the way it had been crushing me my whole life. Of course I was woman. Of course I was cis. I was just non-conforming and flat-chested and didn't buy into the popular construction. I'd had years of crap about it, imposter syndrome was a natural reaction. I was a woman. No-one could take that from me.

Picking a Side:

A Spoonful of Jam is probably my second favourite Michelle Magorian novel. It's a novel about courage, about being honest about who you are, to your family and to wider world, despite how bigoted those things might be. It is beautiful and compelling and heartbreaking in equal measure, and Elsie is the kind of heroine we need more of in this world.

So. Elsie be with me now.

The narrative is of a young, working class girl with a grammar school scholarship in post-War London, about how she faces all the obstacles put in her way by her accent, her class, her education, her family's poverty. And about how she longs for her father to accept her, the way he does her elder brother. She longs, aches to be a boy so that he will take her down the allotment and - finally brave after a novel of new experiences - takes herself to a barbers for a Number Two so that her father will finally accept her.

Of course, it doesn't work out that way. Everyone is horrified, "have you got nits?" becomes the refrain. But at the novel's end, at her final triumph, her father gives her a gift:

She pulled out a long cylindrical bundle tied with a piece of string and a bow. She didn't need to guess what it was. It was a comic. Not a second-hand one, either. It was brand, spanking new, and it was a girl's comic! It was then that she realised it was wrapped around something bulky. She undid the string. A heavy object fell on the bed. It had a wooden handle with leaves and flowers carved into it. Her father must have made it for her while she was in Kent. It was attached to triangular-shaped piece of curved metal. As she held it up to the shaft of streetlight that filtered through the threadbare curtains, she could see what it was only too clearly. It was a trowel. Her very own trowel. It was her invitation to the allotment. And not as a boy, but as a girl! [emphasis mine]

This moment, that should have been perfect, beautiful, affirming made something in me wither the way the courgettes at my very own allotment have gone limp and black at the frost.  Why must the comic be a girl's comic? Why the trowel carved with 'girly' patterns of flowers? Why must the haircut become some kind of shame? Some kind of mistake? Why she be invited to the allotment "as a girl"? It should have been a glorious scene, something affirming and brilliant. Instead it took my wonderful, brave Elsie and put her firmly back in the box marked XX, marked female, marked girl.

But surely that was right? Surely she was a girl and never doubted that she was a girl and her hobbies and interests never affected that one iota. Surely I was the one being essentialist and and stupid and...

Fast forward.

I'm a young mother and I'm Disneyed out. Of course, I've heard PAINT's fantastic After Ever After and I play it to my long suffering friends with annoying frequency, until the day someone says, "Hey, have you heard there's a sequel? It's got a Frozen bit."

No! Wild with joy, I flee to YouTube and play it. (For the purposes of this post, you only need to listen to the first segment, but listen to the whole thing anyway. It's hilarious.)

And, inside me, something is squirming. Something flinching.

No. No. That's wrong about Mulan. A woman who cross-dresses isn't automatically trans*. I mean, great for men who are and all power to them, but that doesn't mean... Look. I cross dress. Often. Frequently. Okay, for months. But that doesn't mean...

Couldn't Mulan just be... Mulan? Does she have to chose which side to play for?  Are those really the only options? Do I have to chose between getting to go to the allotment "as a girl", or admitting that I always was "a guy in my soul"?

Couldn't I just be me? And when I want to femme, couldn't people look at me and say, "yes, that's a woman" and when I want to butch*, could people just assume I'm a guy, and the rest of the time could people just say, "Well, that's Alys" and let the whole pronoun business be swept away?

 Bravery and Cowardice

Because, there's the thing. I could hide behind being "just Alys" my whole life. I could pretend it doesn't bother me that I'm read as a woman. Not just in the smash-this-fucking-patriarchy way, or the benevolent sexism way, but just the she/her/woman/mother/daughter/wife way.  The way my martial arts teachers call me "Ma'am" because the alternative is "Sir" and I'm not that either. I could pretend that I don't feel the blaze of total, helpless joy when I overhear people trying to puzzle me out because I don't fit into any of the boxes they've learned.

I wasn't being disruptive like that. I wasn't being challening or honest or anything like that. I was making myself the anomoly who would neatly be smoothed out because the alternative was frightening.

Elsie would be disgusted.

So. Here we go: I'm not a tomboy. I'm not a girl who likes boyish things. I'm not a girl who isn't girly. You're right. I don't have to qualify my femininty. Because I'm not female.

And I'm not male either.

I'm just Alys. Always. And Alys is genderfluid.

And sometimes that means I am a woman, yes. And sometimes it means that I'm a man. And sometimes I'm neither. My gendered behaviours are never more than a form of drag. Sometimes ultra femme. Sometimes super butch. Mostly just jeans and a t-shirt and hair in a mess with my nose in a book.

Genderfluid. No apologies, no qualifiers. If Germaine Greer and her "great number of women" read me as female then that is their problem, and if they decide I don't qualify for "real womanhood" then that's their fucking problem as well.

And to anyone else, of any other gender (especially cis men who are aggressive about it) I'm not playing that game any more. I'm not going back in that box.

I never fitted anyway.

*I'm not mad keen on this term because the masculinty I present is generally more dandyish than it would imply. I wear frock coats rather than plaid, cravats not braces. But for matters of comprehension, butch it will have to be.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Review: The Quorum by Kim Newman

Aaaah. Nobody does nasty like Newman.

Meet Derek Leech, a less-than-sly stab at Murdoch type press barons, who oozes from the Thames like an eldritch entity slipping through the gaps between worlds. Able to read the future, he harnesses pain to his own ends, building a media empirein London's Docklands. To fuel this, he promises three teenagers the fulfilment of their youthful dreams if they begin an annual campaign against Neil Martin, the absent member of their clique. Between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day, they pool their efforts to destroy his life further each year, ensuring their own success.

Enter Sally Rhodes, P.I. and single mother, paid by one of the group to keep an eye on Neil before New Year's Eve. With this, the stage is set for a deal-with-the-Devil, black magic thriller.

This is not what Newman delivers.

I admit to being something of a fangirl, and will cheerfully say this is the most uncomfortable of Newman's books that I've read. I also suspect it will probably be one of those I reread the most. Like his short stories, this is one that slips into your head and twists, not letting you escape. While his social commentary is more subtle here than in his other works (more reminiscent of An English Ghost Story than things like Bad Dreams) its views the political through the personal, dealing not with global movements, but human nature.

Because, in The Quorum, Leech is a liminal figure and the focus is less upon ruthless, captitalist bastards, as amusing, geeky artists. Michael, Mark and Mickey are all flawed, selfish, prejudiced, but they are familiar. Worse, they are horribly, fascinatingly, likeable (although I struggled a bit with Mickey.) Meeting at school, they are outcasts who revel in their strangeness and make it serve them. Their conversations are clever, full of references dropped and running jokes about the world that is agaisnt them. They put on anarachic am-dram productions and play life-or-death boardgames that are far more relevant to them than the real world. Even into adulthood, quickly revert to their old bantering style.

As a member of a similar clique myself, I sympathised, I empathised. Knowing how hard it is to succeed in creative industries, I wished them well. Even their early pranks had an air of playfulness to them, of the score settling contemplated on a lazy afternoon as friends egg each other on to ever greater excesses. I've never really taken revenge, or played a cruel trick, but, oh, the plans I have laid.

Then, of course, you remember. Then you look at Neil, scraping by in a pitful, wounded life, paying for their success.

No-one does nasty like Newman.

(Also in the edition are a series of short stories featuring the characters from the novel in very different worlds and situations. They are like little hooks in the mind, small nightmares to keep you awake, the sort of jokes that have you cracking up even as you scream, "I should not be laughing at that!" I've always been very fond of Newman's shorter fiction.)

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Oh. I wanted to love this book like I've loved the the other Waters books I've read and, like, Affinity was so magical and I...

Calm down, Alys, take it slowly.

Set in the interwar years, The Paying Guests is a "love story that is also a crime story", and follows the relationships that develop between Francis Wray - a gentlewoman of slender means forced to rent rooms in her house - and Mr and Mrs Barber - the eponymous "Paying Guests". This being a Waters novel, we can guess in what way these relationships develop.

And that aspect of it is handled wonderfully. For, of course, Miss Wray is not the prim, downtrodden spinster her current life seems to refelct. Instead, in the aftermath of the Great War, she is in a fugue state, mourning the loss of her two brothers and her relationship with another woman which family circumstances - or perhaps a failure of courage - caused her to abandon. While something of a slow burner, the first half of the book is an eloquent and moving examination of the pains and perils of clandestine love and the possiblity of honesty as permitted by the period.

I was especially taken with the gut-punching accuracy with which Waters describes the awkward, charged physicality of the the closeted queer body when faced with homosocial relationships. In simpler words - straight women get to touch each other without there being a sexual subtext. The same does not apply when you aren't straight and aren't out about it, and, oh my word, that haircut scene could have sprung from my adolescence. Good, character driven fiction gives us insight into ourselves and those around us - and Waters is enormously skilled in that regard.

It is in the middle section of the book, with the shift from romance to crime, that the novel suffers. The crime scenes themselves (no spoliers!) are wonderfully done, but the characters' emotional reactions don't quite satisfy. I've seen Waters in interview saying she did not want her protagonists to "shrug off" the crime aspect, but this has made the novel very introspective, and caused the already leisurely pace to slow further. The final third - where it becomes a full courtroom drama -  is a again a moving and engaging read, but I did nearly abandon it in the middle bit. Personally, I feel the book would have been better had the three strands been more throroughly intergrated.

What was more, the character of Lilian Barber felt like something of cypher - a place marker for a "man's woman"/"love interest", who was permitted little more interiority than such a character would have in a comparable heterosexual novel. You know, the kind that wouldn't pass the Bechdel Test. This was frustrating as Waters' characters are usually so well realised and comprehensible - even the mysterious ones.

For all that, The Paying Guests is an intelligent, ambitious novel with an engaging, uncomfortable set of characters. It doesn't have the intensity I associate with her other works, and the claustrophobic, '20s set up leads to a slow pace and a slightly unsatisfactory element of psychological drama, but it is unquestionably accomplished and well worth a read.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

An Intellectual Snob's Guide to Appreciating Crappy Films.

Used for review purposes
Every now and then you'll be caught in a conversation where you'll be forced to admit you adore a film that is regarded as objectively poor.

Or you may find yourself listening to a self-styled gatekeeper as they give you vague reasons as to why a crap film is not quite so crap as you've been led to believe. You may wonder about what the hell they are blathering.

In both these situations, there is an accepted code:

They Say... They mean...
“It's fun.” Explosions. Eye candy. Don't judge me.
“Schlock” If you didn't like it, you were paying too much attention to the plot.
“Anyway, it's a different beast entirely from the source materiel” Don't judge me.
“It's true to the spirit of...” You're judging me, I can tell.
“It's done with total commitment...” You DO NOT get to judge me.
“I love it unironically” I have chosen this hill, and I will die on it.
The aesthetic is...


... handled well

... is astonishingly realised.

I own the soundtrack, but am too embarrassed to tell you.

No, but there some serious eye candy, tho.

Actually, I'll come clean. I have a sexual fantasy that looks like this film.
“I know it's (insert derogatory term) but it has it's moments. Some of the actors are kind of hot.
“Yes, I have a special place in my heart for X.” You mean X?
“I really liked X's performance” Yes. I mean X.
“X is better than the vehicle, certainly.” Damn.
“X's performance felt very true to the book.” Because I fancy the character, too, right?
“Yes. I mean you compare it to Y's interpretation of the role – and I just feel X captured something that Y didn't.” Yeah, totally. And while Y is the more respected actor, I just don't fancy them.
“Very much so. Y's portrayal lacked the energy of X's” It's a no brainer, really.
“X's performance is very much the high point of the film.” That arse.
“And, also, PAUL MCGANN.” And we're totally just talking about his fine acting, right?

Used for review purposes
That fine, fine acting.

Many thanks to Anna V Strauss for the insight. Feel free to leave any more suggestions in the comments.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Review: Spirit Houses by Die Booth

Alright, alright, let's come clean. This blog is officially on hiatus until August at least, but probably September. There are reasons but they are too dull to go into here.

Instead, I cite the bit of Twitter logic that brings me crawling back for a brief visit - if you like a book by an independent author, review it. A few weeks ago, I was recommended Die Booth's Spirit Houses, and my word, did I like it.

 A romping, almost steam-punk adventure following Manda Connor and her fellow Field Nurses in the D.P.M - the Department of Paranatural Medicine - it does not rely over-much on the apparatus of non-functional gears and eldritch threats, being instead driven by engaging and entertaining characters.
 It is a novel that quickly gives one the impression of being cast into a much larger world, so lush and fully realised are the premise and setting. Booth does not expend excess words upon world-building or set-up, but the detail of vision is constantly revealed by the plot. It's almost disconcerting how thoroughly built and convincing this alternative England is - the mental space it occupies feels more like a beloved film series, or long running television show than a novel. It seems so much bigger than it is; there is so much richness here, I sometimes felt the need to pace myself - although that may just have been the fact that I was screen-reading.

In tone cosy, the narrative and characters had an almost YA feel to them, something enhanced by both the institutional setting of the D.P.M, and the '20s pastiche of the setting - there is no sex, or language stronger than 'damn' - but there is a poise and maturity of theme that is reminiscent of Lanni Taylor. For all the tenderness with which the characters are painted, as a reader you worry about them. They are breakable, things may not turn out okay. And you want for it it turn out okay.

Naturally, it isn't flawless. If you have an issue with head-hopping (which I think is unfairly maligned, but each to their own) this is not the novel for you. Likewise the prose, while generally light and witty with moments of real beauty, sometimes loses itself in descriptors which grate - the characters do a lot of eye rolling. The opening chapters are also somewhat stilted, something not helped by the initial construction of Manda's character and the suggestion of a love-triangle surrounding her. However, Spirit Houses quickly finds its stride, and its protagonist's mixture of naïveté and passion soon create a heroine who is more than a cipher for events, or an idealised reader-insert. Spirit Houses is a novel about identity, about the choices we make and the people that we have to be to make them. 

It is here that Spirit Houses finds its strength. Characters are revenants, werewolves, displaced souls. They make deals with demons, lie, manipulate their friends. But these issues do not define them; they are merely facets of personality, burdens to be borne, actions of necessity. This is a compassionate novel, and is written from a standpoint empathetic with otherness. Characters are outsiders: the slow, hard-working Ray who refuses to take advantage of his privileged background; the brilliant, cold Daniel proving his genius despite the handicap of his working class roots; genial, foppish Alex inciting the ire of the more conventionally masculine and, of course, Manda herself, battling the prejudice she faces at her lycanthropy, desperate for a place in the world.With astute political awareness, Booth weaves these personal struggles into the wider world of the D.P.M, its language of respect and patient consent offering a kinder and more intelligent picture of the integration of the para-natural than I am used to seeing. 

I would hold this book up against Glen Duncan's brash and unconvincing The Last Werewolf as an example of what existence on the fringes of acceptability really looks like - not bloodbaths and 'gut-wrenching' last stands against cartoon villains as part of the great journey of the Virile White Man™ - but as the slow weight of judgement, the fight for dignity and health, for a normal life.

Well worth your time.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Webcomic: A Daily Dose of Creativity

Rough couple of weeks, eh? I swear, in this time I've kicked about the ideas for so many angry, analytical blog posts, the kind where I set myself at a tangent to everybody and wring some sense out of my confused feelings regarding the dreadful stuff happening in the world and a narrative critique of it. I could do that right now. I've woken up every morning with a little burn of anger in my stomach that has been hit with a thousand comment pieces or new bits of god-awful every time I check into social media, or chat to friends, "Did you hear about...?"

Things are dark out. It's January, a tired, dirty month. We've had enough of winter, of injustice and violence. I could scream out against those things, say the necessary and bring another little patina of hopelessness to your day.

But for all my pretensions of politics, this is a blog about books. Stories, at their best, are the little lights we kindle against this dark, they are sanctuaries into which we can fold ourselves, temporal anomalies where we can play our favourite times over and over again, worlds closed off from decay and pain.

I read a lot and this is the place where I write about it. Still, a whole stream of my reading tends to get bypassed on this blog - the webcomic. I check them in the mornings, when I wake up at the weekend, or getting back from the school-run in the week. A single screen shot of story; fantasy, comedy, superhero or erotica. It's just a moment that lifts me out of diurnal drudgery, a gift from someone I've never met. There is so much to be angry at, to be saddened by that today I just want to celebrate a daily moment of pleasure, of joy taken in creativity, to thank those who make it and to pass it on.

So, here's the stuff I read, in no particular order. NB: I'm only putting in comics with an ongoing storyline.

Namesake by Isabelle Melançon and Megan Lavey-Heaton
Updates Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
The Beginning / Most Recent Update
 Let's start with my favourite shall we? Namesake is a fantasy adventure comic, suitable for a YA audience.
It's the story Emma Crewe, a young woman who discovers an ability to visit fictional worlds. This is the power of a Namesake -  a person who shares the name of a protagonist and must complete their quest - but what is Emma's story? And why have her powers carried her to the wrong one?
Pros: Wonderfully written, engaging, large cast piece. Brilliant characters. Lots of sub-plots. Very clever handling of a premise. Beautiful artwork. Totally YA friendly, SFW. And, er, Flawless Warrick.
Cons: Addictive. Quite a big undertaking. Linear narrative

Girls With Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto
Updates Monday-Friday
The Beginning / Most Recent Update 
And to the other end of the spectrum. Girls With Slingshots is a real world comedy webcomic aimed at adults. It follows the misadventures in life, love and alcohol poisoning of surly writer Hazel Tellington and her exuberant best friend Jamie 'The Rack' McJack. Romance detectives, ghost cats and a talking cactus feature in the perfectly realistic and ordinary lives of 20-30 something American women. Generally funny, occasionally hilarious. It can be read from the beginning as a single arc, or you can dip in at any point into the ongoing story.
Pros: Funny, thoughtful and occasionally very touching, another one with a brilliant cast of characters, lots of mini-arcs and a wonderfully rakish handling of a tired premise. SFW.
Cons: It's ending this year *sob*. Despite being SFW, it is quite rude in places - this might be a problem for some people.

Something Positive by R. K Milholland
Updates Monday-Friday
The Beginning / Most Recent Update 
Another real-ish world webcomic that occasionally crossovers with GWS. Slightly darker in comic tone, it follows the tribulations of misanthropic geek, Davan and his smilingly maladjusted friends from malacious irresponsibility to reluctant adulthood. There is some very moving stuff in some of the arcs, but also some truly wicked laughs. Again, it can be read from beginning to end, or picked up from the more recent strips.
Pros: A story that really grows as it was told, a webcomic that is currently firing on all cylinders. Also, scroll down for 'The Last Trick or Treater' watercolours.
Cons: The early comics are a little uneven in quality and tone. At times, not for the faint hearted. The suspicion that liking it makes you a bad person.

Chester 5000 XYV by Jess Fink
Updates with depressing irregularity
The Beginning / Most Recent Update
Steam-punk erotica about love, loss and robotics. Unable to satisfy his wife, inventor Robert creates a mechanical gigolo, Chester 5000 XYV. But love is more powerful than programming in this sweet, wordless, pornographic comic.
Pros: Astonishing artwork, so expressive that the text is not missed at all. A real capturing of the aesthetic of late 19th/ early 20th  pornography.
Cons: NSFW - if you hadn't already gathered that. Very NSFW. Seriously. Also, it doesn't update often.

Blindsprings by Kadi Federuk
Updates Tuesdays and Thursdays
The Beginning / Most Recent Update
Gorgeous webcomic that's really only just getting going. YA pitched but politically astute, it's a tale of a magical power struggle between authoritarian Academists and the hereditary Orphic Witches. Following a revolution in which the tyrannical Orphic aristocracy were deposed, anti-Orphic feeling is high. Marginalised and discriminated against, they form a tenuous resistance. Into this unstable situation is brought the naive Tamaura, a lost, Orphic Princess hidden for centuries as part of a deal with the ambiguous Spirits. Freed by a renegade Academist, she offers the key to a return of the old magics - but at what cost?
Pros: Gorgeously drawn, clever and thought provoking piece. YA friendly and SFW.
Cons: As it's still quite early in the run, not sure where this is going yet.

Center Of Somewhere by Luke Foster
Updates Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays
The Beginning / Most Recent Update
Sweet and strange, a quirky comedy-webcomic set in perfectly ordinary small-town America, with everything you'd expect to see there: delusional fish, boy-detectives, bad tempered blue jays who live with neurotic squirrels... Can be read either as a single arc, or picked up from a more recent strip. It takes a bit of getting into,but there's something very charming about this one.
Pros: SFW, YA friendly, playful and occasionally hilarious.
Cons: Can feel a little episodic at times. Very difficult to spell correctly if you are English.

Moon Freight 3 by Luke Foster
Complete Arc
The Beginning 
 This is actually the first webcomic I read. Another comedy webcomic based on the time-honoured premise of a bunch of guys stuck in space and bored witless. The art is pretty shocking at the beginning, but does smooth out to tell a pleasingly-off-the-wall story workplace skiving. A slightly more adult focus than Center of Somewhere, but equally YA friendly.
Pros: SFW, YA friendly, silly and entertaining, bit of a Red Dwarf vibe to it.
Cons: Somewhat unsteady in quality.

The Young Protectors by Alex Woolfson, Adam DeKraker (pencils) and Veronica Gandini (colours)
Updates Saturdays (and Wednesdays as a bonus).
The Beginning 
Kyle (aka, Red Hot) is a young superhero struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and to come out to the other members of his team (The Young Protectors). Early in the comic begins a covert relationship with Duncan (aka, The Annihilator), one the planets more dangerous super-villains. Equal parts world-saving adventure and emotional narrative, The Young Protectors is a refreshing take on the superhero form. One of the nicest things about it is the lack of objectification in the artwork. While pitched at all readers, the 'gaze' is decidedly homosexual and male, and therefore inhabits the characters as subjects while presenting them as desirable, meaning that nearly everyone wears proper clothes and stands in natural poses. As a woman, it's very restful not to see bodies like mine aggressively sexualised, leaving me to enjoy the story without rage-gasms.
Pros: Excellent story-telling, engaging and moving. Mostly SFW. A really quality webcomic.
Cons: Not YA friendly, while excellent at representation in some ways, a little lacking in others. Also the website does not automatically take you to the most recent post which gets a touch annoying.

Mystery Babylon by Val Hochberg
Updates Mondays
The Beginning / Most Recent Update

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where - it is implied - superheroes are worshipped as Gods, Mystery Babylon (aka Kick Girl) is charged with keeping the seal to The Pit intact, and the other demons trapped beneath it. Angry and cynical she takes few things seriously; not the cultists who revere her, and certainly not Zero, the Vestal Priest who claims a angel bestowed a vision upon him that will lead them back The Pit and prevent it being opened.
Pros: Very interesting and original adventure narrative. SFW.
Cons: Quite long, and needs to be read from the beginning.

Alice and the Nightmare by Misha Krivanek
Starts February 14th
 I'm a little awkward about putting this one in here as there's nothing up at the minute. Alice and the Nightmare ran last year only to go on hiatus in the summer. It's now restarting on Valentine's Day. Taking it's cue from Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, it was shaping up to be an fascinating story of intolerance, compassion and eerie danger, told with beautifully cutesy art-work. I suspect the reboot will be all of these things, but we shall see.
Pros: The first run was looking to be very good.
Cons: Not enough info as yet.

So, there you are - the narrative webcomics I currently read. Any suggestions (including your own) are more than welcome in the comments below.

Enjoy. x