There’s this moment in the beginning of Grease when Danny Zuko and best friend Kenickie reunite after a summer apart. Stoked to see each other, the two young men hug tightly only to immediately spring apart — in the spirit of “no homo.” They whip out their combs and run them through their hair, reaffirming their manliness.
With the three stooges watching them from the background, the moment is framed to be funny but is actually pretty sad. I mean, how crappy is it that these best bros can’t hug it out? But this sort of hypermasculinity is a calling card for Grease — and look no further than Sandy’s transformation in the grande finale and you’ve got yourself some hyperfeminity.
With a Grease-esque setting, webcomic Rock and Riot comes with all the drive-in dates, diner milkshakes, turf tumbles and prom woes of the 1950s — but with an unapologetic LGBT theme. New Zealander and queer lady artist Chelsey Furendi draws you into the colourful world of two rival gangs — the Jacquettes and the Rollers — who find romance brewing in their midst.
It all starts when sweet-bicep-having Connie, leader of girl gang Jacquettes, falls in love with Carla, a high schooler and waitress. Soon, more romances emerge — though at times abruptly and out of nowhere.
The hetero and white exceptionalism of Grease and other 50s-era media are nowhere to be found in Rock and Riot, with its cast spanning a broad range of genders, sexualities, and backgrounds.
A hilarious sequence emerges when Ace, the new cool kid on the block, shows up to school, and both gangs zealously — and desperately — badger them to join their respective group.
“Listen up chumps! I ain’t joining no one!” Ace finally snaps. “Why does it have to be boys vs girls with you?” Turns out Ace’s got their own gang, the Bandits, who aren’t willing to slot themselves into traditional gender categories.
Now in its final chapter, the rival gangs of this hilarious and endearing comic are forced to team up when their school enacts a “straight” prom policy. Though I’m pretty sure I know how this is going to pan out, that’s not going to stop me more continuing to tune in until the very end of Rock and Riot.
Anisa Rawhani is the assistant editor at Broken Pencil Magazine.