Interview with Chad Sell and Barbara Perez Marquez

Chad Sell‘s first children’s graphic novel was The Cardboard Kingdom, which he illustrated and co-wrote with a team of ten collaborators. This same team came together again to create The Cardboard Kingdom #2: Roar of the Beast. Chad’s first full-length solo project, Doodleville, is set in Chicago, where he lives with his husband and two cats.

Barbara Perez Marquez was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, now she lives in the USA. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College. She writes short stories and fiction, usually using coming of age and LGBTQ themes in her work. During her career, she has also been an editor for several publications and projects. Her work was first featured in a student collection in the 7th grade, the same year she decided she wanted to be a writer. Since then, she’s been featured in a number of literary journals, as well as anthologies. Her latest works include The Cardboard Kingdom and its sequel, The Cardboard Kingdom #2: Roar of the Beast.

I had the opportunity to interview both Chad and Barbara, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your latest book, The Cardboard Kingdom #2: Roar of the Beast! Could you tell us a little of what the book’s about?

CHAD: Thank you! ROAR OF THE BEAST follows the Cardboard Kingdom kids as they get ready for Halloween. But something is amiss in the kingdom–the kids start seeing a shadowy monster lurking through their neighborhood at night. No one can agree on what the monster looks like and what to do about it: hunt it down, study it, trap it, or simply stay far, far away! Because we have an enormous cast of characters, we were able to explore the many different approaches that the kids take in facing their fears and solving the mystery.

How did The Cardboard Kingdom series come to be? What was the impetus for the project?

CHAD: I love creativity, comics, and costumes–at its heart, The CARDBOARD KINGDOM series is all about how kids use all three to explore aspects of their identity. What does it mean for a boy to dress up as a glamorous sorceress? Or for a little girl to dress up like a mustachioed mad scientist? How can play and make believe help us explore and express new aspects of ourselves that would otherwise stay hidden? 

The Cardboard Kingdom is an anthology of different stories from different kids set in the same neighborhood. What was it like collaborating with other artists and creatives on the project?

BARBARA: I think we owe a lot of its seamlessness to Chad, whom really endeavored to bring our team together and as a leader, keeps it all cohesive. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to be able to tell the stories in The Cardboard Kingdom as a collaborative effort, since its a perfect reflection of what’s going on in the book too.

Chad Sell

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to this medium?

BARBARA: I started pretty late in comics myself, and it wasn’t until graduate school when I properly started to look at comics as a creator as opposed to just a reader. As a storyteller, comics provide a unique approach to telling a story that can draw in any type of reader. Being able to capture a reader is super important for me as a writer and comics make it that much more simple. 

CHAD: I agree with Barbara–comics are such an inviting form of storytelling! I love that a kid who can’t even read will pick up CARDBOARD KINGDOM and still get totally engaged with the story, even if they’re making up a lot of it on their own! That’s the appeal of comics for me.

One of the characters in The Cardboard Kingdom is an aspiring gender-bending Dominican American mad scientist. As a queer Dominican American yourself, would you say you incorporated any of your own experiences into this character or other parts of the story?

BARBARA: I think the short answer is yes, but I think if we were to put our experiences side to side, then they’d be much less alike. As a writer, I always strive to fill in the gaps from my own experiences, so for me, it was more important to present Amanda in ways that I wouldn’t have necessarily done as a kid myself. I think in that way, it becomes a more robust effort towards bringing to life stories that I wish I’d had as a kid. I think especially in a moment where we still need to push for representation, we have to continue to look at our experiences and not just reflect ourselves, but also the tools that would have been useful to us and to potential readers. 

What are some moments/characters within the book that you most related to in regards to your own experiences as a kid?

CHAD: The CARDBOARD KINGDOM character I most relate to is Jack the Sorceress, and he continues his journey in Roar of the Beast, exploring how to imbue more of the Sorceress’ fabulous magic into his everyday life. But he also wrestles with a lot more: his little sister is becoming her own person, developing sinister new schemes instead of serving as his helpful little assistant. And Jack also has a powerful moment of recognition and connection with another young queer character, Miguel the Rogue. I remember as a kid how powerful it was to encounter other children like you, but also how scary it could be, too! We wanted to capture all  of that complexity in their scenes together.

BARBARA: I was definitely one of the kids that bounced around different friend groups, so seeing The Knight’s journey throughout the book really resonated with me as she continues to find her own place in the Kingdom and what that means. I think with the book as a whole we definitely pushed further our efforts to create spaces for everyone, even when we are scared to look for that place.

What advice would you give to aspiring young artists/writers working on their craft and for those who wish to work in the field?

CHAD: We’re living in such a fascinating time for comics, in terms of webcomics, the booming kids’ market, and the countless new ways to find and support creators. It’s kind of overwhelming, particularly for young artists–you can’t be good at EVERYTHING, and you can’t possibly appeal to EVERYBODY. There’s no one way to be a successful artist, and so it’s up to you to figure out where you fit best, what approach works for you, and what work you want to make. Try to find peers who are doing what you’re doing, seek out resources to learn more about the industry, and look into the different kinds of mentorship opportunities that have been emerging online!

BARBARA: I agree that this is a great time to be in comics and publishing, but for someone that’s still looking to find their path, it’s still invaluable to stay up to date on what’s happening around you. As we create, we can often get lost in our own process or even just aiming towards the big names, but there’s new content available everyday, so staying on the lookout for works that feel similar to what you want to do is a great way to have a bit of a compass on what’s happening while you get your work ready for the world.

Barbara Perez Marquez

Previously, you had both paneled for an event at Flame Con, a queer comic con sponsored by Geeks OUT, called “Telling All-Ages Queer Stories.” Can you talk about your work and personal motivation creating inclusive stories for young queer kids?

BARBARA: That panel was so fun! I spoke a bit already on how I try to not just create stories with elements from my own life, but also with the tools that were missing when I was growing up. I think for myself, it’s always been important for my work to be inclusive because it’s the least we can do as creators. When it comes to stories for queer audiences, and I think Chad mentioned it too, it’s not about representing EVERYTHING at once. On the contrary, if that’s the main focus it can often come off as disingenuous. Instead, I often try to tell stories with the same care I would hope someone would have talking about me. With that in mind, I always strive to make space, even when the story might not reflect everything I’d want it to, I hope it provides space for ANY reader to find something to connect with.

CHAD: Yeah, as Barbara said, it’s so powerful to see yourself reflected in a story! A lot of my early conceptions of queerness and identity were shaped by the comics I read as a kid, which is unfortunate, because those early 90’s comics made it seem like coming out would literally mean getting chased out of your hometown by an angry mob! So I’m hoping that our books offer a much more affirming and inclusive sense of recognition to our young readers, and a sense that their world is expansive and multi-faceted.

Oftentimes for younger generations, knowledge of queer language, whether that referring to orientation or gender identity, is often limited. How did you set about depicting queerness in a way younger generations could access?

BARBARA: I think I’ll leave Chad to speak a little more at length on this, but comics are visual and that’s super important when there’s that lack of language. I think it’s also really important to remember that younger audiences may not have the direct terms to correlate to something, but they are still experiencing life in the same way we did and that’s universal in many other ways than just language.

CHAD: Barbara is totally right! We generally tried to convey aspects of queerness situationally and visually rather than relying on terminology or language. So in Barbara’s story The Mad Scientist, the main character Amanda’s father is confused and upset that she’s dressing up in a cardboard mustache and lab coat with her friends. But they don’t address that with an extensive discussion of gender identity and expression–instead, we resolved that chapter wordlessly with a final image full of love, acceptance…and mustaches.

Aside from comics, what would you say are some of your other skills and interests?

BARBARA: I had an interest in publishing in general when I started out, so I’m also a bit of a freelance editor in my spare time. I also grew up learning other languages and playing video games, so that’s pretty much where I focus my attention when I’m not writing. Whether it’s playing a new game or doing translation or watching content in other languages. 

CHAD: I’m also an avid videogamer, and I love a good tabletop board game, too! (I’m in the final stretch of an epic GLOOMHAVEN campaign right now!) I love cooking, too–the kitchen is a place for me to get creative and experiment with extremely low stakes involved. After all, it’s just dinner! 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet and wish you were asked (and your answer to that question)?

CHAD: Barbara and I both had a really hard time coming up with an answer to this, which means you’ve asked a ton of good questions in this interview!!

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

CHAD: We’ve been crafting more tales for the Cardboard Kingdom, and I’ve been working on a stupendously fun new superhero series with my friend Mary Winn Heider–hopefully that will be announced soon!

BARBARA: I’ve got a few stories in the works that will hopefully be announced by the end of the year.

Finally, what queer books would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

CHAD: I’ve been loving Kat Leyh’s recent books–SNAPDRAGON is a fantastic, layered graphic novel for younger readers, and THIRSTY MERMAIDS is a hilarious romp for adults. THE MAGIC FISH by Trung Le Nguyen and FLAMER by Mike Curato are great picks for teens!

BARBARA: One of my favorite new reads recently was Molly Ostertag’s THE GIRL FROM THE SEA. I’ve also been working through my backlog of books and really enjoyed the graphic novel adaptation of JULIET TAKES A BREATH by Gabby Rivera and Celia Moscote.

Review: Fear Street: 1978

Spoiler-Free Review:

Fear Street 1978 doesn’t waste any time getting right to the good stuff. Last week’s 1994 had already done a lot of the heavy lifting introducing us to Shadyside and the witch’s curse, so 1978 was poised to hit the ground running. Where the first movie featured an homage to nineties movies, the second part of the story does the same with the greats of the seventies. You can pick up references to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, The Exorcists, and probably several others that I missed. It also uses a different color pallet to establish a new feel and tone. We already got the headline of what happened at Camp Nightmoon, so we knew how the movie would end before it even started. The fun was in finding out how the events actually unfolded. The good stuff never makes it into the papers. The principal cast delivered some excellent performances. There were some truly brutal kills. We got plenty of new context to the information we found in the first movie. There were a few contrived items that stretched the realm of plausibility, but there was nothing so egregious that it took me out of the experience. The self-aware approach to old-school horror movie campiness helped a lot in that regard. Fear Street: 1978 works really well as its own stand-alone movie, but it also sets the stage nicely for Fear Street: 1666. I know the film did its job because I cannot wait for the third and final part of the trilogy.

Score: 4 stars

Observations & Spoilers

Keeping with the trend from my Fear Street book reviews, everything from this point on contains spoilers. So you can wait until you’ve seen the movie and come back, or you can read on ahead with reckless abandon. Consider yourself warned.

Fear Street: 1978 takes the Camp Nightmoon setting from the Fear Street novel Lights Out, but it doesn’t take much else from the book. I wasn’t exactly a fan of that book, so you will hear no complaints from me on this point. There weren’t many book references beyond what the first movie gave us, and I was honestly fine with that. I like the fact that these movies aren’t just beholden to a rigid canon, and are allowed to really be their own thing. These movies are for horror fans of all stripes; book fans and movie fans alike will find plenty to enjoy.

FEAR STREET: 1978 – Cr: Netflix © 2021

1978 was allowed to be a tighter movie in general because of all the heavy lifting that 1994 already did. We already knew about the curse; we even knew how many people were going to die at Camp Nightmoon by the end of it. The fun part was in seeing how events unfolded and picking up on the small ways it all tied together with the events of Part One. If the first movie was already giving you Stranger Things vibes, Sadie Sink helped carry that feeling into the second film. She leads an excellent cast of actors that includes Ted Sutherland as a young Nick Goode. I appreciated how the story made me really feel for these characters, even though I knew most of them were doomed from the start. Alice, who is portrayed by non-binary actor Ryan Simpkins, puts it simply: “Everyone has their own way of dealing with Shadyside.”

FEAR STREET: 1978 (Pictured) RYAN SIMPKINS as ALICE. NETFLIX © 2021

There was a really strong undercurrent of women supporting women at the core of this story. Women in movie roles and other sectors of the media are often pitted against each other. As though there can only be one that comes out on top. Fear Street: 1978 featured a really touching story between two sisters (Cindy and Ziggy) as well as between two friends (Cindy and Alice). The tragic way that the curse of Shadyside had infiltrated all of their lives was shown to have more depth than just the psycho killers who spring up every so often. It drove Cindy to strive for perfection to seek a way out. I drove Alice to cut themself and seek joys in the simple pleasures of life. It left the young Ziggy jaded and apathetic about ever being able to get away from Shadyside. It made that hopeful moment after Alice found Sarah’s hand all the more powerful. It also made Alice’s and Cindy’s deaths that much more tragic. I’m a firm believer that character is the key to any good story, and I’m so grateful that these movies have (so far) not lost sight of that.

FEAR STREET: 1978 – (L-R) EMILY RUDD as CINDY and SADIE SINK as ZIGGY. Cr: Netflix © 2021

I had a few issues with Sarah’s hand. I felt like it was found a bit too easily in both instances. The first one is more forgivable. The red moss was a nice touch. There was also plenty of it around Sarah’s grave in the first movie. I like the unnatural bright red look of it and how it represented a physical manifestation of the curse. I also thought it was cool the way that the Shadyside Mall was built around the hanging tree. I’m not sure that the roots of a tree that old and large could withstand being surrounded by a foundation like that, and I also don’t think the hand would just stay buried given all the surrounding excavation that would have needed to happen  I don’t know shit about architecture and engineering so maybe I’m completely wrong. Still, it stuck out to me as a little too convenient for the plot that Deena and Josh were able to find the hand again so easily. And that’s not even getting into the fact that they were able to easily break into a mall that was also the scene of a very recent mass murder without getting caught. But again, I was having fun so it was easy to let this point slide.

FFEAR STREET: 1978 – (L-R) TED SUTHERLAND as NICK and SADIE SINK as ZIGGY. Cr: Netflix © 2021

I found it a little confusing as to why Nick Goode gave the authorities Cindy’s name instead of Ziggys. The only reason I can think of was to save her from the curse since Ziggy is the one who bled on Sarah’s bones. But the cold way that Nick regarded Ziggy when she asked if he believed her about the curse seems to contradict that. There was something shrouded in his intentions. Maybe it’s something that will be revealed next week in Fear Street: 1666. There’s only one way to find out. Fear Street: 1978 premieres on Netflix July 9th.

FEAR STREET: 1978 (L to R) EMILY RUDD as CINDY, RYAN SIMPKINS as ALICE and SAM BROOKS as ARNIE. NETFLIX © 2021

If you’re enjoying the Fear Street movies and have been looking to scratch the nostalgic itch of your childhood R.L. Stine binge-reading days, I’ve been reading and reviewing a bunch of them on my blog for the last few years. There are plenty of Fear Street, Goosebumps, Point Horror, and Christopher Pike books already up there. If you like what you see, find me on social media and follow along. I will also be involved in the Geeks Out trivia event next week. We put together some really fun questions, and there may even be some appearances from the cast. See below for details.

There wasn’t as much explicitly queer content in this movie beyond the opening scenes with Deena and Sam. I still enjoyed the hell out of this movie. If Fear Street: 1666 takes things in the direction that I think it will, there should be more queerness on the horizon. For those of you that can’t wait, Netflix has been organizing several Queer Street events across the country. This Saturday it will be hitting New York City. Check out the details below if you’re interested, and maybe I’ll see you there!

Interview with Actor Briggon Snow

Briggon Snow is a queer actor best known for voicing Caleb Michaels in the cult hit podcast THE BRIGHT SESSIONS and its spinoff THE COLLEGE TAPES, as well as other popular fiction podcasts like THE BIG LOOP, IN STRANGE WOODS, LOOK UP and Netflix’s upcoming Stranger Things prequel REBEL ROBIN: SURVIVING HAWKINS. With roles on TV including SEAL TEAM (CBS), GAME SHAKERS (Nickelodeon) and MASTERS OF SEX (Showtime). I had the opportunity to talk with Briggon, which you can read below.

Welcome to Geeks OUT! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Could you tell the readers a little about yourself?

Thank you! My name is Briggon Snow (he/him). I’m a gay man and an actor/writer living in Los Angeles. Originally from Maine. I live with my husband James and our two pups, Dodger and Gug Gus. I moved my life to LA for acting and discovered that storytelling – not just performing – is really what I love. The Bright Sessions is what your readers might know me best for – if they know me at all – hi mom! In my voice work I play a lot of teens but I’m very much in my thirties feeling like that Steve Buscemi “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme. I live in that space; with a pocket full of Lactaid and a dream.

Was there any LGBTQ+ media around growing up that you related to? If not, did you feel that influenced your own aspirations being an actor?

There wasn’t a ton out there other than queer coded villains and adult content that I found myself watching on the dl for answers; clearing that history and those cookies. I really wished there were more examples growing up. But I think off the top of my head I remember movies like ‘Shelter’ or TV like Queer As Folk and the odd storyline from Jack & Bobby and Everwood. And I wish I could say this vacuum of queer representation influenced my acting aspirations, but as a kid I had it in my mind that I would never come out. It wasn’t until I embraced who I was that I realized how desperately I wanted to be a part of stories that would have meant the world to me as a kid.

One of the things you’re most known for is for your voice work as Caleb Michaels, one of the main characters of the acclaimed podcast series, The Bright sessions. Could you tell us how you got involved in that project, and on that note how you got into podcasting in the first place?

I was in an acting class with this really talented acquaintance (at the time), Lauren Shippen. She’d seen me in class – all of the good and the bad – and somehow thought of me for this role that she’d written. She just messaged me and said a free pizza was in the cards if I said yes. I was honestly just blown away that someone would want to include me in something they had created. I had no idea there was this world of modern audio storytelling. I grew up falling asleep to old Abbott & Costello radio show cassette tapes my mom would get from the local library, so I actually had always loved radio plays and variety shows. When I was thrown into the fiction podcast world it was like coming home to a form of entertainment I never thought I’d get to be a part of.

As a friend and collaborator with Lauren Shippen, creator of The Bright sessions, what has it been like working with her all these years?

A total dream. I was spoiled with the writing, creative freedom, and the spirit of collaboration that she’s all about. I’d always joke and call it “Lauren Cove”; a safe and beautiful place to perform and create. But more than anything, we became best friends. And she’ll always be one of the most important people in my life. The greatest thing about art and creating is the human connections that are made…and I’ve got a sister for life now. 

As someone who has admittedly only recently gotten into podcasts, what do you think is the appeal of this medium? What are some of your favorite examples?

It’s intimate. It’s vulnerable. Audio somehow has a direct line to our imagination. It sits next to our inner monologues and thoughts. You ever drift asleep – or come in and out of it – and a movie is on in the background? The absence of our other senses, and the lowering of our alertness – you ever hear things more clearly and all-encompassing when you do that? It feels intimate and peaceful. Does that make sense? That’s kind of what fiction podcasts feel like for me. These stories and performances are delivered directly to my brain and imagination; voices up close – hopefully pulling your heart into the alchemy of that experience too – and that’s just a unique thing. It’s just what I love about it.

In previous interviews and articles, you had spoken a little about the significance to getting to play a younger queer character, such as Caleb, as a queer actor and the character’s exploration of mental health and non-toxic masculinity. Could you expand on this?

It’s so important, right? Not just from a sexuality standpoint, but as boys we’re brainwashed into what it means to be a man in this world. And if you’re anything but aggressive, strong, rough, whatever, you’re somehow other – or less-than. I think boyhood and manhood is beautiful. It’s way more complex and precious than the shit older generations forced on us. I think to be a boy or a man in this world is to be courageous – and not the hyper-masculine coding of the word; saving others and being strong or anything like that. I think in this instance “courageous” means being brave enough to feel and to exist in a world where we can call on our capacity for tenderness and vulnerability and feel empowered by that just as much as holding our ground or pushing through obstacles. 

What were your favorite parts of getting to work on The Bright Sessions as Caleb?

It felt like a do-over, honestly. I find so much healing and fulfilment in acting. Even though I loved my years and experiences in high school, however closeted and confused they were, I got to step into this kid’s shoes and cosplay someone I wish I had been a bit more like at that age. I did have a lot of anger as a kid (like Caleb), buried beneath a friendly face, and I think exercising some of those demons as Caleb did helped me become who I am today. I’m forever grateful for him, and for the gift Lauren gave me. I still get messages weekly from new and old listeners who’ve said Caleb has helped them find their way in the world to embracing themselves or coming out to a loved one. It’s an honor every time someone shares their story with me. I’m blown over by how strangers can affect one another. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on right now or aim to in the future that you would wish to speak about?

I’m currently searching for that next lightning in a bottle thing. The Bright Sessions has been such a big part of my life, and while I’m having so much fun doing things here and there, I’m ravenous for that next challenge; that next role I can really explore. After getting my sea legs writing on shows like The College Tapes, I ended up writing and acting in a gay coming-of-age limited series podcast called “Look Up”. It’s being released weekly right now and I’m really proud of it. Again, I want to put more things out into the world that say “I see you” to that kid out there trying to figure out where they might fit in the universe. Honestly, I think one of those kids out there is in me, and the work I do is part of an exercise of reminding myself that my story, humanity, perspective, and who I am has value.

As a creative, what advice might you have for other people wanting to get into the acting/podcast industries?

You’re going to have up days and down days; without a balance between the two probably. It’s hard. But I’ve found what keeps me going is the knowledge – like deep in my bones – that it’s all going to happen for me. And it might not, right? But you have to sort of live in this beautiful delusion that your dreams will come true. I haven’t had a live-action tv/film job in two years? Yikes,maybe more. I miss it. But I know it’s going to work out and I’ll find my fulfillment and my happy (despite all current albeit fleeting evidence to the contrary). And that’s kind of the whole thing of it. As actors or creatives or whatever, we’re asked to be profoundly vulnerable and crazy thick-skinned;  that combination doesn’t make sense. But we do it because we love to create. And, I’ll say, I think queer creatives are especially good at this because of our heightened super power, the side-effect from all of the things we go through to find ourselves: Empathy.

As a queer geek, are there are roles or characters you would fancast yourself into one day?

I’ve been shooting my shot on social media about this the past year, but I want to be Northstar in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so bad. A friend of mine surprised me with a poster of me as the character and I lost my mind. What Jean-Paul means to me, the idea of him, it’s just a tremendous pipe dream. Fun to imagine and work towards but maybe/probably it won’t end up being the destination but the pursuit of it reveals something else that’s exciting and wonderful. Anyway, if not me, I hope an actual queer actor gets to play Northstar. But man oh man would it be a dream to be so visible as a gay man in a gay role in a blockbuster universe. 

Besides being an actor, what are some things you would want people to know about you personally?

I’m still figuring it out. I’m an actor and a writer and a creator, but as a person in this world…I’m earnestly trying to figure out what I want and who I am. I’m at a point in my life where I’m so far out from my early twenties #ActorLife energy and really deep in the work of nurturing and exploring who I am to me, my husband, the people I love in my life and full-on committing myself to the things that bring me joy and peace. Life is so short. I want to live it well and not just for the success. Last night my husband and I sat down to watch the new Pixar film “Luca”, and it took me back to that barefoot summer glow feeling of friendship and connection and optimism. Ambition was a distant future thought at that time in my life, and I think being an adult is balancing that ambition and pursuit of creative fulfilment…leaving your mark on the world…and the simple innocent feelings of connection and play that come so naturally when we’re kids. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (and the answer to that question)?

Do I dare wade into the discussion around non-queer actors in queer roles? It’s been on my mind a lot lately; not even just from me being an actor but as an audience member too. I’ll say this: I think that yeah absolutely straight folks can play gay roles – but I think we need a lot more of actual queer actor representation and opportunity before it all stops feeling a bit like creative tourism; straights taking an adventure vacation in my community’s truth and experience. It’s strange, even if the straight actor is well-meaning and does a beautiful job and exemplifies true allyship in their real life and all that…it still feels like a bummer to me. Watching a queer person in a queer role just hits different. And damn if it isn’t complicated because nobody should have to out themselves to play a role. I don’t know what the fix is here, but maybe just talking about it more. It’s just that no matter how much a straight cis man says they wanted to make it authentic and worked really hard and talked with gay family members or whatever, it still falls short for me. And to be sure, this isn’t just about actors; we’re part of a system and an industry that still is super cowardly when it comes to gay storylines and creatives in the mainstream. But if a straight actor plays a gay role, they’re celebrated for their commitment to the work – the lengths they went – the sheer fact they were willing to do it – the believability – and then they end up on the covers of queer magazines of all things and we all applaud. When an out gay actor plays a straight role (not as common) you don’t see that kind of fanfare because straight is the “normal”, right? You get what I mean? I’m not bitter about it – truly I promise – and I’m grateful for any scrap we can get out there (some of those scraps are so damn great and helped me on my journey to being an out and proud gay man), I just want more for us, ya know? Until more LGBTQ+ performers are out in the Hollywood wild telling our own stories,  a lot of these mainstream victories will just keep feeling like they’re asking more from us queer audience members than we are of them. 

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ media (i.e books/ comics/ podcasts/etc.) you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Okay, books? – The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch, The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. I’m going to use the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman as my transition from books to comics because that straddles it beautifully and Alice is amazing and I can’t wait for the show. Comics? Fence by C. S. Pacat, a web-comic called Lies Within by Lacey….ummm…fiction podcasts? Honestly throw a rock and you’ll hit one; the fiction podcast space is an incredible place for queer creators and stories, but lately I’ve enjoyed The Two Princes and James Kim’s gorgeous Vermont Ave.

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Queer Street – 1994

Geeks OUT Podcast: Queer Street – 1994

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew) is joined by writer Daniel Stalter (@danielstalter) as they discuss the new horror movie with queer leads, Fear Street: 1994, mourn the loss of a second season of Lovecraft Country, and celebrate the new year long queer comic initiative

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by writer Daniel Stalter, as they discuss the new horror movie with queer leads, Fear Street: 1994, mourn the loss of a second season of Lovecraft Country, and celebrate the new year long queer comic initiative from Vault Comics in This Week in Queer. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: HBO cancels Lovecraft Country though season 2 would’ve changed the country
DAN: New Fear Street: 1994 movie features queer leads

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: The Tomorrow War, Monster Hunter, Batwoman, Dragging the Classics
DAN: Fear Street: 1994, Drag Race All-Stars, Mare of Easttown

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Sequel to The Old Guard with original cast begins filming in 2022

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Pride will continue through the year with new Vault Comics initiative

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for Foundation

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• New trailer for Amazon Prime’s Cinderella musical
• WB is releasing an animated remake of Night of the Living Dead

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TV

• New trailer for Masters of the Universe: Revelation
• Disney+ announces a Loki/Simpsons animated short 
• Pride continues with Disney+’s This Is Me Pride Celebration on YouTube 
• FX’s new Alien series to be set on Earth
• New teaser for the Fantasy Island reboot

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COMIC BOOKS

• Marvel reveals the reason for The Trial of Magneto in the divisive final X-Factor

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Doctor Aphra
• DAN: Jason Solo/Darth Caedus

Interview with Author Julia Drake

Julia Drake grew up outside Philadelphia. As a teenager, she played some of Shakespeare’s best heroines in her high school theater program, and their stories would stay with her forever. She received her BA in Spanish from Williams College, and her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she also taught writing to first-year students. She currently works as a book coach for aspiring writers and teaches creative writing classes for Writopia, a nonprofit that fosters love of writing in young adults. She lives in San Francisco with her partner and their rescue rabbit, Ned. Her debut novel, The Last True Poets of the Sea, is available now. I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia, which you can read below.

First of all, when did you want to be a writer? What drew you to creative writing?

I have always written, though it wasn’t until I was a senior in college that I took my first creative writing class and started taking writing more seriously. Writing for me was always a balm, and a way of thinking, a way of slowing down and sorting out the chaos of my inner life. I have always found Joan Didion’s assertion in “Why I Write” to be relatable: “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write.”

What were some of the first books you fell in love with and why? What were some of the first queer books the clicked with you?

As a child, I read and re-read Charlotte’s Web a thousand times. It’s such a beautiful story of friendship, change, and the passage of time, and I returned to it during the pandemic and found myself completely undone. When I was a little older, I loved books by Sharon Creech, especially Absolutely Normal Chaos and Mary Lou Finney’s hilarious take on the world. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of queer lit growing up, but I remember a short story called “Cowgirls & Indie Boys” by Tanuja Desai Hidier (author of Born Confused) in an anthology called Sixteen: Stories About that Sweet and Bitter Birthday. I must’ve been thirteen or so when I read it, and it was remarkable to me at the time because it was a short story that ended happily in two girls kissing, and no harm came to them. It was the first time I’d seen queer young women validated and celebrated, and I found myself so moved by it without quite being able to express why. 

Where did the inspiration for The Last True Poets of the Sea? Were there any authors or books that influenced you while writing this novel?

The original inspiration for this book was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which has long been a favorite of mine. Viola and Olivia are both such great characters, and I wanted to explore their relationship through a queer lens. I thought a lot about Sharon Creech’s books while I wrote, and how she manages to create stories that are both extraordinary and ordinary. 

So the title, why the sea? Why poetry?

The title comes from a line from Jacques Cousteau’s Diving for Sunken Treasure, a book that the character Sam adores. I don’t want to spoil the meaning, but the line felt applicable for many reasons. While the book isn’t expressly about poetry, it felt fitting to me: Violet finds herself moved by an Adrienne Rich poem and later winds up writing song lyrics; Toby, her uncle, reveals he writes poetry.   

Often for queer fiction, there’s almost this pressure to write “clean” sanitized narratives where the characters are morally unambiguous and practically perfect, and your story and characters are anything but. Was it always your intention to write this kind of messy queer character in this messy queer story?

Absolutely! Who among us is perfect? I’m extremely interested in characters that make mistakes and don’t have things figured out, because those are the only kind of people there are (especially true when writing about teenagers). At the same time, it was important to me with this book that Violet’s messiness not come from her queerness, but rather exist alongside it. She’s not messy because she’s queer, she’s messy and she’s queer. 

Mental health/illness is a strong theme within this book, and the spider-like-threads it weaves between the different characters in the book. Was this always something you wanted to cover and what would you say about the process/trials of discussing mental health in YA?

I truly did not set out to write a book about mental health – I wanted to write a whimsical book about having a good time in an aquarium! But mental illness found its way in because it’s been so much part of the fabric of my life, both in terms of my personal history and family and friends. Writing about mental health is for me, always a balance between being authentic and vulnerable, but also about not being afraid to invent and fictionalize. The trick comes in being empathic towards and honoring characters whose experience differs from your own. 

As a queer woman, would you say you have incorporating any of your own experiences/memories as a queer person navigating their identity?

I am very lucky in that Violet’s experience of being met with love and acceptance has been my experience as well. I’m very straight-passing, and I share in Violet and Liv’s discomfort when others make assumptions about their identities. Liv’s parents, for instance, suggest that both girls will eventually meet a nice man someday, and Violet finds herself thinking something along the lines of, or person, or no one at all

Aside from writing, what hobbies/interests do you enjoy exploring in your free time?

This past year, watching TV and going on masked walks were my principal interests. But I’m excited to get back into swimming this summer, and maybe even read a book or two if I can muster the focus! I also have an extremely handsome bunny who I spend a lot of time with and discourage from eating my houseplants. 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers, especially those trying to finish their first books/projects?

Commit to small and consistent goals, especially when you’re starting out: thirty minutes a day, and you’ll get to the end eventually. Learn to be patient with yourself and your progress – if it takes a long time, you’re doing it right. There really is no shortcut. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked?

I wish someone would ask about the great mind behind the amazing fish puns in the book, because the majority of them come from my brother-in-law, the incomparable BJ Thompson, who also took my author’s photograph. I am forever in his debt! 

Are there any projects you are currently working on and at liberty to speak about?

Yes! I’m working on a second book that will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2022. There’s a road trip in it, and a dog. 

Finally, what queer books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 
Ashley Herring Blake writes heartbreakingly beautiful, moving young adult and middle grade novels that I wish had been around when I was growing up – I would have devoured all of them! Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh was another book I really enjoyed this past year. And James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room should be required reading for everyone, everywhere.

Review: Fear Street 1994

Spoiler-Free Review

It’s been over 30 years, but we finally got a Fear Street movie! And not just one, but three of them! So let me take a moment to first acknowledge my excitement as a Fear Street superfan. This is a big moment. So you can only imagine how excited I was that they decided to center the movie on a queer relationship. You read that right: these aren’t just some minor side characters who will be killed just as soon as things start getting good. The new Netflix movie is also filled with plenty of homages to the Fear Street books. Some of them even make a very literal cameo. Nostalgia aside, this is a solid slasher horror movie. In fact, my favorite thing about them is how they tied the “cursed town” of Shadyside to the isolated slasher style of the main Fear Street series. This is what I had hoped they would do, and they delivered. My biggest complaint was the excess of nineties jams in the first half of the film. I am a child of the nineties, I love some good nineties jams, but the beginning of the movie overdoes it. 1994 also does some heavy lifting in order to set up the two sequels, making it a bit information-dense at times. The good news on that front is it sets things up beautifully for next week’s sequel: 1978. Overall, Fear Street: 1994 accomplishes what it set out to do. It keeps the self-aware camp of the books, delivers plenty of gory fun, and is worthy of several rewatches. 

Score: 3.5 Stars

Observations & Spoilers

As I do with my Fear Street book reviews, everything after this jump is filled with spoilers. So you can wait until you’ve seen the movie and come back, or you can read on ahead with reckless abandon. Consider yourself warned.

I had a lot of fun watching Fear Street: 1994. It did exactly what I was hoping to do with the Fear Street canon, and focused on the cursed town of Shadyside. What I didn’t expect was the way it tied supernatural elements of The Cheerleaders Trilogy and The Fear Street Saga to the predominantly slasher horror feel of the main Fear Street series. Deena, the lead character in the movie, takes her name from the main character of the iconic title The Wrong Number. The setting of the second movie takes the name of the summer camp from Lights Out. I’m sure there will be a catalog of Easter Eggs from titles that I missed, but those were the big ones. I wasn’t expecting a by-the-book adaptation to a series with 80+ titles and spin-offs. I think the creative team did an excellent job at keeping with the spirit of the books while making a movie that can be enjoyed regardless of having grown up reading them.

One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the decision to center the main story on a queer relationship. Queerness in the nineties was rarely acknowledged and representation was often problematic at best. Queer people have always existed, and that’s exactly how it’s presented in the movie. I had a feeling that Sam was a girl well before it was revealed, but I was also screening the movie specifically for queer content. Regardless, I think the creative team here can be commended for getting it right with Deena and Sam. Their relationship felt true to their characters, and their characters felt true to the queer women I have known. I certainly can’t speak for everyone in that regard, but after a lifetime of queer-coded straight main characters and cartoonishly stereotypical gay side characters, Deena and Sam felt honest and refreshing.

FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 – (L-R) KIANA MADEIRA as DEENA, FRED HECHINGER as SIMON, BENJAMIN FLORES JR. as JOSH, JULIA REHWALD as KATE, and OLIVIA WELCH as SAM. Cr: Netflix © 2021

I did have some questions regarding Beddy, the nurse/drug dealer who sneaks the kids into the hospital after visiting hours. The character read as queer to me but wasn’t really around long enough for me to be sure. It felt like they had a backstory that got cut for time, and I wanted to know more. If Beddy were the only character with a hint of queerness, their limited presence and death would have been problematic. But the fundamental rule for breaking out of the bury-your-gays trope in a horror movie is to have so many gay characters that it doesn’t matter if some of them die. On that count, Fear Street: 1994 succeded. It also did a good job representing Black characters. Deena was the star, and Josh was the brains of the group that kept (most of) the kids alive. For a book series that was very much a product of its time, it wouldn’t have taken much to improve on this front. But to their credit, the creative team gave us a diverse cast of well-defined and memorable characters.

FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 – (Pictured) BENJAMIN FLORES JR. as JOSH. Cr: Netflix © 2021

I appreciated the references and homages paid to the great slasher horror movies of the nineties. The opening scene especially took a lot of cues from Scream. Having Maya Hawke be the movie’s first kill was very reminiscent of Drew Barrymore’s role in Scream’s iconic opening scene. I do wish the Skullmask killer had been a little more distinct in that respect, but as we got into the history of Shadyside killers I became more forgiving of the choice. I found Ruby Lane, the milkman, and a few of the others way more compelling. But the Skullmask was definitely the most nineties of the bunch, and that was the point.

FEAR STREET – Cr: Netflix © 2021

My biggest complaint about the movie was the overuse of nineties jams crammed into the first thirty minutes. It was great when Garbage’s “Only Happy When it Rains” introduced us to Deena. It gave us a great sense of who she was right off the bat before she even said her first line. But as the kids entered Shadyside High we got berated with song after song. All of them worked in their own way, but it was akin to sensory overload. The songs never got their own moment to land. Thankfully this tendency doesn’t carry throughout the movie, and it wasn’t enough to take me out of enjoying it.

FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 – (L-R) JULIA REHWALD as KATE, FRED HECHINGER as SIMON and KIANA MADEIRA as DEENA . Cr: Netflix © 2021

Fear Street: 1994 set things up beautifully for Fear Street: 1978. You can look out for my review on that one next Thursday. In the meantime, if you are feeling nostalgic for the paperback horror stories of your youth, you can check out my ongoing reviews of the Fear Street books over on my blog.