Interview with Illustrator Wendy Xu

Wendy Xu is a bestselling, award-nominated Brooklyn-based illustrator and comics artist. She is the creator of the middle grade fantasy graphic novel TIDESONG (2021 from HarperCollins/Quilltree) and co-creator of MOONCAKES, a young adult fantasy graphic novel published in 2019 from Oni Press. Her work has been featured on Catapult, Barnes & Noble Sci-fi/Fantasy Blog, and, among other places. She is currently working on two upcoming graphic novels from HarperCollins. You can find more art on her instagram or on twitter.

I had the opportunity to interview Wendy, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

On a good day I have anywhere between twenty and thirty bees in my head, on a bad day there’s like forty to seventy. That is to say, I’m a comics artist who lives in Brooklyn with my partner and cat. I like to cook when I’m not drawing, but I like to eat marginally more than I like to cook.

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

When I was a very small kid, some of my first books were collections of children’s comics. They were all in Chinese, which I couldn’t read, but I enjoyed deducing the story from the images, and I loved trying to draw like the illustrations I saw. When I got a little older, I started reading manga. I was really fortunate to have a great librarian at my town library in high school who loved comics and manga too, and because of her collection developmentI had an amazing stash of books to check out and read while I was there. I believe it was Lynda Barry (whose book, MAKING COMICS, I frequently refer to when planning drawing exercises for my own students– she has worked extensively with kids) who said that to a very young child, words and pictures go naturally together and only when they get older do these two categories become distinct and more rigid. As a child, that distinction was never really made for me, and I am thankful that comics have been with me my whole life. 

As an artist, would you say there are any other artists or comics that have influenced your creative style or inspired you personally?

CLAMP, Rumiko Takahashi, Fuyumi Soryo, and Hayao Miyazaki are some of my earliest and biggest influences.

What are some of your favorite parts about creating a graphic novel?

Conceptually: worldbuilding. It’s fun to play in a universe and figure out the mechanics of it, as well as how the environment contributes to all of the aesthetic sensibilities that exist. Technically: inking, when all of the hard writing and art bits are over with and your only focus is to make it look polished and good.

Your first published graphic novel, Mooncakes, explores queer characters, magic and witchcraft. Where did the idea for this project come from and what was it like working on the comic with your co-creator, Suzanne Walker?

I’ve always wanted to do a love story between a witch and a werewolf– I think the earliest inspiration for that comes from reading Amelia Atwater-Rhodes in the library when I was in middle school, but also a smutty witch/werewolf romance that got passed to me in eighth grade as contraband. A ways out of college, I asked my friend Suzanne if she wanted to do this comic together with me, because she wrote fun fanfictions and I occasionally drew little accompanying art for them, and I thought she could do the part I didn’t like, which is piecing the story together, and I could do the fun (although in comics, way more labor intensive part). All of the creative visual executive decisions were left to me, although Suzanne gave input on things she had direct experience with, like Nova’s hearing aids.

What advice would you have for those who want to make comics? 

Draw your own comic. I don’t care how crappy you are at art, you will never understand pacing or visual storytelling if you don’t sit down to draw. Use stick figures if you have to, but piece together a story panel by panel, visually, and you will learn what comics are about more than sitting down to write a script and then passing it off to someone else to draw. 

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

“What brushes do you use”; the answer is: too many. I am a digital brush hoarder and I like to experiment with all of them. I feel like I am trying to find the elusive White Whale of Brushes, but that’s never going to happen. I can keep trying though.

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

I am currently working on my second solo graphic novel, THE INFINITY PARTICLE, a young adult book about a girl and robot who fall in love. It’s set on Mars in the distant future, and grapples with a lot of thoughts I have about technology and consciousness, and it is also a response to the invasive encroachment of Big Tech into all of our daily lives. My biggest fantasy that I put into this book is that in the distant future there is no Internet, no Web 3.0, and most of all, no tech billionaires or NFTs. I’m also playing around with ideas for a few more projects, including one inspired by the Neolithic in East Asia.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/ authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Estranged by Ethan Aldridge, O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti, Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens, Don’t Go Without Me by Rosemary Valero O’ Connell, On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, Girl Town by Casey Nowak, Witchy by Ariel Ries, Hotblood! by Toril Orlesky, and K. O’Neill’s upcoming Mothkeeper. I love Casey McQuiston’s wit. If we’re allowed to talk about short stories, Kimberly Wang’s new comic “Of Thunder and Lightning” on their gumroad is some fantastic visual storytelling. The short story “Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall was the most refreshing thing I’d read in sci-fi in a minute, if you can find it online.   

Interview with Author Amina Luqman-Dawson

Amina Luqman-Dawson loves using writing to tell stories and to build an understanding of race, culture and community. Her published writing includes op-eds in newspapers, magazine articles, travel writing and book reviews.  She authored the pictorial history book Images of America: African Americans of Petersburg (Arcadia Publishing) as well as the novel Freewater. She’s worked as a policy professional, researcher and consultant on issues of education and criminal justice. She has a BA in Political Science from Vassar College and a Master of Public Policy from UC Berkeley. She’s a proud mother of a 13-year-old son.  She, her husband and son reside in Arlington, VA.

I had the opportunity to interview Amina which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born in New York City yet raised in Lynwood, California (that’s in Los Angeles County). I am trained as a policy professional, however, part of me had a desire to write. For years I moonlighted as a writer. I did op-eds for newspapers that appeared in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and more. I also did travel writing for a magazine and some journal article writing. I wrote a pictorial history book entitled Images of America: African Americans of Petersburg (Virginia). These were all wonderful experiences. Still, I had a desire to write fiction. Over several years, I undertook the project to write Freewater. 

What can you tell us about your newest book, Freewater? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

Freewater is the story of two children, Homer and Ada, who escape enslavement on a plantation. They run into a nearby swamp and deep within it, they discover a clandestine community of formerly enslaved runaways, called Freewater. Homer and Ada meet other kids while in Freewater and they learn what it means to be free and find lots of adventure along the way. 

I was inspired by a very cool nugget of history—maroons in America. Enslaved people who sought refuge deep in the swamps and forests of the south. Many were caught, but some managed to survive and live free. That’s quite an inspirational piece of history. What was equally motivating was using that maroon setting to connect young readers to the lives, hearts and minds of enslaved children. That felt like important work. Inspiration also helps when you have a great support system around you. 

As a writer, where did you find your love for storytelling? And what drew you to the realm of historical fiction, as well as fiction for younger readers?

Growing up I loved reading fiction. I always think of my middle grade years as the best reading time of my life. The stories felt so vivid and I truly felt like I was being taken to new places through them. I think that’s why I chose to make Freewater  a middle grade book. I wanted to create that same feeling for my son, and for other kids in their middle grade years. I’ve also always enjoyed learning about history through storytelling. As an adult I see the importance of sharing history, particularly history that has been overlooked or rarely told.  In particular, I was struck by the way our nation tends to treat its history of slavery and the enslaved people within that system. There’s great avoidance, fear, pain and awkwardness surrounding how we feel about the subject. I knew historical fiction could address that shortcoming. My book creates an opportunity to place hope, empowerment and love at the center of how we feel about enslaved people and decenters feelings of victimization and pain. 

How would you describe your writing process? What helps you become or stay inspired and motivated?

This is my debut novel so I can only speak to this experience. I researched and wrote this novel off and on over several years. I began with a very rough draft of about fifty pages. Those fifty pages had the basic arc of the story.  From there I revised and revised more times than I can recall. Each time the story became more layered and the characters deepened. I felt inspired to continue because I thought it was an important story to tell. I was lucky because I also had a wonderful support system of people who kept encouraging me to continue, particularly my husband. 

What are some of your favorite parts of writing when it comes to craft? What do you find are some of the most challenging or difficult for you personally?

I think I most enjoy crafting a great story. In Freewater  I was always preoccupied with the movement of the story and keeping the reader’s attention in a way that made sense. It’s great fun taking readers to the edge of their seats. In writing I most feared character development. It was new to me and I wanted the characters to resonate with readers. As a result, I started writing the story using very few characters. During revisions I layered on each one separately. It was a laborious process, and in the end I’d say the characters in Freewater are what I’m most proud of in the book. 

Aside from your work as a writer, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I’m also a mom of a fabulous thirteen-year-old son. Hmmm, here’s some other random stuff. I love historical documentaries. I have a bird’s nest outside my window and I spend lots of time peeking in at the birds who choose to nest there. There’s nothing better than a nice urban park. 

What are some things you would want readers to take away from your book, Freewater?

I want readers to leave feeling that they’ve connected to people who were enslaved. If they feel connected, some of the awkwardness, pain and fear we tend to carry around about the nation’s enslaved ancestors will have been washed away. 

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

What are some great things to take your manuscript from an idea to a published work?

It really takes a team. First, it’s great to have your personal team. Your partner or friends and family cheering you on. Then it’s great to have your writing team—a seasoned writer as a mentor, a new writer like yourself who is also trying to figure things out and other people whose opinion you trust. Then it’s great to being open suggestions and to taking chances with your writing. 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers?

Keep writing. If you aren’t finding the success you seek, bring other writers (new and seasoned) into your life for feedback and support. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your writing, it can always be revised or re-written. FREEWATER is my debut novel and at several junctures I wasn’t sure of my ability to write in one way or another. I soon learned the value of taking the leap and trying to do the things I most feared.  

Do you have any books to recommend for the readers of Geeks OUT?

I have a fabulous picture book I just purchased for my niece and nephew! It’s entitled When Langston Dances, by Kaija Langley. It’s a wonderful story of a Black boy who loves dance despite feeling the pressures of only doing other things like basketball. It’s great for readers to see kids outside of their typical gendered spaces.

Header photo taken by Zachariah Dawson

Interview with Author Rosiee Thor

Rosiee Thor (she/they) began her career as a storyteller by demanding to tell her mother bedtime stories instead of the other way around. She spent her childhood reading by flashlight in the closet until she came out as queer. She lives in Oregon with a dog, two cats, and an abundance of plants. She is the author of Young Adult novels Tarnished Are The Stars and Fire Becomes Her and the picture book The Meaning of Pride.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thanks for having me! I’m Rosiee, a queer author of YA science fiction and fantasy. Since I grew up without stories that reflected my identity or experience, I love writing about queer kids having adventures and saving the day. I’m also an avid gardener and mediocre gamer.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction and speculative fiction?

I’ve always been a bit of a storyteller. When I was little, I would spin outrageous tales for my parents—they’d probably call it lying but… semantics. I wrote my first story down on actual paper when I was in fifth grade, and I kind of just kept going from there. I didn’t really understand that being an author was a real job that I could grow up to have until I came across a novel that was written by a teenager. I remember my mom making a huge deal out of that fact when she brought the book home for me and then I connected the dots. I think I gravitate toward young adult books mostly because those are the books that shaped me as a storyteller, but also because I saw a real lack of stories about people like me when I was growing up. LGBTQIA+ stories were hard to come by when I was a teenager. There were a few—Tamora Pierce’s circle of magic books, for example, really inspired me—but I was such a voracious reader that I ran out of options pretty quickly. As an adult, I still crave those stories, so I wrote for the teen I was and for the teens out there now who may need to see themselves reflected in fiction.

What can you tell us about your latest novel, Fire Becomes Her? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

The initial inspiration for Fire Becomes Her came from a song: “Burn” from Hamilton. As an aromantic asexual person who avoids relationships like the plague, I’ve never really felt romantic betrayal, which is what the song is about, but as I listened, I was reminded of a different type of betrayal—the betrayal of a government failing to protect its people. I wrote most of Fire Becomes Her during 2020, truly a banner year for political disappointment, and it allowed me to process my emotions about living in a country where my elected officials seem more interested in grand standing than governing. As an author, I write most often from a place of frustration—almost all of my story ideas come from me being annoyed or angry about some system or other. For Tarnished Are The Stars, my first novel, that was the American healthcare system; for Fire Becomes Her, it was wealth inequality and voter disenfranchisement. I realize that’s not a particularly flashy inspiration, but it’s the truth.

As a historical fantasy fiction book set in the 1920s, I’m assuming there was some research involved in Fire Becomes Her. Could you maybe tell us about that?

It actually involved less research than you might think! The world of Fire Becomes Her is a 1920s inspired fantasy analogue called Candesce. It’s a city-state with some similarities to our world, but with one major difference: fire magic. In order to maintain the 1920s vibe, I promised myself that I wouldn’t include anything that wouldn’t have existed in the 1920s, so I did a fair amount of research about certain technologies and architecture. I ended up fudging that rule on a few things to make room for more modern discussions of sexuality and gender identities, but it did make for some interesting google searches!

As an aspec reader, I’m always grateful to see more aspec fiction in the world. Could you talk your personal motivation in writing aromantic/asexual characters and what representation in general means to you?

As an aromantic asexual spectrum person, it’s important to me to create representation that would have resonated with me as a young person. I try to write from a place of authenticity, and I think Ingrid—the main character in Fire Becomes Her—is one of the most honestly written characters I’ve created. Her story came directly from my own as an aromantic person living under compulsory hetero-allo-normativity. The expectations of our community (or even our own interpretations of those expectations) can be wildly damaging, and I experienced that firsthand. I wanted to write a narrative for Ingrid that allowed her to confront that expectation and choose for herself what kind of love she wanted. It was also important to me to include multiple examples of aspec representation, so while Ingrid is aromantic-spec bisexual, there is also an aro/ace side character, a transmasc non-binary asexual, and a central queerplatonic partnership.

How would you describe your writing process? What do you find are some of your favorite (or most frustrating) parts of writing?

I am simultaneously a rigid outliner and a discovery writer—which makes for a very weird process. Basically, I like to go in with a pretty clear plan and I always write an outline before I start drafting, but a lot of it ends up going out the window once I get some words on paper. Character is central for me when I’m working on a new book, which is the main thing I discovery write. If a character ends up a little different than I originally planned, it can impact the rest of the story pretty heavily, and I may have to start over. For example, in the original plan for Fire Becomes Her, Ingrid’s boyfriend was meant to be a bit of a player, but when I started writing, he came out a lot softer and honestly just a total simp for Ingrid. I had to completely change my plan to make room for his character, and I’m so glad I did because his arc ended up being one of my favorites to write!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

My best advice is to write something you love. If you want to be an author, you’ll have to work on your book through a lot of drafts, and that’s way more tolerable if you love your story! Don’t try to make your book more palatable to the masses at the expense of the things you love most about it. You are your own first reader, so it’s important for you to like your own work first and foremost.

Besides being a writer, what are some things you would want your readers to know about you?

Other than writing, I love to garden, cook, and play video games. I’m not particularly great at any of them, but I love having hobbies that I can be mediocre at and still enjoy. After a childhood of trying to be perfect, it’s been really nice to let go of that and allow myself to love things just because they’re fun. I’ve been enjoying experimenting with making different kinds of soup, learning to grow herbs indoors for the winter, and blundering my way through playing Breath of the Wild. 

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

I’m working on a bunch of stuff I’m super excited about! I make it a habit not to talk about them in too much detail too early on, mostly because projects can change so much while I’m still learning what they’re about and how I want to write them, but I can say that I’m working on branching out into new genres and age categories this year. I’m excited to be publishing my first picture book in April this year, and I’m working on developing some middle grade and adult projects too! I love to challenge myself to write outside my comfort zone, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I have a lot of favorites, but a few recent standouts are A.M. Strickland’s In The Ravenous Dark, which is a dark fantasy about a pansexual, polyamorous princess; Alechia Dow’s The Kindred, which takes the soulmate trope to space with a demisexual main character; and Mara Fitzgerald’s Beyond the Ruby Veil and Into The Midnight Void fantasy duology about a chaotic lesbian with a knife and her villain origin story.

Interview with Author S. Isabelle

S. Isabelle is a reader, writer, and hoarder of books. After earning a Master’s degree in library science, she took that love of reading to youth librarianship. Her short story “Break” was featured in the anthology Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading & Writing YA. The Witchery is her debut young adult novel. When she isn’t throwing books at teenagers, you can find her binge-watching TV shows, drinking heavily-sweetened coffee, or stressing over baseball.

I had the opportunity to interview S. Isabelle, which you can read below. 

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure! I’m S. Isabelle, a writer, reader, and hoarder of books. THE WITCHERY is my debut novel, and I’m also a teen librarian.

How would you describe your upcoming book, The Witchery? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

The Witchery is the culmination of all of my favorite pop-culture tropes. It’s got a big cast like X-Men, epic magical scenes like my favorite anime, but is also a character-focused YA fantasy along the lines of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. It also incorporates some classic YA paranormal tropes, but also has Black kids front and center, which is my favorite thing about it.

Could you tell us about what some of the characters we can expect to see in The Witchery?

I’m so excited for everyone to meet this ensemble cast of messy, magical teens! There’s Jailah, the sociable and ambitious witch with a spell for everything; Iris, the necromancer with a heart of gold; Thalia, a quiet greenwitch hiding a terrible secret; and Logan, the new girl in town who gets in a little over her head with magic. That’s the main coven of teen witches, but there are two mundanes who get pulled into the adventure–Trent, a sweet boy digging into the mystery surrounding his witchy mother’s death, and his best friend Mathew, who doesn’t know what he’s even doing here since he has no connection to magic… or so he thinks. The relationship between these six grows and changes throughout the novel–sometimes they’re all BFFs, other times it gets fraught–and I’m really proud of how their stories turned out.

How did you get into writing, and what drew you to Young Adult and speculative fiction specifically?

I’ve always sort of had my head in the clouds, and growing up, I often daydreamed up my own stories based on my life, or my favorite media. I didn’t actively start writing novels until college, and once I started, I knew I’d wanted to pursue publication. Writing paranormal is especially exciting to me, and I love that mix of the fantastic and the real. I definitely want to write for younger kids and adults in the future, but YA is such a fun playground, and I really enjoy writing characters who are just starting to figure themselves out, falling into first loves, and deciding who they want to be.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite things about writing?

My writing process is organized chaos. New projects usually start with a really interesting scene, something right in the beginning or at the very end, and my imagination lets loose, thinking about all the ways to get the characters to and from those points. I can’t be as much of a pantser as I used to be (deadlines will do that to you!) but I still don’t make super detailed outlines. For me, the best parts of writing are when I’ve finally figured out some vital plot point or necessary connection that had eluded me. That moment of oh, I know how to make this work is so satisfying. Also, typing THE END is always really great.

Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you? 

While I’m completely unathletic, I’m very into watching sports, so if you catch me in a bad mood, just assume that my team lost and I need a moment.

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

I love talking craft! I think I could go on for hours about how to balance multi-POV narratives and big ensemble casts, and would love to be asked about how to juggle intersecting storylines. To keep it short and sweet, I’ll say that my number one advice is to make sure that each character has a storyline outside of the group, and that if you were to pluck them out of that setting, that they’d still be a fully fleshed character in their own right. 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers?

My favorite piece of advice for writers, especially those looking at traditional publishing, is “eyes on your own paper.” Being a marginalized creator, sometimes it can be hard to keep from worrying that you’re going to miss a trend, or that a publisher will pass on your project because it sounds too similar to a book by another author who shares that marginalization. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time worrying about what other writers were doing while I was on submission, and it was such a waste of time! Focus on your craft, your projects, and the dreams you have for yourself.

Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I can’t talk openly about what’s coming next at the moment, but I will have a YA book coming in 2023 that I can’t wait to shout about! 

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I recently read Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, which was excellent. In the YA space, Aiden Thomas, Leah Johnson, and Kalynn Bayron are definitely authors to be following. Francesca May (Wild and Wicked Things) and Aaron H. Aceves (This is Why They Hate Us) are fellow #22debuts whose work I’m highly looking forward to reading!

Interview With Illustrator Kristina Luu

Kristina Luu, she/they, is a queer Vietnamese Canadian comic artist and illustrator from Vancouver, BC. She loves making colourful worlds and stories full of diverse characters and little moments of magic and joy. The first volume of the BESTIES graphic novels series written by Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino is available now. She’s also the creator of “Intercosmic“, an all-ages space fantasy webcomic published through Hiveworks.

I had the opportunity to interview Kristina, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT and congratulations on your new book, BESTIES: Work It Out. Could you tell us a little about yourself and the project?

Hello! Thank you for having me here. It’s a real honour and pleasure. I’m Kristina Luu, a queer Vietnamese cartoonist based in Canada! My pronouns are she/they, with no preference for either.

BESTIES: Work It Out is my official published comics debut and I couldn’t be more excited and proud of it. It’s a Middle-Grade graphic novel written by the incredible duo Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino. I had the honour of illustrating the adventures of Beth and Chanda – a pair of best friends who have a knack for fashion, big dreams, and mayhem. The book is all about learning what it means to be responsible for your actions and behaviour. 

How did you get into illustration? What drew you to becoming an artist?

I’ve loved drawing cartoons ever since I was a young kid! I used to draw on piles and piles of printer paper and on the walls. My parents did not like that particularly. I also used to spend hours watching animated films and shows every night and the love of animation and cartoons never left me honestly. 

I’ve always loved how artists can turn something vague, mundane, or even empty into something. With a single drawing, you’ve made a whole fantastical world I can dive right into and spark my imagination. At the same time, I loved how art was a way of communicating too. It’s a voice, or a story, or an idea, put on paper or canvas! It’s the closest thing to turning your imagination into reality and the appeal of it has never left me since. 

Were there any artists or books growing up that inspired or influenced your style?

For me, the biggest inspiration was actually Adventure Time. I watched a lot of it during my middle school years and would draw fan art all the time trying to imitate the style and designs of the show. I was honestly obsessed with it and had my own fan characters, t-shirts, merch – you name it! As a teen, I read Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet and Tony Diterlizzi’s Wondla series and was utterly obsessed with both of those too. So much of my earlier art draws inspiration from them, as well as some classic Disney films as well. I only got into manga and anime much later in life, but that also completely shifted how I drew in my college years.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe it? 

I think it’s fair to say that creating graphic novels is a lengthier and more complex process than most people expect. It seems quite simple at first glance, but then you realize each page is a piece of artwork in itself! Each panel is a drawing, and that’s not even mentioning the writing and planning that goes beforehand too. Comics aren’t just “drawing what happens”. When you think about “who says what in each panel” or “what page layout works best for this story”, you realize there’s a lot of thought and care that goes into drawing a page. And gosh, can you imagine how many hours it takes to make just one page? Think of that but times 100 now!  It takes a lot of time and effort to make comics, so it’s truly a labour of love.

What are some of your favorite things about making comics? 

Comics are a fusion of art and writing – two of my favourite creative outlets! I love how versatile and honest comics feel and how it allows creators to share their own unique and independent voice. You usually don’t see that kind of thing through more “mainstream” media, like a TV show or something that has a massive creative team behind it. Until recently, webcomics and indie comics were one of the only places I could find really honest and nuanced representations of LGBT+ people for a long time because they were made by other queer people who just wanted to share their own voice. Comics are also so accessible for audiences and creators alike. Almost anyone can make one, and it’s so easy to just put them on the internet for people to read. It’s a medium that allows for some truly unique creator-driven storytelling and human connection, and that is what I love most.

When you’re not drawing, what do you enjoy doing or consuming in your free time?

I love writing! I suppose that goes hand-in-hand with drawing when you’re a comic artist. I have absolutely no intention to publish a written novel, but I still love writing in my spare time all the same.

As for hobbies, I play a lot of video games and read lots of novels. I’m a big fan of fantasy RPGs of any kind. As for reading, I tend to read mostly Middle-grade, Young Adult, and Adult Science-Fiction/Fantasy and LGBT+ stories. I try to read almost every night. It helps calm my brain down after a long day.

When my head isn’t staring at a screen or in a book somehow, I also really love delving into craft hobbies and outdoor activities too. I’m a big fan of hiking, biking, camping, and just recently picked up bouldering. It’s been so nice to have an active outlet when I spend so much of my days in my own head or in front of a screen.

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

I wish more people would ask me what I like drawing most. While I do love beautiful scenery and fuzzy animals, for me, it’s always been people. I don’t necessarily mean character design or portraits. I really just enjoy drawing characters emoting and interacting! Particularly, dancing. While drawing action can be fun, I just love how much emotion there is in dancing. It’s an act of pure joy and self-expression. 

The world is filled with so many people and they are all so much more interesting beyond the way they look! You can tell so much about a pair of characters just from how they interact. Are they lovers, family, archenemies, best friends? We all express so much with just our faces and body language. I’ll always find it intriguing.

What advice would you have to give for other aspiring artists?

YOU are more valuable than your art. 

I’ve always been a huge advocate for taking care of yourself first and foremost as an artist: body and mind. I’m not just talking about making art. I also mean how you think about making art. Art can and should be fun but you should never compromise your wellbeing for the sake of art. The idea of the “tortured creative artist” is so harmful! You will always be able to make better art when you are healthy and happy. Don’t hurt your back by drawing 24/7. Get up and take care of your body. Don’t let “not being good enough” hold you back from drawing. That’s not good for your brain. Surround yourself with good friends who elevate you. Your peers are NOT your competition, but your support system. Learn how to be kind to both your body and mind, and it’ll carry you a long long way as an artist.

Are there other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to discuss?

Absolutely! I’m currently developing my own original graphic novel. There isn’t much to show for it yet, but I’m hoping to make my author/illustrator debut some time in the future so stay tuned! I’m also still working on Intercosmic, my all-ages space fantasy webcomic. It’s been on hiatus this year, but there are plans to return to working on it next year and I’m very excited for it! I’ve also got a few smaller independent comics in the works that I’m making mostly for myself, such as journal comics and experimental short stories. With my upcoming projects, I’m hoping to explore more topics such as queer identity as person of colour and the complexities of Asian diaspora and generational divides.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you commend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Oh, where do I even begin!

For LGBT+ comics and manga, I absolutely love Nimona by Noelle Stevensen, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani, Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Lane, and of course My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi.

As for novels, I read mostly fiction and fantasy. Personally, I really enjoyed Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Happy reading, everyone!

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Trauma Porn in the Time of Euphoria

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this super-sized lead up to the 300th episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Graham Nolan, as they discuss the complex queer drama in the latest episodes of Euphoria, the banning of Maus by a school board, and celebrate Nyle DiMarco joining the Queer as Folk reboot in This Week in Queer. 



KEVIN: Tennessee School Board bans Maus

GRAHAM:  New trailer for final season of Killing Eve



KEVIN: The Legend of Vox Machina, Euphoria, Sabretooth, The X-Cellent
GRAHAM: X Deaths of Wolverine, Nightwing, those video game ads in Grindr, Omelet



New trailer for Joe vs Carole



Peacock’s Queer as Folk reboot adds Nyle Dimarco



New trailer for part 4 of Disenchantment




• New trailer for Texas Chainsaw Massacre requel
• A new Masters of the Universe movie is being developed for Netflix
• Paramount orders a new Scream sequel
• Dakota Johnson cast as Madame Web for a solo film



• Cast announcements for Tales of the Walking Dead
• New teaser for what’s coming to Peacock this year
• New trailer for Halo tv series
• More Star Trek series are being developed 
• Disney+ officially orders Percy Jackson series



• More comics announced for Substack from some big names
• Marvel announces Eternals/Avengers/X-men event series Judgment Day



• KEVIN: Vax (Legend of Vox Machina)
• GRAHAM: None, until I have way more therapy

Interview with Illustrator Victoria Grace Elliott

Victoria Grace Elliott is the creator of the webcomic Balderdash! or, a tale of two witches. Yummy: a History of Desserts is her debut graphic novel. She’s a queer Southern illustrator & comic artist living in Austin, Texas.

I had the opportunity to interview Victoria, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you! I’m Victoria Grace Elliott, a comic artist living in Austin, Texas. I’m the author of Yummy: A History of Desserts and its follow-up, Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments! And hopefully many other comics down the line.

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

I’ve always been a storyteller at heart, and I’ve always loved drawing. There’s a lot of ways that can manifest, but comics felt like the most natural conclusion to me since I was pretty young. I gravitated toward any comics I could find, even if they weren’t really in my age range, like a lot of the manga that came out in the 80s and 90s, haha. 

How would you describe your creative background/ artistic education? And how did you develop your gorgeous style?!

My family is very into art and movies and writing and music, so that was really the backbone of my education! As an art teacher, my mom had all kinds of art materials, and she was big into the crafting that was popular in the 90s. I feel like between her painting, crafts, and decorating, I picked up a lot about color in particular. And as a movie buff family, I was watching all kinds of stuff, which, like the manga, may have been a little over my head, but inspired me nonetheless.

Since my family was such a rich environment for it, this all really encouraged me to take my art seriously, even if just as a hobby. I went to college for Linguistics at the University of Texas, but eventually I found my way into the Radio-TV-Film department, where I learned a lot about media analysis and saw even more kinds of movies and television. Soon after, I joined the comics staff at our student newspaper, The Daily Texan, where a lot of other people from all kinds of departments–art, English, you name it–wanted to hone in on their comics skills. This is really where my comics education flourished. I feel as though our styles of art and storytelling all bounced off each other and our influences.

So yeah, it’s always been a lot of self-teaching and community-teaching for me! It’s hard to describe since it’s such an organic process, but it’s like: Oh, this person is drawing this way, I want my art to look like theirs. At other times, it’s the opposite: I want my art to be distinct from theirs in this way. As time goes on, you naturally come into your own style.

Where did the inspiration for your latest book, Yummy: A History of Desserts come from?

Truthfully, the inspiration came from Gina who started the Random House Graphic imprint herself! I was interested in pitching to RHG, but had so many ideas I didn’t know where to start. In a huge stroke of luck, my agent, Steven Salpeter, had a meeting with her and picked her brain about the kinds of work she’d be interested to see, the key one being a comic about food history!

As I mentioned before, I studied at UT, and I wrote a lot of research papers. As time went on, it had kind of evolved into writing essays about comics and comics as essays. In other words, I felt so prepared for this! I loved synthesizing stuff like that, testing the limits of what a comic could be. After some workshopping, I came up with the pitch for A History of Desserts, featuring three narrator food sprites and a chapter format!

What would you say are some of your favorite desserts (and are any featured in Yummy)?

Of the desserts featured in Yummy, I love mochi ice cream, egg tarts and drop cookies! Those are some of my all-time favorites! I also really love custard-filled sweets, mousse, and light yellow cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Sadly, those didn’t make the cut, but they’re truly my go-tos.

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

I have always been inspired by my peers, online and in person, and the many artists I find there. For comics, I’d say my biggest influences have been from manga. For Yummy specifically, I’ve pulled from the manga artists of CLAMP and the cute illustrations from Summikko Gurashi and Sanrio. But I’ve also pulled a lot of humor from peers like ggdg, Zack Morrison, and a bit of style from Choo! 

What are some of your favorite parts of the illustration/ creative writing process? What do you feel are some of the most challenging or frustrating?

My favorite parts and hardest parts kind of go together, honestly! I’d say the most challenging part of Yummy was the visual research, both in tracking it down and adapting it to the cute style of the book. However, that’s also the most fun part, too! It takes a lot of time to find, say, a glass dish that will look good in the book from possibly the right time and region for a certain historical cake. But it’s fun to adapt it to my style. Sometimes I have to re-research dishware or patterns or photos, change them from before, draw and redraw. But in the end, it’s always worth it. It adds so much character drawing from real history and objects.

As a queer creative who has previously worked on other queer projects, such as your webcomic, balderdash! or, a tale of two witches, may I ask what creating queer representation means to you personally?

I feel a lot of nebulous ways about what queer representation means to me these days, honestly! I think when I was younger, like in my balderdash! days, I needed so much more labeled representation as I figured myself out and started exploring those sides of myself as a young adult. As an older person who has more fully embraced the nuances of my sexuality and gender, I feel as though I can see it everywhere, like I’m cheating the system to get the most out of it for myself, haha. I think it’s always very important to have the people behind the works be the ones whose representation matters most–queer authors making whatever work they want to– but I also think there’s a wonderful power in empathic readings, where you can maybe see parts of yourself in something that maybe was never meant for you. As a queer creative, that can be converted into soil for your own stories and projects, or even just love for yourself and who you are.

Approaching work like that, I think it’s a lot easier to pick up on, say, the genderqueer vibes some of the sprites of Yummy give off, or some cute flirting I’ve drawn in. That’s all very purposeful, but also very subtle on my part, and I think my presence as the author should speak enough as it is.

As of now, are you currently working on any ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

Right now, I’m finishing up Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments! This is a follow-up book that focuses on a lot more unusual food, from cheese to soda to packaged foods! I wanted to explore our relationship to really, really old foods like pickles and cheese to much younger foods, like SPAM and boxed macaroni and cheese. How did these foods become common? And how did we make them before?

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Make work for yourself first and foremost. Even if it’s an assignment, or even if it’s a commission, find a way to make it satisfying and fun for yourself. There will be times when that’s really, really hard, but I think that’s a key way of tending to your creativity. And take breaks! Long ones! Sleep a lot!

Finally, what LGBTQ books/comics (or comics in general) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

For other LBGTQ comics around the same age range as Yummy, I’d recommend a few incredible works from Random House Graphic: Reimena Yee’s Séance Tea Party, Trung Le Ngyuen’s The Magic Fish, and Jessi Zabarsky’s Witchlight. They’ve all got upcoming books as well. I know Yee’s next work is My Aunt is a Monster, which looks wonderful, and Zabarsky’s Coming Back is coming out later in January!

Interview with Artist & Writer Trung Le Nguyen

Trung Le Capecchi-Nguyen (Trung Le Nguyen, professionally) is a Vietnamese-American comic book artist and writer from Minnesota. He was born in a refugee camp somewhere in the Philippine province of Palawan.

Trung’s first original graphic novel, The Magic Fish, was published on October 13th, 2020 through Random House Graphic, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It won two Harvey Awards. Trung has also contributed work for DC Comics, Oni Press, Boom! Studios, and Image Comics.

He currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and raises three very spoiled hens. He is fond of fairy tales, kids’ cartoons, and rom-coms of all stripes.

I had the opportunity to interview Trung, which you can read below.

First of all, what first drew you to storytelling? At what point did you realize you wanted to tell your own stories?

I consider my relationship to storytelling-on-purpose somewhat new. I think everybody figures out the ways they best like to express themselves in their daily lives, and being a career creative person formalizes that a little bit. The Magic Fish is the first work of fiction I’ve ever really done, so I’m still sussing out my relationship to storytelling, honestly.

How would you describe your crafting style? How do you go about creating on a continual basis while balancing day-to-day life or stresses?

My work style is so chaotic, in part because of its newness and in part because I’m a very scattered sort of person. My work-life balance is largely fine by luck because I have a loving support network behind me, and my collaborators are smart, experienced people who remind me to take days off and give myself more room to recover. I was an overcommitted, high-achieving kid who grew up into an overworked and frequently burned-out adult, and I’m still figuring out how to live with it and work around it.

As far as the more granular details in making comics, I like regimented segments. I start with an outline, then I write the script, then draw thumbnails, then draw the pages. I had assumed I was a visually oriented person who would prefer to start with the thumbnails and also make the script at the same time. I was shocked to discover that I actually need a script to work from. I like that level of organization, and from there I feel like I waste less time and wrist strain drawing and redrawing concepts.

In your narratives, language seems to stand as something that can divide people while stories stand for something that connects? Do you agree with that assessment?

If a reader tells me that’s their takeaway and that it feels true to their life, then yes, their assessment is correct. For me, language is a tool. It’s not precisely the thing that divides, though it can certainly feel like that, but the characters figure out a way to identify the gaps in their languages and bridge them in whatever ways they can. Sometimes it’s switching back and forth between two languages, and sometimes it’s speaking a hybrid language specific to their home, as with a lot of immigrant families.

That sort of language use, cobbling things together to build contexts that convey specific ideas, is very organic. By my estimation, the instances where language becomes a divider is when it’s coupled with systemic forces. So when a hybrid-language speaker in the United States is regarded as unintelligent, for example, because they don’t test well or something, there are a lot of interlocking systems at play upholding that unfair assessment. That’s not the fault of language. Language is organic and flexible. It’s not a sedentary, calcified artifact. Language is meant to shift as its users shift. We could have a rudimentary understanding of a language and still go about our day beyond the ken of the formalities of pedantic grammarian navel-gazing. We all do it. We live among and around people who speak different languages.

Storytelling becomes an extension of that language use, so I don’t find it useful to create a binary where language is the divider and storytelling is the connector. The loss of language, the angst of diasporic identities, and the feeling of bereavement of a space and culture, all that can be chalked up to imperialism and war in this instance.

In The Magic Fish, you explore a narrative in which a mother and son, dealing with generational and multicultural gaps, connect through the fairytales they read together. As someone whose often only shared literary references to her own parents were fairy tales, why do you think this medium has such extensive potential?

I think, very simply, fairy tales are frequently some of our earliest experiences with storytelling, and they also happen to be very old. This seems to uniquely position it as almost a narrative control group, and the stories your parents hear and the stories told to you can be a neat little generational bridge. And because they’re oral tradition, because they survive in iterations and retellings, they have this beautiful elastic quality that makes them so accessible. I think that’s why I center them in my storytelling. I love the imperfect ways people recollect fairy tales. Most of us could recount the tale of Cinderella, and the pieces we emphasize and the ways the characters look and sound might all be different, but the fairy tale lends itself to being a vehicle of participation where everyone gets to storytell. “I know this part,” or “I love this part!” or “Wow, I remember that!” It’s a little silly, but it’s a little like that feeling you get at a club when a beloved song comes on and the whole dance floor lip syncs along! It’s that feeling, but small and intimate. I love that.

One of the many things that touched me about Tiến’s struggle with coming-out was that he did not have the language to describe the queerness to his Vietnamese family. As someone who had similar struggles in regards to finding language (Russian in my case) to describe queer identity growing up, what do you feel is the connection between language and identity?

I mentioned before that language is a mutable tool, so I don’t think there’s an essential connection between language and identity. It’s part of the makeup of a culture, so certainly the verbiage we find will have an effect on how we employ language to describe, for instance, queerness. Language can come with baggage over long use, and words can become tarnished and feel barbed. Parts of it can be discarded or it can be reclaimed and rehabilitated into use. Language seems to have a difficult time keeping up with identity, actually. And even when it seems to catch up, it’s only temporary. The culture moves on, and new language needs to be made or old language comes back into fashion. My best guess is just that language is not compatible with essentialism because language is slower than identity. Sometimes it takes a little while for language to wrap itself around something everybody was already living with.

While reading your book, one of the things that stood out to me was how you explored The Little Mermaid as an immigrant narrative in addition to a queer one? As a fairytale created and shaped in such a different century than today, why do you think this story continues to hold so much relevance and so many meanings?

Honestly, I’m sure every reader has their different reasons. I can say that Andersen’s Little Mermaid was a personally resonant story for him in particular. It was written as a literary fairy tale for children by an author who was known in his day, and that’s a meaningful distinction from other stories we popularly think of as fairy tales. Andersen’s stories are different from Perrault’s or the Grimm stories because they don’t pretend they don’t have a point of view. The Grimms collected their stories from all over, but they edited them and increasingly sanitized them as newer editions were published. And certainly, The Little Mermaid had its forebears in Rusalka and Ondine, but Andersen was writing a story from his own heart and from his own point of view, first and foremost. He was not immune from an editorial process, and the story was affixed with this weird epilogue about the little mermaid earning a human soul through endless suffering at the whims of children all over the world. But the heart of the story, the special yearning and the toilsome sacrifices upon which Andersen’s story leans, remains deeply personal, and I think people respond to that.

In The Magic Fish you explore three distinct and beautiful fairytales. Were there any other stories you considered including in your graphic novel? Are there are other fairytales you would still like to explore in your work now?

At one point I wanted to include the Japanese fairy tale of the fisherman and the turtle princess to express that Rip Van Winkle effect that Helen feels when she finally comes back to Vietnam and finds everything unrecognizable. There just wasn’t enough room to do it, ultimately, and I thought three basic fairy tales made for a pleasing number.

Aside from making comics, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

There’s not too much to tell. I love old sitcoms, and I have them on in the background while I draw. I play a lot of video games, though I get overly competitive and yell at the screen a lot. I really like desserts! I have three very sweet hens named Beatrice, Paulette, and Edwina. I watch all the main Rankin Bass holiday cartoons every year around Christmas.

As a creator, what advice would you give for other creators who are looking to explore identity in their craft?

My main advice for creators, especially creators who come from marginalized backgrounds, is that they should protect themselves from the pressure to get everything right all the time. We all change and grow, and even the stories we tell about ourselves won’t always well represent us in time. I want everyone to be free of the burden of being the sole representation, and that can be accomplished by getting as many diverse voices published as possible. When we know there are others like us in the room, the weight of carrying the entire arc of our stories is lightened. We can be free to tell the narrowly specific, messy, and fun stories of our hearts instead of feeling any special responsibility of edifying an ignorant readership.

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

I am working on my second OGN for Random House Graphic at the moment. I’m very excited about it. It doesn’t have a solid title yet, but I am loving the process of writing it so far. I can’t wait for everyone to meet these new characters!

Finally, what books (both LGBTQ+ and otherwise) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I love just about anything by Jeanette Winterson. Her writing is absolutely incredible. I recommend The Daylight Gate and also Lighthousekeeping. MariNaomi’s books are all formative graphic storytelling for me. I read Dragon’s Breath and Turning Japanese back to back before I thought I would ever make graphic novels, and they blew me away. I loved No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant, and Flamer by Mike Curato absolutely gutted me. I’m currently working my way through Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, and the whole thing just makes me giddy with joy. This was the sort of book Teen Me would have loved to bits and carried on into forever. I’m sure there’s more, but those are the ones that spring to mind right away.