Interview with Writer and Artist Madeleine Cull

Madeleine Cull (AKA Mccull) – has been a webcomic artist for close to ten years now, and has been writing stories for as long as she can remember. She currently lives in the pacific northwest and spends most of her time drawing or hanging out with her cat, but tries to travel as much as she can too! She loves attending “Artist Alleys” (at comic/anime conventions), music, writing, and the ambiance of her local coffee shop.

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

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

Thank you for giving me the chance to interview! My name is Madeleine Cull (AKA Mccull) and I’m the creator of the webcomic “The Leg Less Traveled” (which is my current project, although I’ve been a webcomic artist for nine years now). I’m also a novelist and have published a couple of books in the last few years. So, as I’m sure you can guess, I love storytelling. In my free time I try to attend “Artist Alleys” at comic cons/anime cons, so traveling and meeting fans and selling merch is also a big part of what I love to do!

What drew you to storytelling, particularly to the medium of comics? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

Ever since I can remember I’ve been into storytelling. And, I started drawing so young that I feel it’s simply always been a part of me. So, I think the truth about me getting into comics is that it was more of a “when” it would happen, than a “how” it happened. Of course, there are a lot of inspirations that have carved a path for me creatively and even helped me develop an art style. Artists like Hamletmachine, Lucid, Hazel & Bell, and a few others really set the stage for me when it came to webcomics. I started reading their work when I was just a freshman in high school, and by the time I was a senior I’d worked up the courage to start my own.

As a webcomic creator, you are known for your comic, The Leg Less Traveled. what was the inspiration for this story?

The Leg Less Traveled actually has a bit of a sad origin story if I’m being honest. Back in 2020, the Pacific North West had some really horrible wildfires, and one of them happened to sweep through the town I was living. I lost everything in that fire aside from my laptop and my beloved cat, and it was shortly after that fire that I decided to quit working on my previous project (A Webcomic called “Periwinkle Blue”). I’d been struggling with it for a while anyways, but after such a huge life-changing experience, I just didn’t feel like the same person anymore.

What really saved me at this time was meeting one of my closest friends (and now editor) B. Rowdy Lufkin. Rowdy sort of stepped up and encouraged me to get back on the horse when it came to creating. He added a lot of stability to my life when I needed it most, and in return, we ended up with TLLT. I remember talking with him about starting a new webcomic, and he told me then (in not so many words) that if I was going to do it, I needed to make it the most self-indulgent comic, and really write what I love most. He and I were both worried about my ability to be self-disciplined and finish a comic after what happened with PB, but in the end it couldn’t have been further from the truth. I absolutely ADORE working on TLLT. And since starting it, I’ve gone from thinking “this will be my last webcomic” to, “this is the new beginning of webcomics for me”.

So, I guess to answer your question more directly, my inspiration for TLLT was to write a story that would truly rekindle my love for webcomics. And the way I did this was by incorporating all things and themes that I personally love. Music, traveling, culture, humor, self-discovery, and romance… I wanted to write a story that was bright, lighthearted, and, above all, made me happy.

Can you give us any trivia (that hasn’t already been given) about the characters from The Leg Less Traveled?

This is a good question and one that I had to really think about before answering! The most significant thing about the characters that people might not know, is that originally Kinley was going to be the main character/Judas’ love interest. His design came first and, while I liked his design a lot, after coming up with Judas and drawing them together I knew it wasn’t the right fit. Personality-wise, the story would have been totally different if Kinley had been our MC. So, I decided to set him aside and start over from a completely different angle. Fletch came rather quickly after that, and I think the only hang-up I had with him was that, at first, he was too “boring”. I knew I wanted to have some type of disabled representation in the comic, but it was actually Rowdy’s idea to have him missing a leg/use a prosthetic. I loved this idea for him, and that was what really sealed the deal. From there came the title “The Leg Less Traveled” and I was later able to bring Kinley back in as a totally separate character.

Another thing worth mentioning that I’m sure no one knows (this is totally just a fun fact) is that Fletch and his mom’s cats are all named after the soup. Gazpacho, Gumbo, Bisque, and Minestrone! Those four cats were named before ANY of the main characters were. LOL. 

What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most frustrating/difficult?

My favorite part of the creative process has got to be… simply talking about the characters with Rowdy. Talking about their lives, their hurdles, their family, what they would do in different situations, how they would feel about certain things, and why. This is the part of the process that comes most naturally to me, and, I believe it’s what makes my characters feel real. When I start a big project like TLLT, I never have the entire thing figured out from the get-go. I have major plot points I want to hit along the way and goals for the story, but I sort of let the characters fill in all the gaps as we go. Rowdy and I always say “the characters write themselves” and it’s TRUE. Fletch and Judas have practically become real—that’s my favorite part.

As for the most frustrating and difficult part of the process… I think, physically, it’s the linework phase of creating. This is the most time-consuming portion of working on an update, and it’s the portion that I find myself dreading the most. So… so mindless.

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

I mentioned above a few of the other webcomic creators that have really inspired me… but along with them, I think the most influential thing in my stories is music. You’ll never catch me working on art without listening to something in the background. I have playlists for everything—sad scenes, happy scenes, background noise, angst; all sorts of moods. Even playlists for the character’s themselves. 

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

One of the biggest things I want people to know about me is that I’m not only a webcomic artist—I’m also a novelist! I’ve written two books (The Maple Effect and Honorable Discharge) and both of them are very near and dear to my heart. Rowdy and I also co-wrote a short story (RAWHIDE) and all of them can be found on Amazon. I love writing just as much as I love drawing, and sometimes I think I’m actually a better writer than an artist, so they’re worth checking out if you enjoy reading! 

I realize that ^^^ sort of falls under the same category as “my work”, so I’ll answer your question in a more personal way too.

I’d want people to know that (even though I’m not a shy person) I’m a very introverted one. So, it takes me a while to warm up to new people. I often think that (In person) I must come across as reserved or serious-natured, but in reality, I’m just tied up in my own head. Lol.

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

A question I wished I was asked… Hmm… To be completely honest, I’m not sure! I wish I was asked to be a guest creator at some big comic con or anime convention. Or asked to be on a panel alongside other amazing webcomic creators! Or come do a book signing… or sign a movie deal for one of my stories… or something. Hahaha. But these are all more goal-oriented “asks”, I know that’s probably not what you meant…

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

Right now, TLLT truly is the only project I am working on. I’m sort of afraid to let myself work on two projects at the same time because I get so sucked into my work that I fear one might take precedence over the other, and then I’d lose my momentum. Also, Rowdy would kill me if that happened.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, particularly those who might want to work on their own webcomics someday?

There’s so much advice I could give to new artists just starting out… but I think most important above all, is that YOU have to figure out what YOU want out of doing a webcomic. For some people, webcomics are just a fun hobby, and for others, they are a whole career. I believe the amount of effort you’re going put into your work is greatly affected by what YOU decide you want out of it. Knowing this from the beginning will help you stay authentic to yourself, and then you will be more likely to be proud of the work you put in.

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

There’s a TON of webcomics I could recommend, but I’ll give you two in particular. One of them is a comic that’s been finished for a long time, and it’s not hosted on any webcomic app (it’s got it’s own website). It’s called “The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal” by E.K. Weaver. This is the ONLY other BL road-trip-romance comic that I’ve ever read. It’s funny and nostalgic, the characters are unique, and the story itself is well-written. I find myself coming back to this comic a lot when I need a good pick-me-up read.

The other comic I will recommend is “Countdown to Countdown” by Xiao Tong (AKA “Velinxi”) who is a master at world-building and overall, incredibly talented artist. This webcomic is by far the most beautifully drawn comic I’ve ever read, and It’s still ongoing! Which is great, because if you read it, I can almost guarantee you’re going to get sucked into the world and want more. 

Interview with Professor and Author David Glasgow

David Glasgow is the executive director of the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging and an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law. He has written for a range of publications including the Harvard Business Review, HuffPost, and Slate, and served as an Associate Director of the Public Interest Law Center at NYU School of Law. His latest book, Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice, co-written by Kenji Yoshino is available now.

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

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

Thank you! I’m a gay man, originally from Melbourne, Australia, who now lives in San Diego. I have a husband and two sons aged 5 and 3. Professionally, I trained as a lawyer and practiced anti-discrimination and employment law before moving into the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In my spare time, I enjoy playing piano, reading, mixing cocktails, and spending time with my kids.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice? What was the inspiration for this project?

Say the Right Thing is a practical, shame-free guide for people who want tools for how to have better conversations about issues of identity like race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. 

My coauthor Kenji Yoshino and I were inspired to write it because of our work together at the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU School of Law. In teaching people how to be more inclusive, we kept encountering a barrier—well-meaning allies were terrified of saying the wrong thing. This fear often made them avoid entering these conversations in the first place, or led them to act in ways that inadvertently hurt the people they were trying to help.

We wanted to offer a set of strategies so that people could overcome their fear and participate in these dialogues with greater confidence and skill.

As a writer, what drew you to writing?

Aside from law, I have a background in philosophy and love working through ideas. I find that writing is often the best way to think through complex issues because it allows you to spot holes in your logic and forces you to justify arguments. For those of us who don’t have a big speaking platform like a podcast or a TV show, writing is also the best way to get ideas out into the world.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

I’m inspired by anyone who thinks deeply and critically about their subject matter and isn’t afraid to challenge both their own pre-conceived opinions and the opinions of others. Writers like Martha Nussbaum and John N. Gray—who write about philosophy, ethics, and politics—have been huge influences on my own thinking. I’m also a voracious consumer of podcasts and often find myself scribbling notes on my phone after listening to interviews with other thinkers on various Slate, Vox, or New York Times podcasts.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult? 

My favorite element of writing is editing drafts. There’s something satisfying about turning rough ideas into something more cohesive and readable. It’s like my version of sculpture.

The most frustrating and difficult is writing the first draft of any chapter. As a perfectionist, I find it hard to accept that the first draft will inevitably be bad and it’s all about being willing to pour scattered thoughts onto the page knowing that you can improve it gradually over time.

Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I love animals! If I had more of a scientific brain, I would have wanted to become a zoologist. I find animals endlessly fascinating and we don’t appreciate or value them enough.

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

What’s your favorite cocktail? My answer changes depending on my mood, but lately, I’ve been enjoying the Smoky Negroni.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Read a lot, and be willing to produce what the writer Anne Lamott calls a “sh*tty first draft.” You won’t make progress unless you let go of the need to write beautiful prose from the get-go.

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

My coauthor Kenji and I have been thinking a lot about how to translate our book, Say the Right Thing, into educational modules. Watch this space!

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

In my field of diversity, equity, and inclusion, I highly recommend Dolly Chugh’s book The Person You Mean to Be, which we cite several times in our own book. Another wonderful book that has influenced me in this arena is Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us. And on a separate topic, I loved Ed Yong’s recent book An Immense World about the senses of animals—it’s beautiful and mind-bending.

Header Photo Credit Siobhan Gazur

Interview with Actor and Writer Aislinn Brophy

Aislinn Brophy (they/she) is an actor, writer, and arts administrator based in the Atlanta area. She was born and raised in South Florida but made her way up to the frigid northeast for college. Their hobbies include pawning off their baking on anybody nearby, doing funny voices, and dismantling the patriarchy. Aislinn has a degree in Theater, Dance & Media, and her experiences as a performer consistently wiggle their way into her writing. In all aspects of her work as an artist, she is passionate about exploring identity and social justice issues. Their debut YA novel, How To Succeed in Witchcraft, is available now with a second untitled novel to follow.

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

Thanks for having me! My name is Aislinn Brophy, and I’m an author and an actor. I’m originally from South Florida, but now you can find me living in Atlanta with my lovely partner and our two cats. When I’m not working, I love dancing, making playlists for my friends, and playing D&D. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, How To Succeed in Witchcraft? What was the inspiration for this story? 

How to Succeed in Witchcraft is a YA contemporary fantasy that follows Shay, an overachieving witch at a prestigious magical magnet school in South Florida, who has to decide between getting the scholarship for magical university that she desperately needs or exposing the predatory drama teacher who controls the scholarship. It’s got potion brewing, a queer love story between two academic rivals, and magical musical theater!

I think my biggest inspiration for this book was the many years I spent at very intense schools. At this point in my life, I’ve thankfully fled academia for good, but I used to be a student who really bought into the idea that what I had to do to be successful was run myself into the ground. When I was writing How to Succeed in Witchcraft, creating Shay’s character was one of the easiest parts. Overachievers and their various hang-ups are very familiar to me. 

Your book is said to be based on a practical magic system, interrogating the power dynamics of a world based on witchcraft, particularly within a system of dark academics. Could you talk about how you approached the world-building within the book?

The world-building was the part of the book that took the longest to come together. I revised the details of the history and magic quite a lot between the first and final drafts! As far as the history went, I wanted to create a world that had similar systems of oppression to ours, because that would be most useful to me in addressing the themes I wanted to touch on. I thought the best way to do that was to have a specific point in history that was recent (but not too recent) where magic was discovered. Then I wrote an alternate timeline for how history progressed from that point onwards. I identified some key historical events—wars, political movements, etc.—and then figured out how the presence of magic would have changed them. I think the big idea I had behind crafting the history was “what if magic just made capitalism worse?”  

With the magic system, I started out with the idea that it was going to be very practical. It was going to be a system where skill with manipulating magic was quantifiable, and you could compare a witch to her peers and definitively say who was stronger. I also wanted magical skill to be practice-based rather than innate. You become more powerful in this world mostly by doing magic a ton. All of these elements were meant to play into the dark academia parts of the story. If you can quantify how strong witches and wizards are, and how good you are at magic is based on the sheer amount of hours you spend working at it, then all of that would make a cutthroat academic program even more toxic. 

On social media, you’ve discussed how much it means to you that the main character of How To Succeed in Witchcraft is biracial and queer like you. Could you talk about what that representation and what representation in general means to you?

Of course, it’s incredibly important to see people that share identities with you represented in media. At this point, I hope that’s not a ground-breaking thing to be saying. I want everyone to be able to read books that speak to their experiences, as well as books that reflect on lives they’ll never lead and things they’ll never face. Personally, I don’t remember reading stories with characters that shared many identities with me when I was younger, and that shaped who I thought could possibly be the main character in books. A lot of my early writing had straight white protagonists, because I had got it in my head that those were the people who got to be the heroes in fantasy. Now that I’m creating stories that are more authentic to who I am as a writer, I realize just how much that mindset was getting in my way. 

What I love most about the current moment in publishing is that going into the bookstore and looking at the shelves now feels very different to me than it did ten years ago. Obviously, there’s still a lot of racism, homophobia, and other oppressive forces at play in the industry. But now I can look at the shelves and see many more hugely successful books by marginalized authors. That’s no small thing. 

I’m really proud to be adding How to Succeed in Witchcraft to this current publishing landscape. My goal is to build a body of work that shows a lot of different facets of being a queer biracial person. This book is just the start. 

How did you get into writing, and what drew you to young adult fiction, specifically speculative fiction? 

I’ve been completely and utterly obsessed with speculative fiction ever since I started reading it as a kid. The reason my vision is so terrible now is because I spent a lot of my time as a child reading fantasy books in near-darkness after my bedtime. So when I started writing novels as a teen, I knew I wanted to write something that would make other kids feel that totally earth-shattering excitement that I felt from reading a really good YA fantasy. 

I have to credit fanfiction for getting me seriously into writing though. Before I made the switch to creating original work, I learned a lot of practical craft skills by writing a massive amount of fanfiction. That was a very formative experience for me as a writer. Fanfiction let me be unapologetically enthusiastic about creating stories, and it gave me a non-judgmental space to be bad. And honestly, you have to be a bad writer for a while before you become a good one, so I’m glad I got to do that in a place where nobody was really evaluating the quality of my work. 

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/most challenging parts for you?

My process is probably best described as controlled chaos. I learned early on in my writing journey that I get lost during drafting without some kind of road map, so now I make an outline of what is going to happen in the book before I get started. Usually that outline starts out detailed and becomes more and more vague as it goes along. By the end, my notes on the plot end up being things like “Character A and B talk about something????” or “resolve subplot here maybe.” I do my best to draft a book based on that, it inevitably doesn’t go the way I’ve planned, and then I revise the resulting draft into something actually good.  

I struggle a lot with drafting, so that’s probably the most challenging part for me. I write slowly, and it’s hard for me to focus for long periods of time to get words on the page. On the other hand, I love editing. Thinking about the world I’m creating is tremendously fun for me, and I find that I get to do the majority of that once I have my bad draft on the page. 

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

The two authors that I would say are my greatest sources of inspiration are N. K. Jemisin and Tamora Pierce. I’m the biggest fan of N. K. Jemisin’s work. I just think everything she writes is brilliant. The nuance she brings to exploring power and oppression in her books is something I hope to achieve in my own work. And Tamora Pierce is a writer that really shaped how I viewed fantasy from an early age. I loved The Song of the Lioness series and the Beka Cooper books. All the female protagonists in her novels were powerful in a way that always stuck out to me. 

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

I’m an actor! I mostly work in theater, which is why musical theater is such a big part of How to Succeed in Witchcraft. Most recently I had the pleasure of playing Rosalind in a show called Playing Mercury, which is a medieval-period comedy inspired by Shakespeare’s As You Like It

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

Here’s my question for myself: What’s your biggest dream as an author? 

I would like to write something one day that inspires people to write fanfiction about my characters. Honestly, I can’t imagine a bigger achievement for myself. If I created a story that people liked so much that they felt compelled to make their own art about my imaginary people, I could die happy.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Find what works for you, and do more of it. There’s no “one way” to be a writer. Actually, the only thing required to be a writer is to write sometimes. There’s a lot of advice floating around out there for writers. Read all the popular books in your genre. Write every day. Don’t write a prologue. Etcetera, etcetera. But if some of that common advice doesn’t seem like quite the right fit for you, that’s cool! Maybe it’s hard for you to read in your genre while you’re writing. Maybe you need to take lots of breaks to refill your creative well. Or maybe you want to write a novel that’s exclusively made up of prologues. These are all valid ways to write. What matters most is that you identify what you’re good at and what type of writing process works for you, and then do that stuff on purpose. 

Lean into your strengths! And if you write that prologue book, I want to read it.

What advice would you give for finishing a book?

Get something on the page. You can edit something, but you can’t edit nothing. This is advice I have to give myself regularly. 

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

I’m currently drafting my second book. I can’t say much about it at this point, since it’s still in early stages, but it’s set in a different world than How to Succeed in Witchcraft. The premise I’ve started with is that the book follows a witch and a non-magical girl who become trapped in a cycle of breaking up and getting back together after a memory spell goes wrong. We’ll see where it goes from there!

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

I’ll limit myself to the YA space since I always have way too many books that I want to recommend! Aiden Thomas’ The Sunbearer Trials, Jas Hammonds’ We Deserve Monuments, and Riss M. Neilson’s Deep in Providence are some of the newer/upcoming releases that I’ve been excited about. I also love Ashley Shuttleworth’s A Dark and Hollow Star and H. E. Edgmon’s The Witch King, which both kick off incredible, ambitious queer fantasy series. 

Header Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios

Interview with Author Camonghne Felix

Camonghne Felix, poet, and essayist is the author of Build Yourself a Boat, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Poetry, shortlisted for the PEN/Open Book Awards, and shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Awards. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Academy of American Poets, Freeman’s, Harvard Review, LitHub, The New Yorker, PEN America, Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere. Her essays have been featured in Vanity Fair, New York, Teen Vogue, and other places. She is a contributing writer at The Cut.

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

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

I’m a writer from New York City who currently lives in Washington D.C. with my fiancé and our future cat (which will hopefully be in my home by the time you’re reading this).

What can you tell us about your latest book, Dyscalculia: A Love Story of Epic Miscalculation? What was the inspiration for this project and the title?

I wrote this book because it was a book I really needed to read during a breakup that disrupted me and forced me to answer some hard questions about my health and wellness. The book was inspired by that breakup and by my journey to my bipolar diagnosis.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically memoir?

As a young writer, I was really struck by Bluets, written by Maggie Nelson. I’ve read it many times, and each time came away thinking “I want to do something like this one day,” and by ‘something like this’ I mean write a rigorous memoir that added something new to the form and genre.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

Music; spirituality and my relationship to my faiths; other poetry and fiction 

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult? 

My favorite element is the element of surprise. This can happen in a bunch of ways in a poem, like a volta in a sonnet, but I enjoy it in memoir or fiction too. The most frustrating thing is the thinking. There’s a lot of hard, frustrating thinking that goes into each process. Even if the writing seems to come quickly, the thinking does not.

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

What is your favorite video game?

It’s Spiritifarer

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can and don’t be afraid to take risks!

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

I’m working on another nonfiction memoir called Let the Poets Govern, about the end of the world. 

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

Safia Elhillo

Rickey Laurentiis

Jada Renee

Joy Preist

Marwa Helal

Mahogany L Browne

Jason Reynolds

Rachel McKibbens

Courtney Faye Taylor

Angel Nafis

Joselia Hughes

Interview with Iron Circus Comics Founder C. Spike Trotman

C. Spike Trotman was born in DC, raised in MD, and lives in IL. An artist and writer, she founded Iron Circus Comics in 2007, which has since grown to become the region’s largest comics publisher. Her notable work includes the webcomic “Templar, Arizona,” the Smut Peddler series of erotic comic anthologies, and Poorcraft, a graphic novel guide to frugal living. A Kickstarter early adopter, she pioneered the widely-adopted bonus model that’s since completely reshaped the pay system of the small press, jump-starting the current renaissance of alt-comics anthologies. Iron Circus is also the first comics publisher of note to fully incorporate crowdfunding into its business model, inventing one of the single most effective uses of new media in comics publishing today.

Iron Circus’ latest anthology, Failure to Launch, is live on Backerkit now.

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

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

Hi, I’m Spike! I was born in DC, raised in MD, and live in IL. I was in Maryland’s “Gifted and Talented” program in middle school, and ever since, nobody’s been able to tell me nuthin’. I absolutely got high on my own supply with that one, decided I was special, and took it from there.

I was in what I like to think of as the first big wave of webcomics, the most maligned and hopeless wave, the pre-Paypal, pre-Webtoon, pre-Tapas, pre-everything kids who mostly just flailed around, and experimented, and hoped something would work out, eventually. For me, the thing that worked out was Iron Circus Comics. With a little help from my friends, I’ve since grown a self-publishing imprint into the biggest comics publisher in the Midwest, with multiple Eisner nominations and wins to its name, a multi-million-dollar crowdfunding footprint, and a brand-new animation wing, Iron Circus Animation, responsible for the Lackadaisy animated short, dropping in March!

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

I make comics and cartoons. I think they’re pretty good.

As the founder of Iron Circus Comics, how would you describe your company? 

We actually have a motto and mission statement that does the job pretty well, in my opinion: “Strange and Amazing.” It’s something I once saw a banner that hung on a circus freak show tent, and it’s exactly what I strive to bring into the world. WEIRD stuff. Stuff not everybody else is out there doing.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly to the medium of comics and erotic fiction?

I’ve always been Team “Erotica Is A Legitimate Genre.” I just felt that, like msot attempts at storytelling in ALL genres, not just erotica, most of it was either poorly done, didn’t really appeal to me personally, or both! And I always knew specifically what I wanted to see in media wasn’t going to get shown unless I did it myself. Which is where stuff like “Iris & Angel” and “Yes, Roya” comes from, along with the Smut Peddler series.

And I just love comics. They’re my favorite medium, ever. Like a lot of people my age, it’s probably because I grew up during the last hurrah of the newspaper comic, reading Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side and Bloom County in the Sunday Washington Post. Those guys set a high bar.

What are some of your favorite elements of storytelling? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult?

The stuff that comes easiest to me are cute little vignettes, homeless little scenes that I want to see play out on the page for no good reason. Stuff I just think would be fun to see. Stuff like, “What if this character saw a bunch of baby ducks trapped in a storm drain?” “What are they like with their mom?” “What would they do as part of a crew aboard a spaceship?” I have a whole file of single-sentence prompts like that, prompts I won’t allow myself to include in anything I make unless I can find a way to slot them into the comic so they actually move the story forward instead of dwelling on how pwecious I think everyone I’ve made up is.  

As someone who has worked on their own comics, including Yes, Roya, how would you describe your creative process?

There has to be a gap I see, and need to fill, in my own entertainment. Almost all homegrown Iron Circus stuff starts off that way; my work, the anthologies, the books I commission the authorship of (Like the Poorcraft Cookbook). And when I’m writing and drawing it, an actual valuable part of the experience is the time I spend AWAY from the script or page. After I finish drawing a page or scripting five or ten pages? I need to walk away for at least half a day, come back later, and reread it with fresh eyes. I always, ALWAYS catch something I’m not happy with, doing that, so I swear by the method.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

As a kid, I loved “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.” I mean, to an unreasonable degree. I was very into Auntie Entity because back then, there wasn’t a lot of media with a Black woman unquestionably in charge of things. She had real power, was competent, set the rules and enforced them. And even though she “lost” in the end, she wasn’t punished or killed for being in charge. She just drove off into the sunset. You kinda knew she was gonna be fine, that that wasn’t the end of her. She lost this round, but she wasn’t out of the fight.

I LOVED THAT. Major role model vibes.

As someone who has had their hand in a number of acclaimed titles, what usually draws your eye professionally and creatively?

I have a bunch of hurdles work has to get over, and the first is the art. If I’m not feeling the art, then my interest ends there; the way I see it, art is what draws the eye first, and if I can’t get into the art, there’s no point in checking out anything else. Then, I check out the quality of the writing AND lettering (yes, lettering matters! It’s about legibility and aesthetics!). It’s only after those two hurdles are cleared that I take a look at any paperwork the creator sent along. That’s probably backwards, but that’s how I do things.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I’m a helluva home cook. My homemade mapo tofu, from-scratch Japanese curry, and kimchi are to die for.

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

Why YES, I AM available to write for your television show!

What advice might you have to give for aspiring creatives?

Hold onto your IP with a white-knuckle grip, don’t sign over anything, no matter how pretty a story someone’s telling you. The new money coming into comics right now how brought a whole new wave of predatory exploiters with it. They don’t care about you, they care about what they can take from you. And sell to someone else. They’re leeches and carpetbaggers; don’t ever let them think they’re doing you a favor.

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

Up down up down left right left right B A start.

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

Ooo, an easy question!

Kyle Smeallie is an unappreciated gem. I love his work. Check out his webcomic, Softies!

The same goes for Jon Allen’s Ohio Is For Sale comics. We publish two volumes of it, The Lonesome Era and Julian in Purgatory. Dude should be famous, honestly.

Kendra Wells’ Real Hero Shit is tearin’ up social media, and for good reason! Grab it and read it!

Interview with Author Linsey Miller

Once upon a time, Linsey Miller studied biology in Arkansas. These days, she holds an MFA in fiction and can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee. She is the author of the Mask of Shadows duology, Belle Révolte, The Game, What We Devour, and Prince of Song & Sea

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

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

Hello! Thank you! I’m Linsey Miller, the author of a handful of books, most recently What We Devour and Prince of Song & Sea. I enjoy writing about grief and morality in magical worlds, and I love books about queer kids saving the day. Outside of authorhood, I read a lot, bake a bit, and write less often than I probably should.

How did you find yourself becoming a writer? What drew you to young adult and speculative fiction specifically?

I read and wrote too much as a child to the point where I was banned from reading books in class a few times. In middle school, though, I read a book about a forensic pathologist and decided that was my ideal job. I stopped reading fiction while in college and tried to be a good student and focus on my studies. However, my father died after my first year, and I realized that I wasn’t sure if medical school and pathology were exactly what I wanted to do.

After I graduated, I didn’t really know what to do. I lived with my now-husband and our best friend, and they convinced me to try writing a book. So I did, and it was terrible.

But then I wrote another one, and the rest is history.

Young adult fantasy appeals to me because it provides a way for kids who may not get to triumph and be celebrated in the real world to win against their villains. The young adult category wasn’t bare when I was a kid, but it wasn’t very large. I decided that I wanted to write the books that teen-me needed and would have loved.

Growing up, were there any books or authors that touched or inspired you as a writer?

I think I read the Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce and the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix five hundred times as a kid. I loved Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler’s short stories,  His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and though I was older when they came out, all of N.K. Jemisin’s works.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your book What We Devour?

Of course! I call What We Devour my extremely ace book about eating the rich. I think the main concept for the world was the first thing that came to me. I was drove home late one night, looked up at the full moon, and thought, “What if that were an eye?”

Most of the inspiration for the plot came from two things—my desire to insert an ace girl into the “girl plans on killing/taking down the prince but he’s hot” fantasy romance trope and my childhood with a very pro-union father. I think magic provides an exceptional medium through which to explore morality and ethics, and the tropes I wanted to use had such interesting power dynamics that it felt right.

So all of that came together to inspire what I hope is a gripping book about aceness, workers’ rights, and how fantasy worlds which focus on revolts often don’t go far enough into dismantling systems of power.

Your next upcoming project is a book centered on Eric from The Little Mermaid? Can you tell us how you become involved in this project, as well as any personal connections you might have to that film and character?

The Little Mermaid came out the year I was born, so I jumped at the chance to work on it. While I didn’t see it in theaters, I liked it a lot as a kid because I thought Ursula was great. There is something extremely relatable in Ariel, Eric, and Ursula. Prince of Song & Sea provided a chance for me to explore that relatability and bolster Eric’s character, which was a wonderful challenge.

Also, I will take any excuse to sing “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of the best/most difficult parts for you?

My writing process is structured but not set in stone. I will usually let a concept stew for a long time before committing it to paper. When I start working, I’ll rewrite the first few chapters until they’re what feels right for the tone and characters, and then I’ll write the climax and/or epilogue. I prefer to only seriously start working once the beginning and ending are figured out.

The most difficult part for me is definitely writing the initial draft. I get caught up too easily in making it “good” to the point where I’ll stop writing. My favorite part happens once that is done—rewriting. I love rewriting a book from start to finish. It feels very refreshing to create a new draft from the initial one and include all of the small details and foreshadowing. That’s when writing is the most fun for me.

Since Geeks OUT is a LGBTQ+ centered website, could you maybe tell us what queer representation means to you?

It’s a letter to the Linsey that could have been. I don’t think I saw the word ace outside of playing card references until I was in my twenties. Seeing the queer literature that’s available now across genres and age group is everything, from vengeance to hope, to me. 

Mask of Shadows, Belle Révolte, and What We Devour specifically are my attempts to write the books that would have saved me some confusion and tears growing up. There the books I didn’t know I needed as a kid. I hope they can be the book for a least one reader now.

Besides writing, what are some of your other interests?

I do a lot of baking, mostly cinnamon rolls and cakes.  Though it’s on hiatus now, I play D&D with a group of other authors on the Spell Check podcast. I also play a lot of video games, though I’m mostly working through the new Pokémon Snap right now.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Writing is a curious occupation because we often do it alone without any feedback for long periods of time, and that isolation can be challenging. Find your people and stick with them.

There’s a degree of failure that writing requires constantly, not just at the beginning. Write what you love and what you need, and don’t twist your work into knots to try and shove it into what you think is marketable.

Also, please backup your work and activate the “unsend email” option.

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

Oh, no. This is delightful, but I don’t know. I guess: Who are your favorite minor characters you’ve written?

I am equally fond of Isidora from Mask of Shadows and Franziska Carlow from What We Devour. They’re very different, but that’s mostly due to them responding to their trauma in different ways. At their cores, both are driven to help others to their own detriment.

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

I have a few projects that I’m working on, but there aren’t any that I can talk about. I hope I have more things I can talk about soon!

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

All of them! Some authors I love are Jordan Ifueko, Adib Khorram, Laura Pohl, L.L. McKinney, Katherine Locke, A.R. Capetta, Julian Winters, Linden A. Lewis, Ryan Douglass, A.M. Strickland, Alechia Dow, Rosiee Thor, and Ryan La Sala.

The Last of Us: Worth It!

(HBO makes my Gay-mer heart Happy)

Busy Geek Breakdown: 

  • Fungus zombie apocalypse. Gruff loaner takes in orphaned kid. 
  • Epic action, nail-biting suspense, moving scores.Solid LGBTQ rep. 
  • Love the game? Watch the HBO Show. Excellent cast, faithful adaptation.      
  • Like the show? Try the game. Silent Hill mood, 28 Days Later type arc. 

The Last of Us is a critically acclaimed video game released in 2013 by developer Naughty Dog. The game follows the story of Joel (played in the show by Pedro ‘tall drink of water’ Pascal), a grizzled survivor in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by infected creatures, and Ellie, a young girl with a mysterious connection to the outbreak. Together, they embark on a journey across the United States, searching for a group of resistance fighters known as the Fireflies.

The game is a masterclass in storytelling, with complex and relatable characters, a gripping plot, and a powerful emotional core. So it’s not surprising that fans of the game have been clamoring for a television adaptation for years.

Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Bella Ramsay (the powerhouse gender-fluid actor of Game of Thrones fame) plays Ellie, an orphaned girl with a mysterious immunity to the Zombie fungus, making her possibly the most important person alive. Ashley Johnson voiced this character in the game (yes, Critical Role fans, that’s right).

The relationship between Joel and Ellie is at the center of the story. Their bond is one of the most compelling aspects of the game, and so far, the show is working to capture that same sense of connection and trust. But, of course, this requires a solid cast to portray their characters’ deep emotions and subtle nuances. And HBO did not disappoint.

The game’s post-apocalyptic setting plays a significant role in the show. The game’s depiction of a world overrun by infected creatures is terrifying and believable, and the adaptation successfully conveys a similar sense of danger and desperation.

Three episodes in, the adaptation has captured the same sense of tension and suspense that the game’s fans love. The game’s story is filled with moments of high stakes and nail-biting action, leveraging a talented team of writers and directors who understand how to create compelling and suspenseful storytelling. 

Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

The romance between Bill (played in the show by Nick Offerman) and Frank expanded from the game in a lovely way that while it deviates, it is well done and will hit you in all the feelings (I definitely had something in my eye for all of episode 3).

Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Fans have long hoped for a television adaptation of The Last of Us. Finally, here is an incredible opportunity to bring this beloved story to a broader audience. So far, The Last of Us television show is shaping up to be one of the most exciting and thrilling series available, and has already been renewed for a second season.

Looking forward to Episode 4, things are not going to get better for Joel and Ellie anytime soon. Once again, fleshing out back stories that were left for the player to wonder about in the game, the HBO show is going to name and humanize Perry and Kathleen, (played by Jeffrey Pierce and Melanie Lynskey) some of the nameless raiders from the game. Needless to say, regardless of how the new showrunners decided to humanize the villains, things are about to get very bleak for our Dynamic Duo.

Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

So What’s in store for Episode 5? So far all we have in way of a preview is this picture of Joel looking haunted as he stares into the middle distance with an out-of-focus Ellie (probably) waiting for him. That and a warning from the showrunners that as Joel’s past very much informs his future, he is going to have some very traumatic flashbacks.

Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO


(The rest of this article assumes you have played the game all the way through.)

 In 2013, a mutant Cordyceps changed people into creatures known as the Infected. In the Southwest U.S., Joel, his brother Tommy, and his daughter Sarah flee, but his daughter is killed and bleeds out in his arms.

Twenty years later, the remains of humanity live mostly in quarantine zones, which the new government runs with an iron fist. Joel has made his way as a smuggler with Tess near Boston. (Tess was voiced by Annie Wersching in the game, who also played the Borg Queen in Picard, and unfortunately recently died of cancer at 45.) 

Marlene, the leader of a rebel group, the Fireflies, offers them the job of smuggling Ellie to a safe house, as she is possibly the best, last hope for humanity. The voyage is hard, scary, and at times tragic, including run-ins with The Infected, raiders, and even cannibals.

***Now, real spoilers that will ruin the game for you if you haven’t played***

(Okay, you’ve been properly warned …)

When they finally reach the safe house months later, they prepare Ellie for surgery. When Joel finds out they must remove Ellie’s brain to create the vaccine, Joel cannot bear losing another person he was responsible for. In an epic, heartbreaking, and guilt-inducing final sequence, you play as Joel and kill every one of the Fireflies, save Ellie, possibly damning humanity, and then lie to her. This was the first time many players were forced to play and watch and act as the unknown villain, an experience that sticks with you.

Title Image: The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140801152030” by planetfifa14 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Interview with Authors Sofía Lapuente & Jarrod Shusterman

Sofía Lapuente (she/her) is an author, screenwriter, and avid world traveler who immigrated from Spain to the United States to realize her dream of storytelling. Since then, she has received a master’s degree in fine arts at UCLA, worked as a producer and casting director on an Emmy-nominated show, and received co-author credits in Gleanings, the New York Times bestselling fourth installment of the Arc of a Scythe series, with her partner, Jarrod Shusterman. Together, the couple writes and produces film and television under their production company Dos Lobos Entertainment.

Jarrod Shusterman (he/him) is the New York Times bestselling co-author of the novel Dry, which he is adapting for a major Hollywood film studio with Neal Shusterman. He is also the co-author of the accoladed novel Roxy. His books have all received critical acclaim and multiple-starred reviews. Sofí Lapuente and Jarrod are partners in every sense of the word, with love and multiculturalism as an ethos—living between Madrid, Spain, and Los Angeles, California. If they are not working, it means they’re eating. For behind-the-scenes author content and stupidly funny videos, follow them on Instagram and TikTok @SofiandJarrod.

I had the opportunity to interview Sofí and Jarrod, which you can read below.

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

Sofi: Hi there, Jarrod and I are partners! I’m from Madrid, Spain so English is a second language for me—and I immigrated here to make my dream real of writing stories. It’s important for me to represent strong female protagonists, my Hispanic culture, and to make sure everyone feels included in our books <3

What can you tell us about your latest book, Retro? What was the inspiration for this project?

Jarrod: It started with the thought, that considering all the apps and algorithms, do we really have control over our own thoughts, or does technology? We also heard this crazy concept, that ever since the advent of the smartphone humans have become cyborgs, with our computing systems in our pockets. We’re not the same. It’s like that moment we discovered tools and moved from monkey to man. It happened in our lifetime and it made us think, Why aren’t there more YA books that not just include technology, but talk about it.

Sofi: It got us thinking, can we really live without our smartphones? And in our book RETRO that’s exactly what the characters have to do. They take the Retro Challenge— and if they can make it the whole year without those smart devices they’ll win a full ride scholarship! And they’ll do it in style, dressing in vintage gear and living life like a fun retro movie. Only when contestants start going missing, it’s up to our protagonists Luna and her friends to figure out who is sabotaging the challenge, or maybe they’re next. RETRO is a fun guilty pleasure thriller where you go on this adventure with all these characters who end up being your new best friends! Get ready to laugh, cry, and devour the book like a serious Netflix binge!

How did the two of you come together to work on it?

Jarrod: Sofi and I met rather serendipitously in LA—and we were both working in the Film and Television business at the time, while I was also working on my first novel DRY. After a few months of being together we decided to merge our dreams together and start writing screenplays and novels, and here we are! It’s so amazing to work with your life partner, and you really learn interesting things about them, like: would you go in that burning building? Would you throw a milkshake in jerk person’s face? What would you do if you were kidnapped? Most couples don’t play those scenarios out over dinner, but we like it this way 🙂

Sofía Lapuente Photo Credit Diego Bravo

As writers, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction?

Sofi: For me, as an adult, storytelling is the last true form of magic in the world. You can transport to any place, in any time, you can be anyone and live a thousand lives. And YA fiction is special because it’s about such an awesome formative time of your life. I was also drawn to the amazing industry of YA literature. We have found a world of librarians, teachers, and readers that are some of the coolest people we’ve ever met. And every time we meet a YA author we know that we have so many shared experiences, it’s like we’re the only people in the world who really understand each other. Signings and conferences can be stressful, but in the end, it’s a form of therapy. And the reason everyone is so cool is because we’re writing for young people, so there’s a responsibility, and it makes you a better writer and a better person.

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

Jarrod: I would have to say we are really influenced by ALL media. We’re incredibly influenced by music, and that’s why every chapter title in RETRO is a throwback song, making the index a playlist—that has a QR code so you can listen while you read! I picked up a lot from my father’s books, Neal Shusterman, because when your dad reads you bedtime stories of people getting ‘Unwound’ and ‘Gleaned’ it kind of makes an impression as a kid. And we take A TON from movies and television. Because series aren’t afraid to cross genres, and we think the literary world is moving in that direction too. RETRO is the kind of book that dabbles in many genres, from thriller to drama to comedy with the right amount of romance and chili-pepper spice! 

Sofi: I really appreciate activism. People who fight for the LGBTQIA+ community, feminism, and the immigrant community to name a few. That’s why our characters are so diverse. Because it represents my reality as a Hispanic immigrant and I’m a part of all the aforementioned worlds! 

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult? 

Sofi: My favorite part about writing is definitely when we are shaping the premise and have stars in our eyes. Everything is flowing together, and we are just so excited about the potential of the project. We LOVE to develop fun and quirky characters. And there is no more satisfying feeling than to give voice to these interesting people we are creating—and definitely in an inclusive way that makes everyone feel a part of the story! The most frustrating part is when you’ve written your characters into a corner and you have to get them out, which we all know as ‘writers block’ but there is an easy way out, which is just do research, research, research. The more you learn or invent about your world or characters the more creative pathways you’ll be able to fluently come up with! One of the most difficult parts is definitely after the drafting phase. Rewriting. It’s the most important part of the writing process because it’s when everything comes together and finally takes form as a finished project, but taking notes and applying them and deleting things that you love is just so painful for writers. It’s like your little darling is undergoing surgery, and they are making you do it!

Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

Sofi: I love to travel the world with Jarrod! My fist language is Spanish and I have an accent like Puss in Boots <3 I am really passionate in general and I love to laugh loud, dance and party. I’m obsessed with food and it is obsessed with me. I have a really high tolerance for spicy food and we have competitions all the time (and I always win) As a kid I wasn’t incredible bookish, so the passion for reading came from a passion for communicating and storytelling!

Jarrod: We want people to know that we’re really accessible people and we’re always making fun behind the scenes author content and videos on TikTok and IG: @sofiandjarrod You should definitely follow us because we are always doing these contests to see whose name gets to be in our book (there are five winners who are in RETRO) and we often do free giveaways of Advanced reader copies. We just have a ton of fun being ourselves online, and if you ever have a question or something we’ll usually always respond!

Jarrod Shusterman Photo Credit Diego Bravo

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

Sofi: This is a great question! We’ve always wanted to hear: “Can I get a ticket to the movie premier?” Because one of our big dreams is to have one of our books adapted, by us, into a movie or a television series. Having started our journey together in Lalaland, California, working in showbiz, there is a huge part of our hearts stuck in that golden age of Hollywood. There’s something so transportive and romantic about it, we simply can’t get enough. Oh, And of, course, the answer to that question is: YES! You are so 100% Invited!”

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Jarrod: I would tell any aspiring writer that although this is an art form, but more so it is a craft. You have to put in your ten thousand hours or more, and they need to be quality hours. Find a mentor, even if it’s just a book or a master class. Have the humility to accept notes/criticism, and recognize that you are not a reflection of your art, your art is a reflection of you. Don’t take things personally when you didn’t execute something masterfully or have to erase scenes. Because erasing should be easy for a writer, because they must trust in their craft, and in themselves that they can recreate any scene! The first fifty things I wrote totally sucked, so don’t be surprised if your first fifty short stories or scripts or outlines suck too : ) Hey, maybe they don’t suck as bad as mine and you already have a better starting point than I did. Basically, I would say just keep writing, and with the right guidance and effort, you will get it!

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

Sofi: We are currently finishing up our first Adult novel, which we’re about to begin showing publishers this year, so we’re quite excited about that. It’s a dramedy inspired by my crazy life, and my friends’ lives, as Immigrants in the States. Because there’s tough parts to life, but also there’s a lot of warm moments full of friends, love and laughter. Life has highs and the lows—and for us we want our books to always be entertaining—with just the right amount of romance. We’re even developing the second YA novel as well, which we are super excited to write. But it’s a secret project at this point! 

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

Sofi: As for YA we are fans of Kat Cho, Claribel A Ortega, and Adalyn Grace—who wrote BELLADONNA. Then there’s Gina Chen, Alex Aster, Stephanie Garber, Susan Lee, Kristin Dwyer, Margaret Stohl (and the list goes on)! LEGENDBORN by Tracey Deon is amazing, and Adam Silvera’s books like THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END are a must. There’s also our long-time favorite by Nancy Farmer called THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, which you have to check out! But we are biased because we’re all friends! <3

LGBTQ+ Creator Spotlight: Karen S. Darboe, Artist Supreme

Happy New Year to all the queer comic book connoisseurs out there! For the first installment of the Queer Creator spotlight of 2023, I had the honor of speaking with Afro-Italian artist Karen S. Darboe who’s launching her first Marvel book this week, Bloodline: Daughter of Blade.

Karen grew up in a small town on the southern peninsula of Italy named Follina. Her interest in art began early on and it was when she was seven years old that she read her first comic, the manga “Detective Conan.” It was her mom that explained to her that it was a person that drew all of the art and images that made up the “Detective Conan” book. Karen decided then that, that was what she wanted to do when she grew up.

From 2010 to 2015 she studied traditional art (painting and sculpture) in high school and in 2016, she attended the International School of Comics in Padova, where she graduated with high grades in 2018. While studying in the International School of comics, she worked as a teacher in a local art atelier called “Favol Arte”, owned by illustrators Anna Casaburi and Arcadio Lobato. And in that same period, she was able to create several illustrations for the metal band “Hell in the Club” which were used on merchandise.

Karen has gone on to work for Freak & Chic Games’ card game “Squillo City”, FairSquare Comics on a short story for the anthology “Noir Is the New Black”. And started doing covers for Black Mask Studios, Fair Square Comics, Behemoth, BOOM! Studios, Skybound and Marvel. Working on such titles as Something is Killing the Children, TMNT, Thor, Black Panther, The Walking Dead, Ms. Mutiny, and many more!

Marvel’s Bloodline: Daughter of Blade Cover by Karen S. Darboe

Chris Allo: As a young girl in Italy, what came first the love of drawing or the love of comic books?  Which came first for you?

Karen S. Darboe: I would say that art was the first thing just because I can’t remember a day of my life without drawing, and I bet my mother would agree! Comics came right after, though.

CA:  What was your first comic book? What was the thing that got you into comics? Do you have a favorite book or character?

KD: Oh yes, I remember this clearly, the first ever comic book I owned was Detective Conan! While starting to read more and more books my tiny innocent brain thought that those drawings were way too perfect to be created by humans, i always assumed they were done by computers or some sort of hyper advanced hi-tech thing, but then my mother revealed the shocking truth that changed my life forever, and in that moment I said “Hey, I wanna do that, and I’m gonna devote my whole existence to that!”

That’s literally how I started to get really involved in this world of comics! Then of course, Dragon Ball followed, which became, and still is, my absolute favorite series! Favorite character? It’s Cell, and people who know me absolutely saw this coming!

Skybound Walking Dead 19 Deluxe Cover Art by Karen S. Darboe

CA: Who are some of your artistic inspirations?

KD: My two major ones are absolutely Milo Manara and Gustav Klimt, as a lover of sensuality and the decorative aspect of painting, those are my two favorite masters since I started learning about art and comics!

CA: When did you decide to pursue drawing as a career?

KD: Well, as I previously stated, I had a very clear vision of myself doing this as soon as It has been revealed to me that people actually draw comics with their hands, that might sound like a very anticlimactic motivation, but being told, as a seven-year-old, fascinated by comics and art, that I could do that in the future when I grew up, was like the heavens opening up in front of my eyes. So yes, I decided I wanted to do this when I was seven!

CA: You’re very fearless when it comes to drawing. You don’t shy away from any content.  Why is that?

KD: Well, I admit I don’t have a specific answer for that, it’s simply how I am a very open person, not easily startled by taboos.

Squillo City Card Game art by Karen S. Darboe

Probably being raised in a very strict environment contributed to that, cause I really didn’t understand why some simple aspects of life such as sexuality were considered as much of a taboo. I personally wasn’t embarrassed by that like many people around me, I didn’t see the problem, so I thought about why I should stop myself from representing what I like just because others don’t like It.

Isn’t art by definition the expression of ourselves? Of course, not everyone will enjoy it, and that’s fine, but I can simply say that I’m simply very comfortable drawing and sharing what makes me feel better.

CA: You’ve been drawing professionally for a relatively short time. Yet, you’ve done dozens of covers. What was one of your favorites?

Boom! Studios Magic #4 Hidden Planeswalker Variant Cover by Karen S. Darboe

KD: Covers are my absolute passion, because I love to work on different characters and stories, so you can Imagine my surprise when I was asked by BOOM! Studios to work on a variant cover for Magic: The Gathering, starring the beautiful Nahiri. It was such fun and a big honor being able to represent her!

CA Generally speaking, are there any specific types of projects or subjects that you really like working on?

KD: Simple, are there enough women to draw? If the answer is “yes,” then you can absolutely count me in! Bonus points if it’s sexy!

CA: You’ve gone from a relatively unknown cover artist to launching a book for Marvel. Bloodline: The Daughter of Blade. Can you tell us a little bit about that journey?

KD: Well, I can say that everything became a thing very VERY fast! To this day I still didn’t fully realize how big this thing I’m doing really is, cause as you stated, I went from a fairly unknown individual to co-creator of a new Marvel character, this is the stuff that happens only in fantasy books right?

Fair Square Comics Noir is the New Black Art by Karen S. Darboe

At that time I had just finished my first published work for a card game here in Italy, and right after that my agent, Chris Allo, who was helping me find cover work in the American market, came to me with the proposal to work on a short story for the anthology “Noir Is the New Black”.

I was definitely not convinced by it cause it has been a while since I worked on sequentials, and it never went too well for me on that front, but he insisted that maybe I should give it a try and so, with his support, I did! And with that he got me my first work at BOOM! and then showed the “Noir” samples to Rickey Purdin at Marvel. Some editors working for Marvel saw those sequential pages or were following the NITNB project and noticed my work; that’s when they contacted me. I can say that I was at the right place at the right time!

CA: How does it feel to be working on a book for one of the “Big Two?”

KD: As I hinted before, it took me a while to realize what I was actually doing, and probably I’m not even fully understanding it yet! But seeing my name associated with some characters I portrayed in my covers like Deadpool, Black Panther or Photon is really something that feels simply fantastic and unreal at the same time!

Marvel’s Bloodline: Daughter of Blade #1 art by Karen S. Darboe colors by Cris Peter

I’m just a random girl living in a rural Italian city of 4000 souls that lives and breathes art, and here I am, with my name printed on Marvel comic books, it feels just …unreal in the most beautiful way possible!

CA:  What do you hope readers will take away from your art on Bloodline?

KD: Of course, I hope that readers Will like Brielle as a character as much as I liked working on her and that both mine and Danny Lore’s work on this would be appreciated since I tend to grow really attached to the characters I create!

Also, the subject that really got me involved in working on Bloodline Is the relationship between a father, with Blade’s cryptic persona, and a daughter eager to welcome him in her life. That’s a very personal and emotional subject for me since I had a very distant father that didn’t really express his emotions, and as a young girl the only thing you can think of Is “Does he love me?”

So, I really hope that people will be able to feel that tension as much as me and Brielle felt It, in some way!

CA: As a queer female artist working in the industry, what do you find exciting? What do you find challenging?

KD: To be honest what i like the most Is actually the fact that me, being a queer female artist, doesn’t really seem to count at the end of the day, meaning that my work Is what makes me relevant, and not me as a person, which Is a thing that i personally enjoy, and this Is also why i love the comics/art industry so much, your works speak already by themselves!

Boom! Studios Something is Killing the Children#21 Variant Cover Art by Karen S. Darboe

CA: Do you have any words of encouragement for other young female artists who want to work in this industry?

KD: This Is actually applicable to everyone, but It’s that one thing i truly believe, which Is never stop dreaming and working hard to better yourself in order to achieve that dream.

When you’re young you might or not be surrounded by supportive people, we all know that when a kid expresses the desire to pursue the artistic field, it’s unfortunately, not always welcomed in the best ways, and of course in that environment it won’t be easy.

You might be even forced to avoid art schools, I saw It way too many times, but the lucky part here Is that art requires studying, not a degree.

There are amazing artists who went to art schools, and amazing artists who didn’t, if you like the field, if you like to create, there are the correct tools to study, learn and better your skills even if you are not immediately supported. What you need is a pencil, some paper, and your passion.

Black Mask’s White Chapter One variant cover by Karen S. Darboe

I’ve seen so many people throw away their art dream because they weren’t supported during those formative years, but I can assure you that you’ll find the right support, and of course, don’t rush It, growing up and improving requires dedication and time.

Don’t be scared to see 17-year-olds already with a huge following online making ton of great art, everyone is different, and It’s never too late!

CA: Thank you so much for a great interview, Karen. Looking forward to seeing Bloodline come out this week and future fabulous covers from you.