Interview with Artist Sabina Hahn

Sabina Hahn is a Brooklyn based illustrator, animator, and sculptor who loves stories and tall tales. Sabina has been drawing from before she was born; she is a master of capturing subtle fleeting expressions and the most elusive of gestures. She is a co-founder of Interval Studios. Pineapple Princess is her debut picture book.

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

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

My name is Sabina Hahn. I love words and pictures and clay. And cats. I moved to New York from Riga, Latvia when I was 17 and I have been here ever since.

What can you tell us about your most recent project, Pineapple Princess? What was the inspiration for this story?

Pineapple Princess first appeared as a drawing of a surly kid; then the title  “Pineapple Princess” dropped into my head like a gift. They kind of melted into one and soon I started to idly think of her and where she came from and what she liked to do. I kept drawing her and writing small snippets. Soon I felt curious enough about her to sit down and write her story. I wanted to know more about this kid who knows she is a princess and is also sticky and surly and sure of herself. 

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly picture books? What drew you to the medium?

I fell in love with books when I was 4 or 5, the first time I read “Alice in Wonderland”. The combination of earnestness and absurdity really spoke to me. For me, the best children’s books have that quality because kids tend to think in leaps and sometimes those leaps happen sideways or upside down. I like to stay in touch with my inner child and children’s books are the easiest way to do so. 

I personally started to write kid’s books when I decided to change my career from animation to something else. Books seemed like a logical place to go to. It appealed to me that I can make key frames and then the reader does all the in-between work inside their mind. 

How would you describe your creative process? 

Meandering. Very very meandering. I have a small notebook where I jot all of my ideas for stories, no matter how small or vague it might be. Generally, one or two stories are particularly interesting to me or close to my heart. And so I will start writing a little, sketching a bit and also – very important – “researching”. ‘Researching’ is what I call all the rabbit holes I jump into. It is a great joy to me. One of the best things about being a New Yorker is our library. I love working in the libraries – this year, my favorite has been the Main library with the lions. I go there and write, and when I need a break I pick up a random book to be inspired. 

I tend to alternate between drawing and writing. Then, when I have the bones of the story, I start doing both at once.  Afterwards,  I make a book dummy. It is a great way to see the flow of the story and to tighten it up where it is needed. I might have anywhere from 3 to about 7 book dummies of various degrees of sketchiness by the time I am finished with a story. 

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

Anything that makes me stop and wonder is the source of  inspiration. It is people sometimes, overheard conversations, misheard words, books, art – anything and everything.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/illustrating? What are some of the most challenging? 

I find writing challenging. I want to use all words and no words at once and have a hard time balancing that dichotomy in my books. When I get discouraged, I remind myself of these words by Felicity Beedles from “Thud” by Terry Pratchett : “‘… how hard can writing be?  After all, most of the words are going to be and, the and I and it, and so on, and there’s a huge number to choose from, so a lot of the work has already been done for you.’ ”

My favorite things about creating (be it words or images) are the moments of wonder. Every once in a while I am surprised by what I create. It is as if it has a life of its own and I am the lucky one who gets to spend time with it.. 

Besides your work as an author/illustrator, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I love working with clay. It brings me joy and equilibrium. You should try it too. 

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

‘What is your favorite animal’ is a question people over a certain age (11 maybe) don’t get asked enough. At the moment my favorite animal is a hog nose snake who very dramatically pretends to be dead when it is scared. So much drama!

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

A lot of my stories I am working now are in their caterpillar cocoon form. I am afraid to disturb them while their existence is so precarious. But one of the characters that keeps showing up lately when I am daydreaming is a cat in a cat suit. What it is doing or what it wants is unclear, but it’s pretty persistent. 

What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, to both those interested in making their own picture book? 

Read, read, read! When you get tired of reading, make, make, make. When you get tired of that, connect with other similarly minded people. And then show your work; be present in the world you want to inhabit. 

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

I tend to read pretty widely, so here are some of my favorites from the last few years. 

Paradise Sands by Levi Pinfold (picture book)

Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (picture book)

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascot  (graphic novel)

Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto (graphic novel)

Wolf Doctors by Sara June Woods (poetry)
The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan (because it’s one of my all time favorite books)

And all of Terry Pratchett too.

Nature of Oaks by Douglas Tallamy (non-fiction, one of the books I read for my research, so interesting!) 

Header Photo Credit Anna Campanelli

Interview with Holding On creators Sophia N. Lee & Isabel Roxas

Sophia N. Lee grew up in the Philippines. She wanted to be many things growing up: doctor, teacher, ballerina, ninja, spy, wizard, journalist, and lawyer. She likes to think she can still be all these things and more through writing. She looks a lot like her lola Benita, but she inherited her love for writing from her lola Josefina, who worked as a principal and an English teacher. She is the author of Soaring Saturdays; What Things Mean (2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award grand prize winner); and Holding On. She has another picture book titled Lolo’s Sari-sari Store forthcoming from Atheneum in the summer of 2023. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from The New School in New York City and works as a creative writing instructor for kids, teens, and sometimes, grownups too. 

Isabel Roxas is the author-illustrator of The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens. She was born in the Philippines and raised on luscious mangoes, old wives’ tales, and monsoon moons. She learned so much from her lolas Fe and Venancia: how to shine the floor with a coconut, navigate a palengke (wet market), and make a scrumptious bowl of ginataan. You can follow Isabel on Instagram @StudioRoxas. 

I had the opportunity to interview Sophia and Isabel, which you can read below.

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

(SL): Hello, Geeks OUT! Thank you so much for having us. 

I’m Sophia N. Lee, an author of books for kids and teens. I was born and raised in the Philippines and was raised within a huge extended family so I’m constantly inspired by memories of growing up around a multitude of Lolos, Lolas, Titos, Titas, and countless other cousins. 

When I’m not writing, I teach creative writing classes for young people. 

Outside of that, I’m most often getting lost in a book, researching new places to visit, or traveling by taste through kitchen experiments. I’m currently geeking out on Kdramas, which I fell into early in the pandemic. 

(IR): Hi there! I’m Isabel Roxas, author, and illustrator of books for young readers, and like Sophie, I was born in the Philippines and raised on a steady diet of old wives’ tales and mangoes. I’m now based in Queens, New York. 

When I’m not making pictures or cooking up stories, I like to make small objects in clay, bake desserts, and go exploring. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, Holding On? What inspired this story?

(SL): Holding On is a picture book about a girl and the many summers that she spends in the Philippines with her Lola, which is the Filipino word for grandmother. 

This book is incredibly personal for me because it was inspired by my own summers spent in the province with my paternal grandparents. The story shows how a young girl learns how to hold on in different ways – first by observing how others around her do so (belting out songs on the karaoke machine, cooking favorite dishes, framed pictures on the walls), and then by teaching herself new ways to celebrate treasured memories and time spent with the ones she loves. 

The story is also deeply personal because it mirrors my own story as I learned how to navigate my own Lola’s loss of her memories after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and early-onset dementia. After all those summers of being cared for by her, I wanted to honor her and those memories of feeling so beloved by telling this story.

(IR): The images were inspired by the Philippine countryside and feature my favorite fruits and treats – Taho (a warmed tofu treat with brown sugar and tapioca pearls), fresh mangoes, pastillas de leche, and sinigang (a deliciously sharp sour soup).  

What drew you to storytelling, specifically to picture books?

(SL): Deciding to write literature for young readers came easily. I wanted to write the kind of stories that made me fall in love with reading and that helped shape my identity. I think children love the books they read early on differently – as readers, they’re still on the cusp of becoming who they are, and if you’re lucky, as a kidlit author you get to have a hand in helping shape that young mind. 

(IR): I loved picture books as a child and never stopped reading and collecting them. The fabulous worlds in those stories were intoxicating and often a refuge from the messy complexities of life. I too wanted to create neighborhoods that young people wanted to jump into and characters that they wanted to befriend. I love the picture book form in particular because it challenges us to communicate with depth and clarity with just a few words and images. 

What are some of your favorite examples of picture books growing up and now?

(SL): Growing up, I loved books that made me feel safe, that reassured me that I’d always have a place in the world no matter what. I remember reading P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? over and over, and finding comfort when the baby bird finally makes its way back into the nest and finds the mother there. I felt the same way reading Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece – I was so happy after the circle could sing again because it allowed itself to let go of the piece it had sought out for so long. 

Now, I’m always looking at books that show me how to say more with a lot less. I like when there’s space left in between the lines for the child’s mind to nibble on. I love classics like Owl Moon, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr, and Ida, Always, written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso. 

New favorites are Big Mean Mike, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Scott Magoon, about a tough dog who discovers that he doesn’t have to be tough all the time, and The Ocean Calls, written by Tina Cho and illustrated by Jess X. Snow, about a young girl and her freediving grandmother in Korea. It’s such a beautiful story, and an excellent study on how a topic that’s culturally specific is able to also feel universally relatable, because of how the intergenerational bonds in the story are depicted.    

(IR): The first book that I remember loving was A Light in the Attic.

The picture books I love now include: It’s Useful to Have a Duck by Isol, which is an accordion-style board book that you read from two distinct points of view. It’s an inventive and playful book that encourages empathy in a very simple, creative manner. Another book that I’m currently loving is The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi.

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

(SL): For me, so much of the work behind my own writing is mental. I’m most challenged when facing the blank page, and trying to figure out what kind of story I want to tell, and the best way for me to tell it. 

When I get inspired by an idea, I’ll often obsess about it in my head for a really long time. When I do, it often feels like I’m walking into a messy room, and it’s on me to figure out which mess to sort out first.  I’ll start making a mental list of things that would be interesting to put together. I’ll think about how to rearrange every memory I want to reference, every inspirational peg, every plot point that I know so far, until it feels like something that I can picture more fully – almost like a room or a space where my main character can walk into or exist in. 

And then, I’ll think about how best to get that story on the page. That to me is the most painful/challenging part: finding the right structure to hang your story on, whether it’s a theme I want to run throughout the story, or a form that I want to experiment with, or an idea that I want the reader to be consumed by. But honestly, it’s also the most thrilling part of writing for me. 

(IR): If I am drawing from a manuscript (by another author), I usually go through the entire story and try to sort out the rhythm of the book with thumbnail sketches. Then I try to find out who the characters are – I develop their personalities which then informs what they would wear, how they move, and what the palette will be. Then I fill in the rest of the world. When I am illustrating something I am writing myself, it usually starts with a piece of inspiration – either a news item or something I observed on my way to the train (or ON the train). I make a few sketches and sometimes dialogue comes along with it, other times it’s just a mood. 

My favorite part of book creation is making a big mess in search of the look and heart of the book. It is probably also the most challenging part of the process. 

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

(SL): That I love learning! I really enjoy teaching, but I think I’m happiest when I’m in a classroom setting figuring out things and learning about how other people go about their lives and solve the problems they encounter. If I could figure out a way to be in a class of some sort learning something forever, I would! If you’re reading this and looking for a sign to take up a class in that (obscure or otherwise) interest, this is it! 

(IR): Like Sophie, I love to learn too! I am curious about the world, people, and making things. Making books is the perfect excuse to explore new things because every project requires research and following new leads whether it is an educational book about race, a book about voting, or a humorous book about pigeons. 

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

(SL): A question that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is: What’s the closest thing to real magic in our world? 

I think it would still be our capacity to hold on and to celebrate and pursue the things we love, and even the things we dream of. I think it’s that part of us that pushes us to create new things – whether it’s a candle scent to remember someone or something we miss, or it’s a story to immortalize a shared history, a song to commemorate a heartbreak or a book that imagines a world that’s far better than the one we have. I hope we never run out of that stuff. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those who may want to write/draw a picture book themselves one day?

(SL): Read a lot, and read widely! That’s the best way for any type of creative to discover the kind of stories they want to tell and even the tone in which they want to convey their story. Also: read closely. When I find an amazing book, I’ll read it several times to see what parts of that work I’m responding to the most – is it the world-building? The cadence? The dialogue? The authenticity of the characters? Being able to identify those and studying what makes them successful is so helpful for my process as a writer. 

(IR): I second Sophie’s advice and would add: Follow your instincts, embrace your faults and weirdness, surround yourself with good people, don’t give up, and always have snacks handy. 

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

(SL): I’m so excited to share that I’ll be coming out with another picture book titled Lolo’s Sari-sari Store, illustrated by Christine Almeda in the summer of 2023, also from Atheneum. This book is so special to me because my huge extended family co-owned a sari-sari store (similar to a convenience store, often operating out of one’s home) in our village, and my cousins and I would take turns working at that store every summer. 

In the Philippines, sari-sari stores offer more than just convenience for the people they service – often, they’re also community hubs where people go not just to get daily essentials, but to share stories, eat together, and just be among friends in the neighborhood. It was a great place to spend the summer and a great place to learn about people and about life. 

(IR): I’m working on the third installment of my graphic novel series The Adventures of Team Pom, and this time the girls will be trying their hand at archaeology! I am also working on a small exhibition of the art behind Team Pom that will open this summer at the Youth Wing of BPL’s Central Library. So visitors will get the chance to see how a graphic novel is made form its inception to publication. The series is really a love letter to neighborhoods and New York, so it will also feature things like bodegas, the underground newsstands, and of course, pigeons. 

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

(SL): Hello, readers of Geeks OUT! Here are some titles I’m excited about right now. I hope you check these out and find something in them that sparks excitement in you! 

Arnold Arre’s Mythology Class

Eliza Victoria’s After Lambana

Alternative Alamat: Myths and Legends from the Philippines, edited by Paolo Chikiamco 

(IR): Here are some books I highly recommend: 

The Queen and the Cave by Julia Sarda

The Paper Flower Tree by Jacqueline Ayer

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny View

Alison by Lizzy Stewart

Interview with Webcomic Creator Achiru et al

Born to immigrant parents from Hong Kong, Achiru et al (1988) is the creator of UNSPOKEN, the Myth of Eros and Psyche, and the Mann and Lucky Channel. Growing up watching anime and reading manga from Japan, Achiru was inspired to make her own comics. Since 2002, she’s been collaborating with her characters, or “cast members,” acting as the researcher, artist, writer, director and publisher of her own meta-physical comic production studio. She resides in a tiny home studio in Calgary Alberta with their spouse and dog daughter @Vanilla.Almond.Biscotti on Instagram (Biscuit for short). 

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

CW: Discussion of parental mortality

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

Thank you, Michele, I’m happy to be here! I go by Achiru (she/they) and… I don’t have parents anymore. My mother lost her life to cancer and my father died of heartache two years later; they were both great teachers and loving parents. From the start of the pandemic, I retired from teaching due to health reasons, while also marrying my partner. So yes, a lot has happened!

These days, I do my best to focus on my creative work. I don’t plan on having kids of my own, besides my dog, so my legacy will be to teach through my comics.

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

Digimon Adventure was the main spark that led me to fall in love with what storytelling could achieve. I re-watched it during the pandemic: the arc where the Digi-destined travel to the human world to stop Myotismon still holds up—I had never before seen a story aimed for kids with eight protagonists handled in such a way that each child got a unique family circumstance such as being adopted, or divorced parents, or was chronically sick, or had siblings that outshined them, or was an only child, all juxtaposed to each other and framed as normal. Some parents also were involved with the plot and weren’t just background props in this storyline. Sacrifices were made and death was mourned. We have more of these stories today than back in 1999, but it made me desire to extend that kind of normalization to the diverse queer experience. 

As a webcomic creator, you are known for your webcomic, The Mann and Lucky Channel. What was the inspiration for this story?

The conversations with my partner was the inspiration for this spinoff. Matt Drawberry and I had been dating for four years at this point. I had just finished crowdfunding and printing my first self-published book, The Myth of Eros and Psyche: Eros’ Plan. I was doing a series of portrait illustrations when Mann and Lucky met in my head for the first time. I didn’t realize they had never met before this point in the meta-universe, as UNSPOKEN was on hiatus and their roles in Eros and Psyche did not overlap. The two started talking in November of 2016 and I began recording their conversations and we never stopped. The storyline was ready to be born, I believe because I finally had enough relationship experience to be able to relate to Mann’s struggles and emotions.

I’d never dated anyone on the ace spectrum until I met Matt, and his genuine reaction to everything sex-related and relationships was something I found really endearing and charming. I wanted to share that charm through Mann, Lucky, Kevin, and Andrew. While Kevin was as allo as can be and couldn’t relate to being ace at all, he shared with Matt other attributes like anxiety and panic attacks, as well as no desire for offspring. It’s been said when the world is ready for an idea to be born, multiple iterations appear—so I consider works like Heartstopper and The Owl House to be among the first of a wave of new LGBTQ media. My comic is just a more not-family-friendly version of similar themes and ideas that came out of a reaction to 90s homophobia.

Small spoiler alert: One thing that intrigued me about The Mann and Lucky Channel was the way the comic relationship explored an intimate relationship between an allosexual character and an asexual character, particularly one who is more sex neutral. Could you talk about how you explored that in the comic?

The entire plot of the series is tied to one of the first things Mann (crudely) tells his best friend in the first episode: “I’m not tying any knots until he’s willing to learn how to f*cking f*ck.” Lucky is a virgin and—up until Mann convinced him to be in a relationship—had every intention of being so for the rest of his life. He doesn’t think he’s missing out, doesn’t know what he likes, or how to start exploring. Sex is just what other people choose to do with their time.

Mann, on the other hand, has never had to take the lead with a man before. He’s used to being the one chased and solicited; the role reversal is making his head spin. He wants to maybe marry this man, but he’s also not sure if this will work—he’s pretty sure he can’t be chaste for the rest of his life. He’s worried that Lucky is possibly sex repulsed, he doesn’t want to be a creep or force the subject. However, it’s been four months and he’s also fighting his own desperation on the matter. How should he initiate the conversation? Can he get his needs met in this relationship? Is it going to be another disastrous breakup over this one aspect, when everything else seems compatible?

Q&A is also a fun aspect of the webcomic—readers can ask characters directly in the comments about their thought process and feelings, including meta questions like “Is Achiru sharing this with your informed consent? Isn’t this embarrassing for you?”

I realized most people of my parents’ generation didn’t have the tools to talk about intimacy; the best way to illustrate what it looks like is in context for that dialogue. It doesn’t work to preach “healthy communication” to someone who has never experienced it. There’s no emotional anchor in the body for that term. So Mann and Lucky—and their friends Kevin and Andrew—give us that window to see into how they talk things out. The contrast between each character’s history, their personal style, and combined preferences of each couple is its own learning by juxtaposition. It’s always organic to who they are and what’s coming through, based on who they were and how they want to show up to grow as a couple. There are some commonalities you can find between people who can make a long-term relationship work, but how it plays out also looks different because every couple brings with them unique tastes and personal life circumstances. 

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

The creative process is fun when you’re in the flow and the ego is absent; it’s just the story and art being channeled onto the page. When the ego is loudest—usually when I’m tired, hungry, and/or stressed—that’s the most frustrating part. Ego wants the story to be done faster, the praise of millions of fans, the promise of riches and material wealth to reflect its genius; it wants things that are completely outside of my control. 

A huge part of the creative process is simply to keep Ego in the backseat and coax it to be quiet. It’s the voice of fear: you’re getting too old, you’re not healthy enough, you’re too poor, too invisible, working in too niche a genre, too NSFW, not NSFW enough, not being paid, working for free, and therefore not legitimate. 

What is the point of making something with no guarantees? Where is the proof that this journey will be worth it?

If you are building a universe and writing something long and epic that could possibly span several books, taking over a decade to make—it’s a long time to be working for free with possibly no audience. It’s a long time to be worried about whether the art is good enough, or the story is solid. If you are only in it for egoic reasons, it’s better to quit. 

I began this universe in December of 2003 in my early teens; it’s been almost two decades now since I’ve been developing this web of characters and their histories. When I’m serving them, with the promise of telling their stories to a satisfying conclusion, I’m not concerned about my identity in this reality; I’m not concerned about what my family thinks of me, how I’ll be judged for not earning a living wage, how I can’t afford to hire anyone at this time and how I don’t know how to market this thing that’s still being made. None of that matters. My art makes me a better person—I wouldn’t be as empathetic and compassionate without being open to learning about all the different ways there is to be human.

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

Story wise:

My parents’ relationship was the greatest influence for the current story I’m telling. My mother and father were smart in polar opposite ways. My mom was intuitive and feeling, while my dad was logical and deductive. One was almost a high school dropout, the other could have gotten a Ph.D. if desired. One loved teaching toddlers, the other instructed adults. Each thought of the other as stupid, because they didn’t have the ability to tune into the other’s point of view. They showed love in different ways and despite all the arguments and incompatibilities, chose to stay together. I learned a lot from observing both their strengths and weaknesses, especially as each of their health deteriorated with different afflictions.

I learned I couldn’t fix someone that wasn’t interested in changing. You can’t force growth where undesired. I learned how gender stereotypes hurt straight couples with reverse assertive/passive energies. I learned that shame, resentment, and regret kills you slowly from the inside. They taught me how to live life fully because they tried and came a bit short; they taught me not to be afraid of my dreams because they were and only got so far. I could see farther because they pointed the way to me.

Art wise:

The Slayers, written by Hajime Kanzaka with art by Rui Araizumi, was a great influence. It reads a little dated now, but it tried to tackle the misogyny of its time. Plus, I LOVE how the television series has a cross-dressing episode every season. The main character is embarrassed by any thought of romance and shares a rather ace relationship with her “bodyguard” by today’s standards.

Ituko Itoh’s Princess Tutu—which aged phenomenally well considering it came out in 2002—is also a major influence. How many stories exist about a duck who gains magical primadonna ballerina powers with the help of a dead author to save a prince from a story come to life? Just this one masterpiece: it’s a one-of-a-kind experience and that’s what I wish to deliver with my art as well.  Cute, pretty characters with deeply philosophical undertones about fate/destiny? Sign me up!

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

I paid a lot of money for two Bachelor’s degrees—my first degree was in Socio-Cultural Anthropology and my second degree was in Primary Education. Between these two degrees, I was struggling with undiagnosed Chronic Fatigue where I only had enough energy to use the toilet and eat and spent two years practically bedridden and exhausted. I couldn’t even draw, so my identity as an artist was forced to die. I know I’m more than that now. It’s not as disabling being forced to rest, compared to when I was fighting to hold onto a past identity. It’s one thing to be in pain and another thing to be mentally beating yourself for not being able to conquer that pain. Decide on your good enough bar and commit to the idea of done being better than good or perfect. Just keep finishing small things. They add up.

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

How do you tell the difference between inspiration and fear disguised as inspiration? (Because fear can absolutely do that.)

Inspiration doesn’t make logical sense—it’s a leap of faith. I was once paralyzed from the neck down, but I knew in my heart I was totally ok. I told my parents not to call an ambulance and to give me an hour or two. I gently focused on just trying to move a finger at a time, wiggle my toes, chatting with my dad next to me. Eventually, I was able to regain all movement one small digit at a time. It never happened again. Life is stranger than fiction; there is no one with a life quite like yours, so use it in your art as much and often as you can.

Fear disguised as inspiration feels more like wish fulfillment. It’s the toxic positivity where you are mentally trying to force a good outcome or prevent a bad outcome. You might be “inspired” to take a course (because you don’t feel good enough as you are) or to go to the gym, or to invest your money, or anything that logically improves your life by society’s standards. If you can reasonably predict the outcome, it’s fear in disguise. If you think, “This is it! This will be the solution to my problem!” and it makes perfect sense, it’s probably fear disguised as inspiration. You can still follow it because it’s there to teach you something; just be aware it’s not actually inspiration.

Inspiration is the now and fear concerns the past or future.

The Mann and Lucky Channel was absolutely inspiration at work. I was working on two other comic series at the time; one was finally going to be a five-book series, but they both had to take a backseat. I had no idea where this story was going, but it felt like being drunk on first love. I had to give it my utmost undivided attention. Did it make any sense to abandon what I was previously working on? Wouldn’t that upset the fans of those stories? Why was I madly scribbling with no thought as to backgrounds or panels or even speech bubbles? Why was this so much fun? How is it over twelve volumes long already? I never expected any of it. I didn’t expect to be here, telling you how I had no idea this was gonna become something at all.

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

I’m currently working on the Genderbend Sapphic Spin-off—My Girlfriend is Ace, now updating monthly on GlobalComix.

I have an aesthetic preference for women, so redrawing the whole story and rewriting it for a female perspective was something I actually really enjoyed. It’s a bit shorter than The Mann and Lucky Channel, so I’m excited to be wrapping it up soon at seven volumes. 

Our Sapphic Kickstarter Campaign can be found here

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

For the just starters:

Trust your art to teach you as you go along. Your art will not look professional. Your story isn’t going to be flawless. Silence the critics. Make bad comics. Stop starting over; commit to the current version evolving with you for a long time. Buffer, buffer, buffer—I know it’s tempting to share straight away, but you need insurance for when life gets in the way in order to have a seemingly consistent, scheduled release to build an audience. Build at least 3 months’ worth of episodes before launching, then focus on maintaining that buffer. Some of us build a year’s worth of buffer—you’ll get faster at it as your muscle memory kicks in with practice. 

For the long haulers:

Take breaks. Go outside. Drink water. Stretch. Follow what feels light, fun and arouses your curiosity. Detours, plateaus, and hiatuses will happen; don’t be emotionally attached to your ideal work schedule, just go along with grace and humility. Graduations, weddings, and funerals—be present for your milestones and for the loved ones in your life. Your life must come first before the comic can continue. Prioritize sleep. Whatever hustling you could get away with in your younger years won’t be sustainable forever. Sometimes you have to kill a past identity and start over. But every time you return to your art—you will come to it with a renewed perspective and appreciation. It will also have new things to teach you too.

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


For those of you who, like me, are a fan of Japanese style art: I Want to be a Wall by Honami Shirono is an ongoing slice-of-life series following an ace BL fangirl who marries a closeted gay man with a crush on his childhood friend. As the story expands, there are other queer characters who take part in their lives. 

Another ace-centric story: Is Love the Answer? by Isaki Uta, follows a young woman exploring her aro-ace identity. She’s trying to make sense of her memories and past interactions as well as find friends who will accept her for who she is.

Our Dreams at Dusk is a 4 volume series by Yuhki Kamatani with a highly praised realistic portrayal of the Japanese queer experience as a young high school boy confronts his own prejudices regarding his homosexuality and the diverse identities of others “like him.” Trigger Warning for suicide attempt.

On a fluffier note, Manly Appetites: Minegishi Loves Otsu is a 3 volume BL series by Mito about a cynical office worker, Otsu, who doesn’t believe he’s getting hit on by a more conventionally attractive co-worker. Minegishi, on the other hand, thinks Otsu is the cutest when he’s eating and keeps supplying him with offers of snacks, treats, and meals.

The Bride was a Boy by Chii is an autobiography of a transwoman’s life leading to her wedding. X-Gender by Asuka Miyazaki is a memoir about coming to terms with being non-binary. It’s similar to The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend by Mieri Hiranishi, another autobiography manga regarding how difficult it is to be a butch girl trying to date another masc-presenting woman. Another memoir story is My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata. 

If you want something more fun and comedic involving ladies that like ladies, ROADQUEEN: Eternal Roadtrip to Love by Mira Ong Chua is absolutely hilarious and will forever be my go-to example of the term “useless lesbian.” She has many other titles too if you love her art and story style.


Amongst Us by Shilin Huang has gorgeous art and is both a GL webcomic and a book coming out this July from the Seven Seas + Hiveworks Comics team-up!

Night Owls and Summer Skies by Rebecca Sullivan with art by Tikklil and other team producers follow teen girl Emma Lane as she is forced to attend a summer camp with the attractive camp assistant counselor Vivian Black.

If you are a fan of men who like men: Ham & Matt by Sensaga is an absolute riot. His use of endearing, vulnerable characters and over-the-top slapstick comedy is top-tier. There is also a mermaid AU story on his Instagram account.

Faroff by Lennon Rook is another romantic comedy webcomic where two soldiers are stuck guarding opposite sides of a wall in the middle of nowhere and only have each other for company. They also unknowingly share a cat. 

If you’re looking for younger protagonists for a teen reader, Daybreak by Moosopp is a slice-of-life BL romance following two really cute black students Marcus and Cog. Clearly, a running theme in my choice of BL is one who likes to cook and one who likes to eat.

If you like action fantasy, REEDS by zzsleeps is about a Hmong prince who doesn’t want to be seen as a girl and his older brother who falls in love with a mysterious man withholding a ton of secrets. Also, there are dragons, magic, and political intrigue between royal families.

I could go on, but I think fifteen recommendations is a good place to stop. There are so, so many queer comic titles that are ongoing and coming out; it’s a really exciting century to be in!

Rebelle Re-Views: ‘Centaurworld’ and The Discovery of Self through Found Family

Being alive is a trip. There is no beauty, horror, and ass-kicking quite like navigating a lifetime. I don’t have much else to compare that to because, as far as I know, I haven’t not been alive, but one thing that seems apparent to me is that we all get put through our paces at one point or another. We fall on our faces, experience unimaginable traumas, we stagnate, we grow, we repeat cycles, and sometimes we break them. For me, when anxiety begins creeping up my spine or dissociation swoops in to take me out of my body and place me somewhere else, I typically turn to places I know are safe: Bob’s Burgers, Schitt’s Creek, and the show that not enough people seem to know about, Centaurworld. Centaurworld is the story of Horse (Kimiko Glenn), a warrior deep in the trenches of an endless conflict, who magically leaves her world and lands in a bright, musical, bizarro one. Desperate to return home and reunite with her Rider (Jessie Mueller), Horse bonds with a magical ragtag herd of “half-animal, half-man things” and sets off on a journey of self-discovery and home. Created by animator Megan Nicole Dong (also the voice of anxiety-ridden and klepto gerenuktaur, Glendale), the story is about embracing the unexpected and changing in ways previously not thought possible. It could not have entered my life at more prescient time as my own self-concept and sense of my world had just fallen apart.

In May 2021, I was informed I needed to leave my home of three years so the landlord could move back in. Shortly after selling or storing my belongings and driving my self, Gatsby, my cat companion of 15 years, and a couple of suitcases the 6-8 hours from Tucson, AZ, to Los Angeles to stay with my aunt and uncle, my said beloved companion died of stomach cancer. Wound, meet salt. Unlike our hero, Horse, I was not feeling ambitious or focused on a goal of any kind. I felt completely and utterly lost. But similarly to Horse, I was in the beginning stages of finding my herd amidst what felt like insurmountable obstacles, trauma, and grief. Less than a month after the loss of Gatsby and only about two since losing my home, I was sitting in a friend’s living room in Hawaii. Surrounded by my friend’s family and other friend’s visiting from New York, Yahtzee dice and random toys settled on corners of the coffee table and kitchen counters, it was a moment of relaxation and fun that had been difficult for me to cultivate at that time. We all probably had a beer or seltzer in hand, lost in laughs and conversation while on the TV screen, a giraffe with a toned human torso and pear-shaped humanish face appeared, screaming dramatically at a freaked out horse. The horse was also screaming. Through the immense fog of grief and autopilot human-mode, a thought emerged from the depths: “What the fuck am I watching?”

Durpleton (Josh Radnor) and Horse (Kimiko Glenn) meet in ‘Centaurworld’ on Netflix

This, my friends, was Centaurworld. I can’t remember if I finished watching season 1 with my friends or if I decided to watch it on my own (season 2 would not come out until the Fall) but an impression was made. Centaurworld is full of topical absurdist humor, first-class talent from Broadway, Pop, YouTube, and the Film/TV worlds, and a soundtrack that will make you want to embark on an epic adventure in one turn and hold your loved ones and aching heart close the next. “I tried to draw from my own emotional experiences… The whole [story] is based on me going through high school, getting ready to take all these [AP] classes and then ending up in a show choir because the only available extracurricular was show choir… Being from one world, thinking that there was one way to do things, and then ending up in this really musical, silly place and having that really change her [Horse] as a character,” said Dong in an interview with the LA Times about where the concept for Centaurworld originated. The relatability of Horse’s story arc, as well as those of many of the secondary character’s, is what keeps the show anchored enough to allow the this place to come alive in all its saturated, hills and moons with butts, shooting-tiny-versions-of-themselves-from-their-hooves glory.

The first season centers on Horse’s trek across Centaurworld to find the missing pieces of a mysterious artifact, and the shamans who hold them, that will help her return to her world and Rider. Accompanied by Wamawink (Megan Hilty), Durpleton (Josh Radnor, and the aforementioned beefy giraffetaur), Zulius (Parvesh Cheena), Glendale (Dong), and Ched (Chris Diamantopolus), this unlikely herd get mixed up in all sorts of shenanigans all the while helping Horse navigate way outside her comfort zone and discover and embrace previously uncharted aspects of her identity. Face-offs with taurnadoes, standing for trial for falling down a moletaur hole, competing in Johnny Teatime’s cattaur competition, ugly crying, and learning the unfortunate origins of glue are all par for the course when going on a herotaur’s journey. All leading to a more connected herd and Horse who becomes more unrecognizable, yet more herself. 

Season two widens the focus to ending the war in Horse’s world by defeating the big bad Nowhere King (if Adventure Time’s The Litch and Hexxus from FernGully had a baby with the voice of Brian Stokes Mitchell) while giving more backstory and arcs for the other members of the herd as they attempt to recruit other centaurs to join the fight. The fun thing about growth is we often learn swiftly about the many areas in which we fall short and the deep discomfort of trying to continue to play roles that just no longer fit. Unless you are fan faves Comfortable Doug (Flula Borg) or Waterbaby (Renée Elise Goldsberry) then you are perfection. No notes. For everyone else, falling short doesn’t always mean eventually being able to rise above and conquer the thing, but is actually in the courage it takes to feel our disappointment and grieve the person we thought we were or would like to be but aren’t. Or it’s our envy of those we love being able to do or have what we may be yearning for in ourselves. Sometimes it’s wondering about where we even fit in the world anymore. It’s frustrating feeling brain mushy where there was once a sense of clarity. Hopefully we are as lucky as Horse is to have the modeling of support and acceptance of her herd as we figure out how to answer those questions for ourselves. 

Everyone has got some trauma they are working through or from and rarely is anything what it seems on the surface. Durpleton’s distress over having mean farts, Glendale’s habitual stealing and hoarding everything into her portal tummy, and Ched’s outright disdain for horses and Centaurs™ are silly quirks at first, but aren’t most quirks little glimmers of baggage not yet unpacked? The growth from, in spite of, and the empowerment to make it to the other side of hard times is not exclusive to the hero, but is for everyone. In true musical theater fashion each moment of foreshadowing, deep discovery, and major plot twists  is punctuated by song.  Big white way power ballads like “Hello Rainbow Road” and “Who is She” propel us into action and huge moments of expansion while the contemplative “What if I Forget Your Face” and fierce “Nothing Good” (sung by the equally fierce legend Lea Salonga) are stark reminders of our greatest and most heartbreaking fears about relationships. But, it’s “Rider’s Lullaby” that we hear within the first five minutes of the series that carries us through it all. 

The herd following the Rainbow Road in ‘Centaurworld’ on Netflix

Though it’s the main theme of season one, its refrain of “you’re ok, you’re alright” lays the foundation of what the herd are able to build together. The beauty of a theme like, ‘you’re ok” is not in the upholding of ideals of rugged individualism and the notions that in order to conquer our demons, we must do it alone and be better at being alone. No, it’s about staying connected during the toughest, strangest, most surprising times. Things happening may not be ok, but as long as we’re with those who see how worthy we are of protection, growth, and love we will be ok. It’s a misguided and oft repeated notion that “things will work out.” It takes decisive action, risks, support, and a little bit of magic for life to unfold and fall into place. Whether we coincidentally wind up in a show choir class or have lost a home, the world opens up in unimaginable ways and the company we keep can keep us going. My story has yet to reach a conclusion like Horse’s as I’m sure is the case for many out there in the world right now. Whether your path is a rainbow road or a plane ticket to another continent, the opportunities to uncover ourselves and find our communities are endless.  

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Come on Barbie, Let’s Go Party!

The image is a combination of the Geeks OUT and Barbie logos. Text says "This Barbie is a queer & geeky podcast"

In this new episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew on all socials) is joined by Geeks OUT President, Nic Gitau (@cocodevaux), as they discuss the trailer for the new Barbie movie, the new digital/print comics publisher DSTLRY, and what they’re getting Down & Nerdy with in pop culture. 



KEVIN: Comixology founder starts new digital/print comics publisher DSTLRY

NIC: New trailer for Barbie



KEVIN: Super Mario Bros, Star Trek: Picard, Superman and Lois, Riverdale, Perry Mason, Marvel Infinity (Gwenpool, Negasonic Teenage Warhead)

NIC: Yellowjackets, Shadow & Bone, Charlie Jane Anders short stories, Harry Potter re-read 

Interview with Author Melissa de la Cruz

Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times, #1 Publishers Weekly, and #1 IndieBound bestselling author of Isle of the Lost and Return to the Isle of the Lost, as well as many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for readers of all ages. Her books have also topped the USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists and have been published in more than twenty countries. Today she lives in Los Angeles with her family. She is Filipina-American.

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

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

I’m Melissa de la Cruz and I’m the author of over sixty books for all ages. Sixty and counting! I’m best known for Disney’s Descendants, Blue Bloods, Witches of East End, and the Alex and Eliza trilogy.

What can you tell us about your latest novel, Going Dark? What was the inspiration for this project?

I was fascinated by how the media tends to obsess over certain missing people – specifically pretty, photogenic white women while ignoring other cases—especially when it’s a person or woman of color. So I wanted to tell a story that delved into that issue and brought it to light. 

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

The minute I started writing my first YA novel I knew this was the perfect genre for me. I think I am a kid, and a teen, at heart and I very much relate to their sorrows and anxieties and their humor. 

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer? 

Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club was huge for me, I was a teen in the 80s it was the first time I read about people who looked like me in fiction. But I also hated the way it cemented the Asian American experience as one of tragedy and sorrow. I came from a loving and hilarious close-knit family and I wanted to write about girls like me in the way they say the Wakefield twins were written about in Sweet Valley High. 

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

When I was a teen I loved Anne Rice, Stephen King, Dune, and Lord of the Rings. Those are my primary influences. But when I got older I also loved Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. I love commercial fiction and am drawn to bestsellers, I like reading what people like to read. In the YA genre, I’m a huge fan of Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater, and Leigh Bardugo. I’m a huge fan girl of the romantasy genre in YA.

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

I love entertaining myself and making myself laugh or being clever on the page. What’s frustrating sometimes is really trying to figure out how to tell a compelling story while still having it make sense. I think that’s one of the hardest parts. 

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

I’m also the co-director of the Yallfest book festival and the co-founder of Yallwest. Every year we bring thousands of kids to our festivals who have never owned a book in their lives and they get to choose a book to bring home. My best friend Margaret Stohl and I founded the festivals to carve a place where authors like us, who wrote for kids and teens, were respected and celebrated. We do it for the kids and for the author parties. ☺ 

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 something you want to do but haven’t done?

I would love to write a musical! I can write the book. But I need a songwriter to do the music. I’ve been toying with this idea for a long time. I hope I get to write one!

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Never. Give. Up. Believe in yourself. Be confident in your work. Then keep knocking on that door till it opens. Also, be nice and professional. I think the secret to longevity is being reliable and easy to work with. 

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

Sure! Headmaster’s List my first YA thriller, available now, is about the truth around a fatal car crash. Snow and Poison, my retelling of Snow White is out now as well. The next Blue Bloods book: After Death is out in July. Then I have a new MG series debuting with The (Super Secret) Octagon Valley Society out in the fall, and the fourth Never After book: The Missing Sword out in December. I’m also working on The Ring and the Crown TV show for Disney+. 

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

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is my favorite novel of all time. I read it when I was 23 and in a deep depression and it lifted me out of the darkness. You can skip the War parts lol. It’s about family, and love between a family, siblings, mothers, and daughters, with lavish parties and swoony romances. I try to get everyone to read it. Don’t be intimidated! It is so wise. 

Header Photo Credit Maria Cina

Interview with Rii Abrego & Benjamin A. Wilgus

Rii Abrego is a Latina illustrator and comic artist who resides in the very humid southern United States. Rii has provided work for Random House, Oni Press, BOOM! Studios, Lion Forge, OMOCAT, Harmonix, Kazoo magazine, Ascend Comics, and Power & Magic Press, among others. She is the illustrator of the graphic novel The Sprite and the Gardener, co-written with Joe Whitt and published by Oni Press.

Benjamin A. Wilgus is a cartoonist and writer of comics and prose, including Chronin, a graphic novel duology from Tor Books. He has also written two works of graphic nonfiction for First Second Books: Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared, illustrated by Molly Brooks, and The Mars Challenge, illustrated by Wyeth Yates.

I had the opportunity to interview Rii and Ben, which you can read below.

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

Rii: Thank you for having me!

I’m Rii, and I’m an illustrator and comic artist who lives in the southern USA. I studied drawing and painting at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, and since then I’ve provided art for a variety of comic titles, including the original graphic novel The Sprite and the Gardener. I also have several cats (they gave me no choice in the matter)

Ben: And I’m Ben! Very happy to be here! I’ve been neck-deep in comics for most of my life at this point — I had my brain chemistry altered forever by both the Mirage Studios and Archie TMNT comics series in middle school, and I think that pretty much locked me in. I’ve drawn a lot of comics and zines over the years (including Chronin, a big two-part graphic novel) but these days most of professional comics work is either writing or editing. I live in Brooklyn, and at the moment I’m sad to say I only have one cat, but I have high hopes for what the future may hold.

As a creative, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically within the graphic novel medium?

Rii: I’ve always loved the visual aspect of storytelling in comics. It’s a lot like real life in that there’s so much that can be communicated without words. Gestures, expressions, colors, angles, and framing can all be used to either emphasize or contradict the dialogue, to control the impact of the scene, etc. It’s like the script has a second script layered on top, and every artist approaches it differently. I want to explore it more!

Ben: Rii put it perfectly! I love that a given comics page can be so dense with nuance and meaning while also feeling breezy and effortless to read — there’s an elegance to a really good comic that’s so unique to the medium. I also write prose, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about the specific strengths of graphic novels as a format, and I do what I can to lean into those strengths instead of fighting them. There are emotional moments between characters which would take hundreds of words of text to explain, but are immediately clear in just a couple of panels. 

There’s a certain type of comics writer who tends to overwhelm pages with captions or dialog that aggressively explain to you what you’re looking at and how you’re supposed to feel about it, often unnecessarily reiterating what’s perfectly clear in the art. But I think it’s a mistake to think that comics writing is just about cramming as much text as possible onto the page. I feel like my job is to be collaborating with the artist to use the entire comics toolbox to tell a story, whether that be the pacing and paneling, the details included in the frame, the facial expressions and body language of the characters, the color palette, the list goes on and on! 

“Collaboration” really is the a key word here, too! Many many comics are collaborative — as opposed to prose, which tends to be more solitary — and I think that makes for better books. Everyone brings their own voice and perspective and talent to the table. I love it!

Rii Abrego

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? And as a team, how would you describe your collaboration style for this project?

Ben: As the writer, I was the first runner in the comics relay race, for the most part. I had met with our editor, Whitney, very very early on to talk about the kinds of books she was interested in for RHG, and Grace Needs Space! — originally called Space Moms before we came up with the final title — was born from those conversations. And writing a full outline for the book was actually part of the pitch process in my case, so by the time I got the official go-ahead to start working on the script, I had all the major plot beats figured out.  

After Rii joined the team — after the outline, but before the script — she and I talked about our big picture vision for the book and what we wanted it to be like. And with those early conversations in mind, I went off to my little corner and wrote and wrote and wrote. And while I was writing, I was also putting together big folders of reference images for some of the locations and objects and such that were part of this far-future deep-space setting, in order to help give Rii a jumping-off point for bringing Grace’s world to life. I’d recently written a non-fiction comic about human spaceflight (The Mars Challenge, drawn by Wyeth Yates) so I was in a great position to really dive down deep into the nerd mines with this one.

Once I was done with the script, though, I honestly tried to be as hands-off as possible! Rii is a fantastic cartoonist with really strong instincts for how to best tell a story, and I trusted her completely. Honestly,  I think a bunch of my notes involved taking out or trimming down dialog that it turned out wasn’t needed — Rii’s art speaks volumes, sometimes that text was just getting in the way!

Rii: In this book’s case, I designed the characters early on, but I didn’t start drawing the book itself until the script was completed, so I had the story laid out for me start to finish. That might sound limiting, but aside from the dialogue being set in stone, I was actually given a lot of room to freely interpret how each scene would look.

My basic process for this graphic novel was to roughly thumbnail each page to get a sense of where everything would go, then come back and refine everything in cleaner sketches, then draw over those sketches with the final lines, and then color it all. So rather than finishing one page at a time, I’d essentially work through the entire book and then circle back multiple times. It’s kind of interesting to see how it evolved with each pass!

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

Ben: In the cast of this specific book, the biggest challenges were bad timing and bad luck on a global scale, to put it very mildly. I was juggling a few different projects, and had specifically set aside March of 2020 as the month when I was going to write the bulk of this script, which…you know. Ended up not working out so well.

I wish I could tell you what I did to get this script done. I cannot remember writing most of it. I DO remember turning it in a little behind deadline, and feeling absolutely awful about having been late, which in retrospect is insane to me. Like…Benjamin. Sir. You were in the deepest depths of a global pandemic, my guy, you did FINE.

More generally, though — when I’m writing things under less hilariously terrible circumstances — my big strategy for finishing things is to tell myself, over and over, that if the first draft is bad I can always fix it. I have an editor, I have a wonderful agent, I have smart friends who give great feedback, I have talented collaborators. If the draft is broken, we’ll figure it out. But you can’t fix something that doesn’t exist.

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

Ben: As a queer trans person who was born in the 80s, this is a complicated question. Like…big-time haunted chuckling as I look back on what I hyper-imprinted on as a kid, only to then not figure my transgendered self out for another couple decades. I watched Mulan a frankly insane number of times. I think Pricilla, Queen of the Desert was the first truly queer movie I ever watched, and it shook me to my core. I was really really into Phantom of the Opera in a way that can only be described as deeply homosexual. I recorded George Michael’s Too Funky and Freedom 90 music videos off VH1 and let me tell you, I wore those tapes OUT.

These days, I do everything I can to surround myself with queer stories told by queer people, I am marinating in the best possible content at all times, there’s simply too much to even begin to list off here. But I will take a moment to say that probably the most transformative media in my personal queer journey was both reading and writing deeply vulnerable fanfiction. AO3 is my church, truly.

Ben Wilgus

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

Rii: That’s a really difficult question! As a kid, I was extremely influenced by anime and manga in general (and I guess maybe that’s still true), with very girls-oriented titles like Tokyo Mew Mew, Sailor Moon, and Full Moon wo Sagashite taking up 90% of my brain space on any given day. In recent years I’ve diversified a lot, so I can’t really pinpoint any major sources. I try to draw inspiration from everything I can, whether that’s abstract work, film, photography, or even just places and objects I see in my day-to-day life. Like, I’ve found inspiration for more than one illustration in a grocery store. Inspiration is everywhere if you’re looking for it.

Ben: The lazy-but-true answer to this is that everything is an influence — all the books and movies and comics and music I’ve taken in, all the conversations I’ve had with friends, all the experiences I’ve weathered, and the places I’ve lived or visited. It all stews in the crockpot of my brain, it’s all part of the inspiration soup I’m drawing from when I sit down to write. 

For Grace Needs Space! specifically, one of my most important inspirations was my own younger self. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I cared about when I was Grace’s age — what it was like to have divorced parents where one of them lived far away, what my struggles and my fears were, the ways in which the adults in my life both supported and failed me, what tiny me felt was most important. It was easy for present-day me to sympathize with Mom and Ba, who are close to my own age and deal with the stuff my parent friends deal with. But it was so so important that I also re-ground myself in what it’s like to be twelve and to desperately care about things that are largely out of your control.

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

Rii: I love that illustration is a little like a puzzle. You only have so much room to convey what you need to convey, so you have to figure out the easiest way to do that. This is especially true in comics since most people are usually zipping past each panel – you want it to be clear enough that it can be understood at a glance. That element is both the most difficult and the most fun.

Ben: Funny enough, I love that writing is a little like a puzzle! There’s this fantastic satisfaction to figuring out how to solve a plot problem or tidy up a character arc — when  you feel those pieces click into place, it’s glorious.

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

Rii: I spend a lot of time outdoors learning about the local environment and ecosystem, and I encourage everyone to do the same. The more you learn about the world around you, the more textured the it becomes. You start noticing the details more. Communicating the magic in the everyday is a huge part of my artistic goal, and I hope it can inspire someone to get out there and experience it for themselves.

Also, I’ve gotten kind of interested in dolls recently. Maybe that’s weird.

Ben: So despite spending most of my career in publishing, I actually went to film school. And I was pretty hardcore about it, too — one time I watched the 1989 Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with the saturation turned all the way down so that I could pretend it was a black and white film, and then spent an hour talking to my film student friends about its gorgeous use of light and contrast.

But despite that, there are SO many iconic films that I’ve simply never seen. Not that I fuss over it much — in my experience, the movies that I need to watch find me in their own time. Which is all to say, a few weeks ago at a movie night with friends, I saw Victor Victoria for the first time, and it made me so damn happy. Every second of it, sheer delight. I’ve had a deeply Gender crush on Julie Andrews ever since watching her play Peter Pan as a small child, so this really was my queer journey coming full circle in a way. So yes,  I was thunderstruck by Victor Victoria in 2023, and that’s the important fact I want people to know about me at the moment. 

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring creators, especially those looking to draw and/or write graphic novels themselves?

Rii: Have interests outside of comics! My favorite comics are the ones where you can really see the creator’s passion for a niche topic or hobby shining through. If people can feel your love for whatever you’re writing about, they’ll be drawn to it.

Ben: Seconding that — Rii’s is absolutely right!

I’d also add that the best way to break into comics is to make them. Learn by doing, find your voice, play with the medium. Even if you only want to be a writer, drawing comics will make you so much better at your job — it doesn’t matter if they’re all stick figures, you’ll still build fluency in paneling and pacing and flow, you’ll get a sense of how much text feels comfortable on a page, you’ll learn where to put your page turns for maximal effect. It’s invaluable!

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

Ben: So, as I mentioned above, I edit comics as well as writing them. And one of those books — The Bawk-ness Monster, by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter — comes out in June! It’s an extremely fun and deeply queer book about a group of cryptid-hunting kids, written and drawn by two of the best cartoonists in the business, and I’m so so so so excited for everyone to read it. 

If you’re looking for queer comics for adult readers, some of my personal favorite authors are EK Weaver, Otava Heikkilä, Sarah Winifred Searle, Fumi Yoshinaga, Ngozi Ukazu, Carey Pietsch, Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh. Solid gold, every one of them!

Interview with Author Trang Thanh Tran

Trang Thanh Tran (they/she) is a Vietnamese American writer telling all stories scary, otherworldly, and emotional. Trang grew up in a big family in Philadelphia but now calls the South home. They’re an alum of the Writing Barn’s Rainbow Weekend and Tin House’s YA Fiction Workshop. When not writing, they’re busy trying new food and watching too many zombie movies. Their Gothic horror debut SHE IS A HAUNTING is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in Winter 2023. You can also follow them on Twitter.

I have the opportunity to interview Trang, which you can read below.

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

Hiii. My name is Trang, and I’m a Vietnamese American writer of speculative stories. I love horror, iced coffee, and BTS. In my past life, I was a data analyst and honestly still have a soft spot for spreadsheets and coding.

What can you tell us about your debut book, She is a Haunting? What was the inspiration for this story?

She is a Haunting is about an angry, closeted bisexual girl with daddy issues who fights a haunted house in Vietnam that just wants friends and eternal servitude! It’s a coming-of-age ghost story with a strong core about family. It is somewhat of a dual-pov book, with most chapters coming from Jade Nguyen and the rest from Nhà Hoa, our unhinged French colonial house.

I’ve always been a major horror movie/book fan, but I didn’t see many main Vietnamese characters in the genre. So I wanted a Vietnamese American final girl front and center, and whose story is very specific. That meant working with a seed of my own fears about belonging and coming out—because I love when horror and emotion connects. From there I threw in all my favorite gothic horror tropes with a dash of bugs, parasites, and suspiciously delicious food. 

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative fiction/ horror, and young adult fiction?

Storytelling feels a little bit like magic. As a kid, I really loved escaping into stories so when I discovered you could actually do that magic yourself, I was hooked. I’m someone who can forget how happy or intensely they felt about something, but writing lets me remember. I tap into that experience so I can let my characters live in and for my readers to feel it. 

As for speculative and horror elements, I like working in my weird interests or metaphors. Focusing on a real story but letting that element of strangeness challenge the characters’ POV, it’s just fun! Young adult fiction is also a space I’m proud to write in, because stories can be an escape for someone who is at a threshold in their life—starting high school, navigating difficult relationships, and dealing with changing expectations. Everything is felt so strongly; the world is at your fingertips.

What do you think specifically drew you to ghost stories?

Sometimes the scary thing is not the ghost but what the ghost represents. I’m intrigued by the ways our past follows us, so a ghost story is a perfect way to force a character to confront that. How are they as people, because of something in the past? What will they do now, in order to not deal with some lingering trauma—even if not their own?

How would you describe your writing process?

I am somewhat of a chaotic drafter. While I always know my ending and the major emotional beats, I will draft lines out of order. Some for chapter 21, then some for chapter 1… It’s maddening putting it all together in a way that makes sense. But I am a very methodical reviser. I reverse outline in a spreadsheet, I lay out my character arcs in a spreadsheet, then I figure out what needs to be done by chapter.

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this??

Unfortunately, the only way to finish a book is to write. For me, having an alpha reader who reads as you draft and who you feel completely comfortable with is key, because they keep you accountable AND excited to write. There’s that instant serotonin when they’re like, what will happen next?! Other than that, having a clear vision for what I want my book to be and how I want readers to feel allows me to draft more easily. I am chasing that end goal of crushing readers’ hearts. 🙂 

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

There was not a story that I felt reflected in when growing up. Mostly, I read to escape. I slipped into characters’ experiences that didn’t in any way resemble my own. For a period of time, I actually stopped reading because nothing I read touched me. But things are different now! I picked up Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After at the library, and it just changed my brain chemistry. Like, we can write these stories centering BIPOC characters? I got back into reading then and found so many more stories, queer and more. 

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

Emily X.R. Pan who writes beautiful, gut-wrenching stories! Shirley Jackson’s writing is also an inspiration, for how much dread and terror she packed into few words. I’m also a fan of Mike Flanagan’s horror shows that blend emotional storytelling with wonderful visuals. In terms of artistry, I admire the BTS members’ frank conversations about creating under pressure, conveying an emotion through lyrics, and the work it takes to really execute a vision. 

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

I love when the writing comes easily when the words match the scene in my head. There’s something satisfying about creating something that is entirely your own and then sharing it with others. Hearing that someone saw themself or found joy or scares in my stories makes the challenging part of writing—when it’s difficult, which is the majority of the time—all worth it.

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

This may be weird, but: I’m a young cancer survivor. It influences how I work on my art and how I want to live my life. I’m now in my unhinged era, thank you.

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

Write for yourself first. Put in the things that you love and the rest will come together. But you gotta finish the book; push to the end.

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

I’m working on my second YA horror! Tag line—A monster learns to love herself. 

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

Into the Light by Mark Oshiro

The Black Queen by Jumata Emill

Hell Followed with Us by Andrew Joseph White (and ANYTHING he writes)

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come by Jen St. Jude

I promise you Wen-yi Lee’s The Dark We Know (spring 2024) is the perfect companion read for She Is a Haunting but also that it is gorgeously written, tightly plotted and gloriously angry all on its own.  

Header Photo Credit Heather Wall Photography

Star Trek (But Make it Gay): TNG

Busy Geek Breakdown:

Lifelong Trekkie or never seen a single episode? Check out the following:

Season 3; Episode 16.  Season 4; Episodes 4, 23. Season 5, Episodes 6, 14, 17.

Also, if you just want to see the Riker Maneuver click here.

If you’re a seasoned Trekkie, or don’t want context, skip ahead — here.

For the Total Star Trek Red Shirts Provisional Ensigns (Red Shirts are important now!!!):

Star Trek: The Next Generation (often abbreviated as TNG) is an American science fiction television series that aired from 1987 to 1994. It is the second Star Trek television series and a sequel to the original Star Trek series TOS that aired from 1966 to 1969.

The show is set in the 24th century, about 100 years after the original series, and follows the crew of the USS Enterprise-D, led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, (aka Gunshow circa 1994)  

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: TV Guide Publishing Group, Inc.

… as they explore the galaxy and encounter new civilizations and technologies. The Enterprise-D is a massive starship that is capable of traveling faster than the speed of light and is equipped with a variety of advanced technologies, including a holodeck, which can create realistic virtual environments.

The show has a large ensemble cast, with notable characters including Commander William Riker (galactic thirst trap) . . .

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Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (Take a look, It’s in a book!) , Lieutenant Commander Data (an android), Counselor Deanna Troi (a betazoid empath counselor), and Lieutenant Worf (a Klingon).

Lt. Worf” by Tram Painter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The show also features several recurring characters, such as Q, a powerful and mischievous being who challenges the crew with his god-like abilities.

TNG is known for its thought-provoking stories and themes, such as exploring the nature of humanity, the ethics of scientific experimentation, and the consequences of interfering with other cultures. It was also notable for its impressive special effects, which were state-of-the-art for its time.

Overall, TNG is widely regarded as one of the most successful and influential science fiction television shows of all time and has spawned numerous spin-off series and feature films.

Before we get into individual episodes, let’s talk about Q . . . . 

The character Q in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is often portrayed as being fascinated and intrigued by Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Q, played by actor John de Lancie, is an omnipotent being who serves as a recurring character throughout the series. He often tests the crew of the USS Enterprise-D and challenges their beliefs and values. Q has a playful and mischievous personality, and he enjoys manipulating the crew and testing their limits.

Some would argue that while Q is often seen interacting with Picard and the two characters have a somewhat adversarial relationship, there is no indication in the show that Q has romantic feelings for Picard. That Q’s interest in Picard seems to stem more from his fascination with humanity and his desire to explore and understand human behavior.

It’s worth noting that the relationship between Q and Picard is deliberately ambiguous, and the show’s writers have left their interactions open to interpretation. While some fans may see hints of romantic interest in Q’s behavior towards Picard, the show itself does not provide any explicit confirmation of this.

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If you’re not convinced though and believe I’m just shipping Q-Card out of wishful thinking, wait until I post my blog about a later series. Anyway, Nerdist agrees with me (some spoilers).

Tasha Yar while not Canonically gay, has often been embraced as a gay icon and even made #1 on the AutoStraddle Star Trek lesbian character list. 

Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby, was the chief of security aboard the USS Enterprise-D and appeared in the first season of the show.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

One reason for Tasha Yar’s appeal to the LGBTQ+ community may be her status as a strong, independent woman. In the world of “Star Trek,” women are often shown in positions of power and authority, and Tasha Yar is no exception. She is a skilled fighter and a competent leader, and she is not afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs. Unfortunately, due to the actors desire to go elsewhere in her career, she ends up perpetuating the “Bury your gays” stereotype by getting killed off at the end of Season 1.

Ch . Ch. Ch. Changes … in uniforms over 100 years. It’s easiest to explain using the infographic from below. (get the full infographic here)

The most important costume revelation for TNG is the Skant! The Star Trek skant is a type of uniform worn by some characters in the Star Trek franchise. It is a unisex garment that resembles a dress or tunic and was first introduced in the original Star Trek series in the late 1960s.

The skant was intended to be a futuristic, gender-neutral uniform that would reflect the show’s optimistic vision of a society without gender-based distinctions. The skant was worn by both male and female crew members and was meant to signify that everyone in the Star Trek universe was equal and could perform any job regardless of gender.

The skant was worn by several characters, although most of the men sporting it in TNG were in the background.

The skant reappeared in later Star Trek series, including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where it was worn by both male and female crew members. However, the skant was eventually phased out in favor of more traditional uniforms.

In recent years, the skant has become a popular item among Star Trek fans and cosplayers, who often create their own versions of the garment. The skant is seen as a unique and iconic part of the Star Trek universe and a symbol of the franchise’s progressive values.

IMG_3050” by marakma is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Alright. Now on to my favorite part … the numbered list!

6. “The Offspring” (Season 3, Episode 16):

*CW: Mental Health, Death*

In this episode, the character of Data creates an android “daughter” named Lal. While the episode does not explicitly address LGBTQ issues, the themes of identity and acceptance resonate with many LGBTQ individuals.

Honey, let me tell you, as a fierce Star Trek fan and a proud member of the LGBTQ community, this episode that spoke to my heart on so many levels. In fact, after watching this episode I had to take a break and watch several episodes of RuPauls Drag Race, before I could resume my Trek re-watch.

Firstly, I was struck by Data. This android struggles with his identity as a non-human being and the prejudice and discrimination he faces from others because of it. Many of us in the Queer community can relate to feeling marginalized and ostracized for simply being who we are. Watching Data grapple with these issues was both emotional and empowering, as it reminded me of the importance of standing up for oneself in the face of discrimination.

But the real heart of The Offspring lies in the creation of Lal, a child-like android that Data creates as his own offspring. Many of us know all too well the balance required to prioritize found family and the importance of finding people who reflect our identities and experiences. Lal represents that desire for a family and the struggles that come with it as she navigates her identity as a non-human being and grapples with the discrimination she faces from others.

Data allow Lal to choose her own gender and appearance, and while this idea was executed in s somewhat binary way, still Star Trek saying Trans Rights in the early 1990’s was amazing! There are several remarks about how your gender is how other’s perceive you and impact how folks interact with you.

And there are absolutely some wonderful, memorable moments in this episode, like when Lal first learns from her job in Ten Forward as a cocktail waitress for Guinan (working at 3 weeks old – wow, nobody want to work these days!!!) and she first learns that people touch hands and then touch lips when they like each other. And of course Riker’s very first time meeting her, she picks him up by the collar to kiss him – right as Data walks in and says “Commander, what are your intentions with my daughter?” It’s just *chef’s kiss* one of those moments where my spouse had to ask why I was cackling so loud.

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Watching Data’s relationship with Lal develop throughout the episode is beautiful as he learns how to care for and love his new creation. The performances by the cast, particularly Brent Spiner as Data and Hallie Todd as Lal, were simply outstanding, capturing the complex emotions and struggles of their characters with real depth and sensitivity.

But what impressed me about The Offspring was its relevance to LGBTQ issues today. The episode tackles themes of prejudice, discrimination, and the importance of individual rights and freedoms, which are still relevant to our community. It’s a reminder that the fight for acceptance and equality is ongoing and that it’s essential to stand up for ourselves and our loved ones in the face of discrimination.

Overall, The Offspring was a profoundly moving and empowering episode that speaks to the struggles and joys of the LGBTQ community in a significant way. I highly recommend it to any queer person or ally who wants to see themselves reflected in a powerful and poignant story. Live long and prosper, honey.

But what caught my eye were the costumes worn by the android characters. Data, in particular, wore his normal sleek and form-fitting uniform that accentuated his non-human features, with metallic accents and a bold black and gold color scheme. On the other hand, Lal wore a simple dress with a flowing skirt, contrasting beautifully with her pale (and much more human like) skin, and conveying a sense of innocence of youth. Of course, she did have to wear this giant bob type wig, to allow for a scene later in the episode where they opened up her positronic brain on camera.

Of course the villain of the story, the Admiral who initially wanted to separate Lal from Data (and there were owe so many brilliant points in this episode about why Data was being questioned and second guessed on creating a life, when other’s weren’t questioned about procreating). Ultimately, Lal begins to feel actual emotions, beginning when she realizes some strange man who doesn’t care for her wants to take her away from her family and ensure she grows up ‘the right way’. She effectively has a breakdown and dies as a result of the intense feelings, which is of course heartbreaking, and the Admiral finally feels for Data as a father.

The crew is generally very compassionate, and Data mentions a heartwarming note about all of Lal’s memories will live inside him. But then Captain ‘Prick-ard’ basically says, “Oh, you’re not crying? Get back on watch!’ and Data does. Come on Jean Luc – you couldn’t give him a day off to contemplate existence? Or at least ask if he would prefer to mourn or get back to work? Well, we all know that for all his wisdom, Picard never did well with feelings. Or children. On that note, on to the next episode!!!!

5. “Suddenly Human” (Season 4, Episode 4):

*CW: Mental Health, Death

In this episode the crew encounters a human boy who was raised by an alien race after his parents died. As they attempt to reunite him with his biological family, they must navigate the complex issues of identity, belonging, and cultural differences.

These poor abandoned kids add to the confusion and chaos with the Mourning, a sound they make when separated from their Captain, until Picard charges in and orders them to be quiet.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Now, this is a powerful message for our community, my loves. It reminds us of the importance of family and belonging, and how our sense of identity can be shaped by the culture and community we grow up in. It’s a message that resonates deeply with the LGBT community, as we too have often struggled to find acceptance and belonging in a world that can be hostile to our identities.

And speaking of cultural differences, my darlings, let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The crew’s attempts to reunite the boy with his biological family echo the struggles faced by LGBT individuals in reconciling their identities with their cultural and familial backgrounds.

Now we have to talk about Captain Picard’s attempts to connect with the boy. Bless his heart, he’s not exactly the most skilled at dealing with children, is he? But it’s also a reminder that we all have our awkward moments, and that even the most stoic and composed among us can struggle to connect with others at times.

But let’s talk about Captain Picard’s attempts to connect with the boy, my darlings. Bless his heart, he tells Counselor Troi that he’s not great with kids – a fact that is abundantly clear throughout the episode. But we can’t fault him for trying, can we? It’s a reminder that even the most seasoned leaders among us can struggle when it comes to parenting and connecting with younger generations.

And speaking of Picard, my loves, let’s not forget about Picard Day – an annual celebration of the captain that was established by the children on the Enterprise. It’s a playful moment in the series, but also a reminder of the importance of honoring those who inspire us and bring us together.

But beyond the jokes and playful moments, my darlings, this episode is a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding. As the crew attempts to navigate the complex dynamics between the boy and his biological family, they must confront their own biases and assumptions about what it means to be human.

And speaking of connections, my darlings, let’s not forget the playful reference to daddy issues in this episode. As the crew attempts to navigate the complex dynamics between the boy and his biological father, it’s hard not to laugh at the irony of Picard – a man with his own complicated relationship with his father – trying to play the role of mentor and father figure.

Ah, my darlings, wouldn’t it be lovely if every lost child in the galaxy could be a Mandalorian foundling, with the handsome Pedro Pascal as their daddy? Alas, in this episode, we are dealing with a Talarian foundling instead, and the crew of the Enterprise must navigate the complex issues of identity and belonging that arise when a human boy is raised by an alien race.

Now, we’ve all been there. Who hasn’t had a rebellious phase as a teenager, blasting rock music and acting out against authority? Maybe not as far as stabbing someone in their sleep, but otherwise it’s a universal experience, and a reminder that even in the future, some things never change. “Stop that noise!”

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But the real message here is about empathy and understanding. As the crew comes to understand the boy’s experience and perspective, they are able to bridge the gap between their two cultures and find a way to reunite him with his family while still honoring his identity and experiences.

Now, my loves, can we talk about those Talarian uniforms? They would be so fashionable if they weren’t wearing those turtlenecks underneath! It’s a good thing we have our very own fashion icons on the crew to provide some much-needed style inspiration. Data – does he have ANY pores? His skin is flawless! And Troi, are we sure that low cut v-neck jumpsuit is regulation Star Fleet?

But the journey to reunite Jono with his Talarian family is not without its challenges, my loves. Jono’s experience as a hostage has left him with deep-seated trauma and a desire for revenge, leading him to effectively try to commit suicide by cop in a dramatic confrontation with his Talarian captors. It’s a poignant reminder of the ongoing impact of trauma on our loved ones and the need for compassion and support in their healing journeys.

Despite the serious nature of this episode, my loves, we can always rely on the charming Captain Picard and his aversion to young people to bring some levity to the Enterprise. Don’t miss it!

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So let’s raise a glass of (vegan) Blood Wine to the crew of the Enterprise, my darlings, and to the power of empathy, understanding, and acceptance. We must never forget that we are all connected by our humanity, and that our differences should be celebrated, not feared. Remember, love knows no boundaries – even if we have a few heart wrenching and even awkward moments along the way!”

4. “The Host” (Season 4, Episode 23):

In this episode, Dr. Crusher falls in love with a Trill ambassador named Odan. Now, the Trill are a fascinating species, honey. They can transfer their consciousness between hosts, and Odan’s current host is a fine-looking man. But when that man is injured, Odan is transferred into a new host, temporarily Commander Will Riker – and that’s where the drama begins.

Let me take a moment to say – How in the hell did I not know there was a nail salon on the Enterprise? Is Picard secretly rocking hot pink toenail polish under that very regulation exterior? In the 24th century, along with the skant, are hair and nail uniform regulations finally equal?

Anyway, back to the drama. Now, the symbolism here is strong, my loves. The Trill’s gender-neutral culture challenges our preconceived notions of gender and identity. It reminds us that gender is not binary and that love can transcend labels. But Dr. Crusher struggles with this concept, as many in our community still do today.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Also, I would like to take a moment to appreciate Deanna Troi. Although the onscreen romance between her and Riker doesn’t happen until later, and they don’t marry until the film Insurrection, they are friends and former lovers while serving together during the events of TNG. If not exactly kitchen table poly, it’s at least super enlightened of Troi when comforting ‘Dr. Beverly’ to tell her that if she can find love and comfort in Odan in the form of Riker, then she should.

Anyway, Riker realizes it’s beyond physical, and that she is attracted to the person she knew as a man – at the end, after averting a war (because of global warming caused by overdependency on an energy source – interesting) but she finds it difficult to accept that Odan is now in new woman host, but admits that she still loves Odan, and understands that it is her own failing to accept the new form.

Another great line from this episode, which I definitely did not catch when I was younger. When Crusher confronts Odan about not telling her he was a symbiote, he say’s “Did you ever have to tell someone you were only a single being? Of course not!” Wonderful echos of the double standard of being expected to come out as Queer, but not as cis-het. Ok, I see you Starfleet. All this in 1990! Boom!

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Is there a deeper metaphor with Dr. Crusher being the one to transplant her lover into Riker? Who knows, but it’s a great chance for some Special Effect!!!

Anyway, as usual the real kicker is the costumes. The Trill’s signature spots are a bold fashion statement, representing their connection to their hosts. However, when Odan is transferred to the new host, those spots disappear, leaving us with a blank slate. It’s a powerful visual representation of the struggle to maintain identity through change.

And let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The Trill’s fluidity challenges traditional gender roles, and their love can transcend bodies and lifetimes. It’s a beautiful message for our community, reminding us to celebrate our differences and embrace the complexity of our identities.

So there you have it, my darlings. Another powerful episode that challenges us to think beyond the binary and embrace the diversity of our world. Let’s all raise a glass of Saurian Brandy to love in all its forms! No Synthehol for us!

3. “The Game” (Season 5, Episode 6):

In this episode, the crew is faced with a new game that has taken over the minds of everyone on board, including Cadet Crusher’s new love interest, Ensign Robin Lefler. The game represents addiction and how easily we can be controlled by outside forces.

So the beginning of this episode as inspired me to amend what I said about Troi and Riker. By this time, she definitely knew how freaking thirsty he was and so also knew what she was getting herself into. The episode opens with Riker hooking up on Risa and then getting introduced to this super addictive, very easy to win, brainwashing game where you mentally push a disk into a cone, then get a euphoric/orgasmic rush.

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But the real message here, my loves, is about control. The game takes over the crew’s minds, leading them to act in ways they usually wouldn’t. It’s a reminder that we must always be vigilant against outside forces that seek to control us and our actions. That we can be ourselves and do what we know is right, despite what the rest of society tries to tell us.

But, ultimately, Wesley puts his faith in a trustworthy adult (in this case Data) to safe him from his own mother among everyone else on board. While Data formulates a plan, Cadet crusher runs around the Enterprise Home Alone style, distracting everyone to buy time.

So let’s raise a glass of Altair Water to Ensign Lefler and Cadet Crusher, my darlings, and to the power of individuality and self-determination. We must never let anyone or anything control our minds or our hearts. Remember, we are the captains of our own destiny, and as we all know geeks always save the day!

2. “Conundrum” (Season 5, Episode 14):

In this episode my fellow LGBT-rekkies, the crew wakes up without memory of their identities or mission. They must work together to uncover the truth and prevent a war between two alien races.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Who is this new guy? He’s now the Executive Officer? Why does Picard still call Riker ‘Numbah Won’ if he’s third in command now? Oh right, it’s a mind controlling alien. Why didn’t he just make himself the Captain? Or a Commodore? Ah well …

Now, this is a powerful message for our community. It reminds us of the importance of memory and identity and how easily they can be manipulated or erased. It’s a message that resonates deeply with the Queer community, as we have faced challenges in asserting our identity and having our history recognized and celebrated. Even if it turns out we’re a space faring Trombone Player.

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But let’s talk about the way everyone acts when they forget who they are. Worf believes he is in charge, apparently because of his confidence and fancy sash.

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Data thinks he is a robot bar tender.

Courtesy of Dat4L0re

… and there is a very awkward love triangle between Ro Loren, Riker, and Troi but as their memories return and they discover their individual roles on the ship, they begin to adjust and change their behavior to reflect their unique identities and personalities, albeit with most of their inhibitions restored.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

And speaking of identity let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The crew’s struggle to regain their memories and assert their individual identities echoes the struggles faced by LGBT individuals in maintaining their identities in a society that often seeks to erase or marginalize them.

But the real message here, my loves, is about unity and collaboration. The crew must work together and trust each other to uncover the truth and prevent a war. It’s a reminder that we must come together and support each other even in the face of adversity and uncertainty.

So let’s raise a glass of Romulan Ale to the crew of the Enterprise, my darlings, and to the power of memory, identity, and collaboration. We must always remember who we are and where we come from and work together to create a better future for ourselves and our community. Remember, together, we are unstoppable!

1. “The Outcast” (Season 5, Episode 17):

*CW: Conversion Therapy, anti-trans rhetoric

In this episode, the Enterprise crew encounters the J’naii, a society where gender neutrality is strictly enforced, and the character of Soren, a member of this society, begins questioning her gender identity. This episode is often considered the most prominent LGBTQ episode in the series.

The J’naii are gender-neutral and reject any concept of male or female, reminding us that gender is a construct and that we can be whoever we want, regardless of societal norms. Despite a clunky conversation about gender-neutral pronouns, which is somewhat unsatisfying (especially since the singular “they” has been used since the 1300s), this episode further explores gender and sexuality than any others in the series.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

But of course, the crew faces a challenge as Soren expresses romantic feelings for Commander Riker. There are some funny and awkward moments along the way. I did appreciate how we find a way to use words like ‘Micro-Cochrans’ to describe engine output to someone from a species which likely has never heard of Zephram Cochran (a lot like the U.S. still refusing to use metric)

Courtesy of

But this is where the drama begins. The J’naii don’t believe in gender or romantic love. Soren’s attraction to Riker is seen as a violation of their societal norms. She is forced to undergo a mind-altering procedure to conform to the J’naii way of life.

The symbolism here is deep, if a bit on the nose. Soren’s desire to love who she wants challenges the J’naii’s strict adherence to their cultural norms. It reminds us of the struggle we face in our community, where we are often told that our love is invalid. But Soren’s bravery in standing up for her true self inspires us all.

As a devoted fan and an advocate for LGBTQ rights, this was one of my favorite episodes to re-watch. I remembered it differently, as growing up in the Midwest USA, I had little exposure to anything outside CIS-Hetero-Normative ideas. And in the 1990s, on analog network television, seeing Queer representation felt a lot like Lily and Zefram seeing visitors from the future in the TNG Film, First Contact.

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The costume choices in this episode were fascinating, as they played a role in highlighting the differences between Soren’s society and the Federation. Soren’s people wore gender-neutral clothing, which was a sharp contrast to the bold and colorful uniforms of the Enterprise crew. The neutral tones and simple dress designs in Soren’s society reflected their strict adherence to gender neutrality and conformity. At the same time, the bright and varied uniforms of the Enterprise crew conveyed a sense of individuality and diversity.

Another interesting costume choice was using makeup and hair styling to convey gender. Soren’s people had identical haircuts and minimal makeup, again highlighting their adherence to strict gender neutrality. In contrast, the crew of the Enterprise had varied hairstyles and makeup choices that reflected their individuality.

But what struck me about The Outcast was how it highlighted the struggles of LGBTQ people we still face today. Soren’s journey to embrace her gender identity, despite the disapproval of her society, was a powerful metaphor for the struggles of many LGBTQ people who face discrimination and persecution for simply being who they are. And, it gave us this fantastic monologue – there’s a cut down version with captions available here.

But in the end, it’s about love. Soren’s love for Riker transcends gender and societal norms, reminding us that love knows no bounds. It’s a message we need to hear today more than ever as we continue fighting for our rights and identities.

Despite Worf very excitedly accompanying Riker to the surface to mess some folks up, and Picard very specifically not giving Riker permission to act, but also staying in orbit just long enough. Sadly, the episode ends with Soren telling Riker it was a mistake- it appears the conversion therapy was a success.

Overall, The Outcast was a powerful and thought-provoking episode that used costume and makeup choices to explore issues of gender identity and LGBTQ rights in a truly impactful way. I highly recommend this episode to anyone who wants to see themselves reflected in a powerful and poignant story.

So let’s raise a cup of “Earl Gray, Hot” to the J’naii, my darling Queer Geeks, and as always, Live Long, and Prosper.

Earl grey, hot” by Fanfare & Foofaraw is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

These episodes, among others, are shining examples of good science fiction exploring issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in a nuanced and thought-provoking way. While the series may not have always been at the forefront of LGBTQ representation, these episodes show that it was willing to push boundaries and challenge societal norms.

Are there any other favorites I missed, or should I cover them in the next post? Let me know!

Interview with Author Jenna Voris

Jenna Voris writes books about ambitious girls and galaxy-traversing adventures. She was born and raised in Indiana—where she learned to love roundabouts and the art of college basketball—and now calls Washington D.C. home. When she’s not writing, she can be found perfecting her road trip playlists and desperately trying to keep her houseplants alive. Made of Stars is her debut. 

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

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

Hi, thanks so much for having me! I’m Jenna and my debut YA sci-fi, Made of Stars, came out in March. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, Made of Stars? What was the inspiration for this story?

Made of Stars is a Bonnie and Clyde-inspired sci-fi adventure story set in space. It follows two young criminals on the run from the law and the enemy pilot hunting them across the galaxy. I wrote this as a distraction project when I was querying another book and wanted to make it as enjoyable for myself as possible, so it really ended up as a combination of my favorite things—terrible, ambitious characters, heists, space politics, star-crossed romance, etc. The original spark of the idea came from listening to the Bonnie and Clyde Broadway musical (shout out Jeremy Jordan) and realizing all the songs were vastly underrated. That album helped form the initial skeleton of the story and it all spiraled from there. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer-centered website and Made of Stars is said to be a queer science fiction romance, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters that will be featured in your book?

I am a firm believer that no one in space is straight so, by default, not one single character in Made of Stars is straight either. However, there’s an on-page mlm romance between Cyrus, the pilot hunting Ava and Shane, and his annoyingly handsome partner Lark. The two of them are recent graduates of the same prestigious flight academy and had always battled for the top spot in class. Now, they’re in the real world and the missions are more dangerous, but their rivalry never truly faded. 

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative fiction, and young adult fiction?

Honestly, I was never really good at anything else. I wasn’t a “good at school” type of kid, but I was “a pleasure to have in class” and “very creative” so obviously I chose a career where I’m constantly trying to chase the high of my third-grade report card. I always loved writing, but I didn’t realize it was an actual job people could have until later. Once I started pursuing publication, I knew that I wanted to write YA. I still remember the books I read in high school that made me feel seen and it’s such an honor and privilege to be able to write for teenagers in that way. 

How would you describe your writing process?

I used to just throw words on a page and see what happened, but I’ve learned to embrace an outline over the last few years. Made of Stars was the first book I tried to write with any sort of direction, and it made the process go much quicker. I’ll never be a huge, act/scene breakdown person, but I do need to know the ending and a few big plot beats before I start. Writing is usually more of a discovery process for me—most of the time I don’t feel like I truly know the characters until I finish the first draft. I also love to make long, chapter-by-chapter playlists for every project. I don’t listen to music while I write, but it’s helpful in building a mood. 

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

I was a huge fan of Animorphs as a kid which, now that I’m thinking about it, honestly explains a lot. It was such an epic, sweeping story about teens fighting a corrupt alien empire while also managing to remain grounded and human. The last book I felt seen by was Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie. I can probably count on one hand the number of queer stories I had access to while growing up in central Indiana, so when I read all the incredible LGBTQ+ books coming out now, it makes me so hopeful for the future. Racquel’s book is so genuine and tender and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the story I would go back in time and give high school Jenna, if I could. 

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

I read The Darkest Minds trilogy by Alex Bracken in college and it was the first series that made me sit back and go “Oh, I want to make people feel the way I feel right now while reading this book.” There are so many authors I admire whose books are a masterclass in craft—I would listen to Tracey Deon, Chloe Gong, and R.F. Kuang talk for hours about worldbuilding—and the stories I draw the most inspiration from are the ones that balance that with the character’s emotional arcs.

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

I would give my kingdom to never have to write another first draft. Like I said earlier, drafting is usually a discovery process for me, so there are times where I get to the end of a book and then realize I’ve written an entire act incorrectly or need to go back and add a new POV. That being said, I love how satisfying a good revision is. There’s something so nice about seeing all the pieces come together and having that little epiphany when you finally connect the plotlines. Revisions are also the only time I feel like I’m not alone in my writing process—I’m either working with notes from my critique partners or agent or editor and that collaboration is really exciting. 

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

I did color guard for eight years both in school and competitively and I actually have two world championships gold medals! If I had a nickel for every time I dedicated years of my life to an emotionally devastating hobby-turned-job, I’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot but it’s weird that it happened twice, right?

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)?

People have yet to ask me what Taylor Swift song Made of Stars is, which is rude because I’ve spent way too long thinking about this to not share it with the world. She’s a Getaway Car sun with a Renegade moon and a Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince rising. 

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

The most important thing I had to learn was how to finish a draft. I always struggle with comparing my first drafts to books that are already published or on shelves and that was such a hurdle for me to overcome when I was first starting out. Even now, every time I sit down to write something new, it feels like I have no idea how to write a book and that’s just how it goes. It’s so easy to let the spark of a new idea carry you from half-finished project to half-finished project, but nothing can actually happen unless you finish a draft. I have to remind myself of that all the time because it’s never gotten easier (at least not for me!) but I can’t fix a blank page. Allowing yourself to have a bad first draft is so freeing.  

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

Yes! My second YA comes out next spring. It’s a sapphic, dual-timeline coming-of-age book about a teenage girl who goes on a quest to find her favorite singer’s missing time capsule. It’s about road trips and small towns and the cost of following your dreams and I’m very excited to share more about it soon!

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

Recently, I’ve been loving Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni, Always the Almost by Edward Underhill, Out of Character by Jenna Miller, and She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran. I’m also so excited for Night of the Living Queers, a YA BIPOC horror anthology edited by Alex Brown and Shelly Page. 

Header Photo Credit: Vania Stoyanova, 2022