Queer Comics Crowdfunding – Magical Boy Basil

Busy Geek Breakdown (TL;DR): If you haven’t checked out this webcomic, you’ll get hooked quickly. It has adventure, magic, teen angst, and plenty of geeky references. We need more stories like this, with complex representation of Queer characters. Checkout their newest Kickstarter. If you want to checkout the comic, you can do that here.

Get ready for an exhilarating adventure as “Magical Boy Basil” returns with its highly anticipated fifth chapter, “Magic Fight,” and you have the opportunity to make it a reality!

In this thrilling installment, Basil finds himself immersed in a world of enchantment as he investigates tangles, mischievous creatures born from fractured magic items. But what starts as a mere investigation takes a dramatic turn when Basil and his friend, Eli, become entangled in an epic magic fight between Noah and Aaron. Brace yourself for action-packed sequences, vibrant magical transformations, and plenty of laughter as Basil navigates through the concluding chapter of the first arc of “Magical Boy Basil.”

If you’re new to the comic, Magical Boy Basil is a free-to-read webcomic that updates every other Friday. It is an LGBTQIA+ story featuring a group of undercover teenage magicians that battle monsters in order to maintain the balance of the universe.

Magical Boy Basil is produced by Jordan Wild (writer) and Beck Murray (artist). They’ve been working on Magical Boy Basil together for 7 years now. (1 year of pre-production, and 6 years of publication)

Since the webcomic’s launch in 2016, the audience has grown to over 30,000 readers. In October 2022, Magical Boy Basil became part of the Tapas Early Access program, was number 1 in ‘New Releases’ the first week of release and has since exceeded 6 million views on the platform.

The first print edition of issues #1-4 (awarded “Project We Love by Kickstarter staff) were all successfully funded through Kickstarter.

Creative Team: Jordan Wild, R.E. Murray, and Sid McNulty

And here’s from my interview with one of the creators, R.E. Murray:

DGH: How has it been interacting with your fans, whether in person or online?

REM: I feel like we’re a small little comic but we’re almost always approached by folks at cons (notably Flame Con) who not only recognize us but are so excited by and love Magical Boy Basil. Having conversations with fans about the story, the genre, and life in general is my favorite part. Everyone is just so friendly!

DGH: How does your personal identity and experiences as an LGBTQIA+ individual influence your creative process and the stories you choose to tell?

REM: I think I almost exclusively write, draw, and am inspired by LGBTQIA+ content. I spent the first fifteen years of my life not knowing why I was different and only consuming heteronormative stories until I learned that queerness was real and that stories could be queer too- My stories could be queer even! 

DGH: Can you walk us through your typical creative process? How do you develop ideas, create characters, and bring your stories to life on the page?

REM: Usually there’s some back and forth with Jordan (our writer) as to what the character’s core traits should be or what a storyline should roughly look like. Sometimes it takes some teasing the threads out to come to a solid conclusion but sometimes designs or story beats will come on like a lightning strike. It’s very in the moment!

DGH: Are there any specific comic book artists or writers who have influenced your style or storytelling approach? How have they inspired you?

REM: Personally, I consume a lot of manga (and graphic novels) so it’s less anyone or anything specific and more a hodge podge of the things that catch my eye- how someone draws clothing folds or expressions or their shorthand for environment details- that kind of thing. I will say that Yuhki Kamatani has amazing visuals and that it’d be cool to try to incorporate more visual metaphors like they do.

DGH: How do you envision your work impacting readers, particularly those who identify as LGBTQIA+? What messages or emotions do you hope to convey through your stories?

REM: I think just telling a queer magical kid story is impactful in and of itself. After all, queer folk can have magical adventures and save the town/world too! Magical Boy is something I wish I’d had when I was younger and we’ve had younger readers come up today saying how excited they were to see Basil’s story so that tells me our message is coming out loud and clear.

DGH: Who is your favorite Federation Captain, and why?

REM: Oh gosh, no judgements please but I’ve never watched much Trek… That being said I DID watch Next Generation and I think Picard is a fantastically complex character.

(That was a close one, Beck. I was worried for a second. Everyone here knows I have strong opinions. Anyway, even now, we all know Jean Luc can get it. Then again, so can the new Captain Pike. Anyway, what was I saying? Let’s geek out more when we see each other at Flame Con!)

While webcomics provide an excellent and accessible medium (and I love being able to load them up on my Kindle or phone when I travel), there’s something extraordinary about holding a comic book in your hands. It brings the story to life in a unique way, immersing readers in vibrant artwork and captivating narratives. The creators of “Magic Boy Basil” understand this, and their desire to provide a complete and immersive experience led them to bring the series to print.

By supporting this Kickstarter campaign, you’ll help make “Issue #5 – Magic Fight” a reality and ensure that “Magic Boy Basil” continues its positive impact on readers. Let’s bring this extraordinary story full circle and place the power of “Magic Boy Basil” into your hands. Experience the magic, excitement, and heartwarming moments that await within the pages of this remarkable comic book. Back the campaign now and join us on this enchanting journey!

Title Image and all other images used with permission: The copyright of Magical Boy Basil belongs to Fireside Stories, LLC.

Interview with Author Ivelisse Housman

Ivelisse Housman is the Puerto Rican-American author of UNSEELIE, a young adult fantasy novel published by Inkyard Press. Her work is inspired by her intersecting identities as a biracial autistic woman. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her high school sweetheart/archnemesis and their two rescue dogs.

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

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

Thank you! My name is Ivelisse Housman, and I’m the Puerto Rican-American author of UNSEELIE, a young adult fantasy novel published by Inkyard Press.

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

I was first inspired to write this story by the theory that changeling mythology was an early description of autistic children. As the story evolved, more elements from fiction and real life got pulled into the book—like my relationship with my own sister, my love of certain fantasy tropes, and the journey of self-acceptance I experienced after my autism diagnosis as a teenager.

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

I was always a precocious reader, and I probably started reading YA books a little too young, so it’s an age category I’ve loved for over half my life now. I was always drawn to the magical escape of second-world fantasies, so it was only natural that when I started writing, I’d create a little escape of my own. Aside from that, YA as a category is so diverse and interesting, and teen readers are so smart and fun to write for.

The protagonist of Unseelie, Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove, is a neurodivergent (autistic) changeling. While other disability scholars, such as Amanda Leduc have studied the connection between changeling stories and autism, I was wondering how you discovered the link and what made you decide to turn this into a story?

It’s something I randomly stumbled onto online and immediately connected with. I started writing it just for myself, and only did more research into the links between changeling mythology and autism/other disabilities when I realized it could be a whole book. I think a lot of autistic people grow up feeling like we’re from another world, and the idea of putting a positive spin on that feeling within a magical world like the ones I grew up reading was irresistible.

How would you describe your writing process?

It’s different every time! I’m currently trying to find my rhythm writing a book on contract for the sequel to UNSEELIE, which is totally different from how I drafted the first book just for fun. No matter the project, though, I have two rules for myself when writing. First, “You don’t have to write every day!” Especially as a disabled writer, it’s just not reasonable to expect constant output! My second rule is “done is better than perfect.” It’s so hard to ignore the fear of writing something that sucks, but you can fix something that sucks. You can’t fix a blank page!

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

I have yet to read a book (besides my own) that represents the intersections of my identity, but I’ve always latched onto any story where I could find part of my experience. I was obsessed with Ella Enchanted (and truly, all of Gail Carson Levine’s books) as a kid. Looking back on it now, I feel like Ella’s internal struggle to best her curse reflected my difficulties to seem “normal,” to be good, not to let my sensory distress or social difficulties show, even when they caused physical pain. More recently, I sobbed reading Amaro Ortiz’s Blazewrath Games because it was so meaningful to see a biracial, diasporic Puerto Rican character fully claim her identity and be accepted by others.

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

I have to say Gail Carson Levine again, because her work taught me how to write with a distinctive, conversational voice. Margaret Rogerson’s books are so inspirational as super atmospheric fantasy featuring offbeat main characters. I’m constantly inspired by whatever my favorite book, movie, TV show, or game is at the moment—too many to count! When something is fun and exciting to me, I always want to find a way to incorporate it into my writing.

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

My favorite part of writing is when I forget I’m writing. I love the daydreaming stage, the moodboard stage, the drafting-so-smoothly-it’s-like-watching-a-movie-in-my-head stage. The most difficult (besides writer’s block, obviously) is when I’m trying to revise, and I know I have a problem, but I don’t have solutions for it yet.

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

I have a degree in graphic design, and I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for a stationery company for several years and loved it! I’m half Puerto Rican and half Virginian, and I think the two cultures have more similarities than people would expect.

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)?

I’m not sure how it would be worded as a question, but I’ll jump at any reason to talk more about the sisterhood, friendship, and found family aspects of UNSEELIE! It was so important to me that Seelie was accepted for who she is within this little group. She has to learn not only how to let other people in, which is difficult after a lifetime of rejection, but also how to balance advocating for her own needs with making sure she’s considerate of others. It’s difficult for her, but I hope every autistic reader gets the takeaway that they will find the people who love them unconditionally someday. It can be messy and awkward, especially when you’re seventeen, but acceptance is not impossible.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

I want to emphasize again the need for rest, partly because that’s a message I always need to hear. Work hard, but don’t be so hard on yourself you make yourself miserable. Find what is fun and interesting for you, and write it in the way only you can. Readers will be able to tell the difference.

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

Currently, I’m up to my ears in the sequel to UNSEELIE! I’m so excited to share what it’s called, what it’s about, and of course another stunningly gorgeous cover illustration by the talented Mona Finden. For now, I’ll say that I think readers will be surprised by the turn Seelie’s story takes, but I hope they hang on for the ride!

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

If you enjoy UNSEELIE, you’ll enjoy FLOWERHEART by Catherine Bakewell for its lovely prose and relatable main character! I’d also recommend THIS VICIOUS GRACE and its upcoming sequel by Emily Thiede. In terms of upcoming books, I can’t wait for Jackie Khalilieh’s autistic YA contemporary SOMETHING MORE and Rebecca Mix’s middle grade debut MOSSHEART.

Header Photo Credit Sam Housman Creative

Interview with Claire Winn

Claire Winn spends her time immersed in other worlds—through video games, books, conventions, and her own stories. Since graduating from Northwestern University, she’s worked as a legal writer and editor. Aside from writing, she builds cosplay props and battles with LARP swords. Her next book is City of Vicious Night (sequel to City of Shattered Light), a queer YA sci-fi adventure coming May 2023.

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

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

Hey, thanks for inviting me on! I’m an author of YA sci-fi, and I’m working on fantasy and adult-category manuscripts as my next projects. My first published duology is the Requiem Dark series, which began with City of Shattered Light and finishes with the upcoming City of Vicious Night (May 2023). I’ve told stories through tabletop role-playing, LARP storylines, and now books!

I love writing large casts of characters with lots of queer rep—this reflects my experiences and the friend groups I’ve made in nerd circles. Storytelling has always been a safe avenue for me to explore my thoughts and interests, and it helped me to understand and recognize my own bisexuality.

What can you tell us about the series, City of Shattered Light and its upcoming sequel City of Vicious Night? What was the inspiration for this project?

City of Shattered Light is a neon-drenched YA sci-fi adventure that’s often compared to Six of Crows and Netflix’s Arcane. It’s led by two fierce girls—a runaway heiress, Asa, who’s fled home to save her test-subject sister, and Riven, a gunslinging smuggler who needs a heck of a bounty to secure her place in one of the city’s matriarchal crime syndicates. The girls clash when one kidnaps the other, but they end up with bigger problems when a brilliant, tech-corrupting A.I. monster locks down the city and begins pursuing them. It has two bisexual leads and major themes of found family, body autonomy, and questions of technological dependencies.

My initial vision for the story was a girl on a rickety transit ship, hiding her identity and concealing a strange alien heart in her backpack. I worked backwards to determine who Asa was and what had happened to her. I determined that her backpack contained a piece she needed to save her sister, but what piece of her sister was missing? Who’d done this to her? All sorts of awful answers came to mind, and eventually I wrote the lead-up to that scene.

Aside from this, a few other pieces came together for the initial concept. Riven was a space gunslinger with a strange neuro-spore illness; because she felt she was running out of time, she was desperate to make her mark on the world. I also wanted to explore the damage a superhacker could wreak as more devices go online, so I imagined a nasty, sentient A.I. that had taken over a high-tech city and could hack anything as it pursued the main characters.

The setting and aesthetics were inspired by lots of video games and anime, but the emotional basis for the character arcs was a bit personal. Asa’s arc is about fiercely resisting what the world expects of you and finding happiness on your own terms, while Riven’s is about finding something to fight for despite an uncertain future.

The sequel City of Vicious Night was so much fun to write. I had years’ worth of ideas simmering after writing the first book, and I knew the characters and world so well before I even started it. It almost felt like writing fanfiction of my own work. Having the world and characters already established in readers’ minds meant I could deepen everything in unexpected ways.

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

I’ve always loved the exploration and escapism of other worlds—video games, in particular, are a storytelling medium I can’t get enough of. Sci-fi and fantasy are exciting because they allow me to build new worlds, play with exciting scenarios, and challenge characters in ways that aren’t possible in our current reality.

The manuscripts I’ve finished have been YA because I was a teen when I started writing, and I love the fast pacing and character-driven stories YA allows. I’ve also found that I have an easier time writing character perspectives and experiences that are firmly in the rearview mirror; I feel I finally have enough perspective on being a young adult to write convincing characters and meaningful arcs! I do have several adult projects in progress, but I really enjoy being part of the YA community as an author, since YA fans are unapologetically enthusiastic about books they love.

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? 

I grew up in a small conservative town, and this meant queer media was either discouraged or inaccessible. It took me a while to discover my own identity, which I did through nerd spaces and the safety of creating my own stories.

I love the found-family trope (especially featuring queer characters!) because it reflects much of my experience in nerd culture. These communities celebrate individualism and acceptance, so they tend to have a higher concentration of LGBTQ+ people.

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

Gaming has been a big one for me, since I love the immersive, player-driven exploration of RPG video games and the collaborative storytelling of tabletop and LARP. You learn a lot about yourself and your friends while gaming—you’re creating characters that aren’t quite you, and reacting under pressure to a variety of fictional scenarios. While these scenarios haven’t directly influenced my stories, they’ve provided a great perspective on developing characters and their interactions.

When it comes to writing style and storytelling, I adore the work of Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab, Tracy Deonn, Brandon Sanderson, and N.K. Jemisin.

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

I love writing big action, fight scenes, and snappy dialogue! It’s also fun to explore nooks and crannies of worlds I’ve built, and to set scenes through vivid descriptions.

The hardest part for me is pacing it all out. I tend to write plot-heavy stories with lots of content, so I often slam into YA word count limits. It requires a careful strategy to engineer the best possible scenes to make the plot, character development, and world-building unfold at exactly the right times. Weaving together all these plot threads is a challenge, and it’s one of the reasons I’m a bit of a slow drafter.

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

I’ve had a lot of miscellaneous hobbies outside of writing, and I think these experiences have been important to keep my creativity fresh (and to take the pressure off writing). I used to do hip-hop dance. I sometimes create cosplay of characters I love. I have a B.A. in history and political science. I lift weights. Most days, I explore running trails at a nearby park. I do much of my brainstorming while out in the woods alone, and it’s been great for my writing process.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Start writing for yourself. Writing a book is a long, uncertain, and lonely path, and the only guaranteed fan you’ll ever have—the one spending the most time with the story—is you. There’s so much work involved that it’s only worth going the distance for a story that resonates with you. Plus, writing something you love also means there’s a greater chance it’ll find readers who love it. So start with an idea you’re passionate about and pour your heart into it, even if it feels daunting.

Also, don’t feel guilty about taking time away from your art when you need it. Unless publishing is already paying you a living wage, or you’re under contract, you don’t owe this industry anything. It’s not worth sacrificing your mental or physical health to push creative work that doesn’t have your full heart.

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

There’s a small but exciting thing for the Requiem Dark series that I hope to announce soon! I also have a dark fantasy and a science-fantasy project in the works, both with queer lead characters. I hope to share those with readers someday.

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

A few recent faves are Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White, Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, and The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake.

Interview with Alyssa Reynoso-Morris

Alyssa Reynoso-Morris is a queer Afro-Latine/x Dominican and Puerto Rican storyteller. Her ability to weave compelling stories has opened many doors for her as an author, speaker, and resume writer. She is also a mother and community organizer. During the day she works with community members, non-profit organizations, and government officials to make the world a better place. Then she puts her writer’s hat on to craft heartfelt stories about home, family, food, and the fun places she has been. Alyssa was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her partner and daughter. She is the author of Plátanos Are Love, The Bronx Is My Home, and Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book. She hopes you enjoy her stories.

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

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

¡Hola! Hello! Thank you for having me! My name is Alyssa Reynoso-Morris and I am a queer Afro-Latiné/x Dominican and Puerto Rican storyteller. My ability to weave compelling stories has opened many doors for me as an author, speaker, and resume writer. I am also a mother and community organizer. During the day I work with community members, non-profit organizations, and government officials to make the world a better place. Then I put my writer’s hat on to craft heartfelt stories about home, family, food, and the fun places I have been. I was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, and currently live in Philadelphia, PA with my partner and daughter. I am the author of Plátanos Are Love, The Bronx Is My Home, and Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book. I hope you enjoy my stories.

What can you tell us about your most recent book, Plátanos Are Love? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

In Plátanos Are Love, a little girl learns about the ways plantains shape Latinx culture, community, and family from her abuela. The book begins in an open-air market with the following lines:

En el mercado, Abuela says, “plátanos are love.”

I thought they were food.

But Abuela says they feed us in more ways than one.

My love of my Abuela, her stories, and the food we made together inspired Plátanos Are Love. After the initial idea and inspiration, I did some research. Market research is important for writers because we need to write original and engaging content. My research revealed that there were dozens of picture books about potatoes, soup, and other foods, but zero books about plátanos. A book about plátanos and how our ancestors passed down their recipes, as a form of cultural preservation, did not exist so I knew I had something special. Fortunately, my agent Kaitlyn and my editor Alex agreed and then we got to work on bringing the book to life.

Do you yourself have any personal connection or story related to plátanos you would like to share?

I have been eating plátanos since I was a little girl so it is hard to pick just one memory or story… After much thought, my favorite plátano story is the first time my daughter ate a tostone. It was her first solid food and she was obsessed. It brought me so much joy to know tostones were her first solid food.

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

I wanted to be a writer since I was 7 years old because I grew up with my Abuela – the original storyteller. She had a second-grade education, but that didn’t stop her from telling the best stories that captivated EVERYONE’S attention. I remember looking up to her and wanting to be like her. I think she knew that because she would rope me into “helping” her tell her stories. I actually still have the first book I ever wrote when I was 7 years old with the help of my mom and share it with students during school visits.

I have done some cool things like building water purification systems in other countries, researching witness protection programs for the Tribunal of Rwanda, and organizing multilingual COVID-19 clinics at the height of the pandemic. But I love telling stories and never stopped reading and writing. I am glad I get to reinvent myself and that I am now able to focus more on my first love – writing.

I love writing picture books because as a mom and former teacher, I know firsthand how SMART and KIND kids are. It is an honor to write stories for kids, because they are the future. Writing stories rooted in LOVE and hope is my way of making the world a better and more empathetic place.

Can you give insight or advice into what goes into making a picture book?

Making a picture book takes a lot of time. Below are some steps involved.

  1. First, you need to come up with your idea.
  2. Second, you need to do your research to make sure your idea and approach are fresh and new.
  3. Third, write the book (keeping word count, voice, plot, character development, and literary elements) in mind.
  4. Fourth, edit the book. Share it with critique partners that can provide you with honest feedback.
  5. Fifth, edit some more. And then some more. And then some more.
  6. After all that repeat steps 1-5 with at least two more story ideas. WHY? Because to get a literary agent you need to have at least 3 polished picture book manuscripts.
  7. Sixth, write a clear and personalized query letter to get a literary agent. Keep writing while querying and mentally prepare for rejection. It is normal and NOT personal at all. There are hundreds of reasons why an agent might not offer representation. You got this. When you get an offer for agent representation. Make sure you do your homework and work with someone that will be able to advocate for you.
  8. Seventh, work on the manuscript with your agent to get ready for submission to editors at publishing houses. Keep writing while on submission. The rejection is not over yet. Keep writing and don’t get discouraged.
  9. Sell your book. Work with your agent to get you the best deal.
  10. Edit the manuscript with your editor.
  11. Let the illustrator work their magic.
  12. Learn as much as you can about marketing to get your book in as many hands as possible.
  13. Do it all over again 😀

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

Growing up, I enjoyed reading books by Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, and Jacqueline Woodson. Their books helped me feel seen, heard, and validated.

Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

A few fun things I will share are that I love to sing and dance. You can often find me by putting on a song I love and I will either start singing it or dancing to it or both. I used to sing for my church when I was a kid and was in the musicals at my high school.

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

A question I have not been asked is, “If you could add more to your book Plátanos Are Love, what would that be?” Picture books are short with a total of 40 pages including the title page and dedication page. I could not include a few more ways I enjoy eating plátanos which include mofongo, pastelon, and yaroa.

What advice might you have to offer to aspiring creatives in general?

If it brings you joy, please carve out the time for it. You deserve to be happy. Advice for writers is: first, read a lot. Second, keep writing no matter what. Third, do your research.

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

I have two more books coming so I will be busy promoting those too. On October 24th, 2023 my second book The Bronx Is My Home comes out, and my third book Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book comes out in 2024.

The Bronx Is My Home is a picture book celebration of hometown pride including the history, landscape, cuisines, cultures, and activities unique to this vibrant community. Welcome to the Bronx, New York, where you can see bodegas and businesses bustling on every street, taste the most delicious empanadas in the world, smell the salty sea air of Pelham Bay, and pet horses at the Bronx Equestrian Center. From sunrise to sunset, Santiago and Mami have many treasures to enjoy in their neighborhood on a beautiful Saturday, including colorful birds on the Siwanoy Trail and fresh cannolis on Arthur Avenue. This energetic and joyful family story offers both a journey through and a love letter to this special borough. The Bronx Is My Home is a triumphant celebration of hometown pride, as well as a heartfelt invitation to all, for readers of My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Pena, and Saturday by Oge Mora.

My third book Gloriana Presente: A First Day Of School Book is a bilingual picture book that features a Dominican American girl overcoming anxiety and finding her voice in the classroom.

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

  1. Belle of the Ball by Mari Costa
  2. Beauty Woke by NoNieqa Ramos
  3. The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
  4. Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega

Queer Creator Spotlight Pride Edition : Sereno by Luciano Vecchio

Happy Pride to all the LGBTQIA+ comic book and pop-culture nerds and geeks! For this installment of the Queer Creator Spotlight I got to catch up with Geeks OUT alum, Luciano Vecchio about his creator owned-book, “Sereno,” being published by CEX Publishing.

While I would find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t be familiar with Luciano’s work, he’s worked on books for both Marvel and DC. He’s drawn such titles as Ironheart and Iceman for Marvel as well as Teen Justice and Beware the Batman for DC. He’s done so many covers there would be too many to list here, but he’s worked on the X-Men, Hulkling and Wiccan, Spider-Man, Spinstress, Power Pack and Wonder Woman to name drop a few.

Luciano has recently added writing to his resume with both Marvel and DC Pride issue and the online Marvel Infinity Comics Iceman. This month saw the launch of his creator owned book written and drawn by Luciano himself, Sereno. I caught up with Luciano to talk about the importance of representation and how crucial it is for queer creators to tell their own stories.

Chris: Luciano, can you tell us a little bit about the origins of Sereno and how it manifested into the book we have now?

Luciano: It’s been a ride! It started as a weekly webcomic in Spanish, as part of an Argentinian collective doing creator-owned superheroes. As a creative exercise it pushed me to examine what the Superhero archetype meant for me, what could I say through it that I felt wasn’t said before, and in turn it made me find my voice as author and refine the way I approached the genre, my job and storytelling in general.

Sereno is a little bit Doctor Strange a little bit Wonder Woman. An interesting mash-up. Why did you go with his power set and characteristics?

Thinking of Superheroes as aspirational power fantasies, I wanted Sereno to represent the kind of powers I’d like to have, or that I’d like others to be inspired by. Complex three-eyed vision to perceive multiple dimensions of things, healing and empathic abilities, active but anti-patriarchal conflict solving. He’s a Magic Boy invoking his spiritual powers from the Moon, claiming for himself the traditionally gendered traits that we were taught to reject. His strength isn’t in being tough but in being soft and fluid. The kind of hero that tames the Dragon rather than killing it.

And it’s a power set that can be used in all kind of stories. He can have a Sci-Fi adventure and then a Vertigo-esque one and it’s all organic to his story.

For the book you chose a very specific color design. It’s quite stunning visually! Any specific reason behind the coloring style?

A few years before Sereno I worked on Cruel Thing, a series of goth graphic novels in Spain, which was all in black, white and red, and I found the potential of the one color limitation super inspiring and full of possibilities. So in Sereno I took it farther and experimented with picking one or two colors per episode to see what happens. It is an expressionist and poetic use of color accents in a world of lights and shadows, setting the mood of each episode and villain. And once the book was completed, it represented the focused decomposition of Sereno’s white light into one color at a time.

In terms of being a queer creator(writer and artist) what were the elements you absolutely wanted to incorporate into the story that the queer community could definitely relate to and why?

One of my obsessions growing up as male-assigned and identifying, was hacking the cultural notion of what “male” is supposed to be or associated with, so creating a powerful and assertive yet sensitive and soft male figure was a need. I don’t know if that is inherently queer, but I am and so is Sereno. So, on one hand I wanted that queer lead representation for me, for the boy I was and those who would relate to my sensibility, but I also fantasized about him being accessible and inspirational to anyone.

The villians in the story are avatars for very real emotions that we all have. Obviously, fear, obsession, paranoia are all relevant in the world-you angled them to the LGBTQIA+ community.  Can you speak to that a little bit?

Sereno’s Rogues Gallery is as important to the story as he is, this is a series of villain-of-the-week duels. So each villain is in a way, an anti-Sereno. And in the same way Sereno represents an aspirational power fantasy, his villains represent the battles we fight in life and for which we’d like access to Sereno’s powers.

It wasn’t so much an effort to think of issues of the LGBTQIA+ community, but instead working from my own personal experience and that of the people around me and being honest with the work so that it would organically resonate with kindred spirits. Which is the way I think queer rep in stories work best.

Can you tell us a little bit about the journey to get this book published? Why now? Why CEX?

It seems the time is now! I wanted this for so long, and at some point I had almost given up and was ready to be content with the local Spanish edition. Then during the pandemic quarantine and industry crisis that left me with a lot of unexpected free time, I redirected my energy to refine the English translation and get a limited digital release. That led to an agent (you) Chris Allo of Magnus Arts taking interest in the book and making the bridge with CEX Publishing, to finally manifest it physically. Meanwhile it also led to some writer/artist work at Marvel and giving me time to grow my visibility and audience, so in the end this is one of those cases where the road wasn’t what I wanted, but what I needed. Now’s the right time.

Besides creator owned, you’ve worked for DC and more prominently, Marvel. Can you tell  us what you’ve been working on recently?

I’m web-slinging a lot this year! Between Web-Weaver and Spinstress in the Spider-Verse, and I just finished Spider-Man 11, an extra-sized issue featuring Spider-Boy. I’m also part of the artists roster in this year’s X-Men Hellfire Gala, doing a lot of cover work and about to start a series we’ll announce soon.

I was also lucky to work with my main interest of queer representation in mainstream superhero comics in the last few years, like in DC Pride, Teen Justice, and as writer/artist in Marvel Voices Pride and my favorite, Infinite Comics Iceman.

Any advice for our queer creators looking to publish through Zoop or crowdfunding in general?

I admit I’m terrible at giving advice, and I recognize I was terrified of running a crowdfunding campaign for the hardcover collection, with no previous experience. But with the assistance and company of CEX and Zoop, and the audience support, it turned out to be much easier or less stressful than I anticipated. I’m still experiencing it, but I’m very happy with how it’s going so far.

How are you celebrating Pride this year in Argentina?

I live between two worlds, living in Argentina half of my attention is in the global north, experiencing international Pride Month and all the attraction, celebration and visualization of our fights through social media and my work. While here in Buenos Aires Pride March (one of the best in the world I’ll say) is in November, our spring time and usually close to my birthday, so it’s the best time ever.

Any plans for a follow up to Sereno?

This is a book that works as a self-contained story, and I like that aspect. But it’s always open to new explorations, like the extra episode titled Sereno and Rufián Pride Special. It’s mostly up to how the book does, but my main interest right now is for this to be a satisfying read that holds on its own.

Hey Luciano, thanks for taking the time to talk with me and we look forward to reading Sereno in the deluxe Hardcover Edition! Have a Happy Pride! Stay safe and have fun!

You can get your copy of the Sereno here by going to the Zoop website, link below!


Queer Quills and Nerdy Thrills: Glimpses Through my Geeky Glasses – Survival Horror

“I want to show you the New World Corraalllll!” -Rick Grimes, probably talking about books or something.

Busy Geek Breakdown (TL;DR):

Since things opened back up I have made a concerted effort to check out the many small local bookshops and ask for recommendations. I tend to get into a pattern of reading one genre for a month or so until I can’t stand it anymore, then switch, but I’ll eventually reevaluate. So here are the five books I took home for survival horror. I have mixed feelings on most of these, but I recommend you check them out for yourself anyway (unless you can’t stand survival horror, then probably don’t.)

“Manhunt” by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Fantastic Land” by Mike Bockoven

“The Last She” by H.J. Nelson

“Burn Down, Rise Up” by Vincent Tirado

“All That’s Left in The World” by Erik J. Brown

***So many Spoiler below……. but read it anyway!!!****

***Also, Content Warnings …. Seriously. So, so many content warnings. Most of these books are intense. I read them basically back to back to back, and now I am taking a long break. (CW: Guns, Knives, Pandemics, Graphic violence, Fascism, gore, disturbing imagery, psychological horror, strong language, dark themes, intense atmosphere, depictions of disturbing behavior, racism, transphobia, homophobia, Sexual Assault, drug use, cannibalism, and instances of animals dying)***

5. Manhunt

Book cover image courtesy of Macmillan Nightfire

The best way I can describe the experience of this book is a fast paced and gritty journey through Post-Apocalyptic Chaos, Queer Themes, and Unrelenting violence and a gore that you just can’t put down.

So here we go:

Listen up, folks! “Manhunt” by Gretchen Felker-Martin ain’t your typical post-apocalyptic tale. This book takes a swing at our messed-up world and shows how the toxic crap we sling in our everyday lives sticks around even when the whole damn system goes to hell. It’s a raw exploration of the human mind when the world’s gone to shit.

Now, Felker-Martin ain’t interested in giving you a breakdown of every little detail in this chaotic world. Sure, most of the communities got their own strict rules, but there’s still time for characters to kick back, smoke some blunts, and get all horny talking about their messed-up situation. While this gives room for some deep symbolic and thematic moments, the world itself could be built up a bit more. I know I’m a nerd, but I was left with a lot of questions … although not for too long because the book hardly let me catch my breath to ask further. Honestly, a lot of these questions started popping up once I finished.

The real threat in this book comes from the author’s gritty, sexually violent portrayal of zombified men. They’re like a damn nightmare unleashed on the pages, embodying what Felker-Martin calls “filth core” – a style that hits you right in the gut. Martin’s writing hits its peak in describing the messed-up bodies and violence of those poor suckers infected with the T-virus (and no, not like in Resident Evil, T as in targets testosterone). It’s like the darkness and brutality seep into your bones.

This story ain’t just about survival, though. It’s a backdrop for a deep dive into terfism as a form of fascism. Teach, the leader of the terf militia, is a tough nut to crack, but when she lets loose, Martin’s writing cuts sharp, revealing the complex emotions and traumas that push people towards such messed-up ideologies.

Now, the book could’ve used a tighter crew. Characters like Fran, Indi, and Robbie ain’t as fleshed out as Beth and Ramona. I loved the bond between Fran and Beth at the start, but as they get pulled apart, their connection starts feeling a bit arbitrary. It gets hard to find that emotional center, you know?

The gendered conflicts these characters face are real and in-your-face. They gotta hunt down zombies and chow down on balls to get estrogen and survive. And the virus messes with their transitions, leaving ’em stuck in a body that’s dehumanized by their own damn community. It’s a messed-up world, no doubt. Martin’s filthy, grimy prose style captures it all. It ain’t the most messed-up book I’ve ever seen, but there are moments that’ll stop you in your tracks.

This book ain’t holding back when it comes to trans women, cis women, terfs, men, sexism, fatness, or the unfairness of life. But all that brutality serves a purpose – it develops some deeply wounded characters. Ain’t nobody in this world without deep shame and anger. The trans protagonists look at their bodies and identities with unfiltered cruelty that hits hard. Now, this might be cathartic for some trans readers, but for others, it could be damn triggering. And let’s not forget the splatter gore – it’s a whole ‘nother level of nastiness.

“Manhunt” ain’t gonna be everyone’s cup of tea. It swings wildly from brutal violence to dark humor, from heart-wrenching reflection to awkward moments, and right back to violence again. But if you’re up for the challenge and can stomach the intensity, it’s a damn interesting read. It’s a gritty exploration of post-apocalyptic chaos, queer themes, and a filthy aesthetic that sets it apart from your typical survival horror books.

Side note, the only thing that ever really gave me pause was the description of the reconstructed Destroyer that the terfs get ahold of near the end. The description might be based off some WWII ships, or perhaps info files on what weapons can possibly be carried on a modern ship? But those are possibilities, that much fire power won’t fit on such a small ship, the buoyancy and metastatic center would be all off risking it capsizing, assuming the hull could take the stress, and there are other issues, but honestly, I loved the movie Battleship so in the end I had to tell my brain to shut up and just enjoy the ride.

And there was of course, some controversy, not just because the author dared to be trans and write very human trans characters, but because in her post-apocalyptic world J.K. Rowling dies terribly. I feel like she has enough money that she can buy the world’s smallest violin and hire someone to follow her around, but that’s just me.

All in all, “Manhunt” claws at your soul and leaves a mark. It’s a wild ride that takes no prisoners, and it’s not afraid to get in your face. So, if you’re ready to embrace the filth, dive right in. Just be prepared for the raw, unrelenting journey that awaits you.

4. Fantastic Land

Book Cover Image Courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing

Listen up, folks. I got a story to tell ya. It’s about this book called Fantasticland. Now, let me warn ya right off the bat, this ain’t no walk in the park (see what I did there? Eh?). It’s violent, creepy, and it’ll send shivers down your spine. I wouldn’t call this a thriller, although it does manage to build suspense even though you know some of the worst stuff is coming right from the first page. It basically avoids sex entirely, and there’s even several comments about how you would think a bunch of bored teens would be constantly boning, but apparently ain’t nobody got time for that when they’re busy killin’ each other left and right. That or everyone is collectively forgetting parts and/or lying, which I suppose is possible. Anyway, gender and sexuality, they don’t really come up. Missed opportunity if you ask me. So, it’s all about survival and the primal instinct kickin’ in.

Now, this book takes place in Florida, of all places. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse down there, with Ron “pudding fingers” Desantis runnin’ the show, we got a hurricane wreakin’ havoc on an amusement park, and unsurprisingly, the corporation in charge has not properly trained their people for emergencies, and values the potential for looted merch over their people. Talk about bad luck. But let me tell ya, it’s the Florida Man that makes this whole story remotely believable. That state’s got a reputation for some wild and crazy stuff, and Fantasticland fits right in.

The book’s told in a series of interviews, like we’re gatherin’ evidence to piece together the horrifying events that unfolded. You got heads on spikes, corpses floatin’ in detention cells, people being blown apart by actual pirate cannons (just how high would the liability insurance have to be in a place to have real swords and real cannons for the actors???) and enough blood to make your stomach turn. It’s like a twisted version of Lord of the Flies, told a lot like World War Z only with more rides and a hell of a lot more gore.

The author, Mike Bockoven, ain’t holdin’ back. He’s paintin’ a vivid picture of this nightmare, makin’ it feel all too real. You’ll be glued to the pages, gripped by the darkness unfoldin’ before your eyes. It’s a thrill ride of the macabre, I tell ya.

Mike Bockoven

I gotta admit, this book ain’t for the faint of heart. It’s a dark journey into the depths of human depravity. But if you’re a fan of horror, if you can handle the gruesome and the twisted, then Fantasticland is a must-read. It’ll leave you unsettled, it’ll make you question the fragility of society, and it’ll remind you just how messed up things can get when all hell breaks loose.

So buckle up, my friends. Get ready for a wild ride through the twisted corridors of Fantasticland. It’s a violent, creepy, and downright disturbing tale. But hey, it’s Florida we’re talkin’ about. Anything’s possible down there, especially when Florida Man’s involved.

3. The Last She

Book Cover Image Courtesy of WattPad Webtoon Books

This book was a gripping, if sometimes problematic tale of survival, identity, and love in a Post-Apocalyptic World.

Listen up, folks! I’ve come across a story that’ll grab you by the guts and never let go. “The Last She” is a thrilling post-apocalyptic adventure that delves into the depths of survival, identity, and the complexities of human nature. In this harrowing tale, we follow the courageous protagonist Lana as she navigates a world devoid of hope and confronts the challenges of self-discovery.

“The Last She” excels in its ability to create a vivid and dangerous post-apocalyptic world, where the survival of tribes is constantly threatened by the menacing horde. The author paints a stark and unforgiving picture of this reality, keeping readers on the edge of their seats. However, there are some gaps and issues that merit acknowledgement.

While the book does explore relationships and love, its very heteronormative and definitely falls short in depicting or even really hinting at man-on-man romance or even sex. This omission leaves a gap in the representation of diverse queer experiences within the narrative. Additionally, the book does not adequately acknowledge the existence and experiences of trans individuals in this post-apocalyptic world. This lack of representation is a missed opportunity to explore the complexities of gender identity and the potential impact of the sickness on trans men.

The nature of the sickness itself, with its focus on women (frequently referred to by folks as ‘females’ ugh) dying first and fastest, leaves some ambiguity about how trans people would be affected. The book could have delved deeper into the nuances of gender and the diverse ways in which individuals navigate their identities in this devastated world. By providing a more inclusive perspective, “The Last She” could have further enriched its exploration of queer themes and added depth to the narrative.

One of the most chilling aspects of “The Last She” is the presence of the horde (basically a roving band of ‘Alpha Males’, who’s entrance is literally paid with a fight to the death (not sure about recruiting or retention strategy but apparently the math checks out)– the horde presents a relentless, relentless force that looms over the tribes surviving in this desolate world, and the leader has a very Negan vibe. The author paints a vivid and terrifying picture of the horde, emphasizing the constant danger and desperation that the tribes face. It’s a stark reminder of the ever-present threat lurking just beyond their fragile existence.

In this desperate struggle for survival, the tribes without women must find alternative ways to meet their primal urges. While not shying away from the harsh realities of human nature, this is primarily filled with violence and destruction. It’s a raw and unflinching exploration of the lengths people will go to satisfy their desires in the absence of conventional means. This portrayal adds a gritty layer of realism to the narrative, highlighting the complex moral dilemmas faced by the characters.

Despite these gaps, “The Last She” remains a captivating read that immerses readers in a post-apocalyptic landscape teeming with danger and uncertainty. It delves into the depths of human nature, challenging notions of identity, and exploring the bonds that hold us together. Lana’s journey serves as a beacon of hope in this bleak world, inspiring those around her to find strength amidst the chaos.

H.J. Nelson

“The Last She” is an intense exploration of survival instincts, the human spirit, and the unyielding quest for meaning in a world turned upside down. While it could have addressed certain gaps and issues more directly, it still offers a gripping narrative that delves into survival, identity, and the intricacies of human relationships.

So, gear up and prepare yourself for a journey through a world on the brink of collapse. Brace yourself for a gripping adventure that will leave you questioning the very essence of humanity, while keeping in mind the gaps and missed opportunities in the representation of diverse queer experiences.

*Update* While writing this review, I found out that there is a sequel called “The Last City”. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m adding that to my list of ‘to read’ once I loop back around to Post Apocalyptic tales.

2. Burn Down, Rise Up

Book Cover Image Courtesy of SourceBooks Fire

This book was a Sapphic Love story with a best friend Monster Hunting adventure in a nightmare world inspired by real world events – (which I didn’t read about until after I read this book unfortunately – much like I didn’t know about the Tulsa Massacre until after I saw Love Craft Country …. I know, I know, Indiana Public Schools should be ashamed) the author, a non-binary Afro-Latine Bronx native, is a Horror Power House. So here we go …

V.E. Tirado

Listen up, folks! “Burn Down, Rise Up” ain’t your ordinary horror tale. This book takes you on a twisted journey through the dark corners of the Bronx, where disappearances are swept under the rug, and the monsters lurking in the shadows aren’t always what they seem. But what sets this story apart is how it shines a light on the strength of the LGBT and BIPOC community.

From the very start, you’re thrown into the chaos alongside Raquel, a brave young girl who’s determined to uncover the truth. As her crush Charlize’s cousin vanishes, Raquel can no longer ignore the eerie happenings around her. Joined by Charlize, these two fierce young ladies team up to face the unimaginable, while challenging the biases and prejudices that permeate their community.

The writing style is spot-on, immersing you in the dark underbelly of the Bronx without holding back. The author’s ability to conjure spine-chilling horror imagery and keep you on the edge of your seat is commendable. But what truly makes this book special is how it weaves the struggles and triumphs of the LGBTQ and BIPOC experience into its very fabric.

In the heart of the Bronx, “Burn Down, Rise Up” introduces us to Raquel, a courageous teenager navigating a world where the disappearance of certain lives goes unnoticed. When Charlize’s cousin goes missing, Raquel is compelled to take action. Together, these two young women embark on a perilous quest to uncover the truth behind the terrifying Echo Game, an urban legend that traps people in a sinister underworld.

As Raquel and Charlize face their own fears and confront the horrors lurking beneath the surface, the book delves into the experiences of the LGBT and BIPOC community in the Bronx. Through their resilience and determination, they challenge the biases and injustices that society imposes upon them.

Vincent Tirado’s writing style hooks you from the very beginning, painting a vivid picture of the Bronx’s dark history and the struggles faced by its diverse inhabitants. The narrative effortlessly blends heart-pounding horror with the indomitable spirit of the LGBT and BIPOC community, offering a fresh perspective on the genre.

“Burn Down, Rise Up” is a gripping horror novel that goes beyond the supernatural, capturing the strength and resilience of LGBT and BIPOC individuals. With its compelling characters, atmospheric storytelling, and a focus on marginalized communities, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat while shedding light on the challenges faced by those often overlooked. So buckle up, because this is one wild ride you won’t want to miss.

Ps. I will now think twice about riding the subway at night …

1. All That’s Left in The World

Book Cover Image Courtesy of Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins)

The best way I can describe this book is to quote the author himself, “I wrote this. So I think it’s definitely top five best books of all time about queer kids surviving the apocalypse. I also think you’d agree so give it a read!”

Y’know, in a world gone to hell, where the dead are walkin’ and chaos reigns supreme, you’d think there wouldn’t be time for love. But hold onto your hats, folks, ’cause “All That’s Left in the World” shatters those expectations like a bullet through a walker’s brain.

This post-apocalyptic tale takes us on a wild ride through a world ravaged by a super-bug that wiped out most of humanity. But in the midst of the turmoil, two survivors emerge: Andrew and Jamie. Now, these boys ain’t just fightin’ for survival; they’re discoverin’ a love that’ll light up the darkness and warm even the coldest nights.

If you thought the end of the world couldn’t get any gayer, “All That’s Left in the World” is here to prove you wrong. This book ain’t just a post-apocalyptic adventure; it’s a damn celebration of LGBT themes in the face of the undead.

Erik J. Brown

From the get-go, you can tell this book means business. The writing grabs ya like a hungry walker sinking its teeth into fresh meat. The humor, action, and suspense blend together like the perfect recipe for survival. Erik J. Brown, the author, knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat while sprinklin’ in moments of tender love that’ll warm your heart, even in the darkest of times.

Now, let’s talk about our heroes, Andrew and Jamie. These boys ain’t your typical survivors. They’re beautifully flawed, guilt-ridden, and dang funny. They meet in a world where hope’s in short supply, but they find solace in each other’s arms. It’s a slow burn romance, but trust me, folks, it’s worth the wait. Their chemistry is hotter than a wildfire and sweeter than a can of peaches in a deserted pantry.

What sets this book apart is how effortlessly it weaves queer representation into the fabric of a zombie-ridden world. It’s like watchin’ “The Walking Dead,” but with a helluva lot more rainbows and heartwarming moments. Y’know, if King Ezekiel and Daryl Dixon decided to ride off into the sunset hand in hand, kickin’ undead butt along the way. (Hey Netflix, I have a pitch for you …)

So, my friends, if you’re lookin’ for an adventure that’ll keep you up all night, “All That’s Left in the World” is your ticket. It’s got everything you need: bickering, initially friendly seeming midwestern fascists, real talk, sarcastic banter, and a whole lot of love.

But seriously, folks, this book ain’t just about the end of the world; it’s about love and resilience in the face of unimaginable challenges. So grab your crossbow, lock and load, and join Andrew and Jamie on their journey through a post-apocalyptic landscape where love conquers all—even when the world has turned to hell.

Interview with R. M. Romero

R. M. Romero is a Jewish Latina and author of fairy tales for children and adults. She lives in Miami Beach with her cat, Henry VIII, and spends her summers helping to maintain Jewish cemeteries in Poland. You can visit her online on Instagram @RMRomeroAuthor

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

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

I’m R.M. Romero, a fairy of fairy tales for children and adults who lives in Miami Beach with my orange cat, King Henry VIII.

What can you tell us about one of your latest books, The Ghosts of Rose Hill? What inspired the story?

The Ghosts of Rose Hill is the story of Ilana Lopez, a Cuban-Czech Jewish teen who is sent to stay with her aunt in Prague for the summer so she can focus on her studies instead of her passion for violin. There, she meets a ghost boy named Benjamin who has been dead for a hundred years, and a man with no shadow who offers to make all her dreams come true—for a price. The book came from my experiences working to maintain Jewish cemeteries in Poland and Ukraine during the summers.

It would seem that a lot of historical research has went into this book. How would describe the process and how it intertwined with you writing the actual novel?

I wouldn’t have been able to write the without having visited Prague and soaking up the feel of the city for myself. The first day I arrived, I went on a tour that was focused on the Nazi and Communist periods, and the guide pointed out Prague’s many half-hidden scars.Those scars stuck with me, and I found myself returning to the city again and again in my imagination long after I’d left. Most of the in-depth research was fact checking I did after I already had a draft of the book, to be honest!

The Ghosts of Rose Hill is said to be “a love letter to Latin American and Jewish diasporas.” What does it mean to you as an author writing this type of representation into your work?

As a Jewish Latina, I’m something of a unicorn. A lot of people hear about my background and say they’ve never heard of someone like me before! I didn’t intentionally set out to write a character whose heritage reflected my own initially. But the deeper I got into The Ghosts of Rose Hill, the more I realized it was a story about exiles, and that the idea of being in exile is such a key part of being both Cuban-American and Jewish.

What drew you to writing, particularly young adult fiction, speculative fiction, and novels in verse? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

Ages 12-15 were the most formative years of my life for me. What happened during that period and the interests and obsessions I developed during it have followed me into my adult life—and that includes poetry! When I started reading Dante and Sylvia Plath as a teen, I realized that poetry was more than the comedic rhymes I’d been exposed to in elementary school; it was raw and very real. The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Francesca Lia Block, Stephen King, and Brian Jacques were the authors who made me want to tell my own stories.

How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you as a writer?

I’m what’s known as a “planster” or a discovery writer; I mostly fly by the seat of my pants while drafting, but I usually know the general direction of where the story is headed. If I plot too much of the book out beforehand, I lose interest in it because I feel too confined. As for what inspires me, traveling, music and visual art help spark most of my ideas.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging for you?

I love exploring my characters and their journeys, and playing with language. I can sometimes lose myself in that language and character introspection, however. I have to remind myself that during action scenes, no one is going to pause to reflect on what’s going on!

One of the hardest parts of writing a book is finishing one. Were there any techniques/ strategies/ advice that help you finish a first draft?

A first draft is, to quote the late Terry Pratchett, you telling yourself the story. It doesn’t have to be good; it doesn’t even need to make sense to anyone but you. Once you have the bones, you can restructure it. But you need something down on the page before you can do that! I remind myself of that when I’m pushing toward the end of a novel.

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

How autobiographical is The Ghosts of Rose Hill? Answer: almost entirely.

Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I’m secretly five black cats in a trench coat. I’d live off of sushi if I could and have double jointed elbows. I’m happiest living out of a suitcase.

What advice might you give to other aspiring writers, particularly for those interested in writing novels in verse?

Trends and what’s popular change from day to day; what you’re passionate about doesn’t. So write what you love! I’ll always advise aspiring writers to read widely and outside of their comfort zones. Any format and genre, whether that’s YA, historical fiction, non-fiction or poetry, will teach you something that will make you more skilled at your craft.

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

My next YA novel in verse, A Warning About Swans, comes out in July from Peachtree Teen! It’s a queer retelling of Swan Lake that takes place at King Ludwig II’s fairy tale castle in Bavaria about a swan maiden named Hilde whose magic cloak is stolen by a greedy baron and a non-binary artist named Franz who can paint the truth of souls. My next MG, Tale of the Flying Forest, is also in the works! It’s a Jewish Narnia story about a girl who travels to another world to rescue her missing twin brother and find the pieces of his broken heart.

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

Recently, I’ve been into the poetry of Richard Siken, We Are All So Good At Smiling by Amber McBride, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, and Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack.

Interview with Alex Crespo

Born and raised by the Great Lakes, Alex Crespo writes about queer love, magic, and all the ways they intersect. When not writing, you can find him making art or daydreaming about Mothman. He currently lives in Chicago with an endless anime watchlist and his black cat Hex. You can find him on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram as @byalexcrespo.

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

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

Thanks so much for having me! I’m a trans Mexican-American author based in Chicago. I love writing coming of age stories centered around queer love, friends who are really like family, and small towns that are more than what they seem.

What can you tell us one of your debut novel, Saint Juniper’s Folly? What was the inspiration for this project?

Saint Juniper’s Folly is described as Cemetery Boys meets The Haunting of Bly Manor, a queer haunted house mystery that’s perfect for found family fans, romance lovers, and anyone who likes a spooky thrill. It follows Jaime, a Mexican-American teen who returns to his hometown only to get trapped in a haunted mansion in the woods. He begrudgingly accepts the help of Theo, the local type-A golden boy, and Taylor, a Puerto Rican girl attempting to unravel the mystery of her mom’s sudden death, to learn the truth about the estate and set him free.

The book alternates POVs between the three main characters, and they all have drastically different backgrounds and perspectives on this stressful, bizarre situation. On top of the supernatural dangers in the book, they’re each grappling with their own personal struggles. They feel suffocated by grief, other people’s expectations, and anxiety about their futures. I wrote the bulk of this book during the first covid lockdown in 2020, and I really wanted to play with this idea of how different teens might react to feeling trapped—physically and emotionally.

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

I grew up an avid reader and continued to love young adult fiction well past my teens, so when I thought about writing my own books, YA felt like a really natural choice. I was drawn to speculative fiction in particular because it allows you to explore conflict through a larger-than-life lens. For a lot of teens, the struggles in their lives feel monumental—they’re experiencing so many big changes and interpersonal issues for the first time, and that’s terrifying. Amplifying those everyday emotions through magic and metaphor is a great way to honor and validate those big feelings, and I love that specfic allows me to do that.

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?

Honestly, I don’t remember reading many books with queer or latino representation when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw more titles with characters who shared my identity popping up, and that was a game changer for me both as a reader and aspiring author. Now I’m really excited to carry that torch and bring more diverse representation to readers through my own writing.

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

The biggest influence on my writing right now comes from TV. A lot of times I’ll start watching a show to unwind but end up taking notes on characterization and pacing instead. K-dramas in particular have taught me so much about concise storytelling and the elements of swoon-worthy romance. I’ve also watched a lot of seinen anime recently. I love how the genre unpacks moral dilemmas and philosophical themes with a lot of nuance.

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

I have the most fun writing dialogue and intimate, emotionally-charged moments between characters. I try to write chronologically, but sometimes I jump ahead to write banter and tension because it feels like such a treat. On the flip side, sometimes choreographing movement during scenes feels like a drag. Hats off to authors who love writing action sequences, please teach me your ways.

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

When I’m not writing, I’m making art. It’s one of the only things that fully quiets my brain and lets me relax. That, and reading copious amounts of fanfiction.

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)?

Oh, that’s so fun. I wish someone asked what song I’d choose as the theme for Saint Juniper’s Folly. It would definitely be “Frozen Pines” by Lord Huron. I listened to Strange Trails nonstop while writing the book, so that album will always have a special place in my heart.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Make time for daydreaming in your day to day life. It’s really hard to fill your creative well if you don’t give your brain time to breathe and wander. Also, never be ashamed of having lofty goals when it comes to your art. Own it and don’t be afraid to be seen trying.

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

Yes, I have another queer paranormal mystery coming in spring 2025! Four teens track down a local cryptid that’s feeding off secrets before their own hidden truths are exposed to their coastal Oregon town. It’s got a full cast of messy, lovable lgbt+ characters that I can’t wait to introduce to readers.

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

I just read A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall, a historical romance featuring a trans heroine, and it blew me away. Every facet of the story is handled with so much care and tenderness, I’m already itching to reread it. Racquel Marie and Jonny Garza Villa both have YA romances coming out soon that look incredible, so those are next on my list.

Rebelle Re-Views: ‘Hook’ and Where Magic Comes From

In jolly ol’ London Town where I’ve been residing off and on for the past year Spring is just beginning to get into its groove despite it being nearly summertime, foxes are pooping in forgotten pint glasses outside the pub, and an old rich white man was draped in gold and stolen precious gems in a grotesque ritual – paid for by the taxpayer – to seal his “destiny” to remain an old rich white man. Amidst this backdrop I decided to rewatch Hook, the 1991, Steven Spielberg-directed epic adventure sequel to J.M. Barrie’s  guide on how to cope with life and avoid death in unhealthy ways, “Peter Pan.” As a kid I loved the idea of a continuation of well-known fairytales and with enough of a nod to the 1953 animated Disney film to not feel confusing to my tiny brain, it seemed a plausible imagining of what could have happened in the years following the Darling children touching back down to earth from Neverland. The rewatch was an altogether pleasant one. I welled up at the sight of Williams, felt appropriately critical of the boring and outdated tropes and roles written for the girls/women/fairy, and bubbled with pure unadulterated joy with every Where’s Waldo cameo of an actor or musician I would not have recognized at first watch at 5-7 years old. What took me by surprise however, was neither my feelings about the film nor any bright bulb of insight after viewing it again after so long, but in what I found as I was doing more research on it for this post. 

The Lost Boys give zero f*cks about critics. Dante Basco, Jasen Fisher, Bogdan Georghe, Raushan Hammond, James Madio, Isaiah Robinson, Ahmad Stoner , Thomas Tulak , and Alex Zuckerman in Hook (1991)

One quick Google search and I was inundated with titles of articles proclaiming Hook to be a complete disaster while the more positive reviews are framed not as standalone’s but defenses against the onslaught of negative critique. The film has a spit take-worthy 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but when speaking to folks IRL there is nothing but fondness for it. So, what gives? Based on the implications in some of these reviews one would think an atrocity of filmmaking had occurred. Some critics felt bored by the timing with others just not caring for the plot itself. Film critic icon Roger Ebert’s original review’s only specific feedback was a wish that Neverland felt more magical instead of like he was watching people on a movie set. Fair enough. This all got me wondering about mediocrity: who gets to determine what is mediocre, why, and whether it’s as bad a thing as the messaging we get proclaims (I, personally, nominate Brett White based on this fantastically queer review from 2020). In the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg, Hook falls smack in the middle of the transition from the Indiana Jones blockbusters and into a more grand and serious era of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Hook doesn’t have the same masterful sheen of these other films compared to so many others in what had already been a storied directorial career. What it does have is some good fun and the most interesting of the “Peter Pan” imaginings in the last 30 years. 

Hook has us checking in on Peter Pan’s (Robin Williams) life post-Neverland as a Grownup™. In this magical realism-imbued world, Pan is now Peter Banning a tightly wound lawyer with a wife, two children, and thicc cell phone with a guy named Brad who lives on the other line. Banning has fully succumbed to corporate American life at the steep price of losing memories of his previous one and in so doing, losing touch with himself and his ability to connect with others. Banning develops a palpable fear of flying and seems almost allergic to play based on the instant inflammation he develops around it. Banning’s journey back to his story and authenticity begins when Captain JAS Hook (Dustin Hoffman) sensing his return to London, kidnaps Banning’s children Jack (Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (Amber Scott) as the adults are out at an event celebrating Granny Wendy (Maggie Smith) and her devotion to finding families for the orphans she took in throughout her life. As many middle-aged coming-of-age stories go, Banning is put through his paces in silly and heartfelt ways. He eventually saves his children with a new lease on life remembering what makes it worth living is presence and joy. Tale as old as time (different Disney fairytale adaptation, but you get it). 

Peter Pan/Banning (Robin Williams) faces nemesis Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) in Hook (1991)

There’s a reason why these stories are timeless. In each stage of a person’s life that message can continue to resonate presumably with more depth and complexity as time goes on. For a kid watching this film it could be a message validating that stage in their lives where playing and engaging in their imaginations are vital for their developing brains and immerse themselves  in the wish fulfillment of getting to exact revenge on adults who attempt to take the fun away from them. I still find it hugely satisfying seeing a bunch of kids get the better of adults in the silly ways: tomato torpedoes, egg guns with actual chickens laying ammo, and being as loud and goofy as they want. As for the adults, it can serve as a contemplation – as light or as deep as one wants to go with it – on the ways in which we either forget our own mortality or are far too aware. It seems apt that a story of Peter Pan’s growth is titled after Captain Hook rather than something like “Peter Pan and How to Find Joy Surviving Late-Stage Capitalism While Also Not Being a Terrible Parent.” Though Hook has been an adult much longer than Banning has, they’re now on a more equal playing field as Peter can look his sworn enemy in the face with more life behind him than ahead. As the former’s preoccupation with avoiding the ticking clock makes Hook’s grand-looking life actually quite small and superficial, Pan remembers a different kind of future is possible. Death may be a grand adventure or a completely debilitating thought, but what if we chose to pour that energy into making something of this one life? 

Spinning this tale of life, death, and magic is a stellar cast. The wild talent of Robin Williams with that familiar warm and mischievous glint in his eyes was the right choice to crack Peter Banning open and allow his inner child to burst forth from his corporate cage. Dustin Hoffman is magnetic and truly unrecognizable as the titular character. I was shocked at how captivatingly he held my attention now just as he had when I first watched that gilded hooked hand conduct cheers of loyal scallywags nearly three decades ago. He finds the exact blend of camp, narcissistic ineptitude, and levity to Hook that makes him both a commanding presence and joy to behold and eventually, see fall. The partnership between him and Mr. Smee (Bob Hoskins) was surprisingly tender as Hoskins played his character less as a bumbling underling but a caring companion or parental figure who knows Hook better than the captain knows himself. As mentioned before, the women’s roles leave much to be desired. They are are limited to 1. The mother (Moira Banning played by Caroline Goodall), nagging yet effortlessly beautiful so it’s easy to forgive the nagging 2. The matriarch who dedicates her life to caretaking others 3. The good girl and 4. The literal manic pixie who devotes her life to people who reject her and/or cannot love her the way she needs to be loved. The one-dimensionality of the characters and their storylines are unsurprising when considering the context of the period in which it was set, made, and the works it is based on but disappointing nonetheless. 

Maggie Smith serving granny in that iconic way that only she knows how at the ripe old age of FIFTY EFFING SEVEN (I just can’t even with Hollywood, y’all). Though missing the acerbic wit her later notorious matriarchal roles she still commands a room. Julia Roberts’s presence and megawatt smile, as well, rarely fail to light up the screen. But their talent feels stunted and underutilized in these roles having to play out some majorly cringe storylines. Granny Wendy just looking on as Peter Pan kisses her sleeping daughter elicit feelings of big ick and every awkward moment of Tinkerbell expressing her love and proclamations of always being there for Peter despite being blatantly rejected in horrifying ways makes me want to wrap an arm around her with an, “Oh honey…” and lead her in a direction far far away from that situation. The kids, Banning’s and the Lost Boys, are loads of fun. Full of sweetness, sass, although a tad too much anti-fatness trash talk. And of course, the world was introduced to Dante Basco and his multi-mohawked warrior skater boi, Rufio. Rufio held so much more real estate in my memory than he actually gets in the film, which is testament to a powerful performance by Basco. Though, I do wish his role was more fleshed out and as prominent as I remember it being. The last thing I’ll point out that I am able to appreciate much more as an adult viewer was catching all the cameos. Phil Collins! David Crosby (RIP)! GLENN CLOSE IN DRAG!? David Crosby getting kicked in the balls?? Pre-Goop Gwyneth Paltrow (not technically a cameo, but I still forgot she was in this movie)! High scores for overall fun and nostalgic value.

Gutless (ICON Glenn Close) in Hook (1991)

I don’t believe that every creative work people produce needs to be a work of high art, whatever that even means. Nor do I know whether it’s even possible to accurately compare one work to another with any kind of objectivity. An enormous part of the creative process and of developing skills is sometimes making work that’s not going to wow you or others. It’s going to play with oft-repeated themes and reuse boring and outdated tropes until another way becomes more clear. It’s a normal and necessary part of the process. So, when thinking about how poorly this film was critically received it reminds me of how warped our concept of what the product and purpose of creativity is meant to be. Currently, many of us are socialized to see it through a lens of profit or perfectionism, but the beauty of creation is in the messiness of the process. Sometimes the completion of one work is to develop more skills, to transition us from one phase to the next, sometimes the real charm and impact doesn’t hit til decades later, if ever. Just because what we make may not be what others want from us each time, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing or putting out there anyway. The real magic is in the making. 

Interview with Christine Suggs

Christine Suggs is an illustrator, designer, and comic artist. Their work explores the intersection of their identities, namely being a queer, fat, Latinx feminist who loves all things cute. They’re also way too into Pokémon and cats. They’re currently living in Dallas, TX with their super rad husband and insanely adorable pets.

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

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

Hello! I’m a cartoonist living in Dallas, TX with my cool husband, 2 cats and a dog. I am a little obsessed with the cats and I have the camera roll to prove it. I mostly make work about identity, particularly my experience as a fat, queer, Latinx person.

What can you tell us about your debut book, ¡Ay, Mija! (a Graphic Novel): My Bilingual Summer in Mexico? What was the inspiration for this story?

I’m half-Mexican, and with that comes a lot of experiences that make you feel like you don’t quite fit in with either world. I’m also not fluent in Spanish, which only increases that feeling of not being “Mexican enough.” This book is about the time I went to visit my grandparents and my tía in Mexico City for a month as a teenager. It’s really a love letter to Mexico, language, the biracial experience, and my mother.

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

I started with webcomics! I was super into Questionable Content by Brian Jaques; Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto; and the autobiographical work of Dustin Harbin, Lucy Knisley, Erika Moen, and Kate Beaton. I started making my own autobio comics in high school and college to process my feelings. Eventually I started posting them online and I really appreciated the connection I’d feel when sharing these stories.

How would you describe your writing process?

Oh gosh, it’s a lot of sitting around in a bathrobe, listening to moody music, and staring into space. I start with what I call “word vomit” which is just getting it all out on a doc, usually with bullet points. For this book, I also interviewed my mom to jog my memory on a few things. I fiddled around with the order of events to create a detailed outline – memory is a funny thing, so the book is kind of an amalgam of a few different trips – then got to scripting! I’m very flexible about page count and paneling at this stage just because I know once I get to drawing, I’ll have to make 100 little decisions, so the layout is bound to change. But I do take notes on what I generally picture happening, like expressions or actions.

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??

I’m an organization nut. I have a “Chalkboard of Doom” in my office where I divvy up the work week by week. I give myself padding before my deadline in case an emergency comes up. I also listen to my mind and body! Some days are gonna be really productive and I’ll go over my page count. Some days, not so much.

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

This is kind of why I made the book! In the 90s I wasn’t seeing anyone who looked like me on the cartoons I loved so much. This was the age of “heroin chic” and I was a chubby half-Mexican kid. I did love the Lioness Quartet series by Tamora Pierce. I still read it every few years for those great gender feels. Nowadays I love a quirky and soapy comedy, like Jane the Virgin, Ugly Betty, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

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

I have a degree in graphic design, so I think that informs a lot of my decision making in comics, like limited color palettes. Miyazaki was another influence; I tried to capture a lot of small, quiet moments in the book. Finally, I’m lucky enough to have a great online community of artists that I follow and engage with regularly. I love my internet friends and am constantly in awe of their work! Liz Yerby, E. Joy Mehr, Kate Wheeler, and Rose Bousmara to name a few.

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

Inking, hands down. It’s when your work really starts to look real. And the satisfying swoosh of when a line turns out just right…there’s nothing better. Writing always takes it out of me, especially with autobiographical work. I mean at the end of the day, you’re digging through a lot of emotions and even trauma and that can be rough!

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

Well, since this is a geeky place, let’s talk about Dungeons & Dragons! I’ve been playing with a dear group of friends for about 5 years now and it’s the highlight of my week. Right now, we’re in a space campaign and I play an agender robotic monk who accidentally became a druid even though they don’t believe in magic. I used to DM and I’d definitely recommend that as a way to practice writing and acting. And it’s a great way to make your friends practice using different pronouns!

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 do music you listen to when you work? It changes depending on what part of the process I’m in. For writing I curate a playlist based on that time period: ¡Ay, Mija! was a lot of broody Mexican music like Chavela Vargas, Vincente Fernandez and Jose Jose. Once I get to thumbnails and pencils, I switch to musical theater – Phantom of the Opera is particular fave. And then later in the process I can turn my brain off and listen to comedy podcasts like MBMBAM or The Adventure Zone.

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

Indulge yourself! Write fanfiction, read “trashy” novels, do whatever it is that fills your cup. Nobody wants to read a book that even the author didn’t like. Same goes for drawing: if you love drawing cats, keep drawing cats! Yeah, you’ll eventually have to learn how to draw backgrounds and it sucks, but it’s the fun stuff that keeps you going.

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

I was fortunate enough to get a 2-book deal with Little Brown Ink, so I’m already thumbnailing my next book! It’s based on my life but is slightly fictionalized. It’s about queerness, finding your community, and financial barriers to art education.

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

Well, I can’t recommend Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe enough. I know Maia is going through the ringer right now with book bans, but that book completely “cracked my egg” as far as gender goes. Trung Le Ngueyen’s The Magic Fish made me cry with its queer immigrant story, and Pslam for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers may be the most beautiful novella I’ve read in my life. Incredible world-building and two nonbinary main characters!