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!