Interview with Ben Kahn,, Author of Elle Campbell Wins Their Weekend

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Jun 26, 2024

Ben Kahn is an Ignatz-nominated writer working in New York City with decades of experience writing for comics and videogames. Ben divides their time between working on their latest comic book projects, and playing with a kitty who would really rather be left alone.

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! My name’s Ben Kahn, I use they/them pronouns, and I’m a writer. In the past I’ve done lots of comic books and graphic novels, but now thanks to Elle Campbell Wins Their Weekend, I guess I can add novels to the list as well! Getting to write Elle Campbell was an amazing experience. I’m so glad we get to share this story with readers everywhere!

What can you tell us about your latest book, Elle Campbell Wins Their Weekend? What was the inspiration for this story?

Elle Campbell Wins Their Weekend follows non-binary 7th grader Elle Campbell on one unforgettable Saturday full of adventure and self-discovery. Thanks to the star of their favorite show, Elle gained the inspiration to come out to their friends and family as non-binary. And now, that actor is coming to town for a local signing! But when a confrontation with a close-minded teacher lands them in Saturday detention, Elle could lose the chance to finally connect with their non-binary hero. Thankfully, Elle’s two best friends have a plan to break out of school and sneak across town. What follows is a day full of mischief and sneaking around town while Elle learns how to stand up for themself and their identity.

My biggest inspirations for the book were my own experiences, and the works of John Hughes. I definitely tried to imagine ‘what if I had figured out my gender identity at 12 instead of 28,’ and then be as true as I could to my experiences and feelings. And then works like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were absolutely a large inspiration for sure. I really wanted to capture that feeling of a John Hughes-style coming-of-age adventure in suburbia.

As a queer and Jewish person myself I was excited to learn about the representation in Elle Campbell Wins Their Weekend. Could you tell us what it means to you to feature queer and Jewish representation in your work?

It’s important to try to put more representation out in the world for the simple fact that if we don’t tell our own stories, who will? It means a lot to me that this story is about learning to stand up for who you are, because in a big way, this book itself is me standing up for who I am. The more queer writers there are telling stories we’re passionate about, and that explore our own unique heritages, the more the world will see what a varied, wonderful, and fundamentally human experience being queer is.

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling?

Growing up, stories felt like gateways to magic. Games, comics, shows, movies – they could summon such powerful emotions and challenge my conception of what was possible in the world. And when I didn’t have something to read or watch, I would make up stories in my head to keep myself entertained. If I can take those stories in my imagination, make them real, and put some of that magic into the world – I don’t think there’s anything cooler.

As someone who has written both comics and middle grade fiction, what attracts you towards writing in these areas?

I love exploring all kinds of genres and tones! As a writer, I think it’s important to try new things and always be challenging yourself. I’d done a number of comics, and wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone by tackling prose. I always strive to have as much fun as I can when I write. I hope that the love and joy that goes into the writing process carries over into the reading experience.

How would you describe your creative process?

I try to start with finding the emotional heart of the story. What’s that North Star that everything else follows? Once you know your core, you can know how every scene and character relates back to it. Also, making the proper playlist for a story is a must. Having the right music helps me focus, and stay in the right emotional headspace for a story’s tone.

And then sometimes the best writing happens away from the keyboard. I often like to go for a run, and let the scene I’m working on play out in my head like a movie. Once I have it all fresh in my mind, it’s ready to be put to paper!

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

Oh, I think I watched the Rugrats Hanukkah and Passover specials until the VHS wore out. Rugrats was the only show where Jewish holidays took the spotlight, and our traditions and culture were taken seriously. It meant so much to me.

In terms of recent stories, Our Flag Means Death resonated very strongly. Piracy as a metaphor for personal expression and queer liberation in a hostile society spoke to me on a deep level. And Jim was such a wonderful non-binary character, and we always need more of that.

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

I would say my biggest inspirations in comics have been Grant Morrison and Brian K. Vaughn. Their writings embody endless imagination and intensely human characters. And on the prose side, there’s nobody like Terry Pratchett. Talk about a singularly brilliant writer. I also want to highlight stand up comedians like Jon Stewart and George Carlin. Even though I’ve never performed myself, stand up comedy has been a huge source of inspiration in developing a comedic voice.

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

The best is making someone laugh or making someone cry, evoking those powerful emotions. I feel like I’ve done good work any time I’ve figured out the wording and timing of a (hopefully) good joke, or a particularly hard-hitting emotional character beat.

I wouldn’t intertwine what’s frustrating and what’s challenging. A good challenge isn’t frustrating, it’s freeing and empowering. Going from comics to prose was a huge challenge. It felt like learning how to walk all over again. But with every chapter and draft, I grew more comfortable working in the new medium. It was a great experience learning what makes prose writing unique and joyous.

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

A deadline and a paycheck tend to work pretty well.

Also if you line up enough projects, you can just go from one to another and never have to stop. Then you can just sprint forever – a thing people can totally do with no long term issues, I assume.

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

Something to know is that I love to cook! I love making big dinners for my partner and friends. As writing has become more of a career, I’ve found it’s important to have a creative outlet that’s free of those outside pressures. Cooking has really become my way to decompress. Some recent dishes I’ve learned how to make are chicken marsala and coconut shrimp!

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 so glad you asked what my All Star Star Trek Crew would be! Here we go:

Captain – Pike

First Officer – Kira

Science Officer – Jadzia Dax

Medical Officer – Culber

Engineering – Rutherford

Security – Worf

Pilot – Sulu

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

I say write the stories you’re passionate about. Write what you’ll have fun working on, and what you most want to see in the world. Let your creative joy be your compass.

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

If people want to read more cool queer stories I’ve worked on, you can check out Renegade Rule, a queer pro-gamer girl graphic novel from Dark Horse that was nominated for a GLAAD Award. And then next year is the release of Dashing School for Wayward Princes, a graphic novel I made with Jeremy Whitely and Melissa Capriglione about a trans princess sent to a school that teaches rigid and outdated gender norms.

And if you’re a fan of the spooky and the creepy crawly, I’m on a podcast called Progressively Horrified with comic creators Jeremy Whitley and Emily Martin. Every week, we discuss a different horror movie, analyze its themes and politics, and have a lot of fun.

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

There are some wonderful LGBTQ+ comics and authors people should definitely be reading. Over in the superhero space, DC has a wonderful new trans hero called Galaxy who has been brought to life by Jadzia Axelrod, Vash Taylor, and Amancay Nahuelpan in the pages of Galaxy: The Prettiest Star and Hawkgirl: Once Upon a Galaxy.

Then I also want to recommend The Oddly Pedestrian Life of Christopher Chaos by Isaac Goodhart, Tate Brombal and James Tynion IV, a comic series about a queer, teenage mad scientist and his friends, and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. It’s about a prince exploring their gender fluidity, and it helped me out immensely when I was making sense of my own identity.

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