On Being the (Second) Drag Queen in the Marvel Universe

My Interview with Actor Terrence Clowe

Photo courtesy of terrenceclowe.com

Earlier this month, Marvel announced it will be expanding its podcast offerings to include several scripted programs and nonfiction shows. This makes sense, given the success they’ve had with their Wolverine podcast, which won the Webby Award for Best Original Music/Sound Design and the iHeartRadio Award for Best Scripted Podcast. Wolverine: The Long Night ran from September to November in 2018. The second season, The Lost Trail, premiered in March, with weekly episodes from July to September 2019.

The Lost Trail’s third episode, “The Cold Blooded,” contained a nice surprise for LGBTQ X-Fans. It introduced the character of Flamingeaux, a drag queen compatriot of Logan whose as good with a gun as a one-liner. Joking about him being grumpy and calling the titular mutant “Lo-Lo,” Flamingeaux proves to be a resourceful ally in the fight for mutant freedom with hints of a rich backstory.

Actor Terrence Clowe performed the voice of Flamingeaux, and, though he only appears for a few minutes, he leaves a distinct impression, and not just lipstick smears on “Lo-Lo”’s cheek. I contacted Mr. Clowe via email to see if he’d like to share more about the role, Flamingeaux’s place in the wider Marvel Universe, and what it’s like to be the (second) drag queen in the X-Men canon.

How did this role come to your attention? What was the audition process like? Was there anything in particular that attracted you to the role?

I initially received the audition through my manager. It was a bit daunting at first as they requested me to record two scenes and to prepare a song in the style of the character.

The character description was as follows: A drag singer who performs in the French Quarter of NOLA. In another life, he was a private security guard in a conflict zone abroad. But he left that behind. Now he’s a beloved performer who fashions himself as an advocate for oppressed people of all stripes. Fiercely loyal to his friends. Singing ability a plus.

So you see, I had no idea it was for Wolverine!

Having a background in musical theatre, I was up for the challenge and excited to audition for my first podcast. I had heard that podcasts in general were becoming more popular, but unless you are submitted through your representation and granted an audition it is pretty impossible to get in and be considered for roles. So, just getting an audition, I felt like I scored! LOL

I chose It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls as my song which I sang (down a few octaves) and envisioned myself performing in my favorite Drag Bar, the now-defunct Xes Lounge. I have to admit, recording it with my voice over coach was a ton of fun. The monologue resonated with me on a personal level, especially in light of our current political climate where so much division is being promoted and accepted. I found it moving and poignant. It was key to create these imaginary relationships and experiences through improvisation on my own so that once it came to recording there was a clear understanding of the text. Guess it worked out alright!

How similar and different was it to auditioning for a tv or film role? What was the recording process like?

In general, I prepared the same as I would auditioning for any role in any medium. Although it is voice over, having to define the wants and needs of the character were the same. I study with a fantastic coach, Anthony Abeson, who is big on identifying references to the past and character relationships so I put that to work. The recording process was thrilling. In most of the VO work I’ve done, I was confined to the recording booth and movement was impossible as you were hooked up to headphones in front of a microphone. Here, we were in a large booth were we were blocked and choreographed. It was so cool. During the fighting scenes I was literally hurling myself on the floor. During Flamingeaux’s on-stage performance, I was actually moving and dancing, and I entered my dressing room to meet Wolverine tossing a pair of high heels to the floor as I spoke of “getting out these heels.” I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Are you a fan of the X-Men or Marvel movies? Did you do any research to prepare for the role, like read any comics or watch any movies? Did you do any research into drag, New Orleans, or espionage?

Yes! The recent Black Panther movie is my favorite to date. Once I found out the project was Wolverine, I did some online research into the character and watched Hugh Jackman do his thing. I must admit I got distracted by his beauty most of the time. LOL My husband is also a huge fan so we generally go and see the new Marvel movies as they are released.

Hugh Jackman in Logan

I have dabbled in drag for different roles. Most recently for a TV movie titled Eye for an Eye starring Lew Temple from The Walking Dead. The release date hasn’t been set. I also love RuPaul. I remember seeing him perform at a club in the East Village back in the 90’s when I was at NYU called The World and thought he was so magnetic. I envisioned Flamingeaux having a bit of his flair onstage.

Wolverine has been depicted in a same-sex relationship in the past, though this was dismissed as having been in an alternate universe. Do you think it’s a possibility that Flamingeaux and Wolverine would be a couple? Did you intend to imply that? Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?

Hmmmm…it’s fun to think of a relationship as a possibility, but I felt they were only extremely close friends. I envisioned a situation where Wolverine had Flamingeaux’s back early on as he perhaps came out while on security detail and encountered homophobia. This created a bond that led to an undeniable trust where we now see Wolverine seeking his help and Flamingeaux willing to fight on his behalf.

Richard Armitage voices Wolverine in Wolverine: The Lost Trail. Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema

I was disappointed Flamingeaux didn’t appear again for the rest of The Lost Trail. Do you think we’ll see or hear Flamingeaux again? Would you return to the role, maybe in a tv show? Would you like to see the character depicted in a comic?

There was talk of it happening, which is one of the reasons he didn’t die during the confrontation [with Weapon X later in the episode]. I would love to see him in one of the franchises on screen, and YES I would certainly be available! I think it would be cool to see him have a life in the comics as well. He is such an interesting character with a luscious background, but I think ultimately seeing him again would be up to the fans.

Earlier this year, Sina Grace introduced the character of Darkveil in Iceman, vol. 4 #4, “seemingly Marvel’s first drag queen superhero,” according to the Marvel fandom wiki. Had you heard of this character? While there’s obviously plenty of room for two drag queens in the Marvel Universe (and hopefully many more in the future), do you have any concerns that people might consider her too similar to Flamingeaux or vice versa? Why or why not?

Frankly, I was not familiar with Darkveil. I personally think the more LGBTQ representation there is the better. Seeing these characters that are comfortable in their own skin kicking ass is amazing. I say the more the merrier. The commonality between the two of course is drag but I think fans will be able to clearly distinguish the two because their personalities and backgrounds are so unique.

Darkveil. Artwork by Sina Grace

Where can we see/hear you next?

Thank you for asking! I am in my first Christmas movie, A Christmas Movie Christmas premiering on October 27th on UPtv, Dish188, Direct TV338 7pm Eastern and 4pm Pacific. I play the role of Mr. Peterson and Scrooge in an endearing story of a woman who loves Christmas movies and gets magically transported into one.

Wolverine: The Lost Trail is currently available on Stitcher.

A White Guy’s Guide to Whitewashing

With Black Panther breaking records and the character promising to be the best part of Infinity War, Hollywood and geek culture are learning a lesson about the value of representation. Unfortunately, Black Panther will be appearing alongside my personal least favorite part of the MCU, Doctor Strange. Speaking of whitewashing, Hollywood is not the only entertainment source to learn the wrong lessons. Late last month, Netflix, fresh off its own fiasco, released the trailer for The Outsider, about an American trying to join the yakuza. Because why bother trying to adapt the thousands of compelling stories of real yakuza when you can just shoehorn in a white guy?

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Image courtesy of Netflix

In between these, it released a show that didn’t cause as much fuss as I expected: Altered Carbon. It’s a compelling if flawed show that has succeeded in not drawing too much attention to the fact that it’s making the white guy the lead in a diverse story. It reminded me of the abysmal live-action Ghost in the Shell movie that came out last year, which did everything wrong. Here are some key differences for future white creators to follow, so that they can pat themselves on the back. And then we can talk about why that’s wrong, too.

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Image courtesy of MovieWeb

DO: Allow your work to be steamrolled by another huge release and/or event the same weekend. Altered Carbon came out on Super Bowl Sunday and on the same day as Netflix’s other major science fiction property, The Cloverfield Paradox. I asked a friend of mine why he thought there wasn’t more outrage being expressed over Altered Carbon, and he admitted that he’d never heard of it in the first place.

DON’T: Announce your whitewashing years ahead of time with no recourse. Scarlett Johansson’s casting was announced so far ahead of shooting, and the outrage was fast and did not subside.

DO: Distract people with other, less important aspects of your show. In researching this article, I found more coverage of the nudity on Altered Carbon than its treatment of race. I found myself disappointed that there wasn’t more for me to enjoy in this regard, but that feels like a petty complaint.

DON’T: Pretend that base titillation gets you off the hook. Ghost in the Shell made much of the re-creation of the iconic shots of the Major nude in her cybernetic body, apparently expecting people to enjoy the tease of a semi-naked Scarlett Johansson. All that did was remind people that they were watching a white woman in a role that wasn’t hers.

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Image courtesy of The Wrap

DO: Adapt something recent and lesser-known. I wasn’t even aware that Altered Carbon was a book first, and had been published in 2002. It hasn’t had the opportunity to become a cultural landmark, though that might change with the show. Also, anyone complaining about whitewashing is being directed to the book, as if this should quell all criticism. It does not, but it does allow a completely different issue to hijack the conversation.

DON’T: Adapt a beloved work of art that is specific to its culture and known all over the world. Ghost in the Shell began as a manga in 1989, originally adapted to film in 1995, and is one of the most cherished of all time in both media. It has spawned books, three television seasons with their own devoted followings, and countless imitators (Altered Carbon among them; as much as I enjoy the show, I have referred to it as “Ghost in the Sleeve” to friends). It can be left alone.

DO: Seem genuinely hurt by even the hint of such accusations and promise to work against the possibility of further whitewashing. Speaking with iO9, showrunner Laeta Kalogridis talked about being heartbroken by Ghost in the Shell, and actress Kristin Lehman actually got “choked up” at the chance to “fully and completely represent…white entitlement.”

DON’T: Get defensive and angry about such accusations. I’m thinking more about the people behind Doctor Strange on this one, who complained about the “difficult position” they were in, not to mention actress Tilda Swinton, who sought out Margaret Cho to try and relieve her guilt for her.

DO: Give plenty of time to nonwhite actors. Altered Carbon is already being praised for having a diverse cast, and a lot of screen time is given to women of color and the previous Asian bodies of the main character. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than plenty of other shows and films, which is another reason why there hasn’t been as much outrage over this show.

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Altered Carbon actresses Tamara Taylor, Dichen Lachman, Martha Higareda, showrunner Laeta Kalogridis, Kristin Lehman, and Renée Elise Goldsberry (photo via Variety)

DON’T: Put all your eggs in white people’s baskets. While there were Asian actors in Ghost in the Shell, they were few and far between, and barely appeared in any of the promotional material for the film, if at all.

DO: Get the whitewashing out of the way early so everyone is on the same page. We know within the first five minutes that Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman is playing an Asian character named Takeshi Kovacs. The first time he looks at himself in the mirror, in fact, he sees an Asian man screaming back at him. An older white woman is also revealed to be a seven-year-old girl of mixed race descent, and we learn that this is a pattern for the prison-industrial complex and obscenely wealthy in the world of the show.

DON’T: Make it a surprise last-minute twist to try and absolve yourself of whitewashing in the first place. Ghost in the Shell ended with the Major learning she was in fact a Japanese woman who had been put into a white woman’s body, which meant any defenders of the film risked revealing a major spoiler, and any detractors had to endure two hours of a white woman being addressed as “Makoto” before essentially being scolded for not giving unearned benefit of the doubt. This was supposed to be seen as the fault of the military-industrial complex inside the film, but the audience knew the only corporation worth blaming was the studio.

DO: Acknowledge the legacy of white supremacy. Altered Carbon does not exist in a vacuum when it comes to the ignoble history of race in America. Rather than have ham-fisted dialogue or references, it shows how the wealth disparity in this country favors white people. Ethnic holidays are absorbed and homogenized, minorities are clearly excluded from the upper echelons of society, and white bodies are seen as the default by those in charge.

DON’T: Ignore the legacy of white supremacy. Usually, when people brag about how they “don’t see color” or complain about the “constant conversation about race,” they really mean that we should ignore everything about race, including the systemic prejudices that exist and continue to repress and harm minorities. There is a history that cannot be forgotten, and must not be wiped away so easily. We cannot expect real change if we simply ignore what has been done and continues to happen.

Can We Agree to Boycott Bryan Singer?


In 1997, Bryan Singer was accused by three underage extras, including a 14-year-old, of filming them nude for a shower scene in Apt Pupil. In April 2014, Singer was accused of drugging and raping Michael Egan in Hawaii at a party when Egan was 17 years old. In 2016, actor Noah Galvin alleged in a Vulture interview, in a quote that was eventually pulled, that Bryan Singer “likes to invite little boys over to his pool and diddle them in the fucking dark of night.” On December 7, Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a lawsuit against Singer for allegedly raping him in 2003 when Sanchez-Guzman was 17. This is an incomplete list.


When the first X-Men film was released (2000), I was still mired in a Christian worldview that bristled at the idea of gay subtext in popular media. Friends of mine, who had flocked to see The Matrix the year before, were refusing to see X-Men because the director was gay (though both directors of The Matrix have since come out as trans). Another friend likened Magneto’s plan to transform unsuspecting humans into mutants to “the Homosexual Agenda forcing its lifestyle on people” and corrupting our nation’s youth. They also objected to all the foul language.


It was a long, difficult road to my self-acceptance, but when I acknowledged that I was gay, I was able to enjoy that film and the second one on a whole other level. Bryan Singer became someone I could respect and admire. I thought he was someone young gay men could be inspired by. Instead, he was preying on them.


I was crushed when he was accused in 2014. Not just because of what had happened to Egan, or because one of my heroes had fallen, but I knew this somehow lent credence in the minds of my old friends to all their ideas about the insidiousness of homosexuality. “Gay men are child molesters or victims of child molestation” is a common refrain in that world, and here was further proof, as far as they were concerned.


When Egan dropped his allegations, I breathed a sigh of relief. If I’d bothered to learn more than that simple fact, of course, I would have had to face the hard truths I’m facing now. Like that the allegations were dropped on a technicality, or the reality of how traumatizing such court battles can be for victims. Eventually, some of Egan’s former lawyers apologized to two people he accused, and he was sentenced in 2015 for fraud. That this accuser might not be entirely credible does not mean he cannot be a legitimate victim. I turned a blind eye and went on my willfully ignorant way.


The other great lie the Christian Right loves telling about the gay community is that we’re a shadow network that conspires to corrupt children, covers for pedophiles, and take down politicians or preachers who try to stop us. Turning a blind eye to behavior like Singer’s practically validates such thinking. Kevin Spacey tried to take advantage of the gay community’s largesse by coming out of the closet as a way of hiding his admission of guilt in regards to sexual assault. Thankfully, other gay celebrities were not going to let him “hide under the rainbow,” as comedian Wanda Sykes put it. Nor should we let Bryan Singer try to do the same.


The gay community should be a welcoming place where people are free to be their best selves. Singer took advantage of that feeling, of his status and privilege, and turned it into something nefarious. He has irrevocably damaged the young men he has coerced and violated.


The day after Sanchez-Guzman’s accusations, the USC School of Cinematic Arts said it will remove Singer’s name from its Division of Cinema & Media Studies program known as the Bryan Singer Division of Critical Studies. But more must be done. After being found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl (whom he knowingly intoxicated), Roman Polanski lived in a Swiss chalet and won a Best Director Oscar. He might finally be facing consequences for his actions; we must hope such a reckoning takes place for Singer.


But what about his movies? Can we still enjoy them? This is more than separating art from artist. This is being complicit in a pattern of criminal behavior that destroys lives just so that we can have a few good X-Men movies. What message do we send to victims of abuse when we continue to enjoy the fruits of their abusers?


I can’t do that anymore. And none of us should. I’m not going to host bonfires of X-Men merchandise or beseech my friends to denounce Singer. I’ve written favorably about work he’s produced, but no more. He might be nothing more than a producer on X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but I’ll be skipping that too. I’ll never enjoy another piece of art that his hands have touched. Because admiring the art while loathing the artist allows us to enjoy what we want without considering the human cost, the harm done by the people who have made this art. If an attempted rapist creates something beautiful, we need to be strong enough to recognize it as ugly.

Daniel Dae Kim in Hellboy Is Better, but Still Problematic

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Image courtesy of Gizmodo

Daniel Dae Kim will play Ben Daimio in the third Hellboy film, Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen, a role previously offered to obviously white actor Ed Skrein. To Skrein’s credit, he turned down the role, saying, in part, “[R]epresenting this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories…I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately.” While Kim is unquestionably a better choice, he’s still not the best choice or even necessarily a good choice for a simple reason.


Captain Benjamin Daimio is Japanese American (and for anyone who hasn’t read BPRD, he’s also the grandson of the Crimson Lotus). Daniel Dae Kim is a Korean American actor who was born in Busan, South Korea and moved to the United States when he was two years old. He needed to relearn Korean for his breakout role as Jin-Soo Kwon in Lost.


Korea is not Japan. Japan is a large archipelago country that dates to prehistory and has a complicated relationship with the United States. Korea is a smaller peninsular country that has been the homeland from one to three kingdoms in the past, and is currently divided in two. They are geographically separate places with their own vastly different cultures, mythologies, languages, and histories. And the idea that there’s “no difference” must end. Sure, white people in this country might not be offended if they were mistaken for Irish instead of German, but see how that would fly in Europe itself. To act above such necessary acts of intelligence and sensitivity betrays one’s privilege.


In accepting the role, Kim said, “I’m excited to confirm that I’ve officially joined the cast of Hellboy…I applaud the producers and, in particular, Ed Skrein for championing the notion that Asian characters should be played by Asian or Asian American actors.” I don’t fault Kim for accepting the role. He’s a great actor, deserves his share of great parts, and has earned several awards. He has been vocal about the pay disparity between his white costars and himself on Hawaii Five-O.


I fault the Hollywood casting practices that have conflated the entire continent of Asia yet again. This is the casting equivalent of shrugging and asking, “Korean? Japanese? What’s the difference?”


It’s too bad casting directors didn’t think to call Ken Watanabe, Shun Oguri, Takeshi Kitano, Jin Akanishi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, or Toma Ikuta to portray Ben Daimio. If you think I had those names in my back pocket as some sort of “gotcha” tactic, they were simply the first six results of the Google search for “list of Japanese actors,” an action that took me all of two seconds, but was still too much effort for whoever is in charge of casting Hellboy. I would have used the results for “list of Japanese American actors,” but that includes three dead people and two women. As much as I would like to entertain the possibility of a female Ben Daimio, how awesome would it be to see Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mortal Kombat) in the role?

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Image courtesy of IMDb

The notion of the Asian monolith has proven persistent and is just as harmful as any other racist stereotype plaguing POC actors. The Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange was supposed to be in Tibet, but the set designer settled on “P.F. Chang’s waiting area” instead of drawing on any particularities of any of the 48 countries that make up a continent larger than North America. I’ll probably still see Hellboy, but Hollywood can’t be congratulated for doing a better job when that “better job” still amounts to racism.

The Best and Worst Time to Be an X-Fan

The X-Men hold a special place in the heart of every queer geek. And for good reason: the metaphor for outsiders scorned for being different who draw power from those differences is obvious enough, but we are now at a time when there’s always a comics storyline or video game or movie to serve as a touchstone, regardless of our biological age. Could the best time to have been an X-fan have been the very beginning, when the Civil Rights metaphors were fresh and new? They were popular even then.

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Sure, it’s worth half a million dollars now. But did you like them before they were popular?

For a lot of us, the best time to be a fan of the X-Men was in the 90s, when the cartoon aired on Fox. Objectively one of the better animated adaptations of a superhero property, it’s now painfully dated (which adds to its appeal, at least for those who grew up watching it). One of the best superhero arcade games came out the same year it premiered, and I still look for it anytime I visit a beercade. (I recently had to fight two co-workers over getting to play as Storm. No one wanted to be Dazzler.)


On the other hand, between Legion and Logan, perhaps now is the best time to be an X-fan. They both garnered an unprecedented level of critical acclaim for superhero stories (though no Emmy nominations for Legion, which is practically a crime against Aubrey Plaza and several directors). My husband even loved Logan, and tells me that Legion is very popular in Thailand. He shared a 10/10 review that he roughly translated as, “I have no idea what’s going on in this show, but it’s great.”

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After we saw Logan, he asked me about “the guy who looked like Voldemort,” and was answered with a detailed history of Caliban, an explanation of who the Morlocks were, and a long rant about how criminally underused Storm is. (I’m lucky he thinks I’m cute when I get like this.) All of this helped me appreciate the film on another level, because it didn’t feel the need to pander to any nostalgia or shoehorn in any fan service. ComicMix wrote back in April that “X-Men has become too old, too bloated, and is crippling itself under its own weight in continuity.” And if you got mad at my husband or me for likening Caliban to Voldemort when they’re obviously two very different characters, maybe you also would have appreciated being pandered to.


This illustrates why it’s also possibly the worst time to be a fan of the X-Men. The franchise really does threaten to buckle and collapse. Fan expectations are higher than ever, but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of enjoying great art, we’re nitpicking over devotion to storylines and character designs that are sometimes several decades old. I’ve read on Twitter about how Logan ruined the goodwill of First Class and Days of Future Past. (For the record: No, it didn’t. That was one of the many, many sins of X-Men: Apocalypse.) I’ve known some fans who gave up on Legion before it began because it lacked the main character’s gravity-defying haircut from the comics.

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Is this the Legion you wanted?

We can’t let our nostalgia blind us to what deserves attention, and we can’t let what has gotten our attention to allow us to become smug toward people who don’t know any better. I understand the frustration of discovering new fans. We were there for the missteps and the rebranding, and now that our patience and diligence have paid off, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to force us out! But this is all the more reason to be patient. Why be the reason they stop enjoying something?


We can’t ignore the quality of what’s right in front of us. Never before has there been so much great work, and hopefully it will inspire more. The Gifted premieres later this year, and The New Mutants will be released in 2020. The reception of those will probably be divided too, but I appreciate the bold decision to make the latter a horror movie. Such experimentation should be rewarded, not hamstrung by fan expectations; it’s the best way to create and inspire new fans of what could become but never should be a worn-out idea.


So maybe the best time to be a fan of the X-Men is the future.

Kickstarter We’re Into: Bingo Love

There is so much about Bingo Love, an 80-page graphic novella about two older black women in love, that feels unprecedented, including its subject matter, its intersectionality, and the speed with which it was funded. This is a comic unlike anything on the market right now, and deserves attention. I first learned of Bingo Love through my Twitter feed, and was immediately intrigued. I always want to know about any queer-themed comics that are being produced, and support them as best I can, and the image of two black women with gray hair cuddling over bingo cards was stunning. Launched on March 15, the Kickstarter campaign organized by publisher Inclusive Press reached its goal in only five days.

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The story written by Tee Franklin (who will be tabling at FlameCon 2017) concerns Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, two black women who meet in 1963 and become friends. Their relationship develops into love, but suffers because of the time period. It proves indomitable, though, as they reconnect several years later, and learn they are just as in love as older women as they were as teenagers. Jenn St-Onge is the artist who will bring these characters to life, accompanied by the colors of Joy San and the letters of Cardinal Rae. Erica Schultz is the editor.

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As quoted by Bleeding Cool, Franklin wanted “Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ meets Moonlight. We want to tell the story of women who are gay, Black, and in love — and who learn to live without apology. We also want to show that love and passion are present at every age — and just as intense for women in their sixties as for teenagers.” Franklin is the innovator of the #BlackComicsMonth campaign and started the publishing company behind Bingo Love to increase representation. In a recent interview with Comicosity, she explained why she chose Kickstarter as the method of producing this book: “There are so many strikes against this comic that doesn’t fit in this straight white male comics dominated world.” Hopefully, this comic’s tremendous success will change the industry and what it perceives as bankable properties.

As of this writing, Bingo Love has earned more than $31,000 of its initial $19,999 goal, and that number continues to climb. With more than one thousand backers, it has garnered media attention on Huffington Post and Book Riot.

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The Kickstarter campaign for Bingo Love ends Monday, April 17 at 11:00 CDT. Among the rewards are digital and print editions, enamel pins, postcards, and variant covers by other artists, including Genevieve Eft and Nilah Magruder. There are also script and portfolio reviews available from comics professionals such as Shawn Pryor (Cash and Carrie) and Bryan Edward Hill from Top Cow, and Skype sessions with comics legends such as Gail Simone and Steve Orlando. Let’s see what stretch goals we can unlock!

From Stonewall to Strange

A little more than one year ago, the movie Stonewall was released (I’d write came out, but that’s too easy). Supposedly about the riots that led to the Gay Rights Movement, it replaced the historic Black and Latinx rioters with the blandest cis white guy imaginable to tell a fictional coming-of-age story. The director, Roland Emmerich, partially justified this to Buzzfeed by saying: “As a director you have to put yourself in your movies, and I’m white and gay.” Apparently, there’s a shortage of white protagonists upon whom Emmerich can project himself. The real rioters of Stonewall were trans women of color, drag queens, lesbians, and other representatives of the gay community that are largely ignored by most media, the marginalized of the marginalized.

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This guy was not present at Stonewall.

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Marsha P. Johnson was, and deserves a better movie. (Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

Last month, the newest Marvel movie opened. Doctor Strange has the benefit of not depicting historical events, but it still contains a white actor in a role that is historically Asian. Even worse, the story is steeped in the “Shangri-La” myth, the idea of an “exotic” East that leads white people to higher levels of consciousness (while presenting a homogenous and watered-down view of Asian culture). These are throwbacks to Victorian ideas that anything as “mysterious” as Asia must also be “magical.” It’s the condescending, sanctimonious cousin to the “yellow peril” storylines that dominated Golden Age comics, and from which the original designs of the Ancient One were derived.

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Is it better or worse that a racist stereotype is played by a white woman? The question itself distracts from the fact that the story deals in racist stereotypes in the first place. Doctor Strange’s origin dilutes the importance of the culture presented; it becomes less about the people with mystical powers and more about the white person who reacts to them. One of the writers of Doctor Strange admitted that one of the reasons they made this change was out of consideration for the Chinese movie market, because they cannot acknowledge the existence of Tibet. Instead of changing the setting, or the main character’s race, or any other aspect of the story that might result in less outrage, they made the Ancient One white. (He later clarified that this statement did not represent Marvel, but the damage had been done.)

Finally, Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson is set to open March 31, 2017. There were reports that video effects were going to be used to give the GITS cast more “Asian” features — the CGI equivalent of slapping on a set of buck teeth and glasses. Though this was abandoned, the movie was not. This regressive treatment of people is shameful and the gay community should be among those expressing the righteous indignation that is the only proper response.

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Any defense of such marginalization to maintain a status quo becomes increasingly indefensible. It is obvious how offensive it is, and the only reason more people aren’t offended by it is because we’re all so used to it.

Gay icon Alan Turing was given a biopic (also starring Benedict Cumberbatch) last January that barely hinted at his homosexuality. There is also a history of straight actors playing gay roles and cis men playing trans roles. Thankfully, Stonewall did not do well at the box office. Unfortunately, Doctor Strange has so far grossed more than $600 million and is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. As much as I would like Ghost in the Shell not to do well, frankly, I have a sinking feeling it will be considered a success by those who made it.

This affects us, too, because so much of the gay community is also Asian. According to one study, ethnic minorities actually make up a majority of gay people. We are represented not just by a literal rainbow, but a physical one. This intersectionality means we should be the first to stand up for minority rights and representation. The stereotype of a weak, effeminate gay man has been replaced with an affluent, straight-acting, cis white man and is just as harmful. Worse, racism is well documented among us. The gay community transcends race, or at least it should; there are gay people of every creed and culture, class and race. We should be the first to demand more representation of everyone.

Interview: Emil Ferris

For anyone looking for a comic full of terrifying monsters both real and imagined, Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters can’t be recommended highly enough. Set in Chicago in the 1960s, it tells the story of a young girl named Karen Reyes, investigating the death of her upstairs neighbor, and learning about herself and the horrors of the real world in the process. One of her main sources of comfort and support is her best friend, Franklin, the most overtly queer character in the book. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters has rightfully garnered a lot of critical acclaim, and its impact on the medium is impossible to overstate.

Chicago native Emil Ferris is a fascinating person. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is her first graphic novel. The second volume is due out next year, but Ferris was kind enough to answer some questions via email about the first volume just in time for monsters to walk the street.

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Devin Whitlock: Franklin is one of Karen’s best friends and understands her better than most of the other characters, and she sees a beauty in him that the rest of the world ignores. Can you describe how you came up with the character of Franklin and the role he plays in the narrative?

Emil Ferris: Franklin evokes many people whom I’ve known, people whose true identity you might not recognize at first glance, but whose great beauty becomes evident as you “unfold” them.

Franklin was the very first character I saw in my mind’s eye. I was in a screenwriting class, and I had this vision of Franklin—a gorgeous but terribly scarred Jamaican man—opening his raincoat and giving shelter to a little Hispanic werewolf girl. “That was odd,” I thought, and then proceeded to write the first story of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, a scene which ends up occurring in the second book.

Franklin figures more prominently in the second book as well. He and his mother sort of adopt Karen. They run what we once called a “drag club.” It’s very much an underground establishment and a place that Karen feels very accepted within, especially when she gets out her notebook and begins transposing the faces and costumes of the club.

DW: Karen describes Franklin as Frankenstein’s Monster, which is reinforced by his name and appearance. Was this also meant as a subtle comment on his intersectionality as a black queer man? That he is composed of more than one marginalized identity?

EF: In the book his intersectionality—as you so perfectly identify it—is addressed, with special emphasis (as he tells his story) in the second part. I have a really sad memory of a young black queer man coming out and being utterly rejected by his family. It’s one of the most painful things I’ve seen, and sadly it still happens in lots of families/communities.

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DW: The sequence of Franklin commenting on the fashion in the paintings Karen shows him at the Art Institute of Chicago is wonderful, and an excellent display of the different styles of art that you employ throughout the book. This juxtaposition again reinforces the theme of unlike elements coming together, and Franklin’s perspective provides an insight that Karen hadn’t previously considered. At the same time, he has this perspective because of the very traits for which others try and condemn him. Does this relate to how there are “good monsters”?

EF: I LOVE MONSTERS and there is nothing more freely and beautifully monstrous than a person living at the complete height of their humanity, personal expression, freedom, and passion. Franklin has his issues—how could he NOT have them, being who he is in 1960s America?—but he has a fierce kind of sagacity and a survivor’s heart. Monsters, like people, do not often choose the circumstances of their birth or their creation, but they can live out their plight with an ennobling kind of grace and humanity. As Karen records in her notebook, Franklin glows with his own unique manifestation of wisdom and elegance. Franklin teaches Karen to accept her circumstances and— whether despite those circumstances OR BECAUSE of them—to be the most amazing monster possible.

DW: The scene in the subway in which Franklin is informed of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death but slandered by another black man is gut-wrenching, and foreshadows the advice that Deeze gives Karen about staying “hidden.” It also echoes some of the angry-mob mentality that one sees in monster movies, but also reflects the attitudes that led to Dr. King’s death. Did you intend for this scene to be a culmination of so many of your book’s themes?

EF: Absolutely. I remember being attacked for difference, and I remember observing it happen (subtly and overtly) to others. I remember the way people hid their identities and the way it was sometimes impossible to hide. These themes were things I first identified within the monster movies that I watched as a kid.

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DW: Franklin clearly understands Karen on a level that the rest of the school does not, having been the only one who found her Valentine’s Day cards funny. Would you say he’s drawn to her because he can sense that they have a sexual orientation in common? Or does it begin more out of a shared outsider status?

EF: Franklin is a very capable observer and has seen Karen’s unrequited love for Missy, who has subsumed herself into the popular girl crowd. This is something Franklin understands. Franklin doesn’t think too highly of the way that Karen clothes herself, outside of a begrudging appreciation for her individuality, but Franklin LOVES Karen’s ability to transfer the world into her notebook. Karen is at first simply curious, but she finds Franklin’s perfume enticing. Their shared outsider status might be obvious, and does unite them, and perhaps in a wordless way they sense each other’s orientations.

DW: Much the same way that Frankenstein’s Monster was a number of people stitched together, you blend many different genres (noir, horror, coming of age, historical fiction). Does Franklin serve as a commentary on My Favorite Thing Is Monsters?

EF: That’s such a great question, Devin! Yes, I think that Franklin does something within the narrative that no other character really does. As I’m writing about him, I realize he’s one of the few characters who is aware that Karen is keeping this notebook. Karen realizes within the first 20 pages that Franklin is completely aware of her, although initially he gives no indication of his awareness. He’s the one who gets her “ventricle” joke. He has a dark turn of mind and, like Karen, he plays his cards close to his chest. I think that although the book puts itself out there—how could it not do that, with every page being drawn, right?—yet still the book isn’t being explicit in certain ways. It’s what it must be (like Franklin, like Karen) and if that defies defining, well, the book and its characters make no apologies about that.

Among all the emotional states, passion is by nature monstrous. Knowing this and knowing that we are the monsters, passion wills out!—even if the result is idiosyncratic, obsessive, fetishistic, and just plain weird. Creative freedom is required at this sad moment in our history. We thirst for it, with a vampiric thirst! Weirdness? The more the better, I say.

Ferris views her novel as a monster form itself. Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)Ferris shows how her novel’s form mirrors its content. Unpublished art from the original submission package for My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. (© 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

DW: Crime comics and horror comics are your two most obvious inspirations from the medium, and a casual reader might think you overlooked romance comics, the other genre that dominated the industry before superheroes made a comeback in the Silver Age. However, so much of your framing in the art and story of Karen and Missy’s friendship reflect certain story beats from romances, particularly in the stairwell scene at Missy’s party when they embrace (albeit presented as a wolf monster and bride of Dracula). Was this intentional?

EF: I remember those comics, and perhaps I “absorbed” those as well as Noir and Horror (although I kind of hope not!). The set of pages that you mention is one of my favorite two-page spreads in the book. I loved drawing Karen and Missy in their monster forms, because their intimacy summons that from them and, in that moment, they crave and accept each other. I remember inhabiting that liminal space in regards to my attraction to girls and women. It was painful and quiet and kind of beautiful, and recently I really recalled that feeling while watching the movie Certain Women, a quiet, perfect film that really spoke to me.

DW: When Karen introduces Jeffrey “the Brain,” a young man with thick glasses, she pictures him seeing her as a giant caterpillar. Is this possibly a reference to the Golden Age comic villain Mr. Mind?

EF: Yes, I was thinking about some of those great cerebrally-oriented comic book tropes, and it’s cool that you picked up on that one, and now I’m going to have to go and educate myself about Mr. Mind, in specific.

DW: Your work has been described as Dickensian and your definition of monsters evokes Sherwood Anderson’s idea of grotesques as people who hold to one truth about themselves and let it warp them. Did you have any literary influences for My Favorite Thing Is Monsters?

EF: Yes, actually, Charles Dickens was one of my first literary influences. My grandmother—a great reader herself—sent me her collection of antique illustrated Dickens one book at a time. I not so much read them as absorbed them. I love that Sherwood Anderson quote. His idea of the grotesque is fascinating.

DW: One of the ways the past informs the present of the story is through Anka’s recorded interviews, but there is a raw emotional quality to your storytelling and an imminence to the events depicted. Did this blending of past and present inform the stream-of-consciousness style you employ for the narration? To what extent did current events inform your story and storytelling choices?

EF: The stream of consciousness was a tricky choice, and not one I was sure would work, but since this is a diary of sorts, it was what worked best.

In regards to current events, the weirdest thing of all maybe was that these present circumstances weren’t the events that were current while I was writing the book, and nobody could be more surprised than I am that this is the case.

That said, I will admit that while I was making the book, I experienced fear for a society wherein history is simply not being taught as it should be. In elementary education, it isn’t even called history; it’s a watered-down, toothless, grit-less concoction called Social Studies! (Whatever in the name of all that’s Holy that is, I don’t have a clue!) So, we’ve taken the fangs out of history—which could have been a tool for creating understanding and reflection—and made it something oblique and simplistic at best, but lying and propagandistic at worst.

Our actual history is fascinating, disappointing, and inspiring, and always challenges us to do better. It’s emboldening. But what we have now must not be all that engaging for young people. I’m certain there are good books out there, and extremely gifted teachers, but I doubt they’re in the majority. So, we wonder at the way that anger and fear and a sense of being cheated has overtopped the tolerance, empathy, and observational capacities of so many. Sadly, we must contend with people who are being manipulated to champion leaders who do not have their best interest at heart. They are being manipulated by faux news and outright lies that are thrust forward by a financial/militaristic sector that very cannily seeks to divide and conquer. This is something one might be able to have picked up on, provided one had any sense of history at all, but that isn’t at play here, and we must not allow ourselves to be steered into darkness by people who refuse to see.

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DW: Reflections, and especially eyes, are a recurring motif in your book. In fact, the only time we see Karen as she truly is, and not in the fanged visage she imagines for herself, is in a reflection at which Deeze forces her to stare. However, this allows her to be honest with herself and Deeze about her own sexuality. Would you say that a reflection or a persona has more truth than we would ascribe to it?

EF: I think that reflections and the fictions we create (or even the lies we tell) sometimes reflect more accurately on the truth than we realize.

As a writer, it’s interesting to be so omniscient that you can peer down into your characters’ souls and see the places wherein they delude, distract, or even lie to themselves. The question then becomes, “why?” And of course that’s such a great question to ask, because what follows is the story or—in the case of characters—the backstory of which the collisions (or stories) are created. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it makes you more aware of your own foibles and flawed nature. Hopefully it lends humility to a writer’s life.

I Came to Buffy 20 Years Late (and That’s OK)

It wasn’t until 2016 that I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It had been one of my biggest pop cultural blind spots for years, but I was as defensive about never having seen it as I was ashamed. I was aware of the very positive criticism it had received from now-Pulitzer-prize-winner Emily Nussbaum who once described the show as “emphasizing luminous genre myths.”

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I had watched some of the spin-off series Angel, because it seemed more mature and relatable, though that may have been my way of dismissing Buffy as immature. Also, an acolyte of Evangelical Christian and Republican political operative Chuck Colson wrote a not-negative review of Angel, describing it as a “flower in the wasteland,” which intrigued me. (Because I was a very different person back then.)


There was no magical argument that finally convinced me to start watching Buffy. It had become easier to resist watching the show with time, especially when I had heard that it only “really got going” in seasons 3 and 4. Being a completist when it comes to TV shows, I feel a need to begin with season 1, episode 1 and watch everything until the finale. I saw no reason to sit through two or three seasons of dreck to get to the stuff worth watching. This was an excuse more than anything else, because there’s plenty to like in seasons 1 and 2, but I didn’t know that at the time. So in 2016, almost 20 years after the season 1 episode 1 was first broadcast, I tried to attend a live performance of the musical episode at a local gay bar here in Chicago, and a friend offered to help initiate me into the first season. I became hooked almost immediately, and we began marathons of episodes anytime we could hang out. I would stay up late with my Netflix queue to see how cliffhangers played out or to re-watch favorite moments from episodes I had just seen. I even live-tweeted an episode and gained Juliet Landau as a follower!


There were many reasons why I didn’t watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer while it was being broadcast between 1997 and 2003. For one, my strict religious upbringing prohibited anything “occult” in nature. Vampires, witches, and demons, even if portrayed negatively, were corrupting influences allowing Satan to lead us astray. I have vivid memories of my grandmother frowning at a Tales from the Crypt comic I bought and dismissing it as “sinful.” Favorite aunts of mine had trouble with The Mighty Thor due to “paganism.”


Another reason I didn’t watch was that so much of it looked and sounded ridiculous to me. I know I shouldn’’t hold a show’s budgetary restraints against it, but I couldn’t help myself. I would get bored whenever friends tried to convince me of Buffy’s greatness by quoting millennia-old mythology about the Buffy-verse. (This was and still is a terrible idea, by the way; the best thing about this show is the characters, not the arcane world-building about classes of demons.)


Finally, I had something of a contrarian streak that made me kick against anyone telling me I had to watch something. In my defense, if this simple assertion was all I had heard, and my friends had left it at that, then maybe I would have started watching around season 3 or 4. I’ve admitted that I was not receptive and was shamefully judgmental, but it didn’t help when a former college roommate, red in the face, with veins bulging, screamed at me about what an essential show it was. When someone grabbed me by the shoulders and hassled me over not having started the show, this engendered in me nothing but a desire to get away from that person.


I’m glad I’m watching it now, and that’s what matters. But I would caution fans against being too insistent. Geek culture and fandom can be intimidating. I understand the urgency, but it can scare people off or make them feel “less than” because they haven’t gotten around to something. Our enjoyment and admiration of something doesn’t need to become gatekeeping, condescension, or hostility. Leave the gates open, and people will find their way inside. Even if it takes a couple of decades.


I recognize the show now for how important it is, not only to the television medium or genre storytelling but to individual people who learned about themselves and others because of it. I have no doubt it will be enjoyed by generations to come.


Do I regret not watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer sooner? Yes and no. If I had watched it back then, I probably would have nitpicked the special effects instead of enjoying their charms. I would have grumbled about plot holes instead of becoming enamored with the characters. I am not the person I was back then, and I can enjoy this show better now as the classic it always has been. I can laugh with my friends over poorly rendered CGI giant wasps and acknowledge the horror of nightmares coming true.

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This was scary.

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This was not.

I still disagree that I have to watch every episode, but I’m going to anyway. I’m not entirely convinced that it was essential to see the one with the papier-mâché praying mantis demon, and I can already tell that I’m going to be disappointed with certain plot developments in season 7. I was hoping to finish the series in time to write this article, but it’s kind of fitting that I haven’t. I have so much to look forward to. I’ll get to articulate my opinion on Dawn Summers, and I’m excited by the prospect of “Once More with Feeling.” There’s a joy of anticipation and discovery that has made the wait worthwhile.

A Conversation with Activist and Author P. Kristen Enos

On October 17, the Kickstarter campaign was launched for Active Voice The Comic Collection by P. Kristen Enos, subtitled The Real Life Adventures Of An Asian-American, Lesbian, Feminist Activist and Her Friends! The title comes from a column Enos wrote for the Blade Newsmagazine in Orange County, CA from 1994 to 1998. She described what it was like being an out and proud lesbian Asian-American while navigating hostile territory in the corporate world and life behind the “Orange Curtain,” a conservative backwash between the more progressive cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. I got the chance to have a phone conversation with her last week to talk about it further.

Active Voice: The Comic Collection: Real Life Adventures of an Asian-American, Lesbian, Feminist Activist And Her Friends!

This seemed apt, since Enos wanted the audience to feel like reading this collection would be like a “dinner conversation.” “I very much put myself in the shoes of the reader,” she said, choosing each story because people would find it interesting.

The volume is illustrated by four artists from three different continents: Casandra Grullon and Beth Varni from the United States, Leesamarie Croal from Scotland, and Derek Chua from Singapore. This was not a deliberate choice on Enos’s part. Instead, she made an open call for submissions from artists, making it clear that this would be a “labor of love.” She looked for a range of styles, and a versatility that approached a “more comic strip” sensibility. “I looked over what [the artists] were capable of, and chose what would fit.” She didn’t factor in any demographics. “I don’t know if any are LGBT,” she admitted with a laugh.

Enos is familiar with the comics medium, and did not give original columns of “Active Voice” to her collaborators. “I wanted to give them stories that had never been columns,” she told me. “About one fourth [of the stories in Active Voice The Comic Collection had never been columns.” For example, the story “Above and Beyond” was written as a collaboration with Heidi Ho, an Assistant Professor at University of San Francisco School of Law, who ran a “weekly rap group” at UC Irvine’s Women’s Resource Center in 1989. “I was sorting things from memory for a first draft and would have four or five revisions.” She started with a “skeleton script,” which led to “proposal sketches” from the artists. “We offered lots of feedback to each other before the final inks.” Enos did the lettering, and it was all digital. “I wanted there to be a good balance of art and text,” she said.

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Working from memory did have its drawbacks, as Enos discovered when she scripted one of the stories based on a previous column, “The Quilt at U.C.I.” about the debut of the NAMES Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt in Irvine in 1990. “The story was finished and the script was sent off,” she explained, but she had forgotten about how she had fought against an attempt at appropriating the AIDS Memorial Quilt for a quilt representing student organizations. “Thankfully I was able to rewrite the script before Leesamarie [Croal — the artist for that story] had done much work on it.”

This story in particular highlights part of why Enos thinks activism is so important. “People don’t know” how they may be hurting other people. They may have good intentions, but remain ignorant of how sensitive a subject is. That’s why she sees activism as an “opportunity for discussion.” She tries to raise “awareness of another way of looking at something.”

I asked about her legacy of activism and how that makes her feel. “I definitely feel a sense of pride,” she answered. “My friends and I did something, contributed to something concrete for future generations that was meaningful for the time and place, but it was a stepping stone.” She recently interviewed Las Vegas queer youth and learned that “personal struggles are very much there.” “It Gets Better is not that old,” she added. “People still have issues standing up for themselves; there is still suicide…A lot of change has happened in thirty years, but racist homophobic adults are still out there.”

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“Yes, this is the model photo for the cover” according to the Author Biography

Enos said the ultimate message of Active Voice The Comic Collection is “you can’t live your life expecting the worst-case scenario, but you won’t know if you don’t try.” “You don’t know how people will react.” She further explained, “You have to realize who your allies are…stand up for at least yourself, and give people a chance to stand up for you if you can’t. Give them a chance to be allies, especially if they are in a position of power.”

She has had a table at both Flame Cons and thought they were well put together. “I was impressed with Geeks OUT and glad [they] reach an audience and fill a need.” She singled out the intimate atmosphere at Flame Con as praiseworthy, noting it’s easy to feel “lost at mega-cons.” She is familiar with that, having created and moderated panels at San Diego, including “LGBTQ Year in Review” (which included Geeks OUT’s own Amber Garza and one on Queer Imagery in Animation.

What’s next for P. Kristen Enos? In addition to Active Voice The Comics Collection, she’s working on a graphic novel for her comics Web of Lives and Web of Lives: Demons and focusing on the arts as a creator. “I’m not interested in journalism,” she said. “I’ve been there, done that.”

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Active Voice The Comic Collection will be 120 black and white pages. Besides physical and digital copies, other rewards for contributing to the campaign are a packet of zines created by Enos earlier this year as a way of continuing her column and signed bookplates from her collaborators. The cover is a full-color illustration by Archie Comics artist Dan Parent. The foreword for the volume is written by Joseph Amster, a journalist and former editor of the Orange County and Long Beach Blade Newsmagazine. The Kickstarter runs until Wednesday, November 16 and has a goal of $3,000. I strongly urge anyone to give as much as they can and enjoy this book!