Interview: Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee uses her BA in history and her MFA in writing in increasingly engaging ways: after writing This Monstrous Thing, her Gothic fantasy retelling of Frankenstein, and her New York Times bestseller The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, she published Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World, a gorgeously illustrated collection of short biographies of little-known women from history, based on a series she started on Twitter. Her forthcoming novels include the sequel to The Gentleman Guide to Vice and Virtue, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Semper Augustus (coming in 2019 from Flatiron/Macmillan), and an untitled novel about Loki being queer (date TBD from Marvel). So naturally, we wanted to learn more about her!

 

Before you became a full-time author, you earned a BA in history and worked as an amateur historian. How did you transition from your academic pursuits to writing fiction?

 

Very easily because my writing was so not suited for academia! I had a professor who told me that my papers read like novels—which was not okay as a history student, but maybe I should consider writing historical fiction. So I was already writing that way. But when I started writing fiction, I also got to make things up! The biggest difficulty with the transition was feeling like I was giving up on my career as a historian. I had been working for so long on that degree and walking away from it felt like a huge gamble. Betting on yourself is hard and scary!

 

Were there any writers in particular who inspired you to make this transition?

 

I loved Shannon Hale’s books when I was a kid, and rereading her books as an adult was what really inspired me to pursue writing.

 

How much does your passion for history—and research—inform your writing?

 

Most of my books start with a historical phenomenon or weird fact or person that I become obsessed with. With This Monstrous Thing, it was Mary Shelley. With Gent’s Guide, it was the Grand Tour. For me, it always starts with history.

 

History (at least Western history) is dominated by straight, able-bodied, cisgender, white, male narratives? How do you challenge this or subvert it in your work?

 

I believe that everywhere in history that we are told white men are doing things, there were also women, minorities, queer people, disabled people, etc. doing the exact same thing… We just don’t talk about those stories. But they’re out there! You have to look for them, but they’re there! I try and subvert this narrative in the best way I can—by putting these characters in my books and giving them plot lines and identities that extend beyond their marginalization.

 

Can you tell us about your upcoming project with Marvel about Loki, a character whose canon pansexuality and gender fluidity has thus far been conspicuously underrepresented?

 

I actually can’t. I’m not allowed to say anything about the book right now! Sorry! But soon…

 

Are there any other works in progress that we can look forward to?

 

I have a book coming out at some point in the future called Semper Augustus, which is set in Holland in the 1600s. I also have two more books with Marvel about other anti-heroes. Stay tuned!

 

Recently there has been news from Variety, that Greg Berlanti, a very successful and openly queer film and television producer optioned your book as a potential project. How do you feel about The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue possibly being adapted into a queer historical television narrative?

 

It’s absolutely wild to me. There are still a lot of hoops to jump through before the show actually arrives on screen, but as someone who has long been frustrated by BBC period dramas with queer characters relegated to tragic subplots, it’s amazing to be part of this incredible movement forward toward more representation.

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Sapphire Put a Ruby On It

Geeks OUT Podcast: Sapphire Put a Ruby On It

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew) is joined by @TeaBerryBlue as they discuss Margot Robbie promising a diverse cast for the Birds of Prey movie, wonder if toxic fandom will be the undoing of the Star Wars franchise, and celebrate a special wedding on Steven Universe in This Week in Queer.

In this week‘s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Tea Berry Blue as they discuss Margot Robbie promising a diverse cast for the Birds of Prey movie, wonder if toxic fandom will be the undoing of the Star Wars franchise, and celebrate a special wedding on Steven Universe in This Week in Queer.

 

BIG OPENING

KEVIN: MI: Fallout director sites toxic fandom for not wanting to direct Star Wars
TEA: The NY Times spoils ending of Batman/Catwoman wedding

 

DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Ant-Man & The Wasp, Astonishing X-Men, Catwoman
TEA: Steven Universe, GLOW, Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Cap 

 

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Margot Robbie promises diverse cast in Birds of Prey

 

THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Steven Universe features Cartoon Network’s first same-sex proposal

 

CLIP OF THE WEEK

Trailer released for Wolfman’s Got Nards documentary

 

THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

Sony developing a Silk spinoff of Spider-Man
Keri Russell joins Star Wars Episode IX in action heavy role
A remake of Child’s Play is in the works
New promo for Teen Titans Go! to the Movies
Bloodshot starring Vin Diesel to begin shooting in August

 

TV

 Watchmen adds more cast members
Titans’s Robin sent a cheeky wrap gift to the crew
Lost in Space season 2 begins filming soon
Castlevania season 2 coming in October

 

COMICS

 Watchmen adds more cast members
 Marvel announces mashup character books spinning off Infinity War
 When Fantastic Four returns it will introduce a new female villain
 Shatterstar limited series is coming in October
 DC to promote Superman comics on TV

Mutant & Magical Boy—Episode 09: And I’ll Form the Head

Episode 9 – And I’ll Form The Head (Voltron Legendary Defenders Review) by Mutant & Magical Boy

There’s no shortage of thunder cats in this episode as we gag on ALL things Voltron. Featuring special guest Ashley/Melanin Popin’ Paladin, we dive into cosmic war Star Wars wishes it was. (That was read. fight us.) The sexiest villain you’ll ever know, Prince Lotor and some literal black girl magic.

Welcome to episode 9 of Mutant & Magical Boy: The AfroQueer Guide to Pop Culture! There’s no shortage of thunder cats in this episode as we gag on all things Voltron. Featuring special guest Ashley/Melanin Popin’ Paladin, we dive into cosmic war Star Wars wishes it was. (That was a read. Fight us.) The sexiest villain you’ll ever know, Prince Lotor and some literal Black girl magic. While the tea spillage is hot, we source some real life racial ramifications seen with the two warring civilizations, the Galra and the Alteans and the reveal is a galactic death drop!

The Geeks OUT Podcast: X-Men: A Rogue Wedding

Geeks OUT Podcast: X-Men: A Rogue Wedding

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew) is joined by @JonHerzog as they discuss the X-Men celebrating the wedding of an unexpected couple, our first look at Kristen Wiig in Wonder Woman 1984, and celebrate Kevin Feige promising the inclusion of at least 2 LGBTQ characters in the MCU in This Week in Queer.  This Week’s Topics Include: BIG OPENING: KEVIN: Teaser trailer for new season of Venture Bros.

 

In this week‘s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Jon Herzog as they discuss the X-Men celebrating the wedding of an unexpected couple, our first look at Kristen Wiig in Wonder Woman 1984, and celebrate Kevin Feige promising the inclusion of at least two LGBTQ characters in the MCU in “This Week in Queer.”

 

BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Teaser trailer for new season of Venture Bros. promises August 5 debut
JON: DC Comics heading to Walmart

 

DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Hereditary, Supergirl, Saga, X-Men Gold, Multiple Man
ALEX: Incredibles 2, Westworld, Drag Race, Luke Cage

 

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Teaser of Kristen Wiig in Wonder Woman 1984

 

THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Kevin Feige promises two LGBTQ characters coming to the MCU

 

CLIP OF THE WEEK

Trailer for horror movie Summer of ‘84

 

THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

Sony developing a Silk spinoff of Spider-Man
New trailer for The Predator reboot
Sony’s Morbius casts Jared Leto
First poster released to Glass, sequel to Unbreakable and Split
Jim Carrey may play Dr. Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog movie
New trailer for The House with a Clock in its Walls

 

TV

 Watchmen adds more cast members
 Comedic sci-fi anthology series Weird City from Jordan Peele gets ordered by YouTube
 Teaser trailer for Netflix’s Disenchantment animated series
 Trailer released new The Purge series
 Showtime orders series based on Halo
 DC formally announces new streaming service DCUniverse
 Season 2 of The Terror to take place at Japanese Internment Camp
 New teaser trailer for Syfy’s Nightflyers
 New character posters for season 2 of The Gifted

 

COMICS

Marvel’s secret X-title is Mr. & Mrs. X by Kelly Thompson

 

SHILF

KEVIN: Misty Knight
JON: Luke Cage

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Tonight on Sick, Sad World

Geeks OUT Podcast: Tonight on Sick, Sad World

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew) is joined by his boyfriend, Alex West, as they discuss CBS expanding their Star Trek properties, a potential revival of MTV’s Daria, and celebrate Linda Hamilton’s return to playing Sarah Conner as our Strong Female Character of the Week.

 

In this week‘s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by his boyfriend, Alex West, as they discuss CBS expanding their Star Trek properties, a potential revival of MTV’s Daria, and celebrate Linda Hamilton’s return to playing Sarah Connor as our Strong Female Character of the Week.

 

BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Jodie Foster rumored to join Y: The Last Man
ALEX: CBS looking to expand Star Trek properties

 

DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: The Magic Order
ALEX: Incredibles 2, Legion

 

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

First look at Linda Hamilton on the set of Terminator 6

 

THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom cut a scene revealing a character being queer

 

CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for Kiss Me First

 

THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

Love, Simon won Best Kiss at MTV Movie & TV awards
Black Panther costume going to the Smithsonian
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting rebooted again
Star Wars spinoff films reportedly put on hold
The Witches to be redone by Robert Zemeckis
Joker origin movie rumored to begin filming this fall
Fox to get more money from Disney in new bid

 

TV

Roseanne spinoff, The Connors ordered to series
Daria revival in the works
CW’s shows to premiere in October
Jason Ritter joining Netflix’s Raising Dion
Lucifer picked up by Netflix
American Horror Story to feature crossover of Murder House and Coven
Amazon orders Invincible animated series

 

COMICS

Stranger Things themed comics coming to Dark Horse

Everything is a Mess Right Now and We Need Queer Content

Pride is about celebrating where we come from, who we are and what we could be. Storytelling is a way we can explore ourselves and our community. Queer content exists, but need more of our stories told. More comics, more television, more movies, more music. If it feels like the already minimal representation we’re getting in Hollywood is shrinking, you’re correct.

 

GLAAD found that of the 109 releases from major studios in 2017, only 14 (12.8%) of them included characters that are LGBTQ. This represents a significant decrease from the previous year’s report (18.4% or 23 out of 125), and the lowest percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive major studio releases since GLAAD began tracking in 2012. Not one of the 109 releases included a transgender character.

We need diversity. Real, intersectional diversity. Diversity that acknowledges that people of every race and ethnicity can be queer. Diversity that acknowledges that queer people can also be disabled. That nonbinary, pansexual, and asexual people exist. That elderly queer people exist. That the queer community is made up of these groups of people and should be represented as suchnot as tokens, but as people who interact with their multifaceted identities within multiple communities.

 

Also, can we not end everything in tragedy? Stories about heartbreak and/or death seem to dominate mainstream queer content. Angst is a part of the mainstream while happiness and fluff seemed to be cast aside as somehow inauthentic. When depressing stories dominate the narrative, it’s hard to see a life outside of wallowing in our sad queer lives. It further drives home that anything that has a happy ending is unrealistic for queer characters. Why should they not have the chance to ride off in the sunset or live happily ever after?

 

Not every queer story needs to be politicized. Because by default we are political beings. Yes, the world is oppressive and sucks a lot, but that doesn’t mean that every story needs to focus on that. I’m not going around my day lamenting to my friends about the oppressive systems in place or how I’m afraid to hold my wife’s hand in public walking down the street. Those stories are extremely important, but they don’t tell the whole story. Sometimes a group of queer people can exist and do things without wringing their hands about how much the world sucks. We can usually walk the dog or grocery shop without bringing up our political identities.

 

We need stories outside of the ones where we come out to our families and loved ones. Coming out stories are critical to the queer narrative, but many stories leave out that we are constantly coming out to randos. This past week alone, I came out to a couple of new co-workers. Initially, it might be this grand gesture, but coming out can become mundane and not that interesting. Where is the story where someone has to come out to their dentist?

 

I want a story where queer seniors start a bowling league. Or group of trans dragon tamers. I want daring science fiction with a protagonist who is badass and queer. Epic tales that don’t solely focus on a character’s sexuality or gender identity. Queer characters that exist in worlds and universes unabashedly themselves, and no one questions it. Despite what is shown to us in the mainstream media, suffering is not the only authenticator of the queer identity and experience.

 

During Pride month especially, it’s important to look back and celebrate the various media that has shaped and defined our identities. They might use words that we no longer accept, or even cringe at, but it’s crucial to acknowledge them for what they are in our history and then do better. Let’s celebrate them by moving forward and expanding the narrative to include all queer folx.

 

Interview: Erica Friedman

Erica Friedman is the Founder of Yuricon, a celebration of yuri (lesbian-themed) anime and manga held in New Jersey from 2003 to 2007 that now exists as an online entity,  as well as the founder of ALC Publishing. She describes herself as an LGBTQ and Geek Marketing Consultant, and a proud holder of a Masters degree in Library Science. Last year, Geeks OUT welcomed her as a presenter at Flame Con, and we finally caught up with her to learn more about what she does and why she does it.

 

As the founder of Yuricon, how would you describe the responsibilities of your profession?

 

Yuricon as a community was founded almost 20 years ago on Usenet. We’ve had community spaces on every social platform since then—we had a mailing list that was founded in 2001 that we just closed up last year, MySpace, LiveJournal, now obviously Facebook, and I’m kind of thinking of starting up a Slack, but I’d need to get more admins than just me. I’ve run events in the USA and in Tokyo and traveled to events all over the world.

 

So a lot of what I’ve always done is promote and share and talk with folks wherever they happened to be, online or off. These days I most promote yuri by speaking at conventions (I was at Flame Con last year), school, and organizations.

 

How does yuri distinguish itself from other international queer female-centered comics, like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Color?

 

Yuri is a genre of Japanese media, specifically manga and anime. Our Yuricon definition of yuri is “yuri can describe any anime or manga series (or other derivative media, i.e.: fan fiction, film, etc.) that shows intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women. Yuri is not a genre confined by the gender or age of the audience, but by the perception of the audience. In short, Yuri is any story with lesbian themes.”

 

What are your current favorite examples of yuri manga (or other media)?

 

Most of my top series aren’t out in English, like Collectors by Nishi Uko or Gunjo by Nakamura Ching. But I recommend Sweet Blue Flowers, by Takako Shimura from Viz Media and Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl by Canno from Yen Press, which are out in English. In fact, I have a whole category of English manga on my blog Okazu and a category for Top Series of each year for folks who want some titles to take a look at.

 

In any fandom, there’s a bias toward male-centered narratives, even within queer fandom. Why do you think this is?

 

Men largely hold the social, political and financial power in all facets of society. They’ve got the purse strings, so obviously they dictate the terms. This is true globally. It’s not really anything to do with straight or gay. When women have equal access to money, they will tell their stories. As we’ve started to see in film. A lot of the editors in Japanese manga are women, but men run the companies.

 

Currently, there are several queer-themed anime events all over the country (because so much of the fandom in the US is queer folk) but relatively little canonically queer anime being produced. How do you think we can bridge this gap?

 

There’s so much more queer-interest anime than ever before. I mean, like amazing amounts. Yuri series Asagao to Kase-san (published in English as Kase-san) and Morning Glories by Seven Seas) is getting an anime OVA theatrical release in Japan, Yuri comedy Love to Lie Angle is out now and is streaming free and legally on Crunchyroll, Yagate Kimi ni Naru (Bloom into You in English from Seven Seas) has just been green-lighted as an anime. That’s three major releases in one year. That’s amazing.

 

But like the previous question, the answer is: money. The presumed market for anime is men. Straight men. Just like the presumed market for movies in the USA is men. It doesn’t matter that women make up a huge portion of the existing market and there’s an untapped market, white men make movies for white men, and do not understand how to react when movies about black people do well. When something like Free! makes a ton of money in Japan, the male-run studios make another Boy’s Love-ish series and then squeeze that stone. They don’t open up a division to make a dozen BL-audience appealing anime.

 

The US audience is not making anime, so we cannot change anything in relationship to this. As fans we can buy what we want to see more of. It lets the companies know what the market wants. That is the only power of influence fandom has.

 

How would you describe the current culture of LGBTQ fandom in the US? Is it different now then it was when Yuricon first originated?

 

It’s different of course. One of the things we’ve achieved in these last two decades is the creation of a whole new genre! Twenty years ago, yuri did not exist as a separate genre. It was assumed to be the opposite side of the coin from BL, which it isn’t. BL is a genre that has an assumed homogeneous audience of straight women, where yuri came in different forms, with different tropes from all of the different demographic genres of manga. So BL tropes exist to appeal to one specific audience, and yuri tropes appeal to various audiences varying ways.

 

The fandom has itself changed in age and identity. Younger people are more likely to identify as queer, less likely to have negative feelings about gender and sexuality in media. Anime fandom has mostly been young and open, in my experience, but it’s even more so, now.

 

How much do you believe queer representation in manga and anime is realistic or authentic in its portrayals of women?

 

It entirely depends on the individual story. Even the most ridiculous story can get it right and the most realistic story can get it wrong. Manga by and for women don’t always get it “right” for all women, either. I read a lot of josei (manga by and for adult women) and, for the purposes of the plot, people make idiotic choices all the time.

Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock

This twisty mystery could be your next obsession. Amazon’s miniseries Picnic at Hanging Rock is an adaptation of the Joan Lindsay novel (previously adapted into what has become a cult film directed by Peter Weir) about the mysterious disappearance of a group of girls at an Australian finishing school circa Valentine’s Day 1900. Based on the premiere episode screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, the series will be way more complex than even that tantalizing description suggests.

 

Fan fave Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) stars as Mrs. Appleyard, the enigmatic (to say the least) headmistress of the boarding school, who rules with an iron fist. From the very first scene, in which she poses as a widow scouting a potential home for the school (actually played by multiple houses, all ornate and gorgeous) and “converses” with her dead husband, we know there’s much more to her than meets the eye. The same can be said for the students, including rising star Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Mayhem) as Irma, the girl all the boys want, and Inez Curro as pretween Sara, who’s wound up at the school following some mysterious trauma at home. By the time the girls embark on the all-important Valentine’s Day picnic, there’s enough intrigue for a season’s worth of soap opera afoot. Irma and her clique excuse themselves for a mountaintop excursion, which they’ve obviously planned ahead of time—but why? Just how close are these girls, anyway? The shit suddenly hits the fan, seemingly due to some supernatural force, and the hour ends on a cliffhanger.

 

Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the weirdest things I’ve seen in a long time– and it’s glorious. Garry Phillips’s cinematography is exquisite; the costumes are colorful and eye-popping; the mostly female cast is superb across the board. Dormer in particular is in fine form, clearly relishing this enigmatic role. At the festival panel, she joked that she was dead set against “another corset job” but was persuaded by a chat with the director, and watching her sink her teeth into this part, it’s easy to see why! The eerie, hallucinatory effect of the program is enhanced by unnerving sound design and a great score by Cezary Skubiszewski. I am very much looking forward to bingeing this series, and based on the pilot, it could definitely catch on with a cult audience.

Review: Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley, my favorite feature from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival (and now available to stream), casts an electrifying Elle Fanning as the woman who invented science fiction with the classic novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Mary’s been portrayed on screen before, by the likes of Elsa Lanchester (who was both creator and creation in Bride of Frankenstein) and Natasha Richardson (in Ken Russell’s baroque and bizarre Gothic), but never before with any sense of realism, and certainly not in so feminist a manner as this movie.

 

Which isn’t to say that Mary Shelley—which, ahem, was directed by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour—is without style. It’s a gorgeously shot, meticulously designed work that dramatizes its real world characters with immediacy and excitement. Still reeling from the death of her mother, and stymied by the tyrannical presence of her stepmother, Mary is a misfit who buries her nose in horrific, “unsavory” books and has no one to rely on apart from her sister Claire (Bel Powley). That is, until she meets the beguiling poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), her father’s literary apprentice, and the two embark on a forbidden romance. Eventually the lovers run away together, taking along Claire, but happiness proves elusive for the trio. The mercurial, philandering Percy causes Mary no small amount of pain, and Claire’s affair with the enigmatic Lord Byron (scene-stealing Tom Sturridge) causes her equal misery. Through it all, Mary manages to persevere and put pen to paper for the masterpiece that is Frankenstein—even if she has to convince sexist publishers to take a chance on such a ghastly work for a female author. The inspiration for this monstrous tale is rendered in gripping cinematic fashion, by a “Phantasmagoria” stage show the characters witness and an eerie nightmare Mary has while staying at Byron’s Swiss villa.

 

Mary Shelley makes many such flourishes, and takes liberties with the truth—but it works, and the effect is beautiful. The poetic dialogue sounds like it belongs in an exceptionally witty play; it’s delivered by a great cast led by the excellent Fanning. Booth is appropriately beautiful and narcissistic as Percy, while Powley brings levels to the tortured Claire. Sturridge, as Byron, makes quite the impression on characters and audience when he greets Percy with a kiss on the lips; sadly, his bisexuality is left largely unexplored, save for a vague allusion later on. It’s forgivable considering how much material the writers (Emma Jensen and Al-Mansour) had to whittle down. There’s also a gorgeous score by actress/composer Amelia Warner.

 

Mary Shelley is a fast-moving, fanciful, yet resonant treatment of the life and talent of the famous author. It reveals a uniquely female perspective on love, loss, and sisterhood, and sheds a very modern light on the pitfalls of navigating a sexist world. Go see it.

Review: The Cardboard Kingdom

You’re not going to want to miss The Cardboard Kingdomthe new anthology-style graphic novel by Chad Sell. The listed age recommendation for Middle Grade is 812, but I read the book with my six-year-old, and he was just as enthralled as I waswhich is no easy feat! We talk about acceptance a lot in our household, enough that my son has already got the “Yes, mom. I know.”/ eye roll combo down pat, but the lighthearted way The Cardboard Kingdom covers some heavy topics never provoked that reaction. The colors are bright, the endings are happy, and while not every kid achieves #UltimateGlory in the story, it does offer lots of authentic insight. I felt comfortable reading it with my child, both of us eagerly turning each page, anticipating each new adventure.

 

The book itself is made up of several vignettes, each highlighting a new or returning character and their journey into the “kingdom” (literally fabricated with cardboard) of neighborhood friendships and play. The book is diverse without resorting to tokenism, and each of us found more than one character to see bits of ourselves in. My son found a kindred spirit instantly in Jack, a young boy who chooses to dress up as a sorceress during imaginative play, and I felt more than a few heartstrings get tugged while reading about Big Banshee and The Gargoyle.

 

While the tenderly crafted stories are what made this book memorable for me, the art is an absolute joy to behold, effortlessly blending the running theme with the tone of the book, without ever weighting the story down, or taking it out of acceptability for child readership. Each character is lovingly illustrated, and the comic switches from real life to fantasy are just fun. I giggled. Out loud.

 

So if you’re looking to bring a little sweetness into your reading diet, or if you have a child in your life who’s maybe been feeling a little too shy, a little too loud, a little too weird, or just a little too different from everybody else, this is a diverse though never heavy handed look into what childhood could be like if we all taught our kids acceptance and that differences are what make us special. I’d say it’s suitable for ages 660, and if you have an old bigoted 65 year old aunt? Buy her a copy!