In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Bobby Hankinson, as they discuss the queer start to American Horror Stories, enter the ring in the new trailer for Heelz, and celebrate Michaela Cole joining Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as our Strong Female Character of the Week.
KEVIN: All of the Hollywood studios/guilds to require vaccination in COVID protocols, but Sean Penn wants more for his new show BOBBY: New trailer for Heelz
DOWN AND NERDY
KEVIN: Old, Snake Eyes, American Horror Stories, MOTU: Revelations BOBBY: Behind the Attraction, Shark Beach, 100 ft. Wave
Kalynn Bayron is the bestselling author of Cinderella is Dead and This Poison Heart. A classically trained vocalist, she grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. When she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family. I had the opportunity to interview Kalynn, which you can read below.
First of all, congratulations on your upcoming book, This Poison Heart. Could you tell us a little of what it’s about?
Thank you so much! I like to describe This Poison Heart as equal parts Little Shop of Horrors and The Secret Garden with a Greek mythology twist. It’s about 16-year-old Briseis Greene, a young woman born with a unique ability—she can grow plants from seed to full bloom in seconds. She’s struggling to keep this power in check when she finds out her aunt has recently passed away and left her a sizable estate just outside of Rhinebeck, NY. When she and her parents go up for the summer they realize that nothing is what it seems. The house comes with a specific set of instructions and a walled garden filled with the deadliest plants on the planet. Briseis begins to uncover her family’s complicated and deadly history while learning to lean into her own power.
Where did the inspiration for the book come from? Were there any music/media/ stories you were influenced by while writing this book?
Little Shop of Horrors and The Secret Garden were some of the biggest influences for this story. but I was also fascinated by the real-life poison plants in the Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. I wanted this story to have the feel of a gothic novel set against a contemporary backdrop. I love how atmospheric it is and that was heavily inspired by my love of gothic horror.
How did you find yourself becoming an author? Do you remember some of the notes of your own origin story? Did any writers or books inspire your writing journey?
I’ve always loved storytelling. The medium didn’t matter to me—music, tv, movies, theater, literature, I loved them all. I read everything I could get my hands on. One specific story was Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. My teacher read it aloud when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I remember having such a strong reaction to it and being unable to get it out of my head. It was the same thing with musicals. I watched Annie, Wizard of Oz, and Little Shop of Horrors on loop from the time I was little. A neighbor introduced me to The Phantom of the Opera when I was ten and I became weirdly obsessed with the Phantom. I wanted to know why this man was living in the sewer and why everybody was so scared of him. So I guess you could say I’ve always been interested in the parts of popular stories that don’t get as much attention.
I wrote my first novel when I was 19 and it was awful, but it taught me that I could start and finish a manuscript which, as any writer will tell you, is half the battle. Storytelling has always played such an important role in my life—stories helped me cope when things felt overwhelming, they provided an escape. When I sat down to write Cinderella is Dead in 2016, I wanted to tell a story that might provide an escape for someone else.
Along the way the work of literary giants like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston have inspired me to tell stories in the way that I want to tell them and to be unapologetic in my work. I return to their stories any time I need a reminder of what we are allowed to be on the page.
Besides being a writer, what are some small facts you would want your writers to know about you?
I’m a classically trained vocalist. I love musicals. I love Biscoff cookies and I really think they should sponsor me the way brands sponsor athletes.
How would you describe your writing process? What do you wish you had known when you first started writing?
I wish I’d understood that there are a lot of non-writing things that count towards the development of a story. All the time I spend thinking about the story, the characters, the setting, the world building—it all counts! In fact, I now recognize it as an integral part of my process. I need time to sit with my ideas for a while before I get them on the page.
For me it starts with an idea, or a collection of ideas. Once I have a good idea of the scope, I start a zero draft which is essentially just a few plot points in chronological order and some character work. As I’m doing this, I’m thinking about the story but it’s really just vibes at this point! No plot just vibes! Then, if I feel like a firm grasp on the story, I’ll work through a detailed synopsis and then a first draft. The synopsis acts as an outline for me and because things always change, I’ll write added scenes on index cards and lay them out and attach them to the outline. It’s usually not until I complete the first draft that I know my story and characters well enough to go back and really fill out the narrative. My process is always evolving and I’m always picking up new tricks and practices that work for me.
Your first book, Cinderella is Dead, is a Cinderella remix with some horror/dark fantasy elements. Why did you find yourself exploring/reconstructing this specific story and why do you think as writers and readers we keep getting drawn back to older fairytales when making new stories?
I have a lot of nostalgia associated with fairytales. I loved fairytales as a kid but it was painfully obvious that there was never anyone who looked like me in those stories. I wanted to do a Cinderella retelling that addressed the issue of feeling like I was an outsider looking in on this tale. I wanted to show the ways in which something as innocent as a children’s fairytale can be used as a tool of both empowerment and oppression depending on who’s penning the story.
I think we return to these stories again and again because there’s comfort in the familiarity of them but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be examined and critiqued, sometimes critically. As creators, especially those of us from historically excluded backgrounds, it’s important for us to be able to reclaim these tales on our own terms.
Which books or authors does Cinderella is Dead and The Poison Heart stand in conversation with?
I’d like to think Cinderella is Dead stands in conversation with the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella and the Charles Perrault version. And I’d like to think This Poison Heart stands in conversation with The Secret Garden and contemporary fantasy in general. To be able to compare and contrast my work with the stories that inspired them is a great way to think about the ever-evolving process of storytelling. I’d also like to think of both This Poison Heart and Cinderella is Dead as being in community with books like Legendborn by Tracy Deonn and A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow because contemporary fantasy is such a perfect place to interrogate who has, and who has not, been allowed to take folktales, or fairytales, or specific myths or legends and reimagine them.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing or consuming in your free time?
I love musical theater and I’m really looking forward to being able to get back to live shows. I love music. I love scary movies. I’m looking forward to seeing the Candyman reboot! Other than that, I really enjoy spending time with my family. I’m very much a homebody.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?
That’s a tough one! Most people know I have a musical background, but nobody has asked me yet about my favorite opera. I get asked about my favorite musicals but never about opera! My favorite opera is Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor. Fun fact—there’s an aria in Act 3 of this opera that, even if you’ve never seen it, probably sounds familiar because it was in the movie The Fifth Element.
The Poison Heart features a Sapphic badness with a proclivity towards plants and poisons. Any relation to Poison Ivy? And on that note, how would you imagine any interactions between the two?
I love Poison Ivy! She’s a queer icon! I’m definitely inspired by her and I’ve heard that Poison Ivy was originally inspired by a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne called Rappaccini’s Daughter. It’s a story about a man who raises his daughter around a collection of poisonous plants and in doing so she becomes immune to their toxicity. The story has also been adapted into several operas. If the folks at DC Comics ever need someone to do a one-shot deal for anything Poison Ivy related, I would jump on it. I’m just sayin.
Poison Ivy is a morally gray character. She does villainous things and sometimes with not-so-villainous intentions. Bri is kind of the opposite of that but I can totally see Poison Ivy trying to recruit Bri for some nefarious purpose. I don’t think Bri would sign up, but I don’t think that would stop Poison Ivy from trying.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Try to have some fun with your writing, don’t be afraid to take risks, and take any sort of writing advice with a grain of salt—even mine.
Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
The follow up to This Poison Heart comes out next year and so does my debut middle grade debut. The middle grade is called The Vanquishers and it’s the story of 12-year-old Malika “Boog” Wilson. It takes place in an alternative San Antonio where vampires were known to have existed but were wiped out during an event known as the Reaping by a group of masked vampire slayers called The Vanquishers. However, when Boog’s new classmate goes missing, the local community starts to think maybe a vampire is responsible. I like to describe it as Stranger Things meets Watchmen with a Buffy twist. I’m SO excited about it!
What books/authors would you recommend for the readers of Geeks OUT?
Tara Sim is a YA fantasy author who can typically be found wandering the wilds of the Bay Area, California. She is the author of the Timekeeper trilogy, which has been featured on Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, and various media outlets, and the Scavenge the Stars duology. When she’s not chasing cats or lurking in bookstores, she writes books about magic, murder, and explosives. I had the opportunity to interview Tara, which you can read below.
First of all, how did you get into writing? What drew you to the Young Adult genre specifically?
My dad loved telling people about how I would dictate poems and stories to him when I was 6. I dabbled in writing random stories (especially when I learned how to type) and I loved fantasy books, which eventually led to me writing my first novel at 15 (which was very long, and very bad). Some of those first fantasy books I loved were young adult, so I’ve always had a soft spot for those types of stories.
As a Young Adult writer, how would you describe your writing process? Would you describe yourself as a pantser, a plotter, etc…?
Solidly in-between. I like to plan out the big moments in a story, such as plot twists, and let the rest come to me while drafting. That way I have somewhat of a roadmap while discovering important landmarks on the way I wouldn’t have been able to see ahead of time.
According to the fact that both your series, The Timekeeper trilogy and the Scavenge the Stars duology, are speculative fiction, you seem to be a big fan of those mediums? What draws you to fantasy/science fiction?
I was basically raised on it, though unintentionally on my parents’ part. I think Disney movies had a part to play, as well as the discovery of certain fantasy books that were popular when I was younger. By the time I was in high school I was reading thick door stopper adult fantasy books, watching anime, and playing Final Fantasy video games. There’s just something about magic and different worlds that really compels me.
As a writer you have featured both LGBT/BIPOC characters in your books, creating a diverse, fantastic world? Would you say your own experiences as a queer author of Desi descent motivated this, and have you ever incorporated your own experiences into your stories?
Absolutely. I never found myself in books growing up, and I wanted to change that for readers like myself who feel left out. I like creating safe spaces in my work (even if my characters are undoing harrowing circumstances).
What are some of the challenges of writing historical fiction, fantasy or otherwise? What are some of the joys?
The research. I never thought I’d end up writing historical fantasy as my debut, and I’ll probably never do it again, but it was as fun as it was aggravating. I could play with an alternate timeline even as my editor forced me to become BFFs with etymology and realizing a phrase I wanted to use wasn’t invented yet.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked before or wish you were asked more often?
I wish I was asked more goofy questions! I love talking about my characters and how they’d react to weird situations.
What advice would you have to give to authors, especially those struggling to finish their first stories?
I would tell them that a first draft is supposed to be bad, and you can’t make it better until you finish it. That, and to not be afraid to write what you specifically love, not what you think others will love.
Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?
My adult fantasy debut, THE CITY OF DUSK, comes out April 2022 from Orbit! I’ll also have more YA news on the horizon.
Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Geeks OUT President, Nic Gitau, as they discuss MJ Rodriguez’s historic Emmy nomination, GLAAD’s report on representation, and celebrate Meghan Markle’s new animated series Pearl for our Strong Female Character of the Week.
KEVIN: Disney made $60mil opening weekend of Black Widow in Premier Access NIC: In historic nomination, Mj Rodriguez is recognized for the final season of Pose
DOWN AND NERDY
KEVIN: Escape Room 2, Space Jam 2, Barb & Star, Loki, Gossip Girl NIC: Gunpowder Milkshake, witches (Motherland: Fort Salem, Fear Street trilogy) and dramatic baby geighs (genera+tion, betty)
STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER
Meghan Markle creating/producing animated series Pearl for Netflix
THIS WEEK IN QUEER
New GLAAD report shows lack of trans rep in major movies for last 4 years
• New trailer for Free Guy teases Deadpool’s entry into the MCU • New trailer for Pixar’s Turning Red • WandaVision director signs on to direct new Star Trek movie • Not satisfied with the current streaming wars, Netflix is getting into gaming • New trailer for the documentary Pray Away
• Paramount+ renews revival of iCarly for second season • Paramount+ orders Grease prequel series following the Pink Ladies • New trailer for season 3 of Titans • Cartoon Network teams with Matthew Cherry for Battu animated series • Disney+ officially renews Loki for season 2 but without director/EP Kate Herron • New trailer for Disney+’s Behind the Attraction • New teaser for Chucky series
The trilogy of films concludes with Fear Street: 1666. I’m not typically a fan of historical horror, but I loved R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga. Like its predecessors, 1666 makes a tonal shift for the third part of the story that fits the time period is set in. I appreciated how the color palettes of the films shifted with each movie, and I’m glad that trend continued. 1666 by nature is more somber than its predecessors, but the way that it brought back the cast of the first two films to play each character gave it a sense of familiarity. It dives deeper into the Shadyside mythos and delivered us even more queer energy. I think my favorite part of this was how the filmmakers leaned into the fact that queer people have always existed. I also appreciated how the truth about the curse unfolded. It went in the direction I had hoped it would and still threw in plenty of surprises. On a technical note, 1666 is more like two films in one. The 1666 portion is roughly one hour, but the rest is 1994: Part 2. While it felt a little disjointed compared to the previous movies, I think it worked really well for the trilogy. It might be harder to grade a standalone film, but that’s because it does an excellent job of tying all three movies together. After watching it, it’s hard not to think of the trilogy as a single bloody epic. 1978 and 1666 tell their stand-alone stories, but 1994 is the glue that holds them together. I went into this trilogy with high expectations, and I was not disappointed. 1666 might be tough to score by itself, but it was the conclusion we needed.
Score: 4 Stars
Observations & Spoilers
Keeping with the trend from my Fear Street book reviews, everything from this point on contains spoilers. So you can wait until you’ve seen the movie and come back, or you can read on ahead with reckless abandon. Consider yourself warned.
Most of us who grew up in the United States are familiar with the Salem witch trials witch of the late seventeenth century. It was the original Satanic Panic. We have our own legends about them, too. A lot of people think that the accused witches were burned at the stake, even though that was never the case. Even R.L. Stine’s The Betrayalacknowledges this fact, as it was only in the fictional Wickham Village where witches were burned alive. Fear Street: 1666 played into this beautifully. I loved the way that the curse was revealed to be quite different than the Shadysiders in 1978 and 1994 had been lead to believe. Sarah Fier was never the one who placed the curse; she was its first victim and the only one who ever figured out the truth.
I’m not typically a fan of historical horror. I found The Witch boring as hell. 1666 shares a similar aesthetic, but it never felt slow or inaccessible. Part of this was helped by all of the familiar faces assuming similar roles. It gave us a sense of who each character was without having to say very much. Likewise, the legwork done in the previous movies had already established knowledge of the Union settlement and the Shadyside curse. While 1666 was certainly darker and struck a much more somber tone, it still managed to maintain enough of the campy flair that has made this trilogy so enjoyable.
I was already impressed with the queer love story in Fear Street: 1994, and I’m glad that we got another one in 1666. The love story of Sarah and Hannah felt familiar because of the parallels to the 1994 story. Just like Sam, Hannah had an overbearing mother that didn’t approve. Witchcraft became a metaphor for queerness. Sarah and Hannah’s relationship became a scandal that got them accused of laying with the devil. The original Shadysider was a queer woman falsely accused in order to cover up the evil of man. I appreciated the way that this made the film feel current.
It was a bit jarring to be thrust back to 1994 after an hour in the seventeenth century, but we had a storyline to finish. It felt like an odd fit at first, but it worked when I stepped back and regarded the trilogy as a whole. We got some more 90s jams, we got some more bloody kills, and we got to see the family line that had cursed Shadyside brought to its knees. I will also note that the trilogy is very rewatchable. There are so many things that will jump out from the first two after seeing the final installment, especially the words and actions of Nick Goode. The movie also left the book open for future installments and spin-offs. I could easily see this becoming an anthology series of sorts. I hope that whatever comes prominently features the actual street in its title and that Reva Dalby shows up at some point.
And finally, a few weeks ago I got to interview Leigh Janiak (the director) and Phil Graziadei (co-writer of 1994 and 1666) on behalf of GeeksOUT. We got to talk about the queer elements of the trilogy, what books/movies influenced their storytelling, and whether we’ll be seeing more from Fear Street in the future. Check it out below.
Thank you for reading along on these reviews. If you’ve enjoyed these movies as much as I did and are maybe looking to scratch the nostalgic itch of your childhood R.L. Stine binge-reading days, I’ve been reading and reviewing a bunch of them on my blog for the last few years. My reviews are honest and not always glowing like the reviews for these movies have been. There’s plenty of memes and gif used to illustrate my points and have fun with the ridiculousness of it all. There are also plenty of other Fear Street, Goosebumps, Point Horror, and Christopher Pike books in the mix as well.
Mara Fitzgerald writes YA fantasy about unlikable female characters who ruin everything. She is a biologist by day and spends entirely too much time looking at insects under a microscope. She was born near Disney World and now lives near Graceland, which is almost as good. She is the author of the Beyond the Ruby Veil duology.
When did you realize you wanted to become a writer? At what point did you realize you actually were a writer?
I’ve always been a writer. For me, the transition from “writer” to “author” was the one that felt like more of a change. My books were no longer a series of words on my computer that I wrote to entertain myself—they were products. In many ways, this comes with a lot of pressure, because “products” have expectations and cold, hard sales numbers. In other ways, it’s been fascinating to know that my creative work is now out there for anyone to access and interpret. As a great supporter of fanfiction, one of the most striking moments for me was when I realized that I’m now on the other side of the fanfiction equation—that is, I’m the one making the thing that people might create fan work about.
In the realm of queer media and fiction, there’s often this unspoken pressure to present the LGBTQIA+ community within the best (i.e. moral) light, given the history of queer coding in villains and other cultural factors. What made you develop this obvious queer anti-hero, and how did she come to be?
I just think villains are neat.
In all seriousness, most of my favorite fictional characters are the ones who are causing the most problems in the story, because they’re the most interesting to me. I didn’t set out to write Emanuela as an anti-heroine. Rather, the process of writing was a discovery, as it often is with characters. Sometimes it feels like they live in your head, and it’s your job to get them out onto the page as honestly as you can. This is, of course, a lot easier said than done. For a long time, I resisted letting Emanuela’s arc get so dark and messy. Even though other queer authors have already paved the way with amazing literature that’s way more complex than mine, I do still feel that pressure to create characters who are “role models.” I felt like centering the story around a lesbian who was very obviously flawed meant that she had to learn and become not only better, but perfect, and I struggled a lot with trying to fit her into an arc she clearly didn’t belong in.
A big part of fiction for me is escapism, and there’s more than one way to escape. I have never had a reader say that they literally want to be Emanuela—and if I had, I would be very concerned—but there is something escapist about her. I do not endorse being rude to everyone in your life, behaving in increasingly unhinged ways, leaving a trail of destruction in your wake, and refusing to grow as a person. But sometimes…it’s fun to read about.
What are some of your favorite examples of queer anti-heroes, villains, and heroes?
Radu from the And I Darken series by Kiersten White (definitely a hero). Villanelle from Killing Eve (definitely not a hero). And everyone in Gideon the Ninth.
Beyond the Ruby Veil seems to be set in this glamorous, alternative deadly Italy. What comes first in your writing, the world-building or characters?
They usually arrive together. I tend to write worlds that are like ours, except for one wild, highly unlikely change that actually ends up being a lot of changes. When I start with a fantasy version of Earth where something is making the way people live drastically different, the rest of the world starts to fill itself in. The characters also fill themselves in, too, because I naturally find myself gravitating towards characters who would interact with that world in the most interesting way. For instance, Beyond the Ruby Veil is about a world where one immortal, irreplaceable woman who can make water is keeping the whole city alive. Because of how my morbid mind works, my next question is: what would happen if that woman died? What if somebody killed her—and what if I wrote a story about that killer?
Would you say there’s a difference between the anti-hero and villain? What are the similarities?
My general understanding is that with an anti-hero, you as the reader ultimately want them to win. You can love a villain as a character, but you still don’t want them to win. What makes this so fascinating to me is that the lines can get blurred. A character can start out as the unambiguous villain and ultimately end up as someone who’s still very much themselves, rough around the edges and all, but who we find ourselves rooting for. Alternatively, we can start out supporting a character, knowing that they’re messy, but then things start getting messier and messier and one day we realize…we don’t want this character to win anymore.
This was my goal with Emanuela. The first time she murders somebody (not a spoiler: it’s in Chapter 3), it’s certainly messy, but there’s something there to root for. As the story goes on, she makes it more and more challenging to support her. There’s a point in the book where Emanuela says that she doesn’t care if people like her or think she’s a good person—she just wants, in essence, to be perceived. That’s how I try to write all my characters, not just ones who are crossing the line into villainous. I try to just portray them as they are, whatever that may end up looking like.
Are there any other projects or ideas you are currently nursing and would be at liberty to say?
The sequel to Beyond the Ruby Veil, which is called Into the Midnight Void, will be out in January 2022. This is the conclusion to the duology, where we will find out exactly how Emanuela’s quest for power ends. Writing it was certainly an experience, so I hope reading it will be, too!
What’s an interview question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were?
“How would you adapt Beyond the Ruby Veil: The Musical?” I’m so glad you asked. First, and most importantly, there would be a splash zone for all the inevitable blood coming off the stage. The story itself would be a condensed version of the entire duology—somebody much smarter than me is doing the condensing, to be clear. A lot of musicals have a very clear Event happen at the end of Act 1, and then Act 2 begins in a different place, with a different mood, and without spoiling anything, I think the transition between book 1 and book 2 lends itself well to that. The beginning would have a little bit of evil Wizard of Oz vibes, and early Wicked vibes as Emanuela sings about what she wants and how ambitious she is, but as the audience, we get the sneaking feeling this isn’t going to turn out well for her. Anyways, I’m open to all thoughts on this. I just think there’s potential!
Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ books or authors you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers is an adult coming-of-age novel about a PhD student who accidentally marries another woman while in Vegas. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is a delightful YA contemporary about a transgender teen at a competitive arts school. And I just read an advanced copy of A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, which is about a big queer family that lives in a spooky house in the spooky woods!
IOLANDA ZANFARDINO is a comic book artist, writer and cover artist currently working for Black Mask Studios, Image comics, Titan Comics, Marvel and several independent publishers. Her first Original Graphic novel “Midnight Radio” was published by Lion Forge comics. After a long arduous “I’ll do what I really love!” process, she finally works on queer (love) stories, and she’s so excited she still can’t even believe it. She likes rock musicals, street art, Pride parades, dystopian literature and brave heartwarming comedies.
ELISA ROMBOLI is a comic book artist and illustrator currently working for Black Mask Studios, Image comics, Titan Comics and various independent publishers, partnered briefly with Marvel and with Square Enix for promotional illustrations. Co-author of Helen Bristol published by Shockdom.
Since she was a child, her dream has always been to be a comics artist. The thing is: she didn’t know what she was getting into. Now she’s almost completely absorbed into drawing and has forgotten everything else. Cat owner full time.
I had the opportunity to interview Iolanda and Elisa on their current project, Alice in Leatherland, which you can read below.
To start off, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
Both: Hi Geeks OUT, and thank you for this great opportunity! We’re so honored to be on your website!
I: I’m Iolanda Zanfardino, a comic book artist, writer and cover artist currently working for Image comics, Black Mask Studios, Titan Comics and Marvel. After a long arduous “I’ll do what I really love!” process, I finally work on queer (love) stories, and I’m so excited I still can’t even believe it!
I like rock musicals, street art, Pride parades, dystopian literature and brave heartwarming comedies.
E: I’m Elisa Romboli, a comic book artist and illustrator currently working for Black Mask Studios, Image comics, Titan Comics and various independent publishers, co-author of Helen Bristol published by Shockdom.
Nostalgic video game lover, I have a strong passion for enamel pins and miniatures. I like robots and mechanical designs in general, I have an odd thing for triangle-shaped objects. Oh, and space!
How did the both of you get into comics? What drew you to the medium?
I: Telling stories has always been like a physical need I’ve perceived in my life, even when I was following a different career path. At a particular moment, I took the decision to quit everything else to pursue my dream to become a comic book creator. It was a tough journey (where I found myself being so behind people my age) but I’m happy for real now. If I could turn back time I’d do it again.
E: I’d say it was because of anime series airing on tv when I was a child. I used to watch a lot of those and I really enjoyed drawing those characters on paper, giving it my own direction. I loved to tell fighting stories, with monsters and robots. I used to make a ton of little stapled books with crazy things in there, without any kind of focus. Sadly, I’ve never been able to create stories that made sense, but this didn’t stop me from drawing.
What are your favorite parts of making comics? What are the trickiest and or hardest?
I: As a writer, my favorite part is the very first one of the creation itself: those vivid and sudden images that appear in your mind and you have to write them down before they become a huge avalanche inside you.
The hardest part is to let the characters free to come to life on the scripts while not losing sight of the direction and the meaning of the scene itself (and of the limited number of the pages!)
E: My favorite part in making comics is finally drawing that specific scene that gave birth to the whole project. There’s always that scene, that small frame that gets stuck in your head until you don’t start unfolding the rest of the story.
The hardest? Imagining a full environment from scratch, like a whole new world. Some might find it entertaining, but it’s not my cup of tea; it’s tricky, you have to remember lots of stuff and I’m quite a forgetful person.
Could you tell us a bit about your current project, Alice in Leatherland? Where did the inspiration for that story come from?
Both: From the very first moment we found ourselves working at home side by side, we dreamed of being able to do it together as a team on something of our own. We chose a rom-com because it’s the kind of movie we most love to watch together after a hard day.
Plus, many of the events of “AiL” are inspired by real life events, that’s too bad we can’t say what they are!
A large part of the book involves discussing sex positivity and exploring one’s sexuality, one’s comfort and limits with it. How did you approach your characters exploring that in ways that were organic to their character arcs?
Both: We tried to create a juxtaposition between Alice and Robin, the two main characters. Robin is very open to new sexual experiences and she’s thrilled with the queer scene in San Francisco, but she also made up for herself strict rules against serious relationships that are not getting along with what she actually feels for Alice.
In the meantime, Alice is trying to set aside her “true fairy-tale love search” for a while in order to explore her sexuality (and to mend her broken heart). At first, she finds herself completely out of her comfort zone, but despite this she will learn to love and know better herself.
The meaning of the research of the firefly’s light in Alice’s own fairy tale is that true love cannot be forced and doesn’t depend, for example, on a partner’s mathematically calculable qualities. It’s something you find yourself in all of a sudden, without apparently any rational reason, and when it’s too late for you to get yourself out of it.
And this beautiful thing is what happens to Alice, while she’s freely exploring her sexuality and her relationship with her body!
Often when thinks of erotica, they think just that, erotic. But Alice in Leatherland combines sex with a sense of humor and tenderness, making sex both silly and playful and a larger part of the emotional story. Was this always your intention?
Both: Thank you so much! Sure it was: at the beginning, “AiL” had to be just a short funny story about cliches of sapphic dates on dating apps, but then we got involved with our characters and the story evolved into something more complex, long and romantic than we planned!
The sex positivity is a very important part of the story, and the main focus of our creative process of this project.
Within your books, Midnight Radio and Alice in Leatherland, there’s an obvious queer aesthetic that makes other queer readers smile in recognition at how familiar it is? Did you feel your own experiences as queer creators influences your work?
Both: Our experiences as queer creators not only influence our work but it’s our big push. We believe that the representation of LGBTQIA characters in stories that talk about growth, friendship, life experiences and adventures, other than our “traumas” and difficulties or the discovery of our sexuality, is very important.
The world needs more different stories with queer protagonists. We needed it as teenagers and now that the world is finally changing, we want to do our part and participate to this necessary revolution.
I previously read and loved your last book, Midnight Radio. Where did the inspiration for that book come from?
I: I’m so glad you appreciated my “Midnight Radio”! I wrote that story during my year in San Francisco. It was a life-changing experience for me.
The inspiration of the book is the thought that everywhere there are people that are facing the consequences and frustrations of a life spent suppressing, for different reasons and in different ways, their true selves and aspirations. But that often they just need some kind of signs, an unexpected message to give them the strength to free themselves and to take hold of their lives again! Like little and unpredictable bursts of truth.
I’m sure it happens often! That’s surely happening in this right moment somewhere.
What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creators?
Both: What we really want to say is: If you have a story to tell, something you truly believe in, please, please, please write it down! Draw it!
You’ll definitely find someone who wants to read it out there, or needs it in their life without even knowing it.
What projects are you currently working on and at liberty to speak about?
Both: We’re currently working on “A Thing Called Truth”, a new comics mini-series. It’s a queer romantic-adventure road-trip story!
Issue #1 will be published by Shadowline IMAGE Comics this November. We can’t wait to know if someone will love it as much as we do!
What books/comics might you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?Both: Among our favorite comic books there are: “Betty Boob“, a lovely silent bande dessinée by Vero Cazot and Julie Rocheleau, “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel and all Liv Strömquist‘s irreverent books!
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Mel Cone, from NYCGaymers, as they wonder What If…? Marvel’s latest statement about LGBTQ+ representation in the MCU was enough to tide us over until they actually come through, and get excited for the introduction of Renee Montoya in season 3 of Batwoman in This Week in Queer.
KEVIN: In a new “community outreach” effort the NYPD introduced a new Game Truck MEL: The exec-VP of production at Marvel Studios promises more LGBTQ rep
DOWN AND NERDY
KEVIN: Fear Street: 1978, Sweet Tooth, X-Men MEL: Black Widow, Loki, Otome games
STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER
Black Widow subverts with even more female representation
Barbara Perez Marquez was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, now she lives in the USA. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College. She writes short stories and fiction, usually using coming of age and LGBTQ themes in her work. During her career, she has also been an editor for several publications and projects. Her work was first featured in a student collection in the 7th grade, the same year she decided she wanted to be a writer. Since then, she’s been featured in a number of literary journals, as well as anthologies. Her latest works include The Cardboard Kingdom and its sequel, The Cardboard Kingdom #2: Roar of the Beast.
I had the opportunity to interview both Chad and Barbara, which you can read below.
First of all, congratulations on your latest book, The Cardboard Kingdom #2: Roar of the Beast! Could you tell us a little of what the book’s about?
CHAD: Thank you! ROAR OF THE BEAST follows the Cardboard Kingdom kids as they get ready for Halloween. But something is amiss in the kingdom–the kids start seeing a shadowy monster lurking through their neighborhood at night. No one can agree on what the monster looks like and what to do about it: hunt it down, study it, trap it, or simply stay far, far away! Because we have an enormous cast of characters, we were able to explore the many different approaches that the kids take in facing their fears and solving the mystery.
How did The Cardboard Kingdom series come to be? What was the impetus for the project?
CHAD: I love creativity, comics, and costumes–at its heart, The CARDBOARDKINGDOM series is all about how kids use all three to explore aspects of their identity. What does it mean for a boy to dress up as a glamorous sorceress? Or for a little girl to dress up like a mustachioed mad scientist? How can play and make believe help us explore and express new aspects of ourselves that would otherwise stay hidden?
The Cardboard Kingdom is an anthology of different stories from different kids set in the same neighborhood. What was it like collaborating with other artists and creatives on the project?
BARBARA: I think we owe a lot of its seamlessness to Chad, whom really endeavored to bring our team together and as a leader, keeps it all cohesive. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to be able to tell the stories in The Cardboard Kingdom as a collaborative effort, since its a perfect reflection of what’s going on in the book too.
How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to this medium?
BARBARA: I started pretty late in comics myself, and it wasn’t until graduate school when I properly started to look at comics as a creator as opposed to just a reader. As a storyteller, comics provide a unique approach to telling a story that can draw in any type of reader. Being able to capture a reader is super important for me as a writer and comics make it that much more simple.
CHAD: I agree with Barbara–comics are such an inviting form of storytelling! I love that a kid who can’t even read will pick up CARDBOARD KINGDOM and still get totally engaged with the story, even if they’re making up a lot of it on their own! That’s the appeal of comics for me.
One of the characters in The Cardboard Kingdom is an aspiring gender-bending Dominican American mad scientist. As a queer Dominican American yourself, would you say you incorporated any of your own experiences into this character or other parts of the story?
BARBARA: I think the short answer is yes, but I think if we were to put our experiences side to side, then they’d be much less alike. As a writer, I always strive to fill in the gaps from my own experiences, so for me, it was more important to present Amanda in ways that I wouldn’t have necessarily done as a kid myself. I think in that way, it becomes a more robust effort towards bringing to life stories that I wish I’d had as a kid. I think especially in a moment where we still need to push for representation, we have to continue to look at our experiences and not just reflect ourselves, but also the tools that would have been useful to us and to potential readers.
What are some moments/characters within the book that you most related to in regards to your own experiences as a kid?
CHAD: The CARDBOARD KINGDOM character I most relate to is Jack the Sorceress, and he continues his journey in Roar of the Beast, exploring how to imbue more of the Sorceress’ fabulous magic into his everyday life. But he also wrestles with a lot more: his little sister is becoming her own person, developing sinister new schemes instead of serving as his helpful little assistant. And Jack also has a powerful moment of recognition and connection with another young queer character, Miguel the Rogue. I remember as a kid how powerful it was to encounter other children like you, but also how scary it could be, too! We wanted to capture all of that complexity in their scenes together.
BARBARA: I was definitely one of the kids that bounced around different friend groups, so seeing The Knight’s journey throughout the book really resonated with me as she continues to find her own place in the Kingdom and what that means. I think with the book as a whole we definitely pushed further our efforts to create spaces for everyone, even when we are scared to look for that place.
What advice would you give to aspiring young artists/writers working on their craft and for those who wish to work in the field?
CHAD: We’re living in such a fascinating time for comics, in terms of webcomics, the booming kids’ market, and the countless new ways to find and support creators. It’s kind of overwhelming, particularly for young artists–you can’t be good at EVERYTHING, and you can’t possibly appeal to EVERYBODY. There’s no one way to be a successful artist, and so it’s up to you to figure out where you fit best, what approach works for you, and what work you want to make. Try to find peers who are doing what you’re doing, seek out resources to learn more about the industry, and look into the different kinds of mentorship opportunities that have been emerging online!
BARBARA: I agree that this is a great time to be in comics and publishing, but for someone that’s still looking to find their path, it’s still invaluable to stay up to date on what’s happening around you. As we create, we can often get lost in our own process or even just aiming towards the big names, but there’s new content available everyday, so staying on the lookout for works that feel similar to what you want to do is a great way to have a bit of a compass on what’s happening while you get your work ready for the world.
Previously, you had both paneled for an event at Flame Con, a queer comic con sponsored by Geeks OUT, called “Telling All-Ages Queer Stories.” Can you talk about your work and personal motivation creating inclusive stories for young queer kids?
BARBARA: That panel was so fun! I spoke a bit already on how I try to not just create stories with elements from my own life, but also with the tools that were missing when I was growing up. I think for myself, it’s always been important for my work to be inclusive because it’s the least we can do as creators. When it comes to stories for queer audiences, and I think Chad mentioned it too, it’s not about representing EVERYTHING at once. On the contrary, if that’s the main focus it can often come off as disingenuous. Instead, I often try to tell stories with the same care I would hope someone would have talking about me. With that in mind, I always strive to make space, even when the story might not reflect everything I’d want it to, I hope it provides space for ANY reader to find something to connect with.
CHAD: Yeah, as Barbara said, it’s so powerful to see yourself reflected in a story! A lot of my early conceptions of queerness and identity were shaped by the comics I read as a kid, which is unfortunate, because those early 90’s comics made it seem like coming out would literally mean getting chased out of your hometown by an angry mob! So I’m hoping that our books offer a much more affirming and inclusive sense of recognition to our young readers, and a sense that their world is expansive and multi-faceted.
Oftentimes for younger generations, knowledge of queer language, whether that referring to orientation or gender identity, is often limited. How did you set about depicting queerness in a way younger generations could access?
BARBARA: I think I’ll leave Chad to speak a little more at length on this, but comics are visual and that’s super important when there’s that lack of language. I think it’s also really important to remember that younger audiences may not have the direct terms to correlate to something, but they are still experiencing life in the same way we did and that’s universal in many other ways than just language.
CHAD: Barbara is totally right! We generally tried to convey aspects of queerness situationally and visually rather than relying on terminology or language. So in Barbara’s story The Mad Scientist, the main character Amanda’s father is confused and upset that she’s dressing up in a cardboard mustache and lab coat with her friends. But they don’t address that with an extensive discussion of gender identity and expression–instead, we resolved that chapter wordlessly with a final image full of love, acceptance…and mustaches.
Aside from comics, what would you say are some of your other skills and interests?
BARBARA: I had an interest in publishing in general when I started out, so I’m also a bit of a freelance editor in my spare time. I also grew up learning other languages and playing video games, so that’s pretty much where I focus my attention when I’m not writing. Whether it’s playing a new game or doing translation or watching content in other languages.
CHAD: I’m also an avid videogamer, and I love a good tabletop board game, too! (I’m in the final stretch of an epic GLOOMHAVEN campaign right now!) I love cooking, too–the kitchen is a place for me to get creative and experiment with extremely low stakes involved. After all, it’s just dinner!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet and wish you were asked (and your answer to that question)?
CHAD: Barbara and I both had a really hard time coming up with an answer to this, which means you’ve asked a ton of good questions in this interview!!
Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?
CHAD: We’ve been crafting more tales for the Cardboard Kingdom, and I’ve been working on a stupendously fun new superhero series with my friend Mary Winn Heider–hopefully that will be announced soon!
BARBARA: I’ve got a few stories in the works that will hopefully be announced by the end of the year.
Finally, what queer books would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
CHAD: I’ve been loving Kat Leyh’s recent books–SNAPDRAGON is a fantastic, layered graphic novel for younger readers, and THIRSTY MERMAIDS is a hilarious romp for adults. THE MAGIC FISH by Trung Le Nguyen and FLAMER by Mike Curato are great picks for teens!
BARBARA: One of my favorite new reads recently was Molly Ostertag’s THE GIRL FROM THE SEA. I’ve also been working through my backlog of books and really enjoyed the graphic novel adaptation of JULIET TAKES A BREATH by Gabby Rivera and Celia Moscote.
Fear Street 1978 doesn’t waste any time getting right to the good stuff. Last week’s 1994 had already done a lot of the heavy lifting introducing us to Shadyside and the witch’s curse, so 1978 was poised to hit the ground running. Where the first movie featured an homage to nineties movies, the second part of the story does the same with the greats of the seventies. You can pick up references to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, The Exorcists, and probably several others that I missed. It also uses a different color pallet to establish a new feel and tone. We already got the headline of what happened at Camp Nightmoon, so we knew how the movie would end before it even started. The fun was in finding out how the events actually unfolded. The good stuff never makes it into the papers. The principal cast delivered some excellent performances. There were some truly brutal kills. We got plenty of new context to the information we found in the first movie. There were a few contrived items that stretched the realm of plausibility, but there was nothing so egregious that it took me out of the experience. The self-aware approach to old-school horror movie campiness helped a lot in that regard. Fear Street: 1978 works really well as its own stand-alone movie, but it also sets the stage nicely for Fear Street: 1666. I know the film did its job because I cannot wait for the third and final part of the trilogy.
Observations & Spoilers
Keeping with the trend from my Fear Street book reviews, everything from this point on contains spoilers. So you can wait until you’ve seen the movie and come back, or you can read on ahead with reckless abandon. Consider yourself warned.
Fear Street: 1978 takes the Camp Nightmoon setting from the Fear Street novel Lights Out, but it doesn’t take much else from the book. I wasn’t exactly a fan of that book, so you will hear no complaints from me on this point. There weren’t many book references beyond what the first movie gave us, and I was honestly fine with that. I like the fact that these movies aren’t just beholden to a rigid canon, and are allowed to really be their own thing. These movies are for horror fans of all stripes; book fans and movie fans alike will find plenty to enjoy.
1978 was allowed to be a tighter movie in general because of all the heavy lifting that 1994 already did. We already knew about the curse; we even knew how many people were going to die at Camp Nightmoon by the end of it. The fun part was in seeing how events unfolded and picking up on the small ways it all tied together with the events of Part One. If the first movie was already giving you Stranger Things vibes, Sadie Sink helped carry that feeling into the second film. She leads an excellent cast of actors that includes Ted Sutherland as a young Nick Goode. I appreciated how the story made me really feel for these characters, even though I knew most of them were doomed from the start. Alice, who is portrayed by non-binary actor Ryan Simpkins, puts it simply: “Everyone has their own way of dealing with Shadyside.”
There was a really strong undercurrent of women supporting women at the core of this story. Women in movie roles and other sectors of the media are often pitted against each other. As though there can only be one that comes out on top. Fear Street: 1978 featured a really touching story between two sisters (Cindy and Ziggy) as well as between two friends (Cindy and Alice). The tragic way that the curse of Shadyside had infiltrated all of their lives was shown to have more depth than just the psycho killers who spring up every so often. It drove Cindy to strive for perfection to seek a way out. I drove Alice to cut themself and seek joys in the simple pleasures of life. It left the young Ziggy jaded and apathetic about ever being able to get away from Shadyside. It made that hopeful moment after Alice found Sarah’s hand all the more powerful. It also made Alice’s and Cindy’s deaths that much more tragic. I’m a firm believer that character is the key to any good story, and I’m so grateful that these movies have (so far) not lost sight of that.
I had a few issues with Sarah’s hand. I felt like it was found a bit too easily in both instances. The first one is more forgivable. The red moss was a nice touch. There was also plenty of it around Sarah’s grave in the first movie. I like the unnatural bright red look of it and how it represented a physical manifestation of the curse. I also thought it was cool the way that the Shadyside Mall was built around the hanging tree. I’m not sure that the roots of a tree that old and large could withstand being surrounded by a foundation like that, and I also don’t think the hand would just stay buried given all the surrounding excavation that would have needed to happen I don’t know shit about architecture and engineering so maybe I’m completely wrong. Still, it stuck out to me as a little too convenient for the plot that Deena and Josh were able to find the hand again so easily. And that’s not even getting into the fact that they were able to easily break into a mall that was also the scene of a very recent mass murder without getting caught. But again, I was having fun so it was easy to let this point slide.
I found it a little confusing as to why Nick Goode gave the authorities Cindy’s name instead of Ziggys. The only reason I can think of was to save her from the curse since Ziggy is the one who bled on Sarah’s bones. But the cold way that Nick regarded Ziggy when she asked if he believed her about the curse seems to contradict that. There was something shrouded in his intentions. Maybe it’s something that will be revealed next week in Fear Street: 1666. There’s only one way to find out. Fear Street: 1978 premieres on Netflix July 9th.
If you’re enjoying the Fear Street movies and have been looking to scratch the nostalgic itch of your childhood R.L. Stine binge-reading days, I’ve been reading and reviewing a bunch of them on my blog for the last few years. There are plenty of Fear Street, Goosebumps, Point Horror, and Christopher Pike books already up there. If you like what you see, find me on social media and follow along. I will also be involved in the Geeks Out trivia event next week. We put together some really fun questions, and there may even be some appearances from the cast. See below for details.
There wasn’t as much explicitly queer content in this movie beyond the opening scenes with Deena and Sam. I still enjoyed the hell out of this movie. If Fear Street: 1666 takes things in the direction that I think it will, there should be more queerness on the horizon. For those of you that can’t wait, Netflix has been organizing several Queer Street events across the country. This Saturday it will be hitting New York City. Check out the details below if you’re interested, and maybe I’ll see you there!