Interview with Author Sarah Whalen

Sarah Whalen is the author of This Doesn’t Mean Anything, the first of four interconnected books in the series. She writes ace-affirming love stories and grumpy girls who learn to let other people in. When she’s not writing or reading, she spends her time journaling and being an angry feminist killjoy.

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

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

Hi! I’m Sarah, a 23-year-old just trying her best. I graduated college in May 2022, and now I write kissing books.

What can you tell us about your debut book, This Doesn’t Mean Anything? What was the inspiration for this story?

 This Doesn’t Mean Anything basically functions as a rant/commentary on the things I experienced when I went on dating apps for the first time during my freshmen year of college and how I was treated as a person who wanted a romantic relationship with things like hand holding and cuddling, but just without sex. 

As an asexual author, what does it mean for you having written an ace romance?

I wrote the book I wanted to see in the world. We’re lucky now to have more ace representation, but back when I was first figuring out what asexuality was, there was almost nothing. I enjoyed Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, another ace author, and I’m so happy that other ace readers have variety and options for books that make them feel seen now. I also like being able to show people – both aspec and allo – that there is no monolithic asexual. You can be ace and still want a romantic relationship. You can be sex-repulsed and want a romantic relationship. You can be ace and want a sexual relationship. There’s no one “correct” way to be ace, and nothing about what you want relationship-wise invalidates your identity label if YOU think it fits. That’s all that matters, and you don’t have to prove or justify yourself to anyone.

I also desperately wanted to show other sex-repulsed aces that there ARE people in the world who will NOT make them compromise any boundaries, and you don’t have to settle just because you’re afraid of being alone. And that you don’t HAVE to worry about finding another asexual person – allo-ace relationships exist.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically romance and new adult fiction?

I’ve always been a big reader and I guess writing was just the next step. I used to carry around sheets of loose-leaf paper and write stories during recess. 

As far as new adult romance, I originally wrote and shelved a young adult project, but I think the story I wanted to tell with This Doesn’t Mean Anything just fit the new adult age range (keep in mind that I also wrote both these projects while I was in the age range, so that definitely is the major factor – I think I finished my shelved YA manuscript when I was around 17). 

I imagine that as I age, so will my characters and the genres that I write in, but I love the exploration and discovery that comes with new adult characters – they’ve grown up a little bit and kind of know themselves, but there’s always new things that teach us who we are. And there’s always stories to tell, representation to be seen.

How would you describe your writing process?

The majority of This Doesn’t Mean Anything was actually written during my senior year of college. I had a long commute, so in the morning, I would put on my book’s playlist and just think about scenes I wanted to write while stuck in traffic, and when I got to campus, I would just word-dump everything I came up with during the drive. I also write on my phone a lot at night when I can’t sleep or if my chronic pain is flaring up and I can’t be at my desktop.

These days, I light a candle, play music or typing ASMR or use the I miss my cafe website for some ambient noise, have my “Holy Trinity” of coffee/energy drink, water, juice/tea/soda on hand, and I just write what I want. I have a loose outline, but I’m very much a mood reader and a mood writer.

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

Honestly, I would say that the hardest thing about writing for me personally is not letting the imposter syndrome get the best of me (which can hinder finishing or even editing in the first place). For me, I just have lots of different affirmations for myself, such as:

  • Whatever I’m writing is the worst the book will ever be, and it can only get better from there. 
  • SOMEONE out there needs my words, and no one else can tell this story like I can. This is going to be someone’s favorite/comfort story one day, but it won’t be if I never finish.
  • Past me would be so proud of how far I’ve already come.
  • You can’t edit a blank page.

When the imposter syndrome got really bad, I used to have the impulse to delete my whole manuscript, so I’d end up leaving my laptop in a different room if the urge got really strong.

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

I don’t think I ever felt particularly seen in any stories until I was a young adult. There are two books I’ve read in the past five years that made me feel SO seen. One was A Pho Love Story by Loan Le. I’m Vietnamese American, and it was incredibly refreshing to see a story about Vietnamese American teenagers that were allowed to just be YA characters while also experiencing the things I have, and even more so because it wasn’t a story about the Vietnam War. I think we tend to be reduced to that a lot in the media, and I used to have to settle for what little representation this offered. 

The other book is Loveless by Alice Oseman – just to read about a sex-repulsed asexual character who desperately wanted to show that she DID experience love, just not in the way society prioritizes – I almost cried.

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

A lot of my stories and characters stem from me wanting to see things in books and realizing sometimes that means I have to do it myself. 

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

I honestly love being able to fall in love with my characters and think about them reacting to different situations. Reader reactions are some of my favorite things – I love getting messages from readers about This Doesn’t Mean Anything, because they remind me of who exactly I’m doing all of this for. It’s extremely validating (and sometimes entertaining if I get an angry message or live tweet thread).

Related to that is that it can be hard fighting through the imposter syndrome – especially because I don’t actually read reviews. I don’t check This Doesn’t Mean Anything’s Goodreads page because I try really hard to keep that boundary as an author. It means I don’t know if people actually like my work unless they reach out to me, and that’s definitely a Me issue that I’m working through.

Another thing is that non-writers truly have no idea what it’s like – whether that be the nuances of traditional publishing, the struggles of independent publishing, or even just the craft. Writing IS hard. It’s even harder when the people in your life don’t actually respect your work or they have some warped notion about how “easy” or lucrative it is.

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

I absolutely adore interacting with fellow readers and writers, but I’m shy and almost never make the first move of swiping up on a story or DM-ing, but I will definitely answer if someone just wants to randomly message me about a book or something. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

I’ve always wanted someone to ask about which anime characters my characters are most like. Nick is DEFINITELY Loid Forger from Spy x Family – they’re both domestic overprotective mother hens and I love them. Christian has Aizawa from My Hero Academia energy – just Tired Dad figure.

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

Couple things – don’t “kill” your darlings, but “cryogenically freeze” them (stole that from Tumblr). Cut your words, but keep them in a separate document, because you never know what you can use in another project.

Write the self-indulgent fluffy love scenes even when you know it won’t see the light of day. It will help you remember why you love your story and your characters. (Plus – bonus content!)

If you’re stuck, the problem is probably about ten lines up.

And lastly…LEARN TO LET THINGS GO. You can’t always edit things. You have to learn to just stop editing and let things be. You’re gonna look back and think “why did I write it like that?” But you can’t let the desire to be “perfect” stop you from publishing in the first place. It’s how you grow as a writer.

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

I am CONSTANTLY working on a number of projects. There are three sequels to This Doesn’t Mean Anything (plus a novella!), a book I’ve been describing as The Illuminae Files x The Raven Cycle but with cryptids, a YA marching band book, another novella, and a supernatural story involving demon bargains.

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

SO many! I loved Ace of Hearts by Lucy Mason, Loveless by Alice Oseman, Tears in the Water by Margherita Scialla, I Am Ace by Cody Daigle-Orians, Refusing Compulsory Sexuality: A Black Asexual Lens on Our Sex-Obsessed Culture by Sherronda J. Brown, Forward March by Skye Quinlan, How to be Ace by Rebecca Burgess, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters.

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Beast of a Thousand Backs Again

Geeks OUT Podcast: Beast of a Thousand Backs Again

After taking a much needed break, the Geeks OUT Podcast is back! Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew) is joined by special guest Bobby Hankinson (@bobbyhank) as they discuss the news about this year’s DC Comics Pride lineup and get #DownAndNerdy as they talk about all the pop culture they’re consuming right now.

After taking a much needed break, the Geeks OUT Podcast is back! Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew) is joined by special guest Bobby Hankinson (@bobbyhank) as they discuss the news about this year’s DC Comics Pride lineup and get #DownAndNerdy as they talk about all the pop culture they’re consuming right now.



KEVIN: DC Comics announces DC Pride lineup
BOBBY: We’re less mad at Chris Pratt for his Mario voice (but still mad about other stuff!)



KEVIN: Scream 6, Star Trek: Picard, The Last of Us, Poker Face, Servant, X-titles, Specs, Blue Book
BOBBY: Vanderpump’s #Scandoval, Wrestlemania season/WWE 2k23, XMEN 97, Black Adam, MCU Phase 4 rewatch, Mandalorian

Interview with Author & Illustrator Mike Curato

Mike Curato is the award-winning author and illustrator of the Little Elliot series and the graphic novel Flamer and has illustrated a number of other books for children, including What If… (by Samantha Berger), Worm Loves Worm and All the Way to Havana.

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

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

Cheers, queers! I’m Mike Curato. I am an author and illustrator of graphic novels and children’s books.

What can you tell us about your most recent graphic novel, Flamer? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Flamer is the story of Aiden Navarro, a chubby fourteen-year-old Filipino-white mixed kid who is away at scout camp. The year is 1995, and Aiden is navigating friendships, bullying, and how they can overlap. He has lots of questions about his religion, struggles with his body image, and deals with racism. All of that is the backdrop to Aiden confronting his sexual identity, and questioning his very existence. Also, there are fart jokes. The story runs parallel to a lot of my personal experiences as a teen. 

As opposed to your other work, much of which includes children’s books based in fiction and fantasy, Flamer is semi-autobiographical. What made you decide to explore the personal in a young adult graphic novel?

While much has changed in nearly thirty years, queer youth still face many of the same challenges that I did. Except now, they don’t have to think they’re alone. I wrote Flamer as a life raft for those young queers who have not found their community yet, who don’t feel safe, who feel like there’s no one out there who understands them. Writers are called to create the books they want to read or wish they had when they were younger. Flamer is my response. I’ve also heard from a lot of adults who felt very seen by this story in a way that they hadn’t before.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly comics and children’s books? What drew you to the mediums?

I loved picture books as a child and was an avid comic book reader from middle school through college. In high school, my dream was to one day write and illustrate for X-Men. In college, as an illustration major, I rediscovered my love of children’s books. I figured, why limit myself? I want to do it all! The magic of picture books is that there is so much emotion and wonder boiled down into just 32 to 40 pages. Meanwhile, a comic plays with time and pacing in its own unique way with limitless possibilities. Picture books and comics lay somewhere between the written word and film, each commanding their own realm. That kind of magic excites me.

As someone who has worked on many of their own picture books, as well as having collaborated with others, can you give insight or advice into what goes into making a picture book?

Laughs? Tears? Metric tons of ice cream? There are so many ways to approach making a picture book (or any type of book), but my free advice is that you have to be moved by your own book if you want it to resonate with a reader. That’s the test. If your book doesn’t make you feel something, then it’s not ready to be shared with others. Don’t waste the time and trees otherwise.

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

Whoa, buddy, that’s a long list. Here are some names in no specific order: Alison Bechdel, Edward Hopper, Ian Falconer, Michael Sowa, Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki, Mark Ryden, Gene Yang, Berenice Abbott, Pierre + Gilles, David Small, Tillie Walden, Wes Anderson, Isabel Arsenault, Beatrice Alemagna, Chris Van Allsburg, Shaun Tan… I think I need to stop with names because I will just keep going, but I also need to say that my friends and family are probably my biggest inspirations and support system.

Besides your work as an author/illustrator, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

My sister made fun of me once for a promo reel I made for a picture book that I illustrated. I guess I have a certain way I speak when talking to children and parents that’s “cutsier” than my normal self. But in my defense, I can’t really sell picture books by being a sarcastic cussing mess, which is how I appear in my natural habitat. So if you see those clips, just know that I did it for the kids. You should also know that I am a sugar fiend, film buff, Pisces sun (splash!), Scorpio rising (smack!), and world traveler who loves karaoke.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?

THANK YOU for this. 

Q: MIKE! If you were on Drag Race, who would you be on Snatch Game?

A: Edina Monsoon, darling!!! Help mama…

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

Well, wouldn’t you like to know! Yes! I am currently working on my very first adult graphic novel called Gaysians, which centers the gay Asian American experience, all T (some shade). It features an ensemble of friends in early 2000s Seattle as they navigate dating, family, racism, and transphobia. It is going to slaysian the house down boots.

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

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

The Check, Please! series by Ngozi Ukazu

The Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

The Marvels by Brian Selznick 

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Melissa by Alex Gino

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Header Photo Credit Dylan Osborne

Interview with Author & Illustrator Emily B. Martin

Emily B. Martin splits her time between working as a park ranger and an author/illustrator, resulting in her characteristic eco-fantasy adventures. An avid hiker and explorer, her experiences as a ranger help inform the characters and worlds she creates on paper. Her books include Woodwalker, Ashes to Fire, and Creatures of Light. When not patrolling places like Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains, or Philmont Scout Ranch, she lives in South Carolina with her husband, Will, and two daughters, Lucy and Amelia.

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

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

I work as a park ranger with the National Park Service during the summertime and as an author/illustrator during the school year. I love baking, hiking, camping, gardening, and being with my family.

What can you tell us about your latest book, A Field Guide to Mermaids? What was the inspiration for this story?

For me, nature and magic have always gone hand in hand. During childhood hikes with my family, my parents would always point out not just the flora and fauna of the region, but of mushrooms that could be fairy houses or ivy drifts that looked like sleeping monsters. When my own kids were born, I continued this tradition of looking for both magic and science outside. When I first started publishing novels, I knew A Field Guide to Mermaids was something I wanted to tackle when I felt ready to both write and illustrate something.

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

I’ve always written as a hobby and turned to it particularly when I began staying home after my daughters were born. It helped me maintain a sense of self outside of being a new mom. After a while, my husband asked if I had ever thought about publishing anything. I hadn’t really, but out of curiosity, I started researching what it took. That brought me through the querying and pitching process to my first published book, Woodwalker, then my first trilogy, then my first duology, and now my first picture book.

What drew you to fantasy, particularly mermaids?

Fantasy was a real home for me as a young reader, and now it’s one of many tools I use in my role as an environmental educator. I try to communicate to park visitors that nature is full of magic if we know how to look for it. And everything in nature—plants, animals, people—revolves around water. I hope looking for mermaids will pique kids’ curiosity in the aquatic ecosystems near them.

How would you describe your writing process?

I’m definitely a plotter. I like having my basic structure laid out before writing—otherwise, I tend to be frozen by all the possibilities my plot could take. My sketchbooks play an important role in developing not just my illustrated books, but my novels as well. With Field Guide, I also went in a cyclical process of research – writing – sketching – repeat. 

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

I was fortunate growing up to be represented by many of the young heroines in my favorite books, but one character that made me feel especially seen was the character of Queen Helen in the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. Helen is described as not classically beautiful, with a broken nose and awkward features. In a world of button-nosed, sleek-haired Disney princesses, I used to be self-conscious about my own large, hooked nose and bushy dark hair. I loved reading a character who looked similar and was also skilled, brave, empathetic, and beloved by other characters.

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

Some of my greatest creative influence comes from being outside and learning about nature, especially for this book. When I first started planning it, I wondered if I would be able to come up with enough habitats and aquatic creatures to fill it out, but every time I started exploring, both outside and in books, I found more and more things I wanted to include.  

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

I love research. I love finding new things that spark my imagination and nudge that desire to create, and then I love weaving them into my text and illustrations. I also love the stretches of time where the writing just flows and I can tell all my previous work is coming together.

The frustrating parts for me are all the tertiary parts of writing—keeping up with my finances, tracking sales, maintaining my hardware and software, that kind of thing.

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

For a long time—like ten years—only my best friend knew I wrote and drew fantasy and fan fiction and art. I was painfully embarrassed about it throughout grade school. Now I love that there’s a huge, proud writing culture built around all the weird niche interests we were into in grade school and how they made us the authors we are today. Dinosaurs! The age of sail! Marching band! The Silmarillion! They’re all in the mix for me.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

What’s my favorite owl? Thank you for asking—I’m partial to the barred owl because their call is just the best and they’re such a quintessential Birds 101 Checklist owl, but I also adore the eastern screech owl, and I love the barn owl for being such a nightmare.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

For young writers in grade school, my best advice is to just have fun with it! Find a friend to write stories with, write fan fiction, and write without worrying if it’s good or not. All of these things helped me foster my own love of writing without realizing that’s what I was actually doing. 

For older writers, it’s helpful to keep your focus on the long game rather than pinning all your hopes and expectations on one manuscript. Writers who expect to publish one novel and rake in the cash/accolades are setting themselves up for stress and disappointment. Adjusting your goals toward slowly building a sturdy career over many books is more realistic and satisfying.

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

I always have several other manuscripts going—I have an adult novel with my agent and a middle-grade fantasy in the drafting stage, and then several others in the planning stages. 

Finally, what books/authors (related to mermaids or otherwise) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

I really love Makiia Lucier, Intisar Khanani, and the aforementioned Megan Whalen Turner. One thing they all have in common is juxtaposing the mundane with the magical, which makes their worlds feel lived in. On a completely different note, I adore Robin Wall Kimmerer’s work on the spiritual and scientific connections between humans and nature.

Interview with Author Mia Tsai

Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. She lives in Atlanta with her family and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and a devoted cat gopher. Her favorite things include music of all kinds and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section. She has been quoted in Glamour once. In her other lives, she is a professional editor, photographer, and musician. Mia is on Twitter at @itsamia and on Instagram at @mia.tsai.books.

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

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

Hey everyone! I’m Mia Tsai, a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. I’m also an editor, a musician, and an amateur orchid keeper.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Bitter Medicine? What was the inspiration for this story?

Bitter Medicine is an adult contemporary fantasy with lots of romance about two people whose lives are ruled by others and who, through extraordinary circumstances, learn to value themselves and each other. More specifically, Bitter Medicine stars a magical Chinese calligrapher named Elle, whose magic makes her calligraphy come to life, and Luc, a French half-elf who relies on Elle’s magic for success in his classified missions. Both of them are hiding secrets, of course, and it’s those secrets, which clash and intersect, that threaten the relationship they’ve built.

There isn’t a single inspiration for Bitter Medicine, but I told myself I wanted a world where I could show the magic inherent in written Chinese, plus a story of love and pain and mental fragility, where an Asian woman goes through depression and grief and her community steps up unequivocally to support her. I also love spy movies, so I brought a little of that into the book as well, then mixed it all with mythologies from multiple cultures.

As someone who has been noted to be influenced by xianxia stories, can you name any of your own personal favorites?

I just finished watching Cang Lan Jue/Love Between Fairy and Devil! I think I’ve had the opening theme stuck in my head for a good three or four days. I loved how much fun the show had with tropes—there’s body swapping and secret curses and an enemies-to-lovers storyline—and I appreciated the comedic bits. We all expect to cry in xianxia dramas, I think, so to be able to laugh a lot was refreshing.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative fiction, and romance?

I was a huge bookworm as a child. I suppose I still am, since I’m never not reading something, whether it’s short stories for Giganotosaurus and Strange Horizons (where I’m guest editing the wuxia and xianxia special issue alongside Joyce Chng and Yilin Wang!), manuscripts, or eking out time to read for fun. But really, the truth is that fanfic got me started in stories from a young age. I loved the books I was reading so much that I didn’t want the stories to end. When I was in third grade, I wrote fanfic for a school assignment, and it’s been off to the races ever since.

Of all the genres, I steeped myself in fantasy the most, and it shows. I needed the escape as a child and having magic and romance in stories was perfect. There could be no overlap between those things and my real life. In books, I could fly with dragons, recite cantrips with mages, fall in love with my rival, and I wanted to write stories that did the same.

How would you describe your writing process?

Stop-start, at once fast and dramatic but also slow and painful. There’s a lot of agonizing, overthinking, doubt, and crying. Any idea I think has legs will get a zero draft that’s completed quickly; I think my fastest on record was ten days. And then, after that, I let the idea bake for a few years before I come back to it, look at what I did, and start over from scratch. That first draft takes a lot longer, anywhere from six months to a year, and then there are revisions…

There’s a lot of competition with myself, whether it’s word count goals for the day—they only ever seem to go up—or challenging myself to do something new, like write a whole book in a new style. I don’t recommend my process, really, and there are days when I wonder why I don’t quit. I don’t like writing, but I like having written.

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

There were a great many books I felt touched by, stories of stubborn girls who find their inner fire and go out and change the world, and maybe find some romance along the way. I wanted to believe I could also be a warrior the way Aerin and Sabriel and Eilonwy were warriors. As books go, there weren’t many with characters who reflected my lived experience, and there still aren’t many at all. These days, Asian fantasy especially has been growing, and I have loved to read books like A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON by Judy Lin, ASH by Malinda Lo, or WANT by Cindy Pon as a teen.

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

I look to my life as inspiration. Anything and everything I experience can become an element in a book. I used to volunteer at the Atlanta Botanical Garden; I worked in the orchid library and with the orchid specialists. Being surrounded by botany got the mind going, and orchids are featured a little in my next book. Music, too, is a huge source of inspiration. I listen to a lot of music, since I’m a musician and all, and I do my best to listen to as much as possible when I’m in the mood for it.

As writing goes, I’ve always wanted to have John Irving’s ability to make a reader cry on one page and laugh hysterically on the other. I’m going to keep working on that.

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

Being finished with writing is my favorite! No, but on a serious note, when I draft, I do so chronologically and use tentpoles. And so arriving at the pivotal scene, the one I envisioned originally and around which I built the entire story, is one of my favorite parts of writing. It’s like the cake I told myself I’d eat but only after tasks A through Z were finished. I also enjoy editing a lot. I think I write just so I can make fixes and tweak language without annoying anyone but myself.

Drafting has got to be the most frustrating aspect of writing for me. I wish the words would simply appear and be done so that I could take my red pen out and get to work.

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

I moonlight as a photographer every once in a while, and I love taking portraits of people. I used to do commercial photography professionally, though that didn’t last too long.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

What’s your favorite cocktail? A vieux mot, which is a dry gin, elderflower liqueur, and simple syrup concoction (just in case anyone wants to buy me a drink).

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Finish what you’re working on. No matter how good or bad, you should finish it. There are lots of writers out there who are always working on something in progress, and they spend years tinkering and perfecting—no. Finish it. Then you can edit it. At least you have finished it.

Additionally, finishing begets finishing. Finishing something proves to you that you can finish something, which gives you the confidence to go forth and finish your next something.

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

I have a project titled Key & Vale which is out on submission right now. It’s a science fantasy set in a post–climate change world where cataclysms have wiped out many archives, so many so that people are left floundering. Key is a memory diver, an archaeologist gifted with the ability to taste blood and hallucinate the memories encoded within through use of a mushroom. Her job is to rediscover old knowledge, but it comes with a price: she can lose herself to the memories. Vale is Key’s guardian, tasked with keeping Key’s mind and body whole—but if that isn’t possible, she will be Key’s executioner.

Also, it’s sapphic.

Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

We’ve got an exciting year of books coming up! I’m of course looking forward to Ehigbor Okosun’s FORGED BY BLOOD, Emma Mieko Candon’s THE ARCHIVE UNDYING, SL Huang’s THE WATER OUTLAWS, and many, many others.

Header Photo Credit Michelle Li Wynne Photography

Interview with Author Ian Eagleton

Ian Eagleton is an education consultant, author, and elementary school teacher based in the UK. He is also the founder of The Reading Realm, an educational app for teachers. 

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

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

Hi! Thanks so much for having me! My name’s Ian. I was a primary school teacher for thirteen years and I now write children’s books which specialize in LGBTQ+ inclusivity and diversity. I also write educational resources for companies, enjoy going to the gym, swimming, reading, and films. Some of my previous books include Nen and the Lonely Fisherman (illustrated by James Mayhew) and Violet’s Tempest ((illustrated by Clara Anganuzzi).  

What can you tell us about your latest book, The Woodcutter and The Snow Prince? What was the inspiration for this story?

The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince is very superficially based on The Snow Queen. I suppose it links to the story in that the main character is called Kai, there’s a wicked Snow Prince and the setting is very wintry and magical. But the actual story is quite different to The Snow Queen and was inspired by a German fairy tale called “Jorinda and Joringel”.

In the story, there’s an evil witch who turns young maidens into birds and captures them and keeps them in cages in her castle. She transforms any young men she meets into statues. The story is quite dark and strange, and it got me thinking about why the witch was like this. What was it about these young, heterosexual couples that she hated so much? Could she even control her powers? Was she misunderstood in any way? 

When I sent the story to Sam at Owlet Press, there was something missing, however. The setting didn’t quite work and wasn’t quite magical enough and I couldn’t quite get to grips with the witch and her motivation. Sam suggested setting the story at Christmas time and I immediately thought of a Snow Prince. I was still interested in rumours and the stories we tell each other, so wanted there to be all these terrifying myths and tales about this supposedly wicked prince. 

Once I had hit on the idea that there might be more to his story and that he could be saved, the rest of the story came together! It’s a really exciting, thrilling story full of adventure, peril, strange creatures, love, and hope! 

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically children’s books?

I was very lucky that my Mum read to us every night. I used to love all the Alfie and Annie-Rose books and a book called Garth Pig and the Ice Cream Lady by Mary Raynor – I can still recite parts of it now. I also have very fond memories of being read Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation. I remember howling with laughter as I sat at my teacher’s feet and how we all begged her to read certain parts again and again. Never underestimate the power of being read to! I think I wanted to capture that magic and sense of hope in my own story writing.

What else drew me to writing children’s books with an LGBTQ+ theme? Possibly a sense of injustice. I never saw any gay men in the stories I read and always felt a bit excluded from the literary space. I have been with my husband for ten years now and we have a son. When we started thinking about having children, I desperately wanted to make sure that our child saw their family in the books they read. I think I was also writing for the little boy who felt different and never saw himself in fairy tales, and the gay teenager who was bullied and felt alone. 

For those curious about the process behind a picture book, how would you describe the process? What goes into writing one and collaborating with an artist to translate that into a book?

It’s a very long, often challenging, and arduous process! I often write very quickly and maybe have a finished version of a story in a day. At this stage, it’s just scribbles and thoughts and ideas. It’s also bloated and far too long. A picture book should be around 500-700 words, so I spend an awful lot of time editing and chipping away at the text. Very often a lot of my writing can actually be shown in the artwork by the illustrator so I just leave comments about what I’m visualising and seeing in my head. I spend a lot of time talking to my agent and editor about the direction I’d like the story to take, the atmosphere I’m trying to create if there are any themes that need picking up or anything I’ve left unsaid that might need to be explained in the artwork. Although, I don’t tend to work too closely with the illustrator – I’m a writer, not an artist! I might give feedback on how I thought a character might look but it’s usually best just to trust the illustrator and leave them to do their job. That way they feel uninhibited, completely free to develop and transform my words into something magical. Trust and letting go are very important parts of the job. 

What advice might you have to give young writers?

Keep a diary! As a child, I kept a diary from the age of 10 until I was in my twenties. I always urge young writers to keep a diary too. I used to write everything in it – stories about what had happened to my hamster, film reviews, lists of new words I’d found, favourite books, what I’d had for dinner, and so on! A diary is a very special thing as it allows us to write just for ourselves and not worry about other people or if we’ve spelt something incorrectly or that our handwriting is messy. Writing in a diary should be enjoyable too. Have fun – doodle in it and illustrate it!

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

Lots! As well as being a dad, working as an education resource writer, and generally trying to eat healthily, go to the gym, and not fall apart at how scary the world is right now, I’m also working on some new picture books. I can’t say too much about them, but one involves a little girl, some cute dogs, and adventures with her daddies, and the other is a celebration of a two-dad family and the great outdoors. I also have my debut middle-grade book Glitter Boy, which is being published by Scholastic, coming out in February 2023. It’s a joyful, hopeful story that tackles the effects of homophobic bullying and how damaging it can be. It also explores LGBTQ+ pride and history, the power of friendship, poetry, and dance, and the need to call upon our friends, neighbours, family, and community when times are tough. It’s a real celebration of being true to yourself!

Apart from all those exciting projects, I’m also working with my agent on some new picture books, so it’s a busy time. However, I feel very lucky to be able to write LGBTQ+ inclusive books for children which will hopefully spark a desire in them to make the world a happier, fairer place when everyone gets to see themselves in the books they read. 

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

I’m going to recommend some LGBTQ+ themed picture books I love if that’s OK! Perfect for sharing with your family or maybe just reading yourself as an adult – they’re a wonderful way to look back in time and heal that inner child! 

The Woodcutter and The Snow Prince by Ian Eagleton, illustrated by Davide Ortu, is published by Owlet Press. Out now, £7.99 paperback.

Interview with Photographer Shaun Simpson

G’day! I’m Shaun Simpson, a nerdy photographer from Halifax, Nova Scotia – on the East Coast of Canada; my preferred pronouns are he/him. 🙂 I can be found @ShaunTheShooter on most platforms, or via my social links site at:

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

Thanks! Quickly summarized, I’m just a hardcore geek with a camera. My fandoms generally include anything Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel or DC. I love reading comics – especially anything Tom Taylor writes – watching anime (BNHA, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, Death Note, etc.), and I’m heavy into IRL science geekery as well.

When it comes to photography, I shoot just about everything from landscapes to portraits, although I’m probably most known for my fitness and cosplay photography.

Cosplayer Michael Hamm (@hammy73) as Wiccan

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about how your projects relate to the LGBTQ+ community?

For starters, I’m gay (demi/ace) and massively introverted, but photography has always given me an easy way to experience life from a more comfortable perspective. I love Pride events but being solo in the crowds was always a little anxiety inducing. As a photographer I could shoot the events from the sidelines, put the camera down when I wanted to be social, then I’d start shooting again when I needed to retreat. Since starting in photography I’ve shot numerous Pride events, drag performers and performances, and even worked on a few 2SLGBTQIA+ TV/films productions.

Growing up in a conservative small town, when I was coming out a comment I heard often was a variation of “Gay, why? Women are hot, guys are gross.” – so, when my photography started evolving from just shooting nature and landscapes, I made an effort to show that men, and masculine energy, could be beautiful, sensual, and artistic too.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to shoot a few cosplays of characters representing the 2SLGBTQIA+ community as well; seeing this inclusive evolution of comic book storytelling has been ridiculously inspiring!

Drag Artist Crystal (

How would you describe your creative process? Are there any methods you use to help better your concentration or progress?

Being self-taught in photography and post-production, I took the long way around and trial-and-errored my way into developing a creative process and style.

I digitally develop the photographs in Lightroom, then I load them into Photoshop. I created a Photoshop Action that runs about 60 steps to prepare the image, then I start the retouching process, compositing backgrounds, and adding effects. I have a strict policy of not manipulating a model’s body, but everything else is fair game for my post-production work; my final shots rarely resemble the straight from camera look, even for portraits and headshots.

Work on shots for models/cosplayers tends to be inspired by the people I’m working with; the more I connect and vibe with them, the easier it is for me to focus my creative energy. I think of it the same way as when actors talk about feeding from the energy of a live audience. Some people give that muse-like energy that feeds my creativity – they end up in front of my camera as often as I can book them for a shoot.

When I’m having a creative block, I force myself into doing small steps. Loading the images in Photoshop, completing one simple step no matter how small – just adjusting the cropping and rotation, just fixing a costume imperfection, just selecting a background. Once I get that one step finished, if I don’t feel the creativity flowing, I give myself permission to call it quits for the night, then I try again tomorrow.

Cosplayer Dan Morash (@danmorashcosplay) as Robin

What’s something you haven’t done as a photographer that you’d like to do?

I’d love to be able to travel and take my best friend with me to do epic location shoots – from luxurious NYC Penthouses, black-sanded beaches in Iceland, castles in Europe, to ancient forests in Japan; the logistics would be complex, but the memories would last a lifetime.

I’d like to travel to comic conventions to shoot as well. There are so many talented cosplayers around the world that I’ve connected with over the years; it’d be great to finally get to collaborate on a shoot together.

Model/Activist Myles Sexton (@mylessexton):

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your career?

Chasing likes and follows, trying to be the best photographer in my genre – it’s a fun challenge, but it isn’t sustainable for me; algorithms change, one minute you’re on top, and the next you’re buried below a thousand posts. Those goals weren’t motivating, and the self-applied pressure to constantly grow my audience was just pushing me into hardcore burnout.

I eventually realized, even if I paid to promote a post, the only ‘like’ I watched for was from the person I created the image with; if that person liked the shot, then I’d be happy, and if they say my work has been helpful, in any way – it’s the best feeling. What really motivates and sustains me creatively, as cheesy as it sounds, is the time I get to spend creating art with my friends. Creating something with the potential to be more than just a simple photograph; creating something filled with meaning or value, that’s the goal.

Do you do most of your photography shoots in your area? Or do you travel some?

Mostly just shooting in my area these days. I’d love to travel more for both nature and cosplay/fitness photography, but so far that opportunity hasn’t been readily accessible; maybe someday!

Cosplayer Jeremy M. (@jshrall) as Zero Suit Samus

Besides cosplayers, what other subject matter do you work with?

I love finding and capturing beauty in all its forms! I’ll happily shoot pretty much anything – from landscapes and wildlife, to fitness and fashion, and everything in between, with the exception of Weddings – too much pressure, I leave that to the pros.

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

A lot of my studio work is dependent on model/cosplayer availability, which is always a bit of a moving target, but I do have a few fun new cosplay and creative shoots in the works; some new and familiar faces, stay tuned! 😉

Fitness Model Kyle Hynick (@kyle.hynick)

Aside from photography, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Besides photography, and my day job in the IT world, my free time is mostly spent being a professional introvert. I had a little brain surgery mishap years ago that left me with a permanent CSF leak/headache, so I tend to spend a fair amount of my time chilling online, at home. You can usually find me in front of my computer playing in Photoshop, at the gym, and catching up on shows or talking about comics with my friends.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

People often make comments, assuming the best part of a photographer’s job is just getting to work with ‘hot’ models. Most everyone enjoys a bit of eye candy, but for me the best part of the job is the conversation that happens during the shoots. Photographer Annie Leibovitz was quoted saying “When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them.” – I find that relatable, I’m a thoroughbred introvert, so it’s sometimes hard to make new connections, but the camera helps with that. The camera creates a connection and also a safety barrier, but as cheesy as it sounds, after a really good shoot, when I put the camera down, I find I’m no longer talking to just a model or a client, but a new friend.

Cosplayer Michael Hamm (@hammy73) as Superman (Jonathan Kent)

Finally, what LGBTQ crafters or creators would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

If you know my work, you almost certainly know my best friend, cosplayer and content creator extraordinaire, the iconic Michael Hamm (@Hammy73 & @Michael.Hamm.Cosplay on Insta). I’ve worked with Michael on dozens of fitness, fashion, and cosplay shoots over the past decade; check out his Patreon, where most of our work together lives at

Big shoutout to my nightly entertainment while editing photos, the phenomenal Twitch variety streamer Loganolio, and his wonderfully inclusive community.

Highly recommend checking out the inspiring work of my friend Akshay Tyagi, a remarkably talented stylist, and co-creator of the new fashion label Happiness Within.

And things wouldn’t be complete without adding my dearest friend (and ex-), the ineffable James Neish to the list – creativity personified; a talented comic book artist, painter, and illustrator.

Rebelle Re-views: ‘Supernatural’ and the Road to Positive Masculinity

This past Fall I was hot off of working at NYCC and in the mood to indulge in the impending spooky season by deciding it was time to revisit Supernatural. I had watched the series initially as it was airing, but at some point along the way I fell off – something happened in 2020, can’t remember what – and I never saw how it all wrapped up. Enter a large bottle of red wine and a hankering for some classic rock and monsters and I was off on each new case riding passenger in that iconic 1967 Chevy Impala with Sam and Dean Winchester. It’s a long and windy road, full of lore and monsters, of course, deals with the devil/s, and gripes with God. It repeatedly asks us to define and redefine what it means to be family and how far is too far when it comes to our obligations to them

What I loved most about the show in the Before Times was its ability to not take itself so seriously. For all the horror and anxieties the Winchesters’ face there is levity and straight-up silliness in equal measure. It’s that kind of harmony that seemed to keep viewers tuning in for fifteen seasons. That’s not to say that Supernatural is without its foibles. The blatant misogyny and treatment of women, particularly in early seasons, is cringy in the best of circumstances and the well-documented history of queerbaiting in later seasons leaves much to be desired and disappointed by. And none of that should come as a surprise. Of the 16 executive producers of the show, only two were women. With a majority of the creative team or the team with the money making the decisions being white, cis, (presumably) straight men whose views of the world center around being centered, you can typically kiss nuance goodbye.

Over the 15 years Supernatural was on air, technology and the internet developed at a rapid velocity and conversations around gender, equity, and justice went through dramatic shifts. It was interesting to see how Supernatural, a show with all-American, blue-collar protagonists assembled with stereotypical “masculine” bits and bobs like a shoot first talk later attitude and predilections for vintage cars, brown booze, and babes would navigate waters that put their own identities as saviors into question. Horror as a genre is predicated on facing our greatest fears about who we are as a society and as individuals. Whether it’s the fear of our capacity for profound evil or the realization of how helpless we really are in the face of a ruthless and unruly natural world we have a lot to be afraid about and much to reckon with. 

Supernatural never shied away from confronting what happens when one becomes the monster. The brothers Winchester went to Hell and back at such a dizzying rate it was hard at times to keep storylines straight. Excuses for delving into monsterdom typically centered on the brothers’ codependent dynamic, where everything was done for each other but was never what either of them wanted. With all the abandonment, parentification, and exposure to significant trauma from such young ages it makes sense that the idea of letting someone you love make decisions for themselves and then respecting them even if you don’t agree would be terrifying. If facing homicidal ghosts, demons, and any number of creatures that go bump in the night wasn’t frightening enough, the possibility of having to face them alone can be even more so. 

Jared Padalecki as Sam and Jensen Ackles as Dean in ‘Supernatural’ formerly on The CW

What is further compelling about the show is that it doesn’t always fall into the rugged, lone wolf trope that it easily could have. Though positioned as the heroes of the series, Sam and Dean Winchester are rarely without and people (human and supernatural alike) who become chosen family. Like the monsters they set out to hunt, they are also people living on the margins of society. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile whether they are on the margins by choice as vigilantes with their privileges and abilities to “pass” helping them hop in and out of the human world as they deem appropriate or if they are in denial by the privileges they have so they can prolong any acceptance of what makes them the same or similar to those they claim to be protecting the world from.

Monsters and supernatural beings are never just that in this genre. Historically, they are coded as the pariahs and scapegoats of society: Jews, women, queer people. Those that are deemed by “civilized” Christian society to have been born with a darkness inside, that are clearly the cause of all the world’s problems and must be destroyed. Much of the representations of these monsters we see and read about in modern media stem from these medieval Christian prejudices and justifications for continued acts of violence toward the marginalized members of their societies. In Supernatural we see Sam and Dean struggle with this time and time again. Though not explicitly Christian in nature, there are many references to stories and figures from Judaism including, my personal favorite, the scribing archangel with chutzpah larger than their human vessel Metatron, the heavy focus on the battle between heaven and hell and what it takes to get into either is straight up New Testament. 

Other aspects of strict Christian dogma are the “traditional” ideas of who people are allowed to love and how as well as the rigid expectations of the roles of men and women. Though beginning to change now, that worldview has and still is dominant in the stories that are put forth for audiences to consume. Supernatural falls in line in many ways, but also breaks a significant mold. I can’t recall many shows, if any, that showed young men having relationships that included affection, vulnerability, and desire and willingness to try and set things right with each other, even if imperfectly. Sam and Dean heart-to-hearts, typically taking place in the aforementioned Impala, are a common occurrence episode to episode. When something is on their mind or they are in disagreement they don’t succumb to patriarchy-approved “male” behaviors like, beating the shit out of each other or challenging each other to some sportsing thing. They talk it out (or sometimes in Dean’s case, gruffly yells). Their attempts at communicating, of wanting to be heard and get the other to open up is a stark contrast to the societal messaging that the only emotion acceptable for men to express, regardless of everyone who ends up paying for it, is anger and if anything else arises it must be immediately shut down.

Misha Collins as Castiel, Jensen Ackles as Dean, and Jared Padalecki as Sam in ‘Supernatural.’ Photo Credit Diyah Pera/The CW

To see men engage in and explore more of their emotional worlds with each other and develop intimacy based on mutual respect rooted in partnership rather than the more normalized form of male bonding over the humiliation and degradation of women, gender expansive and queer folks feels like a breath of fresh air. So much so that in the devastating scene when Castiel tells Dean he loves him mere moments before his end it feels so loaded that it’s almost jarring. Not simply because this scene, in particular, evokes the queer-coded nature of the #Destiel relationship and the accusations against the creators of queerbaiting all the way  to the “bury-your-gays” trope, but also because it still feels incredibly rare to see men look at each other and express a deep and heartfelt “I love you.” And I wish that was more normalized. 

As a culture we’re in the uncomfortable and frightening moment of reactionary backlash toward conversations we’ve been having about gender, Me Too, CRT, and basic human rights. It’s to be expected that the more inclusive and free from norms and binaries people inherently realize they are, the more threatened people who have not gotten there yet or who benefit from keeping people in particular positions will be. And those struggles are quite apparent in Supernatural as creators tried with some success and definitely big failures to navigate a fan base more in touch with their identities who could bring more insight into characters and their relationship dynamics than the creators possibly anticipated. The struggle to be a person, or supernatural being, or god-like entity is real. For all its missteps, oversights, and messy plot lines, in the end Supernatural is a story about the consequences of our actions, the obstacles we’re able to overcome when we make sure to have a little fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously, and the wild ride life becomes when we find those people we want to go to Hell and back with. Carry on. 

Interview with Cartoonist Melanie Gillman

Melanie Gillman is a cartoonist and illustrator who specializes in LGBTQ books for kids and teens. They are the creator of the Stonewall Honor Award–winning graphic novel As the Crow Flies and Stage Dreams. In addition to their graphic novel work, they teach in the comics MFA program at California College of the Arts.

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

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

I’m a cartoonist who specializes in queer spec fic and colored pencil art!

What can you tell us about your latest book, Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales? What inspired the collection?

A lot of the stories in Other Ever Afters originated as 24-hour comics! I’ve been participating in 24-hour comic day every year since 2016. I started drawing romantic queer fairy tale comics every year in part because I love the genre (and if you’re drawing comics for yourself, there’s no reason not to be as self-indulgent as possible about it), and in part, because fairy tales are short! It’s a good storytelling format for something you want to be able to get done in a weekend.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly to the comics medium? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I’ve always been an avid reader and writer, but I didn’t really fall in love with comics until college when I started stumbling across webcomics. In my early years, I was reading a lot of webcomics by people like Der-Shing Helmer, E.K. Weaver, Kate Beaton, and Lucy Knisley (who are all still active today and doing great work) – as well as any graphic novels I could scrounge up at my local library, which at the time was not a lot!

How would you describe your creative process?

It’s an everyday process for me!  I have set hours every day where I’m writing and drawing.  It might not sound very romantic, but I’m a strong believer in schedules and habit-building – it’s the best way to make steady progress on your creative work.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/drawing? What are some of the most challenging?

I love the colored pencil process! (And you really have to love colored pencils to work with them at all, they’re slow and labor-intensive as hell.) Coloring is the stage where I can turn on audiobooks and really get into the zone for hours – it’s hard work, but it’s also meditative and relaxing in a way.

Scripting is often the most challenging part of the process for me – but only because I have a serious perfectionist streak as a storyteller, so it’s easy to get worked up second-guessing even really tiny decisions along the way. When you know you’ve gotten something right though, it’s a high like nothing else.

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

Outside of comics, I tend to read a lot of history and biology nonfiction, and that definitely worms its way into my comics in a lot of ways, even if most of it stays below the surface. I also will never ever pass up opportunities to visit weird niche local museums and historical sites and have gained a lot of valuable insight from that over the years, too. I think it’s a good thing for storytellers to be curious about the world around them, and to be lifelong students in whatever fields naturally appeal to them. Learning is the compost that good stories grow from – it’s never a wasted effort.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

I rarely get asked about acting in comics, but it’s one of my favorite aspects of the medium!  Comics have a lot of overlap with theater – you can think of every graphic novel as being a one-man show in a way, with the cartoonist performing every role. If you want to get better at this part of the craft, besides the obvious stuff (practice!), as silly as it sounds, I genuinely think it helps to listen to a lot of musicals and sing along. It’s a way to train your brain to mimic professional actors’ expressions and body language in a ton of wildly different roles, and to feel those movements in your own body. Also, as a bonus, this is something you can do while drawing your comics, so you’re sort of doubling up on your practice there.

Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I’ve gotten majorly into foraging as a pandemic hobby – if you ever want someone who can talk your ear off about eating acorns or wild mushrooms or the various tasty weeds that grow in people’s yards, I’m your guy. On any given day, if I’m not drawing comics, I’m probably neck-deep in a bramble somewhere, filling up a container with blackberries.

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

Most of my forthcoming books haven’t been announced yet, sadly! But I can say I’m working on a lot of horror lately, which has been a ton of fun.

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring graphic novelists, whether illustrators and/or writers?

For writers: practice drawing your scripts. Comics is a visual medium, and there are very important lessons about comics storytelling you won’t learn without drawing.  Even if all you can draw is stick figures, do that! You’ll become a much better comics storyteller and a much better collaborator the more you do this.

For artists: you already know a lot about writing, even if you don’t think you do. There are a lot of people out there who seem to have this funny idea that comic artists are not also writers, but those people are wrong. I don’t think you can teach yourself how to draw comics without also learning a whole lot about how to write them. Approach this industry with the confidence that you are a visual storyteller with a full grasp of the medium, not a partial grasp.

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

We’re incredibly lucky to be living in a time where we’ve got a wealth of queer comics out in the world to read, with more being published every year! If you enjoyed Other Ever Afters and want to read more fairy tale comics with a queer perspective, two books I would strongly recommend are The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

Retro Gay-Mer: LGBT Representation in Games Pre-2003!

CW: Discussions of violence, homophobia, transphobia

What is Retro? This post has made me feel old. When I was a child, Atari was Retro. I remember when the first Nintendo Entertainment System came out. I remember excitedly saving up money from farm work to buy a Super NES Bundle with Super Mario Allstars. We are now closer in time to the Playstation 3 than to …. So, since I had to pick a time frame to work with, I picked twenty years (to make the math easy). This list is not exhaustive, as I unfortunately do not have unlimited time to play retro games. Also, one of my favorite games of all times “The Longest Journey” will likely have a future article dedicated to it, and so isn’t mentioned below. Also, there was a game I found from Atari from 1982 called ‘Custer’s Revenge’ which is super messed up, racist, violent, sexist but not specifically anti-LGBT so it didn’t make the list, but definitely avoid it.

The representation of LGBTQ+ characters in video games has come a long way in recent years, but there was a time when the portrayal of queer characters in video games was scarce, problematic, or nonexistent. In this blog post, we will take a look at the five best and five worst video games for LGBTQ+ representation before 2003, including canonically queer characters, queer coded characters, and fan theories about whether characters are queer.

The Best

5. The Sims (2000)

Apartment via Sims” by spaceninja is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The Sims is a life simulation video game that allows players to create and control their own characters and houses. The game was groundbreaking for its time as it was one of the first games to include same-sex relationships. The game’s developers did not make a big deal out of the inclusion of same-sex relationships, but it was a significant step forward for LGBTQ+ representation in video games. The newest version of The Sims allows character customization including top surgery scars.

4. Fallout 2 (1998)

Fallout 2” by Eat your greens! is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Fallout 2 is a post-apocalyptic role-playing game that is set in the year 2241. The game features a character named Angela Bishop, who is a sex worker in the game’s fictional city of New Reno. Angela Bishop is a lesbian character, and the game allows the player to have a romantic relationship with her. Of course, Fallout has largely continued this trend with in-game romance and character customization.

3. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000)

Baldurs Gate 2 Ingame” by ap0c42 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is a role-playing game that features a character named Haer’Dalis, who is a bard and a member of the game’s main cast. Haer’Dalis is a bisexual character, and the game allows the player to have a romantic relationship with him. The Baldur’s Gate series is amazing for classic Dungeons and Dragons RPG play. Definitely worth checking out.

2. EarthBound (1994)

Earthbound Rocks!!!” by AntMan3001 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

EarthBound is a Japanese role-playing game that was released in North America in 1995. The game features a character named Tony, who is heavily implied to be gay. Tony is a non-playable character, but he is an essential character in the game’s storyline. Even if you haven’t played EarthBound, you likely will recognize the protagonist from Super Smash Bros.

  1. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Final Fantasy VII [BG]” by Precision GFX is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

If you’re an RPG fan and haven’t played this game all the way through, and you didn’t grow up in a cellar in Indiana like the Unstoppable Kimmy Schmidt, then please stop reading and immediately go find a copy. 

Final Fantasy VII is a Japanese role-playing game that features a character named Cloud who is the protagonist of the game. The game’s storyline is complicated, but one of the most interesting aspects of the game is the character Barret Wallace, who is a Black man with a gun for an arm and is heavily implied to be in a relationship with another male character named Dyne.

The Worst

5. Street Fighter II (1991)

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix 2” by gamerscoreblog is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Street Fighter II is a fighting game that features a character named Vega, who is queer coded. Vega is a flamboyant character who wears a mask and is obsessed with his appearance. The character’s design and behavior have been criticized for perpetuating harmful stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people, particularly those who identify as gender non-conforming or flamboyant. As much as I loved playing this game as a kid on SNES, looking back it was clearly harmful.

4. Final Fight (1989)

Final Fight Poster” by Wootang01 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Final Fight is a side-scrolling beat ’em up game that was released in 1989. The Japanese version of the game was initially intended to feature a character named Poison, a drag queen who would be a member of the game’s antagonist gang. However, the character was changed to a cisgender woman in the North American release of the game due to concerns about the portrayal of a Queer character in a violent game. After further controversy about violence towards women, the game developer noted that the character was trans and therefore the arguments had no merit. The developers have gone back and forth multiple times on this. This decision has been criticized for perpetuating harmful stereotypes about transgender people and erasing their representation in video games. In later releases of the game, Poison was eventually revealed to be a transgender woman, but the controversy surrounding her original portrayal still remains. 

This one despite the controversy has been reclaimed to some degree in recent years and generated a fan favorite Cosplay at conventions, with folks of all genders dressing as the character.

3. Vendetta (1991)

Vendetta, also known as Crime Fighters 2, is a side-scrolling beat ’em-up game that was released in 1991. The game features a stereotypical gay enemies in leather who attack the player by humping and licking. The enemy does the same thing if the player is knocked to the ground. Obviously, this is problematic for multiple reasons and feeds into the harmful rhetoric of LGBTQ people as predators.

  1. Leather Goddesses of Phobos (1986) 

Leather Goddesses of Phobos is an interactive fiction game that was released in 1986. The game features offensive jokes and stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people, including jokes about gay conversion therapy and cross-dressing. The game’s portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters was harmful and insensitive. The game is rated for ages 9+.

  1. Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (1987)

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards is a graphic adventure game that was released in 1987. The game’s protagonist is a sleazy womanizer named Larry Laffer, who is on a quest to find love. The game’s portrayal of LGBTQ+ people is particularly problematic, as it perpetuates stereotypes and offensive jokes about gay men and trans women. In several versions of the game, you automatically lose if you sleep with a trans woman.

While some games before 2003 had positive representations of LGBTQ+ characters, others perpetuated harmful stereotypes and offensive jokes. It’s important to acknowledge and critique these problematic portrayals, as well as celebrate the positive representations. Over the last twenty years, progress has been made in the gaming industry to improve LGBTQ+ representation, with many games featuring complex, multi-dimensional queer characters and storylines that challenge stereotypes and help to normalize LGBTQ+ identities. As we move forward, it’s important that game developers continue to prioritize inclusion and diversity in their work, and that gamers continue to demand and support positive representation of marginalized communities. By doing so, we can create a gaming landscape that is truly inclusive and welcoming for all.

Title Image: the Retro Gaming Shelf comes into being” by blakespot is licensed under CC BY 2.0.