Interview with Emma Steinkellner, Creator of Nell of Gumbling: My Extremely Normal Fairy-Tale Life

Emma Steinkellner is an illustrator, writer, and cartoonist living in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the illustrator of the Eisner-nominated comic Quince. She is the author and illustrator of The Okay Witch graphic novel series.

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

Thank you! I’m a writer, illustrator, and cartoonist in Los Angeles, CA and I love making comics for young readers. I remember how much it meant to me to get completely absorbed in a fun book at that age and it’s really great to be able to make the books I would’ve wanted to read then now.

What can you tell us about your latest project, Nell of Gumbling: My Extremely Normal Fairy-Tale Life? What was the inspiration for this book?

This book is the illustrated journal of Nell Starkeeper, an (as she would put it) extremely normal 12-year-old kid living in the magical land of Gumbling, where her friends are fairies, unicorns, and Thumbkins and the history of the town is full of real-life fairy tales. When I sat down to come up with an idea for a new series, I thought about the kind of stuff I liked to read as a kid and I remembered how fascinated I was by fairy tales and I thought it would be fun to write a book of original fairy tales in comic form. Then, as I came up with those tales, I realized it would be cool if they all took place in the same land. And then, a couple of ideas later, I centered the story on the point of view of one kid in that land! 

Can you give us any trivia (that hasn’t already been given) about the characters from , Nell of Gumbling: My Extremely Normal Fairy-Tale Life?

There are a lot of fairy tale archetypes I play around with in this book: fairies, unicorns, witches, thumb-sized people. And I wanted to really set my imagination free as I designed these types of characters that have existed in plenty of other tales before. In the case of Nell’s unicorn frenemy Voila Lala, I smushed together a couple of design inspirations. First off, the unicorns are really more like unicorn-centaurs with human heads and torsos (no noses though, they smell through their horns!). And Voila in particular is really inspired by koi fish and candy corn, which you might be able to see in her overall color palette. And I keep the fairies’ wings in this world colorful but semi-transparent. That’s inspired by some colorful tissue shapes my older sister had on her window in our house growing up. I used to love the way the light came through those.

As a creative, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly to the realm of comics/graphic novels and fantasy?

 I love writing and I love drawing but I REALLY love putting them together. Even when I’m drawing context-less doodles in my sketchbook, I’m always kind of imagining a story for them. And even when I’m writing a text-only story, I’m tempted to draw some of the characters and settings. So comics and graphic novels really are the perfect form for me. And as for fantasy, I’ve always been drawn to whimsical genre stuff like that, as a reader/viewer and as a creator. And I think magic pairs perfectly with middle grade/coming of age stories, which can be full of such unique and strong emotions.

How would you describe your artistic background?

I come from a family of writers! My parents worked as writing partners, my older brother and sister both write. It would have been pretty impossible for me to stay away from writing. Good thing I didn’t want to! But I knew I didn’t want to only write. I loved performing, improv, singing and dancing, and drawing. And when I was around 14, I started to really focus on drawing and put my whole self into it. And the more I drew, the more confident I got, and the more I found that my passions for writing and illustration really support each other.

How would you describe your creative process?

Since I’m both writer and illustrator, I’m in conversation with myself a lot. A lot of people ask me what comes first when I’m making a graphic novel: the writing or the drawing? And the answer is…sort of both. While I’m outlining the script, sometimes I’ll come up with some moments, places, costumes, characters, or objects that I need to sketch out. By designing some of those visual elements, I get a better idea of how to write about them when I write the script (which is the next step). Once I’ve written the script, and revised it with my editor, it’s time to pencil the whole thing. That means I sketch out every page (in Photoshop), then we edit those sketches, I refine them to turn them into the final linework, and I add color! The whole thing takes about a year-ish.

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

I try to find inspiration all over the place. But for Nell of Gumbling, I kept coming back to a couple books that I couldn’t put down as a kid. The Amelia books by Marissa Moss and the epistolary books by Kate and M. Sarah Klise. It’s not hard to see how the humor and inventiveness of those books have stuck with me since 2002 when you read Nell. 

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

Growing up a cis, white girl, I didn’t really have any shortage of characters I could point to and go “oh look, it’s me” (Amelia from those Amelia books was one of them, she even had my exact haircut). Not every kid gets to feel that that often, although thankfully there has been a lot of progress in children’s literature and we now get a lot more diverse, inclusive stories created by writers and illustrators who write from their own personal experiences.

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

With this particular book, I’ve loved writing from the point of view of my main character. It’s pretty natural to sink into her voice because that was totally how I wrote in my journals as a kid. So I just love being in that state of flow where I might as well be writing in my own diary. There are special pages of the book where I’ll really sink into the illustration too, really finely-detailed pages like the map of Gumbling or the 2-page spread of the Feszht festival (Feszht is the winter holiday in Gumbling). But those are also a lot of hard work. So it can take a long time to get everything right. And I’m not the most patient person, so that can be tough. But ultimately, it’s always rewarding to slow down and focus so I can make something a little more special. 

Aside from your work, what are some things you would like readers to know about you?

Truthfully, I put so much of the stuff that I’m made of into my work, you can find a lot of  it there. Like the reason soup is such an important part of the regional cuisine of Gumbling? I love soup! 

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 haven’t been asked much about the Gumbling Tales yet and I had so much fun with them. Since my initial goal for this book was to create an illustrated book of original fairy tales, the core spirit of it is kind of in Nell’s illustrated Gumbling tales in the back of the book. It was a challenge to come up with stories that had the vibe of fairy tales, but weren’t actual retellings of any tales. I do think of each Gumbling tale as having a few similar existing tales that are “cousins” to it, however. Like, The Soupman’s Wish, the Gumbling tale of a soup vendor who gives a lonely ghost some hot soup and is granted a wish in return— that is a cousin to any story of a kind character showing generosity to a supernatural being and getting something in return (Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, Diamonds and Toads, The Wishing Pearl, etc.)

What advice might you have to give for other creatives?

Journal! It feels so good to get what’s in your head down on paper, whether that’s your daily feelings, long term goals, reflections, or ideas for new stuff. Having a repository to put all that stuff in my brain helps me focus and gives me perspective. I guess this wouldn’t be beneficial to creatives only, but I find it very helpful creatively.

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

I just finished the second book in the Gumbling series! So you should look out for that later next year. And I’m starting on a third one. I’m very excited about both of them.

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

Twins by Varian Johnson and illustrated by Shannon Wright is so sweet and fun. Anything by Vera Brosgol. I love Jen Wang’s graphic novels too. 

Interview with Trip Galey and Chris McCartney of Bona Books

In a world where corporate entities maintain a tight grip on the institutionalization of creativity and where representation mattering is still more of a conversation than a mainstream practice, a glimmer of hope emerges in a new queer press, Bona Books. The London-based press established by Trip Galey, Chris McCartney, and Robert Berg, Bona Books plans to be a place the queer community and allies can pick up science fiction and fantasy and see themselves fully reflected in it. As Chris says in one of the many gems from our recent chat, “To see that representation, to see the community that we love and the people that we love reflected in stories that we love” is what Bona Books is all about. I sat down with Trip and Chris (sadly, Robert was unable to join) prior to the launch of the Kickstarter campaign to fund Bona Book’s first anthology, I Want That Twink OBLITERATED!, which met its full fundraising goal in less than 32 hours after officially launching on September 13th, 2023, and was picked as a “Project We Love” by Kickstarter themselves. Our conversation was playful as much as insightful as we spoke about the innate queerness of science fiction and fantasy, obliterating twinks memes, and the space they hope Bona Books can hold in the world of publishing. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

First, I’d love to know a little bit about each of you and how books and reading were a part of your upbringing.

Chris: I was very much one of those kids who always had a book at all points. My earliest memories are all book-related. When I was very very young the way my dad would coax me to have a bath was he’d read to me. So, I have recollections of him reading The Hobbit and Sherlock Holmes stories. He read me the entirety of The Hobbit in installments and got to the end and I was like, ‘Yeah, this great! I love it!’ [Chris’s dad said] ‘There is a sequel, I’m not reading you that.’ [Laughs]. At age 8 or 9, I embarked on reading The Lord of The Rings and it took me about six months.

And by that time you were old enough to bathe yourself, I’m assuming?

Chris: Yes [laughs]. So, yeah, always been a bit of a bookworm and it’s kind of almost always been genre fiction. As I grew up I read lit-fic as well, but when I was going to the library as a child it was always straight to the science fiction and fantasy section. It was always the genre stuff. [Referring to the first part of the question] I’m probably a bit of a jack-of-all-trades as anyone who writes these days is. I don’t support myself writing. I’m a civil servant working for His Majesty’s government. I have had some short fiction published, I’ve got a novella that I’m working on with Trip here, which will be my first foray into editing, which is really exciting and, I suppose, in terms of how I slot into Bona Books and the Kickstarter is that one of my big skillsets in terms of my civilian life is project management. I’m the hyper-organized person who has a spreadsheet for everything so, I’m kind of the central admin making sure the Kickstarter gets off the ground. 

Trip: My first book was Go, Dog. Go! I forced my parents to read it to me so many times that I eventually learned to read just recognizing the words on the page from what they were reading me and they had to repair it multiple times with duct tape because I read it to the point it fell apart. I basically grew up on the road. My parents were professional Rodeo athletes so, I was on the Rodeo circuit in the back of the pick-up truck all the time. I would have a stack of books and that’s how I would keep myself entertained. I would just read as they drove. And then when I got older I very much just went straight for that fantasy section, but I grew up in the middle of absolute nowhere in the pre-Amazon days, not to date myself. So, I had to build my own science fiction and fantasy library and I went through a period of wearing nothing but cargo pants because the pockets on either side of the pair of cargo pants: exact right size and shape for a  mass-market paperback. I could have two, on the go, at the same time, which was necessary because I just read too much. 

I do support myself just with writing. That’s a mix of ghostwriting, a small bit of copywriting, and my debut novel is coming out 12th September, it’s called The Market of Dreams and Destiny and it’s out from Titan. That’s been a crazy experience. And in terms of Bona Books, I have started, and ran, and head-editored a small science fiction and fantasy magazine, which I did as part of my doctoral studies while I was a doctoral candidate as an extra project because I certainly didn’t have enough to do. [Laughs] That’s not a habit I’ve gotten into at all. So, I have done a bit of this contracts and acquiring short fiction before. But this is very much my first foray into doing it a bit more seriously. 

And just to jump in for Robert, I know a whole bunch of his stories. Robert’s grandfather was a lawyer and Robert lived with his grandfather growing up. [W]hen he was very little, [his grandfather would] take him out to see the moon and would tell him stories from Shakespeare and mythology. And then he obviously got into reading and one of his earliest memories with a book is he had this book, I don’t remember what book it is unfortunately, and he went to a petting zoo and the goat literally ate his book. Outrage ensued from there. He is [also] another big fantasy nerd. He works as a professional copyeditor and proofreader. He works with some actual publishers and he works freelance as well. In Bona Books, he is the eye-to-detail editorial and about ten years ago he had a reviews blog where he did a lot of pop culture reviews, including media. And so he has reviewed a lot of authors, some of whom may now be appearing as solicited authors in our anthology efforts.

That’s amazing! Storytelling has been a huge part of all of your upbringings and your lives thus far. What is the story of how the three of you came together? 

Trip: So, it will be Robert and my anniversary in October and we will have been together for… math, math, math… 16 years. So we’ve been together for yonks and then we moved over here six years ago for me to pursue a doctorate and five of those years ago we met Chris? Four and a half of those years ago? 

Chris: That sounds about right. 

Trip: I was doing my studies and lecturing in Cambridge and Chris was working at Cambridge and we have a mutual friend who introduced us and we just started meeting every week after I got done lecturing and after he finished work. We’d go to the pub, we’d have a pint or two and we would talk about, oh, I don’t know, science fiction and fantasy, and books, and writing for a couple of hours at a go before I caught the train back and he went to make dinner. 

At what point did those conversations turn into, ‘should we start a press??’

Trip: So, that sort of goes: group chat, meme, Chris comes into the kitchen (cuz we all live together now, three of us we share a flat called The Writer Flat in London) but I’ve talked for a lot so I’m going to let Chris talk.

Chris: You’re the one with the charismatic storytelling ability! 

Trip: Says the man who just got a short story published? Woo woo!

Chris: We’re not going to have this fight right now! [Laughs] Yeah, as Trip said, the meme came first. If you look it up on Know Your Meme there’s a little bit of a history to it. Originally there was a Wattpad comment and it took off a bit on the internet and it got picked up by Anthony Olivera, the comics writer and is in a Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling and it’s thrown at the Marvel character, Wiccan, by the villain and he [Olivera] talks about the fact that it was him kind of wanting to queer the text of the comic so, that not only is there a queer character in it but it’s this queer culture reference that gay readers will spot in the language that’s being used and will be talking to them in a way that comics, even when they normally have queer characters in them don’t talk in that way. 

Anyway, that’s all by-the-by. We were making “I want that twink obliterated” jokes and I think Robert said, ‘That would be a great title for an anthology!” laugh, laugh, laugh, chat chat, chat. And that just stuck in my head for a second. I was like, “We have the skills. We have the technology. I’m ridiculously organized, Robert has a load of contacts and is an editor and proofreader, Trip has run a magazine before.” So I walked into the kitchen and was like, “Trip, we could actually do this.” And then we paused and went, yeah we could, couldn’t we? And I think it was about a minute before we got to, “We’re doing this aren’t we.” It was very much like that.  

Trip: Yeah, I have that scene burned in my mind. Just Chris coming into the kitchen and being like, we could do this… do we have to do this, do we need to do this… beat… I think we need to do this. Yeah. 

What else was underneath that need? There has to be something really grounding to take something that’s like, a fun meme, jokey thing [seriously]. I know so many people, including myself, who will joke with friends about, ‘Oh my god we should do this or we should do that” so, what exactly was it that really made that pivot to this is not just a joke anymore, we’re doing it?

Chris: For me, I’d say, it’s a real burning desire to see queer narratives out there in the world. Particularly, in science fiction and fantasy. Particularly, unapologetic queer narratives written by queer authors. Representation has gotten a bit better in science fiction and fantasy over the last few years. But… often queer characters written by non-queer people do better. My instinct would be that, we feel so starved for it and we so desperately want it to exist. To see that representation, to see the community that we love and the people that we love reflected in stories that we love. As soon as we realized, “Oh, that’s a good idea, that’s a good enough idea that people will like it,” not only do we have the skills to do it but, I think, if we put that out into the world and put it in front of people, people will back that. Because if it was an ok idea and you’re pushing a boulder up a hill, maybe you’d think twice. But it seemed like such an obviously good idea that it would be pushing through an open door. And if we have that opportunity and we can make those stories happen, then I think, like Trip said, it wasn’t really a choice. 

Trip: Yeah, It sort of felt like a foregone conclusion. Like the decision made us, we did not make the decision. [Laughs]

On that note, can you please pitch the I Want That Twink OBLITERATED! anthology and tell the readers at Geeks OUT what it and the Kickstarter is all about? And who are you hoping to reach?

Trip: I Want That Twink OBLITERATED!, is a fun meme. It is irreverent and it speaks directly to the community and that is, first and foremost, who we are hoping to do this for and who we are hoping to reach. It’s those portions of the queer community that loves science fiction and fantasy and those portions of  science fiction and fantasy who love queer content, be they queer themselves or allies. The concept of the anthology itself is classic pulp, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The sort of things you would find on the shelf in like, the 40’s/50’s in those old magazines like, Weird Tales that were, for so long, a mainstay of not only the genre, but also the community. [T]hose magazines were such an ongoing conversation. Science fiction and fantasy is fantastic because of the feedback between fandom and the authors and between authors themselves. Science fiction and fantasy more than other genres are ongoing conversations about ideas. And you get those so much in those old pulp magazines where people would write in, and they would have ideas, and they would discuss this, that, and the other. 

So, it was really about that core root nurturing amazing part of science fiction and fantasy that a lot of minorities were shut out of in those days. Not just sexual or gender minorities, but all kinds of people who were just not invited to the conversation or had to work very very hard to get their voices heard in the conversation. We want that sort of classic pulp fun, but we want non-traditionally masculine heroes and villains. We’re talking, twinks so, The Obliterators and The Obliterated, we want to take the fantastic rich heritage and inheritance that we have from that period of science fiction and fantasy, but we want our part of that. We want our portion of that inheritance. We want the queer heroes, the queer villains, the unabashedly homosexual dialogue. Queerness has a culture to it. And it’s a whole collection of different cultures. But the way it intersects with fantasy and science fiction and these literatures of the possible it’s super exciting! It is that sense of new possibilities and new horizons, but in it, unrepentantly queer. 

Chris came up with several examples as part of our guidelines for publication and so we’re really hoping to see stories with like, trans berserkers fueled by queer rage, we want stories with gender-fluid starship captains, and a rainbow band of rogue’s crew stashing across the universe and having amazing pulpy adventures, we want stories with li-ter-al demon twinks. Unapologetically science fiction and fantasy and unapologetically queer. 

As you’re talking I’m just thinking about how sci-fi and fantasy are the perfect vehicles for queer stories and it’s hard to not feel like… I don’t know, I think about watching Star Trek with my dad back in the day. I feel like all of it has to be queer-coded in some way because it’s all about the expansion of the human experience and beyond. Those stories are so important, I think as we’re navigating who are we and what is this world and what is our part in it. Especially, with these political environments that keep wanting to make everything smaller and more binary. There’s not really a question there, just kind of a word vomit. I don’t know if you have any response to that. 

Chris: I think I completely agree with you. It speaks to queer experience. It probably, I cannot speak to this with any authority, but I suspect it also speaks to other forms of minority experiences as well. It’s all about moving towards the boundaries of what’s socially permissible. It’s about imagining other worlds. Or, at least, when it’s done well, it is. You have the sort of classic Star Trek format of every week they’re in another planet, every week it’s another problem planet and so, obviously, it’s never going to be, Oh yes! They turn up on a planet that’s exactly like ours, all of the cultural mores are exactly the same, and all the dominant assumptions are just reinforced. That’s never going to be what the story is. So, yeah, inherently you end up in that sort of marginalized space because that’s where the boundaries get pushed. That’s where the interesting things are. 

How do you think about that tension now where, as you mentioned before, there does seem to be more representation? It is a bit better, but it’s also such a heteronormative sphere that keeps caving in on everyone and also in on itself? I don’t even know if there’s really a question in there either, but in some ways, and to use Star Trek again, in the 60’s or in the Next Generation there is this huge, expansive feel to it. It feels like things have gotten just a bit more compressed.

Trip: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question because you can approach from multiple angles. If we’re talking, for example, publishing. Since this is an anthology, we’re a small press, we’re putting out queer work by queer authors, hopefully (support the Kickstarter!). If you look at the publishing ecosystem right now, 20 years ago you had the big 6, the big 7. There was a healthy mid-list, there was a healthy variety of imprints. We’re down to a big 4 and a lot of those medium-sized publishers have been swallowed up. There’s been a concentration of editorial talent and complete evaporation of editorial attention because people don’t have enough time. They don’t have enough time to do all the work. So, you get these big publishing houses, 20-30 years ago 20% of the books supported the other 80% in terms of sales if we’re talking just cold, hard, cash numbers, which I absolutely hate talking about, but that’s what it is. But now, the way the publishing industry has consolidated, we’re looking much more at 5% of titles bringing in all the money and covering the other 95%. So, there’s a lot more focus on those 5% of titles and publishing, like we’ve seen in Hollywood, they don’t like to take risks. If their financial continuation depends on 5% of titles hitting it big, they’re not going to take creative risks because that is much harder to predict. They’re not going to pump all of their marketing dollars behind those edge titles. Even if sometimes they do well. Even if they are excellent in their own right and there is an audience there for them. 

It’s so interesting because it seems very antithetical to financial advice where you want to diversify your portfolio. When you’re limiting yourself  by putting all of your eggs in one basket [it’s] kind of asking for a big problem down the line, which I think we’re definitely seeing in Hollywood at the moment with the strikes and everything, or one aspect of it. So, where does Bona Books fit into all of that for you? 

Trip: It’s a passion project, you know, we’re doing this because it is important to us. I can’t remember if this is Toni Morrison or not, I could be horribly misattributing this quote, but it’s something to the effect of, “If you can’t find the book you want to read, you have to go out and write it.” And that sort of sentiment has come up again, and again, and again on almost every single panel discussion I have been on with queer writers writing queer science fiction and fantasy. The queer stories that they want to read don’t exist. So they’re going out and creating them and they are writing them themselves. Chris, Robert, and I we do have the knowledge and the skills to take a run at producing anthologies of queer fiction for queer people and a wider audience and, between the three of us, we have the stability to take on a passion project like this. We’re not doing this to get rich or make money, like, publishing is not a great way to make money generally, with very few, small exceptions making it look the other way. We’re doing it because we love it and we can offer our skills and we can offer our time. We can offer as much of ourselves as we can spare to bring these things into the world so that they’re there for people to find. 

Chris: That’s the proper answer and all the focus should be on that. I’ll add that… in the back of my head I do have a little 5-year plan that’s going along. I think particularly with the Kickstarter and with how crowdfunding works we have to take it one day at a time, trying to get as many people as possible to hear about the Kickstarter. If the Kickstarter doesn’t happen then this doesn’t go anywhere. But we put a book together and, if that goes well, we’ll put another book together, then we’ve got a lot of experience under our belt at that point talking to publishers and working on layout and doing the editorial work. And if it’s successful, if there’s a bit of extra money in the kitty we can look at getting some novellas published, we’ll have more contacts… there’s a plan, but I don’t want to get out in front of my skis. I would love in five years time for it to be this little, small press. We’re never going to be doing dozens of books a year. But if a couple of times a year we put out something that people go, “Oh yeah, I always check out what Bona Books puts out because it’s got a really queer voice and they support and lift up queer writers” I would be chuffed a bit. 

As a debut author, Trip, with your book coming out around the same time as this Kickstarter, how is your mental health?

Trip: [MANIACAL LAUGHTER] Just insert maniacal laughter here. 

I will, literally, put that in the text [laughs in less maniacal]

Trip: I think the most generous term I can use is overclocked. There’s the book coming out, I am working very hard on the sequel right now, and then the Kickstarter and some other things that are all happening in September. So, yeah I’m slightly overclocked. But, I can’t complain because what am I doing? I’m writing queer science fiction and fantasy and I am working with my best friends in the world to produce more of it! 

Chris: The book is so good! 

That’s excellent. It’s so exciting! Is there anything else that I didn’t ask about that you would like to touch on?

Trip: While we do have solicited offers for this anthology, it is very important to us to foster new voices from the community. We want to get the word out to as many queer creatives and other minority creatives as we possibly can. We want your science fiction, fantasy, pulp, adventure stories starring twinks. You can be pro-twink, you can be anti-twink, put a twink in there as a hero, put a twink in there as a villain, we want to hear from every color of the queer rainbow. Send us your stuff please, please send us your stuff! We especially want to hear from women, we want to hear from… 

Chris: …We’d love to get more non-binary and trans authors on board, that would be wonderful, particularly given the non-trad masculine aspect of the anthology. That would be beautiful. As Trip said, every single stripe of the progress flag should be represented if possible. 

Trip: Writers of color, everyone. 

Where can people reach out to you if they have something to share?

Chris: We will have a submission guide linked to and funneled through the Kickstarter and we’ll basically open for submissions as soon as we know we’re funded.

To support the funding of Bona Books, the production of their first anthology I Want That Twink OBLITERATED!, future releases by them, and to submit your own work head to their Kickstarter page linked here. Also, be sure to also follow them on all the socials @bonabooksltd

Header art by Stephen Andrade

Interview with Cynthia Yuan Cheng

Cynthia Yuan Cheng is an illustrator and cartoonist who creates funny, bittersweet stories centered on connection, identity, and belonging. When not at a desk, you can find Cynthia laughing at manga or eating a good meal with friends. Cynthia lives in Los Angeles.

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

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

Hi! My name is Cynthia Yuan Cheng, I’m a cartoonist and illustrator, and I love telling stories that make people laugh and cry! Thank you for having me!

What can you tell us about your latest project, Mary Anne’s Bad Luck Mystery and how did you get involved in illustrating for The Baby-sitters Clubseries in general?

Mary Anne’s Bad Luck Mystery is the 13th installment in The Baby-sitters Club graphic novel series. The story is kicked off when Mary Anne receives a mysterious chain letter in the mail– the club members try to figure out who sent the letter, and spooky shenanigans ensue! I enjoyed the spooky Halloween moments in this book, and getting to sprinkle in some horror-comedy moments throughout the story.

I met my editor, Cassandra, during my senior portfolio review at my art school (Maryland Institute College of Art, MICA), and she kept me in mind a few years down the line when the series was looking for a new adapter.

Did you have any previous connections to The Baby-sitters Clubuniverse before working on this project?

Aside from recognizing the vast popularity of the original novel series and the graphic novel adaptations, I actually didn’t have any previous connection! I’d been a big admirer of all the previous (and upcoming) adapters, but I’m very fresh to the world of BSC, so I’m really grateful to my editor and the team at Scholastic who trusted my vision with adapting the book and provided great guidance along the way.

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to becoming an artist?

I’ve drawn comics and created art since my elementary school days, and loved reading manga and graphic novels all throughout my life. I wasn’t always interested in pursuing comics and art professionally, but I guess I couldn’t resist that love for storytelling! I’m very grateful to have a career in creating comics and art.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring artists/comic book creators, to both those who draw and those who don’t?

Make sure you’re always having fun with your projects! Comics require so much labor and time, so any project you’re committing to should be something you’re excited about and can genuinely enjoy the process of.

Also, explore interests outside of comics— it’ll enrich your storytelling and make your voice more unique!

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

I love thumbnailing, especially when it comes to a funny scene. Crafting the comedic timing is a lot of fun for me, and it’s always satisfying when the joke lands successfully.

Regarding the challenges, I’m still new to creating full-color comics and have lots of growing to do there. I’m so grateful to Hank Jones and Braden Lamb whose color work made Mary Anne’s Bad Luck Mystery come to life. I really admire colorists whose coloring work adds so much mood and depth to the overall story!

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

I’m relocating to New Jersey soon, really close to NYC! I’m so excited to explore the creative scene there and better familiarize myself with the thriving indie comics scene on the East Coast.

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

I don’t really get asked about my hobbies and interests outside of art and comics, even though I love talking about it. I love bouldering, trying new restaurants, and hanging out with my friends! I believe strongly in a work-play balance, so I try to get out and play and goof around often. It’s great.

Are there any projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I’m currently working on a YA graphic novel memoir with First Second, tentatively titled Win. It’s about my time in high school playing American football on the boys’ team, and centers on gender and (toxic) masculinity. I don’t want it to sound too heavy; I ultimately think of it as a hopeful story about chasing your dreams. I’m really looking forward to getting this story out in the world some day!

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

So hard to choose, but my most recent favorites are the manga short story To Strip the Flesh by Oto Toda and indie comics by Kimberly Wang. I’m also deeply excited for the graphic novel Firebird by friend and cartoonist Sunmi, which came out on July 18th!

Things That Made Me Gay: O Human Star

Hello friends, enemies, fans, critics and everyone in between.

This blog is a slightly different format from my others and will be more vulnerable and probably missing some of my usual snark. (I am working to finish several other blog posts, but perfectionism can sometimes be rough. Some of you may be wondering what my blog posts look like before all the editing, but trust me).

So I know that Michele has already interviewed the amazing Blue Delliquanti here and again here – but rather than focusing on the author, I just wanted to discuss briefly how this comic impacted me on a personal level.

So there I was, a fairly new member of the Queer community, realizing only the year before that I was Bisexual, and only having dated anyone other than women for a few months, when I found myself deployed, out at sea, for significantly longer than the entirety of the run of Firefly – with little to do after standing watch and working. I couldn’t work out, because nobody knew how Covid spread at that point and the gym in the ship were shut down, and it was easily 115 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

During deployment I challenged myself to only consume media created by non cishet white men, for the entire year I was gone. While I initially thought it would be challenging in the sci-fi and fantasy realm, I soon had my eyes opened. I discovered so much more in the genres than what I had previously seen featured on the shelves of the big box book stores.

So, I had read a lot of great reviews of ‘O Human Star’ and decided to give it a try. Several weeks later (being out to sea reminding me a great deal of the very first Compact Disc (ask your parents kids) where I had to ride my bicycle to get a money order and mail it in then wait 6 weeks – the struggle was real) I got my copy.

Initially reading along, it resonated with me, but I wasn’t sure why. Much like the protagonist, Alastair Sterling, I had an amazing mustache which always got lots of commentary and was clearly the envy of everyone … or so I told myself each day in the mirror.

See, look how well I did masculinity! And I’m on a boat!

Anyway, things began to resonate as I read through the story, which I highly recommend. You can read it here for free, but also support the artist please.

And by the time we got to the final image, I thought (and very very spoilers ahead so stop reading this and go read literally the entire comic right now if that bothers you)

… Oh, of course. Anyone would become a beautiful woman if they could just swap out their robot body for one they designed. That makes total sense.

So, two years of reading, self work, and therapy later I came out as Trans Femme/ Non-Binary, and very recently began my transition. Look how happy I am now!

FlameCon 2023, and the costume was my wonderful partner’s idea, and she did all the work, I just showed up and looked pretty

Looking back, this is all less surprising that I initially thought. The book that originally made me question my sexuality to begin with was actually Sissy by Jacob Tobiah .

So young people, be gay and do comics. Parents, comics and fandoms won’t turn your kids gay or trans etc, but seeing positive representation will definitely make their lives better.

Until next time, gay space cowboys (redundant?) ….

Damon (they/them)

Interview with Meghan Boehman and Rachael Briner, creators of Dear Rosie

Meghan Boehman and Rachael Briner grew up together in Maryland where they attended the same elementary school and eventually became best friends. They live in Los Angeles where they work in TV animation designing and painting background art for Warner Bros Animation, Bento Box Entertainment and Starburns Industries. They have previously produced a 4-year long webcomic and several animated shorts. Dear Rosie draws from their experiences of losing a close friend while they were in high school.

I had the opportunity to interview Meghan and Rachael, which you can read below.

CW: Discussion of grief and friend passing.

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

Thanks for having us, we’re happy to be here! We both grew up in Frederick, MD and met in elementary school, though we weren’t fast friends at first. For years we engaged in silent competition and viewed each other as rivals, but over time we shared enough classes that we softened up, eventually becoming best friends in high school. After college where Meghan pursued Animation and Rachael pursued Sequential Art, we both moved to Los Angeles and found work as background artists in the animation industry. Outside of our art, Meghan loves to cook, Rachael loves to bake, and we both love animals! Rachael has a rescued cattle dog named Libby and Meghan and her husband (our co-writer/colorist!) Thomas volunteer at a cat rescue.

What can you tell us about your latest project, Dear Rosie? What was your inspiration for the book?

Dear Rosie is the story of four middle school girls navigating loss after one of their friends passes away unexpectedly, inspired by our own friends from that time period and our friend Annalee, who passed away during college. We wanted to create a world based on our hometown, filled with color, warmth, and using local wildlife to offer a vibrant, inviting tone despite the somber backdrop for the book.

What are you hoping readers will take away from Dear Rosie?

Grief is not a straightforward journey, one that we all must navigate in our own way. We hope that each girl’s personal path helps our readers come away with a better understanding of their own experiences of sadness, love, and friendship. If they are dealing with their own loss, we want them to feel camaraderie with the characters and know they aren’t alone, we have been there too and made it to the other side.

As creatives, how did you become drawn to the graphic novel/comics medium, especially those geared towards younger readers?

Meghan: I grew up both reading and drawing comics nearly every day. After college, Rachael and I made a few short films together and produced a webcomic in order to stay connected while living on opposite coasts. That project achieved its aims, but eventually we wanted to craft longer narratives. I was drawn to middle grade and young adult comics because a story you fall in love with as a child stays with you for your entire life. The characters and design sensibilities I find special to this day are rooted in my reading from that time and I want to do my best to resonate like that with the current generation of young readers!

Rachael: I fell in love with the diverse storytelling in the alternative/indie section of my local comic book store in high school. At that age, I was able to appreciate the sheer amount of work that goes into a single issue and knew that I wanted to make comics one day. Middle grade content didn’t come on my radar until we started pitching Dear Rosie and our editor recommended adjusting certain aspects for a younger demographic, but after working on the book and doing research into the field, I can now say it’s likely my favorite demographic to make art for. The stories are so sweet and genuine while still tackling complex emotions and there are many I’d recommend to people of all ages to read!

How would you describe your artistic/creative backgrounds?

Meghan: I studied 2D animation in college and initially wanted to move towards directing feature films, but after working in the industry for a while I discovered that I enjoyed designing backgrounds the most. Having found my niche in animation, but still wanting to tell stories of my own, I rekindled my interest in drawing comics.

Rachael: Before college I was interested in fine art and worked primarily in colored pencil and oil pants, but I gravitated back towards comics during my Sequential Art program. After school and thanks to Meghan, I was able to combine my comic knowledge and love of painting to the animation world, first in Background Paint and later Design.

How would you describe your illustration/writing/creative process?

Anyone who knows us would likely classify it as chaotic, but we’d more charitably like say we trade off to suit each other’s strengths! Meghan and her husband Thomas handled the writing of Dear Rosie. For illustration, Meghan designed the cast of main and supporting characters while Rachael began thumbnailing based off the script. The two of us split color script and sketching duties equally, then Rachael inked the characters while Meghan inked the backgrounds. All three of us worked on color to ensure we stayed on track! Like we said, a bit of chaos, but the division of labor works well and we beat every deadline.

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

Meghan: The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale are two childhood stories that I still think about and re-read often. Recent examples would be Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker, and Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama.

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

Meghan: My biggest inspiration is Hayao Miyazaki, specifically the film Princess Mononoke and film/manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Bone and Elfquest were also very important when I was young.

Rachael: Craig Thompson’s Blankets changed the way I thought about visual storytelling and what was possible in the medium. Other notable artists are Emily Carroll, Rob Guillory, Becky Cloonan, Gabriel Ba, and James Gurney.

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

Why choose animals for your comic?

Dear Rosie tackles some difficult subjects and the story is very personal, so we wanted to create a little distance for ourselves and the people it is based on. Using animal characters allows both us and our young readers that space. Additionally, we simply enjoy designing their looks and the range of emotions you can express via ear and tail positioning; it can help communicate what’s going on to our youngest readers who may not always be able to articulate exactly what they are feeling. As mentioned before, using local Maryland wildlife was an additional nod to our hometown.

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

We’re currently working through the pitch process with our editor so unfortunately we cannot speak in detail about our current project, but we can say that it focuses on a new group of friends and tackles an important topic we feel is under-discussed amongst young people.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those hoping to work on their own graphic novels one day?

Draw, draw, draw! Don’t focus too hard on whether or not it came out exactly as you wanted it to, just focus on practice, repetition, and forming the habit of working creatively on a regular schedule. The next one, or the fifth, or even the twentieth might be the one you wanted and you’ll never find out without that perseverance. Read often and don’t be afraid to stretch the boundaries of what you consider to your kind of book.

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

Meghan: I would recommend Grow Up, Tahlia Wilkins! by Karina Evans, Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra, and The Accursed Vampire by Madeline McGrane.

Rachael: Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley is one of my favorites. It shows the complex family dynamics of divorce from a kid’s perspective. The emotional experience was familiar in a bittersweet way and I think it’s a book older readers would also enjoy.

Header Photo Credit Tom Pickwood

Interview with Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue, Creators of Katie the Catsitter

Colleen AF Venable is the author of indie bestseller Katie the Catsitter graphic novel series with Stephanie Yue, as well as the National Book Award Longlisted Kiss Number 8, a graphic novel co-created with Ellen T. Crenshaw. Her other books include Mervin the Sloth is About to Do the Best Thing in The World with Ruth Chan, The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom with Lian Cho, and the Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series, also with Stephanie Yue.  

Stephanie Yue is the illustrator of several picture books and chapter books in addition to Katie the Catsitter, and was the colorist for Smile by Raina Telgemeier. Steph travels the world by motorbike and spent the past year and a half converting a Sprinter van into a full-time mobile studio. She’s currently drawing the next Katie the Catsitter from all over North America, and eating and climbing all the things.

I had the chance to interview Colleen and Stephanie, which you can read below.

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

Steph: Hi, I’m Steph, the illustrator for Katie the Catsitter. They/She. I like to ride motorbikes all over the world, rollerskate, build things, and I live full-time in a self-converted Sprinter van.

Colleen: Hello there! I’m Colleen Ann Felicity! She/Her/They (People always want to know what the weird AF is doing in there). I’m the writer for Katie the Catsitter. I like to read, hug every the animal, rollerskate, and make ALL THE CRAFTS—currently learning stained glass, figuring out how to build a room from scratch then turn it into an audio studio so I can quietly figure out how to play a trombone I got for $30, and can make a friendship bracelet in under five minutes. Watch out, potential new besties! 

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Katie the Catsitter #3: Secrets and Sidekicks?

Colleen: * announcer voice * When last we left our heroes…Katie was officially starting to do sidekick training, Beth and Katie were still figuring out how to get back to being friends, and The Eastern Screech—the city’s highest yelp rated hero—was outed for being a fraud. In this volume Katie deals with not being the greatest athlete, feeling like her friends Beth and Marie are leaving her behind, the Eastern Screech disappearing, 217 highly trained cats running amuck, and a bunch of Killer Robots keep attacking the city. So yeah, nothing too exciting. 

Steph: It’s going to be fun, with lots of action!

What was the inspiration for the original series?

Colleen: I always thought traditional superhero comics simplified things. Good vs. bad. No in betweens. (And don’t get me started about the underwear on the outside thing which I might need to write a doctoral thesis on one day.) I wanted a series where the “good guys” were kinda bad, the “bad guys” were actually good. I also loved exploring how heroes come to be through Katie, an average 12 year old who realizes being a hero is a lot more about heart than falling into vats of toxic things. Also as a kid I was always disappointed that Catwoman didn’t have cat minions, so that gave me the idea for The Mousetress who controls 217 extraordinary cats (as much as anyone CAN control a cat.) 

Steph: Colleen and I worked together previously on a six book series called Guinea Pig: Pet Shop Private Eye. When she approached me with the pitch for Katie the Catsitter, it seemed like a natural fit for our humor and stories around animals.

Colleen AF Venable

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly comics? What drew you to the mediums?

Steph: I loved the comics section in the newspapers as a kid, and poured over the collected volumes of Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, and the Far Side my dad kept in his study. As I grew older, the Sunday funnies expanded to series like the Adventures of Tintin, and manga. I realized the visual nature of comics could quickly introduce a reader to fantastical worlds, and immerse them in a very real sense of action, danger, and emotion. In longer form comics like manga that span many volumes, characters had room to grow and evolve—by the end of a series like Rurouni Kenshin the characters were not the same as they were 28 books ago. That’s what I fell in love with, the ability for comics to share a funny visual gag, convey a sense of excitement and adventure, and handle character arcs, all in one easily accessible medium.

Colleen: Same with me! Those newspaper comics were such a wonderful part of my childhood. I recently did a school visit where I told the students “Imagine every morning someone left a whole pile of comic strips on your doorstep!” I blew the kids’ minds. They couldn’t believe that was true! I also convinced them I was 400 years old. For me, comics are such an incredible medium. I studied playwriting in college, and so many of the things I learned about dialogue, pacing, visual gags, beats, came from my scripting skills. But with comics you can control even more with page turn reveals, dramatic angles, zooming in to important details, scattering visual clues throughout…I truly feel like the true art of making comics is underappreciated. 

As a writer/illustrator, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction?

Colleen: I always wanted to write for kids and teens from the time I learned to read. I hoped to make that book that could help a kid through a hard time and not feel alone. And being able to make kids around the world laugh?! That’s better than any power a toxic vat or outward underwear could give me! I love mixing absolute absurdity with heartfelt emotional story lines of real things kids and teens go through…though in this case, without as many cats in real life, I hope. 

Steph: Landing in young adult fiction was a bit of an accident, to be honest. I started out illustrating for younger readers, but there are so many meaningful stories to tell for this age range as well. I remember how formative some works of fiction were for me at that age. In young adult fiction you can begin to explore more nuanced ideas, concepts, and character interactions while still leaving room to be goofy.

How would you describe your creative process?

Colleen: People watching, reading every comic/play/novel I can get my hands on, animal watching, swimming…if I sat down at a computer 8 hours a day I’d barely get anything done. Instead I write 1-3 days a week and only a few hours on those days. It’s the time between staring at a screen that I get the ideas. I start with handwritten notes. I’d like to say I kept them in a single beautiful notebook, but no, I write them everywhere. On the back of junk mail. On a mile long CVS receipt. In text messages to myself. I don’t even reference them after, but it’s the act of writing physically that gets my brain churning. When I finally sit down they just fall out of my fingers. 

Steph: It depends on the stage of comics making. For pencils, I like to take my iPad to different places and set up with a printed manuscript. When it comes to inking, my favorite thing to do is put on a gripping podcast or some upbeat music, pour myself a beverage, and get lost in drawing.

(For Colleen AF Venable) In addition to the Katie the Catsitter series, you are also known for your graphic novel Kiss Number 8. Could you tell us about the inspiration for this project and what it meant to you writing it?

Colleen: Someone recently asked me why I haven’t done another novel for older teens since Kiss Number 8 and it’s because you have to get in the mindset of your protagonist to write a book…and going back to being a teen…lordie, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone! I know I will again, someday, and miiiight even have some secret first drafts, but it’s an emotional journey, and I think all the emotion I put into that book came through. I started it in 2004, which is why the book is set then. It was inspired by my very Catholic family and their reaction to my perfect older sister coming out of the closet. Suddenly I was the “good kid”—and trust me I was NOT, and I was also secretly bi…something I didn’t even admit to myself until my 30’s due to repression. I wanted to make a book that was truthful to what it was like to come out in the early aughts but also didn’t show the church as some giant big bad guy like all the other LGBTQ books did at the time. Even back then I was exploring themes of all the gray areas in life, no good guys, no bad guys. Mads the protagonist is both so likable but also makes the worst decisions of anyone in the book. I’m so proud of the book, which finally came out in 2019 and was even one of the first comic books to ever receive a National Book Award nod. I thought of it as a period piece, but the emails I’ve gotten from teens struggling to come out make me realize it’s less of a historical novel than I’d like. 

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

Steph: As I mentioned before, Calvin & Hobbes is an easy one, and one that inspired many creators. Tintin introduced me to action and adventure in comics, and Rurouni Kenshin was the big series that landed at just the right age for me. When I toured on motorbikes, I liked to imagine I was Kino in Kino’s journey, self-sufficient and exploring the different cultures of the world. Nowadays, I live in a self-converted Sprinter van named The Bebop, after the converted interplanetary fishing trawler in Cowboy Bebop. On some days the name feels extremely prescient—with all the blackout curtains up, it feels like a little spaceship that could be anywhere in the galaxy. Putting away the curtains could reveal a different planet each day. I see myself in Ed, “self-styled”, taking my craft through time in space, and hunting bounties (making comics and taking on freelance gigs). I even keep a little plushie corgi copilot.

Colleen: Ah! I hadn’t realized Bebop was named after that! As a huge Saturday Morning Cartoon dork I assumed it was from Ninja Turtles! I’m going to second Calvin & Hobbes. I feel like every cartoonist of our generation has Bill W to thank for letting us be absurd, bend genres, and create REAL protagonists, flaws and all. Like Katie, my parents didn’t have much money growing up, so I spent my afternoons after school in the library, being annoying and VERY hyper. (Catholic Church, if you are reading this, please consider canonizing those librarians.) Books that blew me away: Amelia Bedelia, anything Ellen Raskin, Agatha Christie. At the time there was no YA section, and definitely no graphic novel section, but if those existed I would have eaten them up. I got into comics through webcomics after college. It was the thing I had been searching for. Now I am forever in love with anything Victoria Jameson, M.T. Anderson, or Urasawa writes. I swear it’s impossible for those three to create anything that’s less than genius. 

Steph: Ha, that reminds me of how influential The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was for me! I read it at just the right age. If I ever build out another van, it might have to be the Heart Of Gold. It seems infinitely improbable.

Stephanie Yue

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

Colleen: Honestly, for me it’s more comedy icons: Monty Python, Gilda Radner, Mr. Show, Carol Burnett, The Muppet Show, The Marx Brothers. If I had to name comics, I’d have to give a nod to The Tick and The Far Side. I’m a huge comedy history nerd and read anything I can find on the subject. Even in my more serious books like Kiss Number 8, humor is the thing that drives the reader through the angst. Without comedy these stories would never be as powerful. 

Steph: I know I keep coming back to it, but Bill Watterson was formative for me. I also really enjoy the mixed media work of Shaun Tan, and the life and work of Edward Gorey. His former home is now the Edward Gorey House, and it offers a wonderful peek into his life as a creative. It’s one of my favorite stops if I ever find myself going to Cape Cod.

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

Steph: Cartooning is a surprisingly physically draining profession, with long, lonely hours at the drawing tablet. Whenever available, I do my best to get some social time, outdoor time, and maintain an exercise routine. At the desk, I try to be careful about ergonomics and my posture, to avoid painful aches or repetitive stress injuries. Like many creative occupations that blur the line between work and play, it’s commonly misunderstood. Even after this long I still find myself justifying to people that yes, this is indeed a job, and no, I cannot do this for free.

Also, robots and horses are hard to draw.

Colleen: Whenever I write Katie I have a smile on my face and am often giggling out loud. I also adore the editing process, especially when I get to work with an editor as brilliant as Shana Corey, who’s notes always blow me away. I’m a big fan of jigsaw puzzles and mysteries and figuring out how to reshape pieces so they fit together perfectly. For me the frustrating part is not having more time. I have a full-time day job and can only fit in writing early morning. I’m good at meeting my book deadlines and my job, but my personal inbox and ability to have time for friends suffers more than I’d like. Other frustrating thing: I think I’m the only writer in the world who doesn’t drink coffee, so my love of writing in cafes means a whole lotta brownies and muffins, which I’m fine with but my dentist and non-stretchy pants might not love. 

And sorry about all the robots and horses, Steph!

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

Steph: I live to ride and travel and I love to build things!

Colleen: Steph is being modest, when they say travel they’re doing it on a motorcycle, Vespa (to 49 of the 50 states!!!), and in their amazing van. I’m in awe of them. They’re basically more badass than any comic book hero you could imagine. I can’t even do a somersault and cried the one time I did a tourist-y zipline. (The 10-year-olds and 70-year-olds also ziplining were very confused.) While I might be afraid of heights and worms, I’ve got a handful of things I’m weirdly good at. For instance I once broke a national co-ed jump rope record that hadn’t been broken in 30 years. I’m ranked in the top 50 of Dance Central international high scores…a game series that if I ever have enough money I will pay Harmonics to make another version. I also have an internet famous connect-the-dots tattoo that George Takei said was “the perfect tattoo” and Mark Walberg said was “a bad influence on children.” 

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)?

Steph: What is your favorite flavor of potato chip? It’s salt and vinegar, the saltier and more tart the better.

Colleen: Noooo don’t out me as a weirdo who doesn’t really like chips, Steph!!! I have a sweet tooth. Actually I might have two, one in place of the salty tooth everyone else seems to have. 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring creatives?

Steph: The most daring thing you can do is just make the thing you want to make and put it out there in the world. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s more important that you start.

Colleen: Don’t be afraid to get better! I started a webcomic in 2004 using MS Paint. Four years later I was the sole designer for First Second Books and had my first graphic novel contract. I wrote 31 books that were rejected by publishers before that contract…and even after that I wrote 6 others that never made it to publication. The most important thing to do is to set aside time for you to be creative every week. There will also be a million excuses, but be kind to yourself and make space for YOU. Also read. The more you read the better a writer you’ll become. And did I mention the muffins? They definitely help. 

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

Colleen: This fall I have two books coming out. My first for adults! It’s a humor/inspiration book called The Swayze Year: You’re Not Old You’re Just Getting Started co-written with the brilliant Meghan Daly, with art by the incredible Tara O’Connor! It chronicles one person from age 35 to 100 who got their start at that age. It’s super inspiring but also SUPER absurd, more of the tone of your best friend saying “SHUT UP YOU AREN’T OLD!” than a cheesy self-help book. 

The other book is a short story collection called Creepy Cafetorium, which is part Sideways Stories and part Gravity Falls. I get to be the Rod Sterling of the series and write all the intros for every tale as a very weird 600 year old lady. It’s incredibly goofy, heart-felt, and has stories from amazing writers like Jadzia Axlerod, Carol Burrell, and Marcie Colleen. 

Steph: I’m always working on my van, my bikes, and future travel.

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

Steph: Gender Queer spoke to me, by Maia Kobabe.

Colleen: I’m putting my vote in for Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado. It’s a love letter to the Bronx and a horror novel that bases those horrors on real events. But the queer romance was sweet and like little breaths of solace during the gripping thriller. (Note: if you read this book you will never look at the subway the same way again.) 

As for comics, the one that got me recently was Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axlerod and Jess Taylor. DC’s first trans hero! Written by an amazing woman I’ve known since our days making hand-stapled mini-comics to sell for a buck or two at small press cons! Not only is the story so compelling, but the character designs and the candy-colored art are delicious. 

Interview with Victoria Ying

Victoria Ying is a critically acclaimed author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books, this eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese Curry, putting things in her shopping cart online and taking them out again and hanging out with her husband and cat, Bandito. Her film credits include Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Paperman, Big Hero 6, and Moana. She is the author and illustrator of her own series “City of Secrets and City of Illusion” through Penguin/Viking and the illustrator of the DC series “Diana Princess of the Amazons.” Her upcoming graphic novel projects her YA debut, “Hungry Ghost” and the Marvel/Scholastic “Shang-Chi and the Secret of Immortality.”

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

CW: Discussion of eating disorders

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

Hey there! I’m an author and illustrator of the new graphic novel, Hungry Ghost! I started my career in animation working at Disney on films such as Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero Six and Moana. I wanted to tell my own stories so I left to pursue my dream of writing. Hungry Ghost is my YA debut based on my own experiences but fictionalized.

What can you tell us about your upcoming graphic novel, Hungry Ghost? What inspired you to write this story?

I struggled with an eating disorder for nearly a decade and the thing that surprised me about media surrounding ED was just how much of it didn’t reflect my experience. As a child of immigrants surrounded by western culture, I saw the stories of worried families and emaciated young white girls and didn’t see myself in those stories. I wanted to share what the experience is like beyond the gory details of protruding bones and write a story about what it FEELS like to actually live with an ED.

Doing some research, I noticed that the term “hungry ghost is a common concept in Buddhism and Chinese traditional religion. Was that intentionally chosen in mind when choosing the title and/or developing the story itself?

It is definitely a concept in folklore, but in my family, it was used with derision if you ever ate quickly. “You’re like a hungry ghost!”

I wanted to use the phrase because it felt appropriate for Val’s struggles. She’s hungry, not just for food, but for love as well.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, specifically comics? What drew you to the medium?

I had always loved comics. Comics drew me to an artistic career in the first place when I was in middle school, but once I got to college, someone told me about the tough working conditions in comics and I pivoted. I came back to the medium after working for a few years and was able to advocate for myself in the labor market. I got to work with amazing editors at First Second for this project and I couldn’t be happier with my comics experience.

Growing up, were there any books/media that inspired you as a creative and/or that you felt yourself personally reflected in? Is there anything like that now?

As a second generation child of immigrants, It’s difficult to see yourself in any media. As a kid, I saw token representation for Asians sometimes and when I would express my alienation, people would tell me to watch Chinese media. But I wasn’t Chinese either. I couldn’t speak fluently and it just made me feel even more alien. I’m glad that we live in a media environment where we’re talking about immigrants and kids of immigrants. We’re in the golden age of diaspora stories! Films such as the Oscar winning “Everything Everywhere All at Once” prove that our stories can be relatable and unique.

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

My inspirations are changing all the time, but I love people who follow their creative spirit. I love watching directors like Taika Waititi tell wildly different stories and yet still hold onto their special voice. Whenever I can tell that an artist is being true to their creative vision, I am most drawn to them.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process?

It’s like the process for making a drawing, but expanded out into a longer process. You start out with the script, get that working, and then move onto thumbnail drawings, where you draw the whole book in tiny scribbly little doodles. Once that’s working, you take those scribbles and tighten them up to something that people can actually look at. Once it’s presentable, you can add color. I worked with a fantastic colorist Lynette Wang for this book and others. Last but not least, you add in the final text.

What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most frustrating/difficult?

I love the first draft of something and the inking phase. I love telling myself a story and seeing the whole thing come together. It’s fun and feels organic and natural. I also really enjoy the inking phase because I can actually let go of my storytelling brain and just get lost in making the artwork look the way I want it to. I find artistic flow most easily here.

Spoiler, regarding the main character’s mother, I really appreciated how you depicted a familial relationship that was filled with both love, but also misunderstanding and some toxicity. Would you mind speaking about that here?

I felt like a lot of parental relationships in media never rang true for me. Our parents are human. They have their own flaws, their own traumas, and to treat them as cardboard cutouts of “good parents” never really works. I was really inspired by “The OC” in high school because the parents were complicated, they had their own lives and that effected how they related to their kids. I wanted to write a mother like that. I wanted to show how ED is often passed down and how sometimes, we don’t get a fairy tale ending with the mythical apology, but we still have to move on and build a life for ourselves.

What are some things you would want readers to take away from Hungry Ghost?

It’s okay if the people you hoped to rely on can’t be there for you. You can be there for yourself and even though that’s not ideal, you can build your own support system and heal yourself.

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creators?

Write short stories and write a lot of them. I had to learn how to tell stories with structure and catharsis and if I had only done full length stories, it would have taken me a long time to fix the mistakes. If you write short you can see the whole thing laid out in front of you and learn to be a better storyteller faster.

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

I’m an elder millennial and it took me this long to have something worth saying. My path to publishing is long and winding, but I don’t regret a single moment of it because it all led me to the place that I am now.

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

“How do you manage your time to avoid burnout?”

One of my biggest things I advocate for with young comics artists is never to schedule yourself to the max. Yes, you CAN work 7 days a week, but that can’t last and you’ll be an absolute husk of a person in a matter of months. Whenever you are figuring out how long a project will take, protect your weekends and evenings. 8 hours a day MAXIMUM. Also, remember to build in two weeks of sick time! You’re your own HR department, so be that for yourself!

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

I have a book coming out with Scholastic for Marvel’s Shang-Chi on October the 6th! I was allowed to write a fun, twisty little story for this character and I can’t wait to share it.

I’m also working on a second YA contemporary about growing up on the internet and navigating inappropriate relationships.

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

Ooh! I just finished Ryan LaSala’s “The Honeys!” It was a fun, queer, horror romp that I can’t stop thinking about!

Interview with Cartoonist Wes Molebash

Wes Molebash is the creator of several popular webcomics, most notably You’ll Have That (Viper Comics) and Molebashed (self-published). He has also created cartoons for companies and organizations such as the Ohio State University, Target, and PBS Kids. Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! is his debut graphic novel.

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

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

Thanks for inviting me to participate! I’m honored! My name is Wes Molebash, and I’m a cartoonist in Southern Ohio. I’ve been drawing comics for a couple of decades now; mostly webcomics, but I’ve recently published my first graphic novel!

What can you tell us about your debut graphic novel, Travis Daventhorpe for the Win!? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! is my first graphic novel, and it came out at the end of March from 01:First Second Books. It’s the first in a four-book series. The story follows a socially awkward eleven-year-old who discovers he’s the prophesied hero of a kingdom in another dimension. The book has robots, wizards, magic, dinosaurs, and tons of video game references. It’s a lot of fun!

The biggest inspirations for the series are my two sons, Parker and Connor. When they were really little, I started brainstorming ideas for a story I thought they’d enjoy. The initial idea for Travis Daventhorpe popped in my head while I was playing with them on the living room floor one afternoon.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly comics? What drew you to the medium?

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cartoons and animation. Newspaper comics were also fun to read, but I didn’t fall in love with the medium of comics until I discovered Calvin and Hobbes. That changed everything. It inspired me to learn everything I could about making comics.

During middle school, I began collecting comic books like Batman and Superman. They were fun, but I didn’t love them the way I loved Calvin and Hobbes. But then I found Bone by Jeff Smith, and that book was another game changer. It had the heart, imagination, and visuals of a comic like Calvin and Hobbes, but it was in this much larger comic book format. So the worlds could be bigger; it felt like there was more to explore. I loved that, and I wanted to make comics like that.

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

Well, as I said before, Bill Watterson and Jeff Smith are the BIG TWO. But I’m also inspired/influenced by other cartoonists like Mike Cavallaro, James Burks, and Michael Jantze. Movies, books, and video games are also huge influences. Speaking of video games, Travis Daventhorpe was heavily influenced by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn. So if you like those games, you’ll probably find some nods to those series in my books.

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

I was the 3rd Grade Spelling Bee Champion, I was class president my junior year of high school, and I can play the guitar.

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

No one has ever asked me who I would want to voice Belazar if Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! was made into an animated movie. The answer is Andre Braugher from Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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

Right now we’re wrapping up the edits on Travis Daventhorpe Book 2, and I’ve started writing Book 3!

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

Here are a few of my faves:

The Nico Bravo series by Mike Cavallaro

Agent 9: Floodageddon and Agent 9: Mind Control by James Burks

The Real Friends series by Shannon Hale and LeYuen Pham

The Margo Maloo series by Drew Weing

 “No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics” to Premiere on PBS

‘To be black and queer and learn about Rupert Kinnard’s work — only two years ago! It was very profound to me, yet also sad… How many other Rupert’s are there that I didn’t know about? ….’ was the reaction of cartoonist, Lawrence Lindell, when he discovered the Brown Bomber and Diva Touché Flambé, drawn by black gay cartoonist, Rupert Kinnard. It’s a bittersweet moment.

Decades later, the works of the five pioneering queer cartoonists are still being discovered by the next generation of artists (including myself).  Lindell reflected on how Kinnard’s work could have aided him on his artistic journey — “…It would have been nice not to struggle.”

“…I wanted to create a film that I needed when I was a queer youth…” was director Vivian Kleiman’s mission. Inspired by queer comic artist and historian Justin Hall’s anthology of the same name, No Straight Lines — The Rise of Queer Comics is a celebration of the history of comics by and about LGBTQ people, telling the stories of the five pioneers of queer cartoonists: Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse, Mary Wings, Rupert Kinnard, and Jennifer Camper.

No Straight Lines is a labor of love that started as a conventional documentary then later evolved into a cross-generational think piece that intersects everything from the AIDS crisis, coming out, and same-sex marriage, to themes of race, gender, and disability.

It’s highly-stylized editing creates the illusion of a comic book coming to life. It cuts between candid interviews of the five pioneers, then to comic panels featuring commentary from contemporary queer cartoonists, and lastly a heartfelt tribute of the founder of Gay Comix, Howard Cruse.  

No Straight Lines is a rare gem, a brilliantly crafted masterpiece that crosses historical preservation and inspiration. We’re reminded that all one needs to tell their story is a pen and paper. It remains a powerful idea to write about yourself when not seen.

Premieres Monday, January 23 at 10:00 pm EST and streaming on starting Tuesday, January 24

Interview With Writer And Editor Suzanne Walker

Suzanne Walker is a Chicago-based writer and editor. She is co-creator of the Hugo-nominated graphic novel Mooncakes (2019, Lion Forge/Oni Press). Her short fiction has been published in Clarkesworld and Uncanny Magazine, and she has published nonfiction articles with Uncanny Magazine,, Women Write About Comics, and the anthology Barriers and Belonging: Personal Narratives of Disability. She has spoken at numerous conventions on a variety of topics ranging from disability representation in sci-fi/fantasy to comics collaboration. You can find her posting pictures of her cat and chronicling her longsword adventures on Twitter @suzusaur. I had the opportunity to interview Suzanne, which you can read below.

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

Sure! I’m a writer and editor based out of Chicago, IL, which means that I have very strong opinions about hot dogs. I’ve written a wide variety of fiction—short stories, graphic novels, prose novels—and love storytelling in all forms. In my spare time I take medieval longsword classes, hang out with my partner and cat, and I recently started taking aerial circus classes as well, because why not. 

Your debut graphic novel, Mooncakes, was based on a webcomic made between you and your creative partner, Wendy Xu. How did you two come to work together and what was that process like working on the comic, from its initial start in one medium (indie comics/webcomics) to another (traditional publishing)? 

Wendy and I were friends for years before we started working together—our first “collaboration” came when she drew fanart for a fanfiction story I wrote, and from there we started working on short comic ideas together. Mooncakes was originally a pitch for a 10-page comic in an indie anthology, but when we got rejected from that we decided to launch our own webcomic. And I’m so glad we did! From there we posted the first few chapters online before we were solicited by some traditional publishing houses, and the rest, as they say, is history.  

Where did the inspiration for Mooncakes come from? 

The inspiration for Mooncakes came from a variety of different outlets—we were both influenced by various witchy/fantasy stories when we were younger, including the Halloweentown movies, Practical Magic, Studio Ghibli films, and of course Harry Potter (although most of my desire there was to counter parts of Harry Potter that I found frustrating, hah). Wendy always wanted to tell the story of long-lost childhood friends reuniting, so from that basic concept we built out the rest of the story/characters. 

One of the main characters of Mooncakes, Nova Huang, is portrayed as hard-of-hearing, something that’s based partially on your own experiences. Could you discuss the thoughts that might have gone through your mind writing this into the comic? 

Mostly I wanted to create the representation that I’d not yet seen in fiction. Hard-of-hearing/deaf representation in media (comics, prose, or film) is scarce, and of those available, only Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye really resonated with me. In giving Nova a hearing loss, I wanted to show how a character works around different abilities and accommodations but still not have it define them. 

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? What goes into creating a script and collaborating with an artist to translate that into panels? 

Before I started working on the script, Wendy and I sat down together and had a whole series of conversations around the big concepts and characters. From there I got to work outlining the plot (both the main arc and the finer details) and wrote out the first draft of the script. Wendy and our editor at Oni both gave me notes on the draft, and from there I created the final version that Wendy began drawing. As a writer, it’s important be very visually and spatially aware, while keeping in mind what’s possible to translate onto the page, so often I would check in with Wendy to see if she thought something would work or if I needed to find another way to write it. It’s a collaboration the whole way through! 

What are some of your favorite things about making comics? 

The collaboration is a big one!! I truly feel that two minds are better than one—it gives you a chance to bounce ideas off of each other and build them in a way that you can’t when you’re on our own. I love writing dialogue and conversations between characters, and that’s obviously a huge focus of comics writing. 

What advice would you have for those who want to write and create comics? 

Practice!! Practice writing scripts on your own and then thumbnailing/drawing them out (you do not have to be a good artist, trust me). It gives you a sense of spatial awareness—what works in a set series of panels and what doesn’t. And really communicate with your artist—the best writer-artist duos are ones who really know each other and have a feel for each other’s vision. 

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

“What are your favorite things to write”? I already sort of answered this (dialogue), but I also really love writing action sequences—it always feels like a puzzle to be reverse engineered, and then you have to add emotions on top of them. And I also love writing big party scenes, which you can see in Mooncakes. The mid-autumn festival was super enjoyable to work on. 

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

I’m working on two different prose novels right now—one is about mariners and sea monsters while the other is set in a desert empire where everyone rides raptors instead of horses. 

Finally, what LGBTQ+ materials would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

GENDER QUEER by Maia Kobabe; THE MERMAID, THE WITCH, AND THE SEA by Maggie Tokuda-Hall; THE UNBROKEN by C.L. Clark, THE BLACK TIDES OF HEAVEN/THE RED THREADS OF FORTUNE by Neon Yang. Just off the top of my head!