GEEKS OUT CREATOR SPOTLIGHT: Luciano Vecchio

For this Pride addition of the Geeks OUT creator spotlight, I had the pleasure of speaking with the extremely talented Luciano Vecchio, a queer comic book artist from Argentina.  Luciano has most recently worked on the New Warriors re-launch for Marvel.  Prior to that, he did a run on Marvel’s Iron Heart with writer Eve L Ewing and fellow artist G. Geoffo.

Luciano began his American comic book career working for DC for the online initiative “Zuda,” as well as digital first TV-based and custom comics.  He soon jumped over to Marvel doing the same type of content.  He then began work on his creator owned queer-lead superhero team “Sereno” and “Unseen Tribe.”

It wasn’t long until he caught the eye of editor Alanna Smith, then working on the short lived yet critically acclaimed “Iron Heart” series starring young African-American tech genius, Riri Williams.

Chris Allo: When did your interest in comics begin? What was your first comic book? What was the thing that got you into comics?

Luciano Vecchio: When I was very little in the 80s in Argentina, the Superfriends cartoon was on TV, my older brother used to collect the Spanish edition of DC Comics, and there was a lot of trading cards, toys and merch illustrated with the DC Style Guide by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. I was immersed in that and it was a big part of my imagination. 

I have a vague memory of the first comic book my parents bought for me specifically, one of Batman and Robin, a storyline with Nocturna and the vampires (Looking it up now, it was the Mexican edition of Batman 349 by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan.) I must have been 5 or 6 years old, and I remember having that feeling of “I will do this when I grow up”.


Chris: Who are the artists–any kind of artist, doesn’t have to be comic artists–whose work inspires you?

Luciano: I started with the American school of artists. Like George Perez, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez were my first inspirations. Then I started mixing it with other influences, like Yoshiyuki Sadamoto from the Evangelion manga, and Bruce Timm’s tv shows. I liked very diverse things I was consuming at the time and tried to mix it all when I drew. Grant Morrison’s writing shaped a lot of my thinking at creating. Gail Simone’s work reeducated my purpose. More recently Rebecca Sugar’s work made me reevaluate my aspirations on what we can achieve through epic fiction and how.

Chris: When it comes to comics, you’ve primarily done work for hire. You’ve done DC and Marvel in America, plus other places. You’ve also done creator-owned as well, right?

Luciano: Yes.

Chris: What are the positives for working for other companies, as opposed to working for yourself? What do you like about working for those different (companies)?

Luciano: What I like about working with mainstream properties like the characters of Marvel and DC, is that I think of it as a modern mythology and world-affecting metafiction. A collaborative, generation-spanning collective work. These characters and their stories and universes are bigger than any of us, hyper-charged with a myth-power that can amplify a story or message in a way that is unique to this medium and industry. That is what I value the most of being able to tap into these story-streams.  

When I work for myself, I write my own scripts and I value working from the guts with full liberty, and though my reach is far more limited without a big publisher behind, the connection with readers through my work is raw and personal, a much more intimate experience.

Chris: Do you feel with your current comics, like, say, Ironheart, that (has) been collaborative? You are part of the creative process?

Luciano: In different ways depending on the project, but my latest big projects for Marvel are team efforts between writing, art and editorial.

With Ironheart it just flowed because Eve Ewing’s script touched most of my emotional nerves and narrative interests, and we connected and were able to chat about the book and what Riri’s story means to us in ways that were much more personally invested than just drawing a script. In New Warriors, which I’m currently working on with writer Daniel Kibblesmith, I got the chance to be involved from very early stages, and though my input is more visual I was able to insist on including Silhouette in the main roster, who is a favorite of mine and we had recently reintroduced in Ironheart so it gives a sense of continuity.

And in shared continuity there is also this sense of collaboration with past generations of authors who worked on the characters, dipping into previous volumes of the series to make sure I’m invoking the same spirit through my voice, I think it’s a very important part of the job.

Also, I like doing it all myself sometimes, and I’m so honored that I got the chance to write, draw and color my own mini story from my queer and South American POV for the Marvel Voices special.

I started my creator owned comic Sereno as a weekly webcomic while I was working on the Ultimate Spider-Man Infinite Comics series (a digital comic based on the TV show). I was adding more work to a very busy schedule so it had to be meaningful for me. Sereno is an exploration of the superhero genre through a poetic, personal, even spiritual perspective. A sort of essay on what we can do and achieve through epic narratives. And it has the queer lead superhero that I needed to read when I was young and didn’t exist.

Chris: And how long have you been working on that?

Luciano: I started in 2014 and put it on pause in 2018 when I prioritize my monthly series for Marvel. I did other personal work in the middle and after, but shorter stuff.

Chris: Have you collected it? Have you printed it, or are you going to?

Luciano: I have a first volume collected in Spanish. Now in lockdown times, I took the chance to correct the translation for English readers, and it will soon be available through ComiXology.

Chris: In terms of projects like work-for-hire, what kind of projects, or content, that you really like drawing? And what are some of the projects you’ve worked on that really satisfied you as an artist?

Luciano: Superheroes are my main interests, and more specifically underrepresented demographics taking the lead in a medium that is catching up after leaving us behind for decades.

Chris: I assume you’ve worked with several writers. Have there been any writers that really stand out, that you feel like you really gelled with to create a connection, like you guys are feeding off of each other?

Luciano: I would say Eve (Ewing, writer of Marvel’s Ironheart). I feel so lucky I got assigned her first comic work, because her voice and writing, coming from a background in poetry, sociology and education was so fresh and rich I feel it renewed the way I approached making comics. It was a process to get to know each other through the work, because we never met in person so far.

Chris: (laughs) Yeah, that’s how it usually works in comics. So one of your most recent projects was Ironheart, which just wrapped. How did that happen for you? How did it come about, and then what was challenging about it? What did you love about it?

Chris: Well, it was my first shot at the mainstream Marvel Universe, because I was mostly assigned to the digital, animation-based licenses before that, which I had had enough of. I was ready for something more significant. Through my creator-owned work I realized I had my own voice and style, I had my own interests besides just drawing, I wanted to level-up. So the challenging part was making the jump, deciding what I didn’t want to do anymore, go back to producing samples and talk to editors about I what I do want to do and feel I can provide. Then I was given this chance and everything clicked and it’s been quite a ride so far.

Chris: So how does it feel? I’ve been in comics for a long time, and for me, this journey will always have samples. Now it feels, with this younger generation of artists, they don’t want to do samples for free. They feel they should be paid. How do you feel about that?

Luciano: It feels like it’s part of the business.

Chris: It’s just kind of accepted?

Luciano: As long as it’s not unfair. At many points of my career I saw portfolio work as an investment. I won’t work for free, but I will invest in myself if it’s going to pay off reasonably.

Chris: It’s not unlike when you’re an actor and you’re doing auditions, right? You’re not getting paid for them. You’re trying out for the job.

Luciano: Yeah, it’s not the same as a publisher asking you to work for free, or being paid in “exposure”.

Chris: Alright, cool. So you’ve done some work in Argentina. How does that compare to your American comics work? Is it very different?

Luciano: Argentina has a very rich, creative and political comic scene, in a smaller market with small and self publishers, it is a scene fueled by passion and it shows. I consider my creator owned work very successful in this context, but I do it for love and not for profit. My American work is what makes my income besides being enrichening in the ways we talked about.

Chris: Are there any artists lately that inspire you? Contemporaries that are working now?

Luciano: More than specific authors my attention is in this paradigm shift we’re attending and being part of, of LGBT+, female and POC voices progressively taking space in the making of culture. In and out of comics, in independent and mainstream, in fiction and other expressions.

Chris: How has being LGBTQ informed your work? What is it about being gay or bi or whatever that you put into your work?

Luciano: I think as public first we have an unique reading of how fiction and culture shapes the world around us and even how we look at ourselves as a result of that, so then as creators we bring that awareness if we can, which is not as easy as I would hope, it’s more of a constant work of learning through trial and error and observation, or projecting oneself into characters and story from that perspective. My subjectivity as queer and South American -Marika y Sudaca- will affect and shape the work I’m producing, and I think when it works out the best is when I draw (or write) for myself, for the kid I was, and that can resonate stronger and more honestly.

Chris: Obviously, when you’re working for a big company, you only have so much control of what you could do. That’s why you could have your own creator owned, so you could do things like that. So outside of the Big 2, what do you think we could do?

Luciano: I think visibility is super important for creators and any person with a following (if your safety and survival needs allow it, of course). When I was a teenager and Phil Jimenez came out it was inspiring and empowering, and now as a professional knowing about so many LGBT+ colleagues in the industry provides a sense of community that can extend to readers too if we’re visible and vocal. And with our work, we can pick our fights, propose contents that we need and won’t get done if we don’t start ourselves. Hold the door open for the next generation of queer creators so that they will have better opportunities.

Chris: Here’s a lighter question. Who is your favorite existing queer character and why?

Luciano: Wiccan and Hulkling are like the most likable of the whole Marvel universe, they’re cute and wholesome in a way that didn’t abound when they were first introduced, I think they incarnate the self-accepting and loving queer archetype and that’s why they have a very invested following across the globe even beyond comic readers.

Chris: What are the projects you are most proud of right now?

Luciano: Ironheart and my creator-owned comic Sereno. And I’m especially proud of my story in Marvel Voices anthology which I got to write myself, which is a rarity being a non-native English speaker, in which I had all the LGBT+ characters of the Marvel Universe gathering BECAUSE of their queer identity, for Pride. It is something I always wanted to see happen, I took the chance and pitched the idea even though I was invited as just an artist into this special, and it worked out. It’s just one page, but I did it all, even coloring and it is a career highlight for me.

Chris: What lesson or advice would you give to aspiring artists today? What do you wish you knew then that you know now when it comes to being a working artist in today’s industry?

Luciano: It’s weird, because the world keeps changing so fast. My personal experience really doesn’t apply to newer artists.

Chris: Well the mechanics of it are still kind of the same, yeah? I always tell my artists “whatever you do, make sure you keep a schedule. Make sure you think on those terms.” I think having some of those basics will always stay the same, but knowing what you know now, what would you tell somebody? “Make sure you focus on this, this is really important…”

Luciano: I think I took a while to develop the more human, social aspect of the business. That’s what I struggled with the most when I was younger. I find it is fundamental. In whichever way you can make it happen.

Chris: This last question is, is there anything new on the horizon? What’s your next project that you could talk about? Or not talk about. Do you have something coming up?

Luciano: The New Warriors miniseries which has been rescheduled as a result of the distribution stop, so I don’t know when it will come out now. Same with my variant cover for Emperor Hulkling, which is only a cover but it was so cool to get to draw my boy Teddy like this. And I have a short story as writer/artist in an Argentinian anthology coming up, in a much more personal and raw style.

Chris: Well if you could pick your own project, what would you want to work on? Like a mainstream thing.

Luciano: If I can just dream, a Young Avengers or just Wiccan & Hulkling book. I’m starting to fantasize about writing or co-writing something with them.

Chris: So if you could put together your own superhero team from any queer characters who are out there, who would be on your team?

Luciano: Also, I think Wiccan and Hulkling and Nico Minoru and Karolina Dean have so much in common as couples that would make a great team dynamic. But more of a team I would love a book about community, where any queer character can appear and connect and know each other because of their shared identity, as we do in real life.

Chris: I think every character has the potential to be great, it’s just a matter of… to me, comic books are “character, writer, artist.” If you find the right team, they could make anybody an amazing character. I don’t think any character is shit like that. Any character can be great. Oh, one more question. How was your Flame Con experience? How important do you think it is to have our own conventions?

Luciano: It is super significant for me. My first time I attended just as a visitor in 2018, which I hadn’t done in years at any show, and it was so special. For the first time I felt fully safe and with my own community in a comics related event, I went to workshops and panels, met people, learned from LGBT+ peers in the industry. I was at the professional crossroad before making the jump to Ironheart and those two days were defining in my intentions. I said to myself this is where I want to be, and I want to return as a guest. And bam! Next year, 2019 I was part of the guest list, tabling and participating on the Designing X-Women panel, and it was my favorite con experience ever. I looked forward to returning in 2020, I guess given the circumstances it will have to be 2021?

Chris: How does it compare with artist alley in New York Comic Con? (Laughs)

Luciano: Well it’s shorter! (Laughs)

Chris: Yeah, it’s exhausting.

Luciano: Well, it’s a pleasure. I don’t know. Being within our community, it’s more chill, it’s more enjoyable in general. New York Comic Con is also super enjoyable, but it’s so much more intense, and you’re surrounded by people you admire, and… I don’t know. There’s opportunity in every direction. It’s exhausting.

Chris: Was there anybody you met at each of the conventions that you never expected to meet? That you were a fanboy for?

Luciano: Lots of people over the years, I used to be super awkward or just freeze when I met my childhood idols like George Perez, JL Garcia Lopez or Grant Morrison, but contexts like Flame Con or sharing the “New York Times’ LGBT in Comics” panel at NYCC that I did twice allowed me to make the transition from fan to peer with creators I admire and who have positively influenced me with their work but also with their insight, support and encouragement, like Phil Jimenez, Amy Reeder, Steve Orlando, Vita Ayala, and more.

Review: Fence

Fence is a 12-issue comic series from Boom! Box was written by C.S. Pacat, with artwork by Johanna the Mad, colors by Joana LaFuente, and lettering by Jim Campbell. It has since been collected into three volumes that your local comic book store or favorite digital platform is sure to be carrying. While the series wrapped up its initial run in 2018, the story will continue as original graphic novels starting later this fall.

Fence follows the story of the scrappy Nicholas Cox and his arch-rival Seiji Katayama as the two compete to make the Kings Row fencing team. The first three volumes of the series focus on the tryouts and allude to the looming showdown with their rival school, Exton. The series is brimming with richly textured characters, from stoic team captain Harvard to the arrogant Aiden, who dates and dumps a new boy on the team every week. There’s lots of fencing terms and strategy talk, but it’s never overwhelming. Pacat does a great job of giving just the right amount of information for the story to flow without losing the reader in detail. 

I knew absolutely nothing about fencing before I picked up Volume One. I wasn’t even aware there was a genre called sports manga. But that didn’t stop me from immediately connecting with it. Maybe it was my own history with elite sports (I was an active member of my high school’s crew team for five years), but I couldn’t help falling in love with this story. It was easy for me to recall the all-encompassing intensity and competitiveness that comes with high school sports, and there’s certainly no shortage of that here. But I think my favorite part was how queerness is just a natural part of the world that these characters live in. It’s never scandalous or newsworthy; it’s just a part of who some people are. 

Reading through the first three volumes of Fence has been one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had in a while. On its surface, Fence is a light-hearted American take on sports manga with queer themes. I expected it to be fun. I expected I might like it. But I wasn’t expecting it to be so sweet and sincere. If you’re looking for a heartwarming escape from the dredges of reality, Fence would be a great place to start.

DANIEL STALTER – My reviews for Geeks OUT are of queer comics and literature that I felt moved and inspired by. These are not timely reviews of current releases, nor are they negative or overtly critical. They are simply my way of sharing queer stories that I have loved with a wider audience. For a greater variety of my writing, check out my website, danielstalter.com.

Interview: Nikki Smith

Niki Smith is the writer and illustrator of the fantasy graphic novel, The Deep & Dark Blue, her debut Middle-grade read. Known for her gorgeous illustrations and queer and diverse storytelling, Smith is also the Lambda Literary nominated author of Crossplay, a queer erotic graphic novel. Self-described “Artist, writer, lover of fine comics (and some pretty trashy ones too),” Niki Smith currently resides in Germany with her wife, Kiri.

Where did the inspiration for The Deep & Dark Blue come from? What were some of the some of its artistic influences? (Was Avatar the Last Airbender one of them?)

I’m sure it was! I loved both Avatar: TLA and The Legend of Korra (and though we didn’t get to see Korra and Asami’s relationship play out in the show, the subsequent graphic novels have allowed the world and characters to be so much more openly queer and I couldn’t be happier.) More than a direct influence, though, I think it’s a matter of shared influences– the styles and pacing of Avatar and The Deep & Dark Blue are both inspired by manga and anime, stories about kids and teens saving the day while still dealing with the day to day struggles of being a kid. There’s something about that mix of adventure, sincere friendship and inventive magic that will always appeal to me. Story-wise, The Deep & Dark Blue was inspired by characters like Mulan or Alanna– girls who took new names and disguised themselves as boys to have adventures, to learn to fight and save the day. But in all of those stories, the main character went back to a happily cis, straight life– I wanted more, and I know I wasn’t the only queer kid out there who wanted the same.

The Deep & Dark Blue features one of the first cannon trans protagonists in a book geared towards younger audiences? How do you feel the landscape of kids/ young adult comics is changing in regards to queer representation?

Things have come so far since I was a kid, and it’s wonderful to see. Growing up, it was rare to see an LGBT character that wasn’t a two-dimensional stereotype, and even more rare to have that identity go beyond subtext. We still have a long way to go in many regards– particularly when it comes to diversity– but the graphic novels I’ve seen come out over the last few years give me so much hope. Young adult books like The Prince and the Dressmaker and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me are winning awards and helping pave the way for the next generation of artists. The incredible reception that Molly Ostertag’s The Witch Boy received was part of what gave me the courage to finally pitch The Deep & Dark Blue— it looked like the world of publishing was ready, and I’m so happy I was right. We’re slowly moving beyond “coming out” stories. Authors like Sarah Searle, Melanie Gillman and Katie O’Neill are all creating wonderful queer graphic novels for kids and teens, where a character’s journey with gender or sexuality is an undeniable aspect, but it’s only one of part of a much richer and more complex story.  

The comic also features one of the first nuanced non-stereotypical depictions of twins I’ve personally seen in general media? Did you take into account the fictional obsession about twins to counteract the stereotypes? How did you develop the twin siblings’ personalities?

I decided early on to make my main characters twins. The two find themselves in a situation they never expected, forced into hiding, living as girls to disguise their identities. Being side by side lets the reader see just how stark a contrast there is between their reactions– Hawke resents having to live in disguise, yearning for revenge, while Grayce blossoms. It’s the first time in her life that she’s been able to live as herself and she doesn’t want to lose it.

Since The Deep & Dark Blue is a graphic novel, the most important thing to me was that readers could tell the twins apart even if they were wearing the same uniform. There are no Parent Trap hijinks or speaking in unison, just two kids who happen to be identical. The two have wildly different personalities, and I wanted their body language to reflect that. Hawke is bold and hot-headed, while his sister Grayce is reserved; she has a lot on her mind and always thinks things through. Body language says so much about a person– a head lifted high in confidence, compared to someone who shyly averts their eyes– and I love drawing that difference. 

As an LGBTQ+ artist and creator, how did you incorporate elements of your own identity or experiences into your comics? 

I think most LGBTQ+ kids can relate to Grayce’s story in some way– a secret you’re not sure you can voice, that fear of feeling like you’re letting someone down, family who have expectations of you that you know you can never fulfill. I wanted to write about the strength it takes to come out, even when your hands are shaking. And I knew I wanted to write about found family, about surrounding yourself with people who love and support you unconditionally. 

Do you have any projects you are working on right now and are at liberty to discuss?

I’m working on a new graphic novel for kids/teens, though this one will be a contemporary story, not fantasy. But still just as queer!

Finally, are there any LGBTQ+ authors and/or books that have inspired you and your own work? Can you recommend any titles or authors for other readers?

I listed some above, but there are so many! For graphic novels, Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son, Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams at Dusk, Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, Blue Delliquanti’s O Human Star, and Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer. Ashley Herring Blake’s middle grade novels are some of my favorites from the last few years. 

A Look Back at Sina Grace’s run on Iceman.

Back in June of this year, Sina Grace shared a blog post about his experience working at Marvel. The post has already been subject to plenty of media coverage and online discussion, including on the GeeksOUT Podcast. For those of us familiar with the historical treatment of marginalized voices in publishing, the experience he described is equal parts frustrating, familiar, and disappointing. With that new context in mind, I decided to take a look back at his acclaimed run on Iceman.

Before I dive in, I should cover some of the history for those who didn’t the saga from the beginning. The Iceman solo series came about after the problematic outting of Iceman (aka Bobby Drake) in the All-New X-Men #40 back in 2015. The issue has become the subject of widespread criticism due to the way it was handled. In the story, a time-displaced younger version of Bobby Drake was prodded to admit that he was gay by his teammate, the telepath Jean Grey. After coming to terms with it, the young Bobby then confronted his present day older self. This left the adult Bobby Drake of the present day timeline to grapple with a reality he had been hiding from for his entire life. This is where the solo series picks up.

Thawing Out — Collecting Iceman (2017) #1-5 by Sina Grace, Alessandro Vitti, Edgar Salazar, Ibraim Roberson, Ed Tadeo, and Rachelle Rosenberg.

The first volume of Iceman dealt with a lot of familiar queer themes. It centered around Bobby’s already strained relationship with his mutantphobic parents, where he tried to make peace while trying to figure out the best way to come out to them. There was also some nice awkward conversations with his ex-girlfriend Kitty Pryde, and a storyline where he tried to rescue one of his students from the charming and deceitful Daken. Bobby’s efforts to smoothly navigate his new reality as a gay man did not go as planned, but the messy results lead to some raw and powerful character moments. It was refreshing to see who Bobby was beyond his projected overconfidence and affinity for dad jokes. 

Absolute Zero —Collecting Iceman (2017) #6-11 by Sina Grace, Rober Gill, Ed Tadeo, and Rachelle Rosenberg.

The second volume opened with Iceman and his friends mourning the death of Black Widow, which occurred during the Marvel Secret Empire event. The series of events took Bobby and his friends to LA, where he met Jonah and ended up going on his first date since coming out. The story hits all of the beats of a first love story nicely, with the added complications of Bobby’s X-Men lifestyle thrown into the mix. This volume also ties up some of the loose ends from the first volume; namely the storyline with Daken and Bobby’s former student Amp. Daken’s actions ended up making a mess of things, but the second volume ultimately shows some important growth for Bobby’s character.

Amazing Friends —Collecting Iceman (2018) #1-5 and Uncanny X-Men: Winter’s End by Sina Grace, Nathan Stockman, and Federico Blee.

The original run of Iceman was canceled after 11 issues, but was renewed for 5 more in 2018. The third volume picks up after yet another timeline reset of the Marvel Universe. There is now only one Bobby, who has absorbed the memories of his younger self and gotten himself a new Iceman costume. The main arc of the story dealt with the Morlocks, an underground group of mutant misfits who are unable to pass as human and live beneath the streets of New York. It also featured an excursion with Ema Frost where Bobby helps her rescue her gay brother, a team up with Spiderman and Firestar that pokes fun at the perils of superhero dating, and a face-off with classic X-Men villain Mr. Sinister. This collection also introduced the new drag performing mutant Darkveil (formerly known as Shade) to the Marvel canon. The closing issue also saw Bobby finally confront Jean Grey about the way she outted him and why it was wrong. 

Reading through the series, I was reminded once again how refreshing it is to have queer stories in set among familiar worlds and characters. While it would have been nice to see an Iceman story that wasn’t so tied up with the ongoing Marvel canon, Sina Grace’s run tells a unique story about an omega-level mutant learning to be emotionally vulnerable for the first time. The themes and situations may not be new, but their context within the popular X-Men franchise is.

For many of us, Bobby Drake has been coded queer for quite some time. I can remember how validated I felt while watching X2: X-Men United back in 2003, just months after I had come out of the closet myself. When Bobby’s parents asked him if he had tried not being a mutant before ultimately turning against him and his friends, it hit close to home. It was the first time that I could recall seeing my own experience represented in a mainstream film.

The X-Men have always been layered in queer themes. From the ostracization of a group of people rejected by their own families, to portraying the fears of mainstream society as a villain. I don’t think it’s what Jack Kirby and Stan Lee intended when they created the series back in 1963, but the queerness is right there it’s premise. That’s a big part of what makes it so disheartening to read about Sina Grace’s experience with Marvel. Stories like this are important and uniquely empowering. I want to see more of them, and I want to Marvel do better.

Geeks OUT Board Interview #2 – Kevin Gilligan

We here at Geeks OUT want you, the reader, to know more about who we are. To help with that, we’ve started interviewing members of our board so you know what makes us tick. Here’s our second interview!

Who are you and what do you do for Geeks OUT?
My name is Kevin Gilligan, I’ve been a board member of Geeks OUT since 2011. I oversee our presence at conventions across the country as the Head of Conventions, and I’m in charge of Experiences (Performance Stage, Cosplay Corner, and Gaymer Lounge) at Flame Con. I also co-host the weekly Geeks OUT Podcast. 

How did you first get involved?
I saw a call for volunteers for the Geeks OUT booth at NYCC, and then I kept asking what more I could do to get involved. 

What makes you geek out?
I’m huge into comics, comic book movies, sci-fi, and horror. I’ve loved horror movies ever since I saw my first double feature of Nightmare on Elm Street & Children of the Corn, when I was 5 years old. I got into comics, thanks to a friend I had growing up. And I got into sci-fi thanks to the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his brave crew. 

What book/tv show/comic/etc are you enjoying now?
I just finished watching the final season of Jessica Jones, the new season of Veronica Mars, and just started the new season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. And I’m almost done re-watching the series Hannibal. 

What’s something underrated you think could use a shout out?
Being a slave to trends, a lot of indy books fall under my radar at times, but there are some that I’ve found that aren’t necessarily underrated, but I think more people should discover are: Dodge City by Josh Trujillo and art by Cara McGee & Misfit City by Kirsten (Kiwi) Smith & Kurt Lustgarten and art by Naomi Franquiz (both from BoomBox). And The Closet of Secrets from Geeks OUT’s John Jennison (available here).

What fictional setting would you most want to live in?
I would like to live on a Starfleet ship, either Enterprise or Discovery

We hope you dug this interview and hope to see a bunch of you at NYCC October 3rd-6th!

Rose City Comic Con 2019 in Review

Portland has long been the west coast capital of the comics industry, and since 2012, Rose City Comic Con has been the city’s own homegrown comic convention. Every September fans from throughout the Pacific Northwest, and some from further away, flock to the Oregon Convention Center. I myself have attended well over half the shows RCCC has put on. It’s always a wonder to see how the con grows and changes from year to year. Sometimes in delightful ways, sometimes, well, less so. I’d like to break down my experience of this year’s show from a few perspectives through which I experienced it, simultaneously a fan of comics, a retailer, a creator, someone who dresses up for cons, and also a visibly queer person.


Being at Rose City is a somewhat mixed bag as a retailer in the comics industry. Compared to Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Portland’s show doesn’t seem to attract as many members of publishing and editorial staff. One of the more important things you can gain from attending a comic con as someone representing a brick and mortar store is a relationship with the companies whose material you carry. That being said, you can always meet wonderful people in artist’s alley, and if you let them know you’re looking for new material to carry, you may find that some folks are willing to work out a wholesale arrangement. Pins are great for this sort of thing, and if the person is also able to ship, you may end up discovering a new long-term product line for your store.


Sabs Cooper (left, Ash Cooper (right)

One thing I decided to do this year was, rather than bringing business cards I made little zines with all of my info on them. They cost about $1.50 to make, which isn’t enormously cost effective for something you intend to give away, but I wanted to try it and see how it worked out, and I’m really glad I did. I asked everyone first before giving them one, and everyone seemed excited about them. They’re a great way to make a memorable impression, and also show that you are physically capable of putting the work in to make something. A few people even insisted on paying for them, or trading me for their own merch, which is a very nice feeling, but not something I would advise anyone to expect or ask for. I brought about thirty, which ended up being pretty much the perfect amount.


Now, I should preface that when I do cosplay, it’s at a pretty casual level. I’m not building armor, I’m not checking props, and I don’t need a handler to get through the door. I just like setting a day aside to be in costume. This year my wife and I went as Aziraphale and Crowley from Good Omens, and it was marvelously fun. Getting positive feedback on the outfit you worked hard to put together and being asked to pose for pictures can be fun, as long as you’re up for the attention, but what really made it special for us was that there were so many spots specifically set up to take pictures. Whether it was the diner set from American Gods, a booth built to look like the Death Star’s trash compactor, or Fujifilm taking fee polaroids to promote their cameras, there were constantly exciting opportunities for fun and unique pics.


Ash Cooper (left) Sabs Cooper (right)

I can only speak to my own experience of course, but I have historically felt very safe and respected at Rose City. When I started exploring my gender some years ago, RCCC was the first place I ever presented as femme, and I received nothing but support and positivity. And now as a trans woman who is also married to another woman, I feel totally welcome in that space. That having been said, despite the number of queer artists and fans at Rose City, it is in many ways, not an especially diverse show. Considering Portland’s increase in white supremacist violence over the last several years, what I have to say as a white person about feeling safe in these spaces should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. 


For the last few years I’ve considered Rose City to be my favorite convention, but it is not without its own problems. The line to get in on Saturday for instance, was a monstrous experience. The insistence upon only having a single entrance resulted in a line wrapped around the entire convention center three times. Another unfortunate side-effect of this is that stepping out of the show for a moment, whether to grab lunch, drop bags off at the hotel, or just to get some air, is often not worth the effort, an exhausting addition to navigating the show. It’s entirely transparent that the reasoning behind this is that it will compel attendees to buy more expensive “fast-pass” style badges, allowing them to use the same entrance as guests, vendors, and those who require special accessibility. The defining factor of RCCC used to be that it was a smaller, more intimate show with a specific focus on comics. More people getting to attend and having a good time is not a bad thing, and it’s nice to see the show enjoying success, but the larger it gets, the more it becomes indiscernible from every other corporate con, with everything that goes along with that.

Review: Ghosted in L.A. #1

Moving to a new city is tough. Starting college is tough. Breaking up with your boyfriend and losing your best friend in a matter of weeks is also tough. So what’s college freshman Daphne to do? Just what anyone in this situation would do – find some new friends and use this as a chance for reinvention, to find oneself after being under the identities of others for way too long.


There’s just one difference: All her new friends are dead.


“Ghosted in L.A.” #1 does what any good series debut should do: introduces the characters, setting, and motivation for the central plot. And Sina Grace packs in a good deal of that exposition, without making the reader feel overwhelmed or rushed. In both overt and subtle ways we know just what we need to know about Daphne: she’s Jewish (which provides some conflict with her evangelical Christian roommate), she came to this college to follow her boyfriend, and she has a bit of a love-hate relationship with her best friend. Indeed, these are story elements seen time and again., But Grace does all this with humor and heart, so by the time Daphne’s main players in her life – – the boyfriend and the best friend – – are out of it, you want her to execute revenge by just simply living the best possible California girl life she can.


There’s only a brief introduction to the supernatural aspects of this story, as we meet the ghosts who become Daphne’s new best friends at the very end of this issue. But that’s okay. Right now, this is Daphne’s story, and we’ll only understand it (and her relationships) within her lens, so I’m more than okay with only just getting to meet our spectral friends in the final pages of the issue. There’s plenty of time to get to know Pam, Blair, and all the other ghosts of Rycroft Manor. We’re on the same journey of self-discovery as Daphne is, and Grace makes sure we’re going to enjoy every step of it.


Grace also assists artist Siobhan Keenan and colorist Cathy Le on artwork, and the three together give everything the Los Angeles polish and vibrancy, along with the character focus present in the script. Our art team plays with the passage of time in ways that subtly advance our script. The shift in color from sepia toned Montana to Technicolor Los Angeles presents a natural shift in story that is a visual buffet. Daphne’s wait for her classmates in the common room of the dorm shows that long wait not just in the change in the sky, but in the change in the population in the room, heightening the sense of isolation she’s starting to feel, that isolation which certainly steers what will happen next.


The art has the look and feel of another BOOM! Studios property, “Giant Days,” but with a little more realism in face and body features. There’s fair representation of all kinds of body types and ethnicities, from one ghost rocking the dad bod to another with a beautiful natural afro. The art team does well at providing corporeal forms for the non-corporeal residents, coloring them in shades of blue to distinguish them as ghosts from the story’s human elements, but still having them retain the basic forms and shapes of humanity. For the most part, backgrounds are sparse, and with the character focus of this issue, that’s okay.


Now there isn’t much to be hinted at in terms of queer content in this first issue, save for a passing look at what appears to be two men in a relationship on Daphne’s college roommate Michelle’s laptop. (Of course I’m left wondering if Michelle herself is closeted, given this and the strong Christian iconography in her dorm room.) What I do know from Sina Grace’s run on “Iceman” is how he slowly and organically introduced the revelations of Bobby Drake’s sexuality. No doubt if he has such elements planned out for this story, he’ll do the same here.


When people ask me what I like most about Sina Grace’s work, I always say that it’s his ability to write heart and humor in equal measure, allowing each to play off of the other, and to do so in a way that appeals to all ages. “Ghosted in L.A.” continues that trend, and adds in a fun twist to refresh already established story tropes. With BOOM! Studios’s “Giant Days” ending later this year, this looks to be the heir apparent to fill the Daisy, Susan, and Esther shaped hole in your heart. 

Interview: Chicago Alternative Comics Expo’s Queer Organizers

The Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE) is this Saturday and Sunday, June 1 & 2, 11a-6p, at Chicago’s Center on Halsted (3656 N. Halsted Street). It is a celebration of independent comics, inspired by Chicago’s rich legacy as home to many of underground and alternative comics’ most talented artists. Featuring comics for sale, workshops, exhibitions, panel discussions and more, CAKE is dedicated to fostering community and dialogue amongst independent artists, small presses, publishers and readers. The event is open to the public, and admission is free.


I had a conversation with two of CAKE’s queer organizers, Chris Lopez and Jon Mastantuono, to talk about their roles in organizing CAKE, highlights of the weekend, the role of conventions in sharing comics and queer culture, and more.

Chris Lopez
Jon Mastantuono

Gavin: I know there are two administrative roles in planning CAKE, coordinators and organizers. Can you detail what you do as organizers, and how are those responsibilities different than a coordinator’s?


Chris: I am in charge of Exhibitor Services. I set up the applications, organize the jury, create & send out the jury scoring packets. I started out volunteering for CAKE for several years before being asked to come on as a coordinator, and a bit later, as an organizer. We tend to have our organizers in charge of specific, key aspects of the show, while coordinators help out in some of those areas, as well, or are invited to take on their own projects, like putting together the CAKE anthology for the show.


Jon: I cover CAKE sponsorship, budgeting and accounting, show logistics, and I run the art auction fundraiser in the Spring. I’ve worked as a volunteer in similar roles at other art non-profits. Same as Chris, I started as a show volunteer and took on more responsibility as needed.


Gavin: Now that we’re getting close to CAKE weekend, what specific aspects are you looking forward to unveiling? There are a lot of panels and workshops that look engaging. I may be mistaken, but it seems like there are more than past years. Are there particular queer creators expo attendees should be mindful of? Who are you most excited to see represented?


Jon: We expanded the size of the curatorial jury by more than 100% this year, I’m looking forward to seeing the breadth and diversity of creators and types of work that result from that. CAKE is a curated show, and we felt that the best way to represent more and different voices was to have more and different eyes scoring all the applications. New people got in, people who were frustrated by our wait-list process, or the amount of competition for a spot, got in. The thing I look forward to the most is floating around and seeing if it worked.


I think ORGAN (Table 210A) is going to surprise and delight a lot of people. Calling it like queer horror is criminally reductive; it’s being chained to a wall in a dark room and you’re screaming not sure if you’re awake or dreaming and something horrible occasionally brushes across your thigh at irregular intervals. I naturally gravitate to work about the condition or contexts of being LGBTQA+ that are not cute or happy or confident or signifiers of community.


That said, you really can’t go wrong with locals Gabe Howell (206A), JJ McLuckie (206B), Sage Coffey (517B), Tony Breed (310A), or Aim Ren Beland (107B) – all super-perceptive, creative, and evolving, and succeeding hugely. Five wholly unique points-of-view.


Same for out-of-towners Pete Faecke (410B), MS Harkness (410A), Archie Bongiovanni (504B), M. Sabine Rear (406A), Eric Kostiuk Williams (310B)- I’ll always go out of my way to get what they make.


Special guests Isabella Rotman (504A) and Corinne Halbert (216) are absolute pros of the highest order, you probably already know them. No one’s ever regretted buying anything of theirs for a single second ever.


I’m certainly forgetting people! There are always people I don’t know or haven’t read out there who are stunning and wonderful and wonderfully stunning- I’m sorry I don’t know them!


Chris: From a personal perspective, I am most excited to be revealing my own book this year! After several years of work, I’m proud to show it off. It’s a hundred pages of a play that I adapted into comics. Show-wise, the focus on queer creators has always been something I’ve felt strongly about, so I’m hopeful that the public can find a bit of themselves reflected in the work, no matter where they’re coming from.


Gavin: Sage Coffey, and their character Wine Ghost, is a big favorite of mine. Tell us more about your book, Chris.


Chris: It’s titled Signal & Silence. You can find it at the CAKE comics table, right by the info desk. It’s the story of a group of friends recently graduated from a religious school, and how they are trying to forge ahead with the rest of their lives after some secrets are revealed. The original play is from Randy Wyatt, a theater professor and dear friend. It is self-published, after realizing that a large, full-color dramatic adaptation might not be what publishers are clamoring for.


The CAKE Spring Art Auction Fundraiser

Gavin: Would you talk about the role of conventions/expos in proliferating queer and comics culture? How can patrons benefit from conventions in a way that, say, the internet cannot? Jon, you mentioned the importance in not just establishing diverse creators, but also involving a diverse curatorial body. Chris, can you add to that?


Chris: Expanding the jury pool for this year’s CAKE was one of our most ambitious goals, and I’m proud to say I was able to more than double the number of people who took time out of their schedules to study the applicants’ work and score them. More representation in who is curating the show will lead to more representation of the types of voices who have stories they want to tell. I mean, it’s not enough to just have a number of LGBT comics at the show. We also want to highlight and showcase LGBT stories from people of color, people whose experiences we may not get to hear about as often. I am a chubby, latino, gay dude from Miami who is into games, music, and nerdy shit – and all these labels are reductive, and far from a complete list of course, but they serve to highlight that it’s not just some singular gay experience that needs to be spoken to, but that people are wonderfully complex and their stories can be equally as deep and involved.


Jon: Hmm. I remember in 2002, when I was almost young, I had the good fortune to operate a kissing table at an experimental theater carnival. The show was narrative but during the hour before it started, you could have a tarot reading, or a band would improvise a song for you, or there were some tumblers you could watch- you were given tickets with admission and you could spend them on these things…I had a tuxedo jacket and breath spray and a single red rose and if you gave me a ticket I would kiss you. I’m bisexual, and I would kiss whoever with some amount of conviction and excitement. And one guy came back the next week, he paid to get in a second time, to tell me he’d been kind of wondering if he might be gay, and setting up my table and lowering the barriers for him to just try it, truly, without any consequences or worry- make out a little with a man in a public space and walk away- helped him in his thinking. Getting to do that was an invitation, or the asking of a question.


CAKE has always felt that same way to me…a person who’s there to meet Nicholas Gurewitch or Jim Woodring might also meet an exhibitor or read a book that helps them connect with some essential part of themselves or the world. They might ask themselves the question. Not just about sexual identity: they might understand intersectionality or colonialism better, or their own inherent biases. A person might orient toward an understanding of rape culture. They might look at poly in a different way, or the asexual pantheon, or any of the beautiful expressions of kink culture. Or they may think about their mental health in a new way. The times I was lucky enough to exhibit at CAKE, I cannot count the number of people who came out to me as newly queer or trans, or cried to articulate some truth about grief or loss that no one had opportunity to ask them before. Many. Dozens.


I don’t know how that’s different than the internet, and I’m not internet native….some of my group chats feel like that sometimes. Tumblr at its finest was not un-CAKE-like. But, you know, there’s some exchange, there’s some electricity when it’s real life. I think it’s good to go somewhere sometimes.


Chris: As for convention culture in general, I wouldn’t place the internet on one end and cons on the other; they are symbiotic and benefit each other. You can follow someone’s work for a while on the net, but getting to meet them in person, and at an intimate show like CAKE, you might actually have the chance to talk and make a connection face-to-face. Additionally, there are exhibitors whose work can’t be displayed on a web page, as they play with the form of either paper folding, laser-cuts, or somehow incorporating the physical medium as part of their art. Walking out of the show with an armful of comics by people you’ve interacted with is an entirely different experience than going to your regular bookmarks and spying the latest pages, but it’s not always possible to find or physically discover all this new talent out there, so the internet is still an amazing resource. I know I invited several people to apply to CAKE after following their posts for a while.


Gavin: Chris, you commented on the value of the physical medium of comics, and the importance of different techniques of expression within the form. Can you both identify trends that have shaped comics in 2019? I have seen risograph techniques increasingly used by many creators, for example. Have you seen similar ideas coming out of the collective consciousness in 2019, or recently?


Jon: I don’t know, I think in general the industry is contracting. If I’ve noticed a trend in art comics it’s that only the very strong and the very foolish survive, and it can be tricky to tell which is which. They’re also not mutually exclusive categories. But that’s probably not new?


Chris: Riso has definitely been gaining in popularity, but as of right now, I wouldn’t be able to identify any particular trends, besides all those Game of Thrones comics I’m expecting to see after the finale. 🙂


Gavin: Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience with CAKE, and queer comics in 2019?


Jon: Working with Chris and the other organizers (Matt Brady, Mike Freiheit, Jackie Roche, and Ed Witt) is a gift. I’m genuinely impressed by their generosity, quality of work, and deep commitment to the mission of CAKE. We’re all communicating well and trusting each other this year more than ever, and it is a dream to work with each of them. We all give a lot of ourselves to planning this book fair.


Also, please come to the expo! We have an amazing exhibitor list, workshops, and panels. You won’t be disappointed. It might change your life.


Chris: Working to produce CAKE has been immensely rewarding. I’ve gotten to interact with some of my comics heroes and meet a whole lot of people in this community. It’s like, you know there are all these amazing comics out there, but having this many creators all in one room takes it to another level. Like Jon said, we’d love to see you at the show. It’s free, fun, and fabulous!


Interview: Erica Friedman

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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