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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
With Tom Lotito of Geeks OUT, author Robb Pearlman, Maria Aragon, founder of Reading Rainbow at University of Maryland, College Park, and Rob Gates of Lambda Sci-Fi. Our panel explores creating both content and fostering space for queer content. What does queer fandom look like, and how do we make it happen? Moderated by Benjamin Beaury.
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.
You’re not going to want to miss The Cardboard Kingdom, the new anthology-style graphic novel by Chad Sell. The listed age recommendation for Middle Grade is 8–12, but I read the book with my six-year-old, and he was just as enthralled as I was—which is no easy feat! We talk about acceptance a lot in our household, enough that my son has already got the “Yes, mom. I know.”/ eye roll combo down pat, but the lighthearted way The Cardboard Kingdom covers some heavy topics never provoked that reaction. The colors are bright, the endings are happy, and while not every kid achieves #UltimateGlory in the story, it does offer lots of authentic insight. I felt comfortable reading it with my child, both of us eagerly turning each page, anticipating each new adventure.
The book itself is made up of several vignettes, each highlighting a new or returning character and their journey into the “kingdom” (literally fabricated with cardboard) of neighborhood friendships and play. The book is diverse without resorting to tokenism, and each of us found more than one character to see bits of ourselves in. My son found a kindred spirit instantly in Jack, a young boy who chooses to dress up as a sorceress during imaginative play, and I felt more than a few heartstrings get tugged while reading about Big Banshee and The Gargoyle.
While the tenderly crafted stories are what made this book memorable for me, the art is an absolute joy to behold, effortlessly blending the running theme with the tone of the book, without ever weighting the story down, or taking it out of acceptability for child readership. Each character is lovingly illustrated, and the comic switches from real life to fantasy are just fun. I giggled. Out loud.
So if you’re looking to bring a little sweetness into your reading diet, or if you have a child in your life who’s maybe been feeling a little too shy, a little too loud, a little too weird, or just a little too different from everybody else, this is a diverse though never heavy handed look into what childhood could be like if we all taught our kids acceptance and that differences are what make us special. I’d say it’s suitable for ages 6–60, and if you have an old bigoted 65 year old aunt? Buy her a copy!
Mariko Tamaki is an artist and writer of mixed Japanese Canadian and Jewish Canadian descent, known for her graphic novels Skim and This One Summer (co-created with her cousin Jillian Tamaki). Recurring themes in her work include becoming, identity, and queerness. Since 2016, she’s been writing for both DC and Marvel on comics like She-Hulk and Supergirl: Being Super, and her English language translation of the queer coming-of-age story Luisa: Now and Then (by French writer and illustrator Carole Maurel) was released today by Humanoids. This August, she’ll be joining Geeks OUT as a special guest at Flame Con, so we wanted to get to know her a bit better before then!
For several years, you’ve collaborated with your cousin, artist Jillian Tamaki, on books like Skim and This One Summer. What is the creative process like for you working with family? Are there any challenges that are unique to working with a familial relation?
I imagine pretty much all collaborations have unique elements. There is a part of our connection that is familial, in that we have very similar senses of humor, I think, and some very Tamaki sensibilities. Mostly I, certainly, have always trusted Jillian to do her thing (which she does exceptionally well) and mostly our publisher has let us do things the way we need to do them, so that’s awesome.
Throughout much of your career, queerness has been a prominent (or at least recurring) theme of your work. As a queer woman yourself, how much of your own experiences do you incorporate into your fiction writing?
I’m not sure sometimes if I default to a queer experience because I am queer or if it is because I specifically want to see more queer content out there. I think it’s always a little bit of both. I try not to overthink it. I try to write the story I want to write and see how that pans out. Definitely if I am writing something that feels completely straight, I’ll sew some queerness in there, because queerness is always there. It’s like when you’re writing a cityscape, you need to write in the characters that would be there. To me, not doing that is more of a choice.
My first introduction to your work was Skim, the graphic novel about a young girl named Kimberly Keiko Cameron, set against themes of first love, mental illness, and suicide. What was the creative inspiration behind this work?
I just pictured this character one day who had a broken arm because she had tripped over a candleholder that was part of her Wiccan altar. I was sitting on the bus and I just had that image so clearly I was like, “I bet that’s a book.” Once I started writing it everything sort of just fell into place. I’d always wanted to use my experience in a private all girls school for something, so this seemed like that place to do it.
There’s a recurring theme in your stories of characters coming-of-age stories. Why do you gravitated toward this particular narrative?
I don’t necessarily mean to write “coming-of-age” stories. I am interested in the mechanics, the experiences, that go into the things we take for granted, like identity, like being a girl or boy or neither, like being smart or funny. All that stuff. We are all always becoming the things we are. That doesn’t stop when you turn 20, but it’s incredibly potent when you’re a teenager. And potency makes for good stories. So there you are.
What is the most significant way your more personal work differs from your work on comics like She-Hulk?
Generally, until I wrote She-Hulk, very few of my characters were green or grey. Also, writing for superhero comics, you’re writing into a world, you’’re writing against the backdrop of a genre, which is sort of always there no matter what you’re writing. So it affects what you write in a myriad of little ways. It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge. I want my mainstream comics work to feel like it’s coming from me, but I also want it to be a part of the larger whole of mainstream comics.
Do you have any favorite queer authors or books you can recommend?
Right now I’m recommending Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters. I know Maurice Vellekoop is working on a graphic memoir to that will be published by Pantheon Books. I have seen bits of it and it is amazing. I loved Molly Ostertag’s Witch Boy and I’m thoroughly enjoying Moonstuck series by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle. I could go on.
Do you have any new ideas or projects for us to look forward to?
I have a book coming out in 2019 with Rosemary Valero-O’Connell called Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me. I’m working with Juan Cabal on X-23 for Marvel. I have a Harley Quinn graphic novel with DC Ink with Steve Pugh called Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. My third book with Abrams for our Lumberjanes series with Brooklyn Allen is called The Good Egg and I am so excited for people to read it. And I’m currently writing a YA murder mystery, but I’m not sure what the title will be yet, so look out for that.
I’ll be the first to admit that vampires are not what drew me to backing this Kickstarter. While it isn’t a subgenre I read regularly, it didn’t deter me either. I didn’t realize there were vampires in it at all until after the book arrived. Though the vampire mythos is impossible to miss once you start reading, the word vampire (to my knowledge) is never spoken. Instead, what we get is a fully realized world in its own right, distinct from the well-known genre tropes. The religion centered around the Silent Lord and ruled by the Night Court is as creepy as it is fascinating. What really drives the plot, however, are the two central characters Ed and Lucardo.
Ed is a 61-year-old scribe working for the Night Court, of which Lucardo is a member. Lucardo hails from a powerful family of ageless aristocrats, and develops strong feelings for Ed in spite of his family’s misgivings. While this is erotica, and the sexual tension is present right from the first scene, the story takes its time to build up to the sex scenes. Each one is approached with a mix of tenderness and raw primal force that is often brought out by love and mutual attraction. It’s through these scenes that we see both characters at their most vulnerable. They help set the tone for dramatic turns outside of the bedroom, making them all the more resonant and powerful.
At its core, this is a story about loving someone in spite of societal boundaries. While the world that Ed and Lucardo live in is not a direct parallel to ours, they experience many struggles resembling those interracial queer couples face. Lucardo’s place on the Night Court grants him a life of privilege unlike anything that Ed has ever known. He starts out largely oblivious to Ed’s struggles, only to realize through the cruel pranks of his siblings and disrespect paid by his father, just how powerful those societal pressures can be. Without dropping any spoilers, it is these very pressures that come to a head and leave the reader eagerly anticipating Book 2.