Geeks OUT LGBTQIA+ Creator Spotlight: Vita Ayala

Hello and welcome back to the Geeks OUT Creator Spotlight. For this edition I had the chance to speak to one of the most sought after and super talented comic writers working in the industry today, Vita Ayala! Vita Ayala is a queer Afro-Puerto Rican, born and bred in New York City, where they grew up dreaming dreams of dancing on far away worlds, fighting monsters on the block, and racing the fish along the bottom of the ocean. Their killer list of work includes THE WILDS (Black Mask Studios), SUBMERGED (Vault), QUARTER KILLER (ComiXology) all creator owned. They’ve also have been tearing up carpet in the mainstream on titles such as SUPERGIRL (DC), XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (Dynamite), LIVEWIRE (Valiant), NEW MUTANTS and CHILDREN OF THE ATOM (Marvel), among others.

Welcome, Vita!

Chris Allo: We like to do a little educating here on the GeeksOut Creator Spotlight. With that in mind, as a queer non-binary person, how would you define that in a general sense? And what does it mean to Vita personally?

Vita Ayala: I can’t really define what queer non-binary means in a general sense, because those words and the identities “covered” therein are extremely personal. The “general” accepted definition for non-binary is a person who does not fall under the binary gender identities of “man” and “woman” in their societal context. But there is a lot that can be covered under such an umbrella term.

For me, I feel like I am a gender that is not “man” or “woman,” but not agender either. I don’t really have the language yet to full articulate it beyond saying that.

Black Mask Studios

When did your interest in comics begin? What was your first comic book?

I have told those stories a lot, so I won’t go on too much about it, but my first comics were a Wonder Woman comic, an X-Men comic (with Storm and Bishop on the cover – or just Storm, my mind remembers both but also my mind is a labyrinth so who knows), and a Fisher Price-Marvel team up, Arabian Nights (which I still have).

I’ve always loved stories, and have had an active imagination. I was drawn to these books because they featured BIPOC people (and here, I admit that I misidentified Wonder Woman as Puerto Rican for a long time, but in my defenses, there are Reasons), and they were heroes. I would flip through the pages for hours, making up the words (since I couldn’t read at the time).

Who are some of the writers and artists (any kind of artist; they don’t have to be comic artists) whose work inspires you?

I’ll talk about some inspirations that are outside of Western comics – inspirations that have been with me since long before I was trying to become a professional writer.

Octavia Butler is a huge influence on me, as a creator and as a person. Her books saved my life, and rewired my brain.

Basquiat is one of my favorite artists. I grew up in the Lower East Side/Alphabet City in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and his spirit was still in the concrete and brick, in the streetlights and subways. His work is incredibly powerful, but also, he as a person resonated with me a lot of a teen (and still).

Naoko Takeuchi has shaped my moral center a lot. She taught me what friendship could be, and how to love people for who they are not who you want them to be.

Bruce Lee  – as an actor and creator and martial artist – is a huge inspiration for me. His drive and vision and self discipline are aspirational, holistically. 

Totally!

And I would be lying if I didn’t say that Lewis Carroll and Homer are both foundational figures in terms of my inspiration. Alice in Wonderland/Through he Looking Glass and The Odyssey are two of my favorite stories of all time (though, they are arguably the same story).

How has being a queer non-binary informed your work? What is it about being a queer non-binary writer that you feel gives you a unique and enlightened or challenging perspective that you channel into your work?

Comixology

First, I don’t think that being any particular identity makes you enlightened just by virtue of being it. Enlightenment (if it can even be achieved) is a lifelong pursuit and requires a LOT of work.

Totally right!

This is a question that there are plenty of canned answers for, but the honest truth is that everyone’s perspective is unique and personal, and absolutely informs their point of view. My intersecting identities have shaped both how I am perceived in the world and how I perceive the world, and that in turn is channeled into the world.

I also believe that there is no objective state of being, and no way to creator “objective” work. Everything we do – whether casual or purposeful, art or science or whatever – is informed by our biases and experiences.

Submerged-Vault

What drew you into wanting to work in the comics industry? What was the first comic or graphic novel that made you realize the power and potential of the medium?

I started working at a comic shop when I was 19, partially to justify dropping out of school, and partially to feed my comic and manga habit. I ended up working there on and off for 10 years (with breaks in there to attend college), and my understanding of Western comics as an industry was born and nurtured there.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t actually consider entering the industry as a creator until 2012, when I was working at the comic shop with Matthew Rosenberg. He was incredibly supportive, and he (having a lot more knowledge about the professional side) really helped guide me through my first few years/attempts to “break in.”

So great to hear about the support from Matthew. He’s a very talented writer as well.

There were two books that really reshaped my understanding of what comics could be. The first was Gotham Central – I could talk about this series forever – and the second was Strangers In Paradise, which was a book that also saved my life. And when I say certain books saved my life, I mean it literally. I would not be here, alive, if they hadn’t found me when I needed them.

Wow!

Valiant Entertainment

In terms of work-for-hire projects, what kind of stories do you most enjoy writing? What are some of the projects you’ve worked on that particularly satisfied you as a writer?

I like writing a wide range of things, but I think I tend to be most immersed when I am stress testing what makes a character who they are, or I am trying to get to the answer of some sort of question I have a bout a character/set of characters.

It’s hard to single out a particular project that made me feel satisfied, because I get different things out of different projects. I don’t think I would be able to work on a project that I wasn’t invested in, and so I am very satisfied with having worked on things once they are done.

Also, honestly, the gift of collaborating with such incredible creators through these projects is a blessing. Every collaborator I have had has been both an inspiration and a wonder, and even when I am stressed, knowing I have such amazing partners (artists, colorists, letterers, editors) to work with me brings me energy and joy!

Quarter Killer-Comixology Originals

So great to hear you say that, Vita! Comics are a truly a collaborative effort.

Who are some contemporary writers and artists in the comics industry you enjoy most these days? Who inspires you to want to continue to work in the industry?

I am so incredibly lucky to know so many skilled, passionate, wonderful creators. I am most excited, awed, and inspired by my collaborators and peers. 

Again, singling anyone out is hard because that means I am leaving people out, so I’ll just touch on a few I bought recently. 

Trung Lê Capecchi-Nguyễn’s book, The Magic Fish, wrecked me. It’s incredibly beautiful and touching, and I had to sit with it for days afterwards.

Agreed, quite an amazing and empathetic tale.

Leah Williams and David Baldeón’s work on X-Factor has been consistently moving and interesting, a mix of joyful and melancholy. I love that book so much, and I will miss it desperately when it is gone.

Martin Simmonds and James Tynion IV have absolutely smashed the button in my brain that was made for Vertigo comics. That book is really incredible.

I’m a big Vampire the Masquerade fan, and the comic is a gas. I have been loving what Tini and Blake Howard are doing with the backups in that book.

I didn’t know about those! Will check them out!

My wife and I have been on a big 20th Century Boys kick lately, and Naoki Urasawa always energizes my brain!

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

I guess the advice I would give writers is to get into the habit of writing regularly. I don’t mean “you must write everyday” or anything like that, but more, figure out a routine that works in your life, and stick to it. 

You have to hone your craft as much as possible, and you can’t wait for “inspiration to strike you” – keep a journal if you don’t feel like you can write fiction on a schedule or if you feel like you have writer’s block. Writing is a skill that you have to practice at to become more proficient at it.

As for what I wish I had known? I guess I wish I had known to try and get an agent as early as possible, or to hire a lawyer to look over contracts. Having an advocate that is purely on your side is important, and having someone to make sure that your interests are being made priority in legally binding documents invaluable.

As an artist’s agent myself, I whole heartedly agree!

The creators (writers, artists of any kind, designers), we are what brings value to the industry. We should be respected and treated accordingly.

As someone who frequently works in mainstream comics, what do you think the future of LGBTQ representation looks like there?

I have no idea, I haven’t been to the future haha.

I walked into that one…

Marvel Entertainment

If you mean what I would like to see going forward, I want to see more and varied representation. More intersecting identities. More, more, more.

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

I have pretty standard answers (Renee Montoya, Xena, Katchoo), but I think that closer to the truth is the queer characters being created and pushed by queer creators.

I’ve expressed the same thing myself. I want authentic queer characters.

I love every queer character I had the honor of helping bring to life. I love every queer character my friends have put their sweat and tears into. All of them. They’re my favorite, because they are labors of love, and they are for us by us. 

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

It would honestly depend on the story/what the goal was.

Are they investigating something? I have answers for that. Are they adventuring to the center of the Earth to find buried treasure? I have answers for that. Are they repelling space invaders or making magic? I’ve got answers for that too.

Although, I think whatever the goal/team, you should definitely bring John Constantine along.

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

I can’t say what projects make me most proud, because I feel honored and blessed to have worked on every project I have been involved in.

But I will talk about the books I am currently working on/recently worked on a bit.

I am working on three series right now (New Mutants, Static, Children of the Atom), and have the absolute pleasure of teaming up with folks like Nikolas Draper-Ivey, Chris Cross, Rod Reis, Paco Medina, and David Curiel for art, and Travis Lanham and AndWorld Design for letters.

Some top notch creators! I love Paco, Reis and Chris Cross is amazing! I can’t get enough of his art!

I recently got to work with Skylar Patridge, Jose Villarrubia, and Ariana Maher on  on a Question short for DC Pride, which what an incredible team!

Nice! Villarrubia is so gifted and a role model for me!

And of course, my creator owned work and partners hold a special place in my heart. Emily Pearson, Marissa Louise, Jim Campbell, Lisa Sterle, Stella Dia, Rachel Deering, Jamie Jones, and Ryan Ferrier have my unwavering love!

Marvel Entertainment/DC Comics

It’s promo time! Can you tell us about some of the creator-owned projects you’ve worked on that will be coming out in the next year? What’s your next mainstream project that you could talk about? Or not talk about–whatever you’re comfortable with!

As for WFH, mainstream, as I said above, I’m currently working on New Mutants (Marvel), Children of The Atom (Marvel), and Static (DC).

Loving your NEW MUTANTS and can’t wait to read STATIC!!

Not to mention the two stories you have in the Marvel Voices: Pride and DC Pride one shots!!!

I don’t have any creator owned work coming out in the next year, but as I said above, my creator owned work holds a special place in my heart.

Submerged (Vault Comics) is a contemporary queer, Brown retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth that takes place in the New York City subway.

The Wilds (Black Mask Studios) is a post-apocalyptic story that center queer BIPOC leads, in which the end of the world is beautiful.

Quarter Killer (Comixology) is a Black cyberpunk Robin Hood of the ‘hood story set in a near-future New York City that centers a Black non-binary character and their family.

Thank you so much, for your time and for speaking with me! Happy Pride!

Part two with Vita coming soon!


Chris Allo is a freelance editor and artist’s agent. He has been a serious comic geek since his early teens. He breathes, eats and sleeps comics and comic art, and is an X-Men fanatic. Aliens and Star Wars are his second favorite things in all the world. He also loves animals and has a cat named, Mugsy. He has a separate business with his partner, Puppet Punx!, specializing in costumes and puppets.

DC Pride Anthology Available Now!

The hotly anticipated DC Pride #1 anthology is finally available! This celebration of DC Comics’ LGBTQIA+ characters and creators means a great deal to all of us at Geeks OUT and was unimaginable just a few shorts years ago. It also fills us with pride to see so many familiar faces of creators that we at Geeks OUT have been fans of for years and who have been honored guests of ours at Flame Con; some going back to the very first one!

Your local comic shop may be carrying it, but if you don’t have a shop near by there are plenty of places you could order a physical copy of this comics anthology including Midtown Comics or Things From Another World.

Can’t wait that long and need to read it RIGHT NOW!? Well you can on ComiXology!

Please considering picking up and supporting this comic. If we show up for this kind of content, they’ll make more for all of us.

More on DC Pride #1 below from DC Comics solicitations.

“DC celebrates Pride Month with nine all-new stories starring fan-favorite LGBTQIA+ characters Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Midnighter, Extraño, Batwoman, Aqualad, Alan Scott, Obsidian, Future State Flash, Renee Montoya, Pied Piper, and many more!”

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Back to the Future State w/ DC

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

The Geeks OUT Podcast returns this week as Kevin is joined by Jon Herzog, as they discuss the diverse characters and creators coming to DC’s Future State event in 2021, the new trailer for Raya and the Last Dragon and celebrate all of the winners of the 2020 Prism Awards in This Week in Queer.

.

BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Quibi to shut down
JON: New trailer for HBO Max’s Flight Attendant

.

DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Roald Dahl’s The Witches, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Lovecraft Country
JON: Hannibal, Oryx & Crake, Star Trek: Discovery

.

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New trailer for Raya and the Last Dragon

.

THIS WEEK IN QUEER

The 2020 Prism Awards were announced

.

CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for revival of Animaniacs

.

THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• New teaser trailer for The Prom
• New trailer for Once Upon A Snowman
• First look at the Hocus Pocus reunion
• Daniel Kaluuya producing a live-action Barney film

.

TV

• New trailer for Netflix X-mas series Dash & Lily
• Netflix cancels Away
• Tim Burton developing a sequel series to The Addams Family
Archer has been renewed for season 12
• Disney+ orders sequel series to Willow 
• Peanuts holiday specials are now exclusive to AppleTV+

.

COMIC BOOKS

• DC announces Future State event with focus on diverse creators and characters 

.

SHILF

• KEVIN: Sterling Archer
• JON: the cast of Archer, but they’re taking a full spectrum STI test first 

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Onward, to More Queer Representation

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Steve Gianaca as they discuss Lena Waithe voicing Pixar’s first out queer character in Onward, wonder what led to Dan DiDio being ousted from DC Comics, and take in the first teaser for the final episodes of Steven Universe Future as our Clip of the Week.

.

BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Dan DiDio removed from co-publisher role at DC Comics
STEVE: The long-awaited Pokemon Home App launches on mobile and switch

.

DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Portrait of a Woman on Fire, High Fidelity, Marvel’s Voices
STEVE: Finally diving into Star Trek. Have so far watched TOS, TAS, the first 4 movies and halfway through S1 of NG. Playing DQ 7 and Pokemon Sword/Shield

.

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New trailer for I Am Not Okay With This

.

THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Persona 5 is removing a few homophobic sequences from its new relaunch

.

CLIP OF THE WEEK

New teaser for the final episodes of Steven Universe Future

.

THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

Eli Roth signs on to direct Borderlands movie
New trailer for Run
• New trailer for Beneath Us
• Onward features Disney/Pixar’s “first” queer character
• New Star Wars movie in development from director of Sleight & writer of Luke Cage

.

TV

• First look at the new toys inspired by The Mandalorian
Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel coming to Disney+ in 2021
• New trailer for season 3 of Westworld
Watchmen has affected education in Oklahoma
• New trailer for Beforeigners
Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars is moving to Showtime
• New teaser for We’re Here
Friends reunion special officially happening
• New trailer for Amazing Stories reboot
• New character posters for second season of Umbrella Academy
• New trailer for Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy: Siege
• Taika Watiti developing The Auteur for Showtime
• Season 2 of Harley Quinn is coming in April
• New trailer for Motherland: Fort Salem

.

VIDEO GAMES

• Sony is backing out of PAX East & GDC over concerns of the coronavirus
HQ Trivia shutters

.

SHILF

• KEVIN: Riker
• STEVE: Deanna Troi

Review: Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1

It’s 1953. The U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities is running full steam on their public interrogations of “subversives and deviants.” Snagglepuss is a successful Broadway playwright with a secret. This is how the stage is set in the latest Hanna Barbera Beyond title Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepus Chronicles. Writer Mark Russell is at the helm following his recent success with the Flintstones reboot, and he is joined by artist Mike Feehan. This is the first of a six-issue limited series.

Issue #1 opens with a human couple (Alice and Henry) out on a date. They talk like people do in 1950s sitcoms, with exclamations like “Hot Spaghetti!” and “Oh, Crumbs!” All we really know about them is that they’re excited for the show they’re about to see. While seemingly disconnected from the larger plot, the issue continually circles back to their story and uses it as the framework for the first issue. Spliced in between their small scenes is the meat of the story.

Snagglepuss and his wife, Lila Lion, attend the closing night of his play “My Heart is a Kennel of Thieves.” There, he talks confidently to the press, and leaves after the show receiving a thunder of applause. In the car, he congratulates Lila on her performance for the press, and once she is dropped off, he orders the driver to take him to the Village. As Snagglepuss himself says: “You can only know a man by seeing the parts he doesn’t show you.”

When he enters Stonewall, we are introduced to his partner Pablo. With the TV playing live coverage of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the background, Pablo tells Snagglepuss of his escape from Cuba. When Snagglepuss attempts to dismiss such a police state happening in America, Pablo calls him out on his wishful thinking before delivering, what is perhaps the most pointed line in the entire issue: “Every nation is a monster in the making. And monsters will come for you whether you believe in them or not.”

In the first few scenes, the seeds of the forthcoming conflict are planted. Snagglepuss is shown as a confident writer at the peak of his fame. His sharp wit and careful planning have yet to fail him. The anxieties of the outside world have yet to catch him off guard. But will his wits be enough for when the House Committee begins to take aim at him? Will they find a way to expose his secret and end his career? If the final page is any hint, they are certainly going to try.

Exit Stage Left is a thoroughly researched story set in America’s past, but it provides a biting social commentary of both our history and our present. The Alice and Henry scenes touch on the conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Snagglepuss himself channels the late Tennessee Williams, while his novelist friend Huckleberry Hound is modeled after William Faulkner. He is also revealed to be friends with playwright Lillian Hellman, as well as writer Dorothy Parker of Algonquin Round Table and Hollywood Blacklist infamy. Even Gigi Allen, the villain introduced at the end of the issue, appears to be ironically named after the controversial American singer GG Allin–but I’m only speculating on that one.

Taking a 1950s cartoon and reinterpreting it through a modern lens, with both past and present political anxieties on full display, is bound to produce some bizarre results. Russell and Feehan manage to weave together both the familiar and the weird, and present a world that is equal parts subversive, unique, and cohesive. This first issue is perfectly paced, giving just the right amount of brewing conflict and character development to whet our appetites for the rest of the series.

The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 is available in comic book shops today!

Darwyn Cooke: His Life and Legacy

In an industry too often marred by inappropriate personalities, graphic artist Darwyn Cooke distinguished himself as kind and warm to his fans while beloved and respected among creators. Cooke died early on Saturday, May 14, shortly after he entered palliative care for aggressive cancer. He was a rare person, a talented artist and a gift to humanity. He was 53.

Image result for darwyn cooke bio

Cooke’s foray into comics work was a short story in New Talent Showcase #19 in 1985. For the next 15 years, though, he largely worked as a graphic designer for magazines in Canada. In the 1990s, he worked as a storyboard artist for Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, beginning his work with DC’s most famous characters.

His work on Batman in print began in earnest with Batman: Ego, a one-shot story in August 2000 that was eventually collected with other stories in Batman: Ego and Other Tails in June 2007. Cooke and Ed Brubaker revamped Catwoman in 2001, starting with a four-issue story in Detective Comics #759–762. This helped spawn a Catwoman solo title, which Cooke illustrated for four issues, and a prequel graphic novel, Selina’s Big Score. His design for the character is “still the one used today,” an official statement by DC comics revealed.

In 2004, Cooke wrote and drew DC: The New Frontier (with colors by Dave Stewart), for which he won his first Eisner Award. It is impossible to overstate how influential and magnificent this book is; it is required reading for all comics fans. For many, it contains the definitive depictions of the most iconic superheroes ever created, and it reintroduces many characters that were lost to the public imagination. Cooke’s artwork is often described as simple and elegant, but it is also imbued with an optimism that is sorely lacking from the medium and has been since.

new-frontier.jpg

In a blog post from 2010, which she recently shared again via Twitter, Gail Simone recounted her reaction to New Frontier and how Cooke presented her with a “Sophie’s choice” involving the artwork. She prefers New Frontier to Watchmen, and Alan Moore—the creator of the latter work—supposedly asked that no more DC comp books be sent to his house “[except] New Frontier.”

Beginning in 2009, Cooke began adapting the Parker novels of Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark). His style proved just as adept at crime stories as superhero tales, as timeless as the best noir fiction. He is also known for being the writer and artist of Before Watchmen: Minutemen and the writer of Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre, prequels that transcended the misgivings most fans had about DC’s revisiting these characters.

Among the other awards Cooke won for his work were an Eisner for Best Single Issue for Solo #5 (2006) and Joe Shuster Awards for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Artist for Batman/The Spirit and Superman Confidential.

Of course, there was more to Darwyn Cooke than his bibliography. By all accounts, he was a great man, well known for his sense of humor and generosity. His passing is a loss not just for the comics community but also for society at large.

His family has asked that donations be made to the Canadian Cancer Society and Hero Initiative.