Interview with Archie Bongiovanni, Author of Mimosa

Archie Bongiovanni is a comics artist and illustrator who focuses on making work that’s gay and good. They’re the cocreator of the award-winning A Quick and Easy Guide To They/Them Pronouns and the creator of Grease Bats, a serialized comic about two queer BFFs navigating dating and late-stage capitalism. Bongiovanni’s the author of History Comics: Stonewall, and their work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Nib, Vice, and Autostraddle. They live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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

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

Hi! My name is Archie Bongiovanni, I’m a cartoonist living in Minneapolis. I make comics that are gay and good. My books include (but are not limited to) A Quick And Easy Guide To They/Them Pronouns, Grease Bats, History Comics: The Stonewall Riots. I’ve been published in The New Yorker, The NIB (r.i.p.), and Autostraddle. I also make queer merch, zines and more which can be found in my shop.

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

Mimosa is about four queer BFFs in their mid and late thirties as they navigate growing older without a heteronormative script! I was inspired by getting older myself and realizing that my thirties don’t look at all like I expected. I was taught growing up that you’d reach adulthood by landing a steady job, having a retirement account, buying a house, raising a family, etc etc. Instead, I found me and my fellow pals in their thirties with roommates, multiple jobs, and families that look very different from the iconic straight family two-parent household. I wanted to draw a bunch of friends balancing all these aspects while also trying to keep their friendships intact.

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

I’ve ALWAYS loved comics. I have a high school diary entry where I write about wanting to be a comic artist. I love the way the brain works when filling in the blanks between images and words. The text can say one thing but the character’s expression can read differently and I think that’s where the magic is. I adore facial expressions and find comic characters able to showcase complex multilayered emotions with just a few lines and when it lands, it feels magical! I was never fully satisfied with writing, I love the pacing that panels allow in a story. So far my comics are all slice-of-life because I find the daily aspects of our lives incredibly interesting and complicated.

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

There’s not a single way to create a graphic novel, but for me, I started with just a concept. I wanted to draw about a group of friends in their thirties because I wanted to draw characters that grew and aged with me. I then focused on the individual characters and developed them deeply. I think a lot about what the characters would want to say out loud but can’t, what they can’t quite admit to themselves. That’s where the juicy parts of the story lie! From there I wrote an outline and pitched it to my editor who I met briefly at a comic convention. I got some feedback and changed the outline and once it was accepted, I wrote the script. Scripting is the hardest part for me. The script can read as bland but once it’s in an image, it can shine with life, but it needs to be written to be critiqued and edited. Thumbnailing, penciling and inking flows a lot smoother! After it’s done, there’s a lot of waiting and behind-the-scene details to hammer out (cover designs, book designs, book copy, etc) that are both exciting  and tedious at the same time!

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

Honestly, it’s zine-makes and independent comic creators! I don’t feel influenced by a single creator or author. I get compared a lot to Alison Bechdel (a high compliment I don’t take lightly!) but I didn’t read any of Bechdel’s work until I was already drawing comics. I love seeing what people put out on their own, with their own money. A zine is made from nothing but desire and an energy to create and I love seeing what people come up with.

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

I grew up reading Archie comics but I didn’t really feel reflected in them. I liked that they were funny and had regular kids featured in them. I couldn’t get into superhero comics at all despite trying. I discovered manga as a high school student and fell in love with the way the comics focused on emotions, feelings and growing up.

I really connected with the book My Body Is Yours. It’s a memoir featuring zines, intense vulnerability and self-exposure, cruising and exploring the different ways to exist in a body.

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

While some of my work is for young adults and kids, I as an individual, am not–yet that doesn’t negate my ability to create work or promote work for a YA audience. I have a YA graphic novel I wrote coming out in 2024 that I am very excited by! I have a lot of fun on my instagram and recommend folks follow me there–just note it’s NSFW! I contain multitudes.

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

I wish someone would ask me about my love of creepy dolls! I have a small but growing collection of dolls that I believe to be haunted. My newest doll, who I’ve named Veronica, is a three-foot curly-haired self-standing doll that I put right behind my TV. She’s always watching.

What advice would you give to any aspiring creatives out there?

I’m currently working on my next graphic novel, aimed at adults, that I’m really excited about. It takes place in a fictionalized version of my hometown in rural Alaska. I’m also currently looking for comic writing freelance jobs as I recently wrote a graphic novel (mentioned above!) that’ll be out in 2024 and found it to be such a cool experience!

Advice is hard because everyone is trying to do and create different things so I don’t think there is any blanket advice that would work for everyone. For me, it was helpful to re-define what success looks like and really naming what exactly was important to me while working in the industry. Is it a livable wage? Was it accolades? Was it the ability to tell my stories without being censored? Or maybe the most important thing are the relationships I have outside of my creative output so ensuring my work allows me to have the brainspace to engage with my community?  Doing this helped me decide where to focus my energy and ensure I wasn’t constantly comparing myself to others. I’m also, because I created my own standards of success, very successful! 

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

I really loved the mix of simplicity and complexity in Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. I also loved Stone Fruit by Lee Lai, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, and literally every comic Silver Sprocket publishes.

Interview with Tomi Oyemakinde

Tomi Oyemakinde grew up in London, before being uprooted at the age of 6 to head across the North Sea to the Netherlands. Going on to live in a further two countries across two continents, he was anchored by a scenic boarding school and fantastical stories – namely Richard Adams’s Watership Down.

Despite a love for stories and a desire to write, Tomi found that finishing was a lot harder than starting. But once he discovered the stories he wanted to tell, he couldn’t put pen to paper fast enough.

Now, Tomi is committed to crafting stories centred on Black protagonists thriving across genres, audiences & worlds.

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

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

Delighted to be here! The name’s Tomi and I’m a YA Author (planning to one day span multiple age ranges) based in the UK. I love manga and anime, Star Wars, and my surname which approximately means ‘Warrior returned successfully from battle’.

What can you tell us about your debut book, The Changing Man?

In the countryside is a boarding school, and in it is a girl—Ife—who feels like a fish out of water. When the only friend she’s made turns up uncannily different, it sets Ife off on a journey to uncover whether there is any truth to the urban legend of ‘The Changing Man’. The Changing Man is a slice of me—inspired by my time at boarding school and how I felt back then.

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction thriller/dark academia?

I’ve always been an avid reader. I have my mum to thank for that. Reading stories and falling in love with the worlds and characters was constant fuel for my imagination. I often had my head in the clouds. Though it wasn’t until about five years ago that I took the plunge and started to write.

Once I knew The Changing Man would be a boarding school story, I went with YA because I was writing for version of me who needed this book back then—a relatable story that was full of fun and got the gears of imagination turning.

How would you describe your writing process?

At the best of times, it is organized and structured. At the worst of times, it makes no sense and I rely on instinct. If I were to dress like my writing process it would be an uncoordinated mess that somehow works.

One thing remains true though. I always have a strong sense of the ending to my stories. It helps me not to go too far astray.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? Would you say there are any like that now?

To be honest, no. Growing up I didn’t see myself at all, at least in terms of personal identity. I feel fortunate that it was enough for me to resonate with the feelings of characters. Stories like Watership Down by Richard Adams and the Boy Soldier series by Andy McNab were formative to me.

However, I know for many back then it wasn’t enough. Which is why I’m grateful to see there are many (still not enough) stories that reflect the many shades of identity we see.

In recent years, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds, and Twice as Perfect by Louisa Onomé have struck emotional chords. They are stories younger me needed—whether he knew it or not.

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

I love cinema. I am one of those who does not have great visual imagination. Films help me a lot in terms of solidifying and identifying the emotions I want to evoke and explore with my writing. Alongside films, I love dipping into the parts of myself that are associated with strong memories. And then I’m a weird guy so I lean into that and ask myself loads of what ifs about the world around me.

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

I love first drafts. I should caveat that. I love the newness of first drafts. I get to pour as much into it as I can. I don’t tend to extensively plan so I enjoy the discovery. I find that I blend genres a good amount too. Unfortunately, when it comes to structural edits I find those quite hard. Between balancing the various genres I’ve dipped into, and the off-the-wall plot, I often complain to my past self.

As a writer, often one of the hardest parts of writing a book is just finishing it. Could you tell us any tips or strategies you used that helped you accomplish this?

I’d love to. I’ve found that finishing, doesn’t mean perfect. A finished draft with a lot of plot holes, underdeveloped characters, a confused magic system, and a low wordcount (for example) is still finished. That part never changes.

Once I understood that, I learnt that being intentional is how you get to that finished draft that isn’t perfect. That doesn’t mean writing every day. But it means committing to telling the story you want to tell.

And finally, I held on to the fact that I started the story for a reason. It’s important to write that story you’re unsure about—to push through, be unconventional, and tinker—because stories don’t care how they come about, as long as they get told!

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

I have a BIG phobia of butterflies. Honestly, it’s the way they flutter. It is beyond unnerving. Oh, and one day I’d love to have a go at directing a movie or being the cinematographer. Film is such an amazing medium and I will often listen to podcasts of directors and cinematographers talk about their craft.

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

Great question that is. I’d love to be asked: Which five people would you like to hang out and bowl with and who would win? My answer is: Steph Curry, N.K. Jemisin, Daniel Kaluuya, Barack Obama, and Viola Davis. As for who would win, I’m going with Steph Curry. I think I’m finishing dead last.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Weed out unconstructive feedback and learn to thrive from constructive feedback. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to love your work. And not nearly enough will be constructive about it. In those instances, be gracious to yourself and know feedback should be helpful.

Thankfully there are those that are fair and balanced, and they can be very helpful. Learning how to reflect and move on from that can help you grow even faster as a creative.

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

I have an untitled YA thriller that I’m excited about. Without giving too much away it’s about two brothers and their dad, trying to understand one another in a high stakes situation. It’s also a homage to ‘monster’ movies like Jurassic Park and A Quiet Place.

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

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu

Binti by Nnedi OKkorafor

Jade City by Fonda Lee

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (a picture book but so delightful)

Interview with Ciera Burch

Ciera Burch is a lifelong writer and ice cream aficionado. She has a BA from American University and an MFA from Emerson College. Her fiction has appeared in The American Literary MagazineUnderground, the art and literary journal of Georgia State University, Stork, and Blackbird. Her work was also chosen as the 2019 One City One Story read for the Boston Book Festival. While she is originally from New Jersey, she currently resides in Washington, DC, with her stuffed animals, plants, and far too many books.

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

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

Hi! I’m Ciera Burch, a Black, queer children’s author with a huge fascination with ghosts in storytelling. I’m also a photography lover, amateur baker, and D&D enthusiast. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, Finch House? What was the inspiration for this story?

Finch House is a middle-grade horror novel about a headstrong young girl, Micah, whose curiosity leads to her grandfather’s disappearance in a haunted Victorian house that has a surprising connection to her and her family. There are haunted house shenanigans and ghosts and a couple of very brave kids, but at its heart, Finch House is a story about the things we do for and to the people we love and how change is a big part of the human experience but isn’t always bad.

I’ve found inspiration in so many things (the Victorian houses in a town near where I grew up, Rita’s water ice, time periods in American history) but, honestly, my main inspiration was the door to my Poppop’s basement. It’s in this cheery, bright yellow kitchen and that door, always open, is just a gaping mouth of darkness that you can’t see past. It’s terrified me since I was very little—and still does!

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically middle grade fiction?

What a good question! I’ve always loved stories. I think we don’t think enough about oral storytelling but, in that sense, my family is full of storytellers—they can all turn the smallest interaction with another person into a hilarious or moving story. So, I very much grew up steeped in story, often emphasized with loud laughter. My mom was also a big reader and she read to me a ton before I could read to myself, so it was only natural that once I could, I started devouring any and all stories that I could get my hands on. When I was in about 5th grade, I realized I could write my own and I’ve been trying to do so ever since.

I was drawn to middle grade because it’s such a pivotal time in life, and it’s the time in my childhood that feels most real to think back on. It was when I was first truly felt like I was becoming my own person with very clearly defined interests and curiosities and questions—and when I started writing in earnest. Writing middle grade is lovely because it brings me back to those crossroads moments of childhood when “kid” doesn’t feel like it fits but “teenager” definitely doesn’t. It feels very other in a way that, as someone from multiple underrepresented communities, I was drawn to. 

As implied by the book’s description, the setting of the book, a haunted source, acts as a metaphor for intergenerational trauma. What inspired you to go with this theme?

As a person of color, and particularly as someone interested in the themes surrounding horror and what makes ghosts, intergenerational trauma is not far from the surface of my mind at any point. Especially with the idea of breaking generational curses and cycles being so prevalent online and in social media, I wanted to explore that in a way that was not only accessible to kids but that also puts intergenerational trauma in your face and surrounds you—to make it a space, essentially, so that it can be fully interacted with and explored outside of, well, therapy. 

How would you describe your writing process?

Oh, man. I’d love to say it’s pretty methodical and planned out, which it often is, but Finch House came at me fast and hard. I had no outline, a few characters, and the idea of a house that consumes people and then I just…started writing. This book was like a solo-NaNoWriMo for me, I got the first draft down in about 30 days.

When I’m not so consumed however, or just busy or trying to track down my muse, I usually have outlines, sometimes even character profiles. I always write in order but I also have plenty of half-baked scenes and scattered pieces of dialogue jotted down in the notes app of my phone. I can get very much in my head about word count and can be big into perfectionism (it’s the Virgo in me) so I try to block out actual time and space where I can just actually write without thinking too hard about what’s going on the page, and try to remember to have fun with my story and my characters and not stress too much if a certain description isn’t coming out how I wanted it to or if a big, planned scene is running in its own direction. I also no longer force myself to write at my desk. If I want to write on my couch or the giant bean bag chair I have or the courtyard of a museum, I try and let myself do that.

I love writing, even the messy, stressful, agonizing parts of it, and I try to keep that in mind when I get really frustrated or down on myself.

One of the hardest things about writing a book is finishing one. What strategies or advice might you have to say about accomplishing this?

I’m such an introvert but I’m going to have to say a strong support system. My friends and family have been so monumental in helping me actually finish Finch House. They were always there with encouraging words or distractions when I needed them, but they also let me bounce things off of them, just to get them off my chest. Sometimes they had great advice and sometimes they didn’t, but it was the act of having to think about the book as I talked through it and explained my thought process to other people that spurred me along.

Also breaks. Sometimes you just need to walk away or eat a snack or three.

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

Life. Anything, really! It’s surprising how some of the simplest things can spark ideas. Music lyrics, a fascinating interaction on a bus, the way someone pronounces a word, anything. I do a lot of people-watching when I’m out and I really enjoy seeing how other people go through the same spaces I do in such unique ways.

In terms of actual people, Mildred D. Taylor hooked me on her portrayal of family, especially Black family, as a child and has stuck with me ever since whenever I’m writing interpersonal, and especially intergenerational, scenes.

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

I love dialogue. I often start off writing it without any tags or descriptions to get a feel for the flow of the conversation and whether each character’s voice feels true to them. My characters are very vocal in my head, so it’s always fun to get to put that to paper and let them have a little bit of free reign. Getting to a point that shaped the main idea for a story is also really fun, whether it’s a bit of description or a major plot point.

Endings are most difficult for me. I will prolong finishing a book or tv series for years because I don’t want them to end, so coming to the end of my own work is often difficult. Especially because, if I’m writing without an outline or veered pretty far from it, I don’t always know how a piece of writing will end and I’ll wonder if I’ve earned an ending I might have in mind or if the events of the book led me somewhere faithfully enough that my ending feels warranted. It’s the last thing a person reads and remembers and it can really make or break or a book, so it feels so pivotal to me.

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

I’m very much into Dungeons and Dragons these days and I could fangirl about it for hours if anyone let me. I don’t know all the rules or classes or technicalities, but I make up for that with sheer enthusiasm, I hope.

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

Would you live in a haunted house? The answer is absolutely not, but I would admire it from afar and take plenty of pictures.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t give up! Really, truly. I know it’s hard and it can feel like literally everyone in the world is better than you at it, but they’re not! Only you can bring what you have to your writing (and the world) and so you should. It doesn’t exactly get easier, but I like to think we all get better at it as we go.

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

I have a YA coming out next year, Something Kindred, that deals with more ghosts and more generational trauma but in a very different way and with two sweet, queer girls in a small town. I’m also working on another middle grade that I’m not sure I can spill the beans on plot-wise, but it involves a New Jersey icon.

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

Oh man, there are so many books, past, present, and future! I’m going to say EPIC ELLISONS: COSMOS CAMP by Lamar Giles, IT’S BOBA TIME FOR PEARL LI! by Nicole Chen, and my forever favorite ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D. Taylor.