Interview with Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall, Creators of Brooms

Jasmine Walls is a writer, artist, and editor with former lives in professional baking and teaching martial arts. She still bakes (though she’s pretty rusty at martial arts) and has a deep love for storytelling, creating worlds, and building tales about the characters who inhabit them. Along with Levine Querido, she has works published with Boom! Studios, Capstone, Oni Press, The Atlantic, and The Nib. She lives in California with two dogs and a large stash of quality hot chocolate.

Teo DuVall is a queer Chicanx comic artist and illustrator based in Seattle, WA. They graduated in 2015 with a BFA in Cartooning from the School of Visual Arts and have had the immense pleasure of working with Levine Querido, HarperCollins, Dark Horse, Chronicle Books, Scholastic and more. He has a passion for fantasy, aesthetic ghost stories, and witches of color, and loves being able to create stories for a living. Teo lives with his partner, their two pets – a giant, cuddly pit-bull, and a tiny, ferocious cat – and a small horde of houseplants.

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

J: I’m a comics writer and editor, with a past career in baking and a deep love for hot chocolate. I’ve written for DC, Webtoons, Oni Press, and BOOM!, along with Levine Querido.

T: I’m a comic artist, illustrator and barista from Seattle. I’ve worked on projects for Star Wars, Avatar: The Last Airbender and DC, among others. I love ghosts, witches of color and stories with queer joy. Brooms is my second graphic novel.

What can you tell us about your new book, Brooms? What was the inspiration for this

J: Brooms was heavily inspired by my own family, half of which come from the
American South. I wanted to tell a story set in a world of magic that was about the people who are often left forgotten on the margins. I also wanted it to be fun. I didn’t think I needed to make another story of hardship and struggle, but one of overcoming the odds and finding joy in a community.

T: It was important to me to draw witches who weren’t only white, cis and straight. Witches belong to all communities, and I wanted to make something that reflected all of the BIPOC witchy folks who exist in the real world – myself included.. Our communities have been long overdue for more representative magic content, and my hope with Brooms was to bring some of that content into the world myself.

How did the two of you come together to work on this project?

J: I was already of fan of Teo’s work and though he’d be a perfect fit as a collaborator for the story. Back then, I didn’t have much of a presence in the comics world at the time, but I sent Teo an email with the story pitch when I felt brave at 2am and was honestly shocked that he replied with an enthusiastic yes!

T: I truly could not say yes to Jasmine fast enough when I saw her email. I knew Brooms was something special, and I needed to be a part of it.

As creators, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly the graphic novel

J: I’ve loved storytelling since I was very young, my whole family is very big on reading and I’ve always had an active imagination. The toughest part is trying to narrow down what stories to focus on and to actually get them written down. As for what drew me to graphic novels in particular, I think they are an incredible blend of storytelling mediums, it’s like having a printed movie in your hands, or a prose book that’s come to life, and they can span across every genre. There are also so many incredible ways of experimenting with style, lettering, and color to completely change the tone or mood of a scene.

T: I’ve been drawing stories ever since I was a kid (somewhere my mom has a picture book I drew in kindergarten about dinosaurs going to school). There’s something so beautiful about words and images coming together to create an immersive, emotional experience. Also, art helps bring characters to life in a way that we don’t get in prose novels. I can’t tell you how many times a teacher or librarian has told me that their students who have a hard time reading become so engaged when introduced to graphic novels. Visual imagery is very powerful.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+
content featured in your book?

J: As with any book I write, queer characters are front and center. In Brooms, there are three main openly queer characters: Billie Mae and Luella are in a relationship with each other and Cheng Kwan is a trans woman. There are also plenty of queer and gender nonconforming background characters. Teo did an amazing job of really bringing every person you see on the page to life.

T: I like to think that a good majority of the folks we see in Brooms belong to the LGBTQ+
community, particularly in the race festival scenes. I was deeply inspired by historical queer communities and how they would come together no matter how society fought to keep them hidden or isolated. I wanted the world of Brooms to feel populated by LGBTQ+ folks who would otherwise be pushed to the side by the annals of history, so I designed many folks with an intention towards queer representation. I hope marginalized readers can feel that energy and see themselves reflected in those characters.

Jasmine Walls

Since Brooms is a historical fiction graphic novel, I was wondering if there was any
research involved during your creative process? And if so, what kind?

J: Absolutely. I love doing research for stories, and I love history, so whenever I work on a project, especially a historical project, I try to do as much research as I can. Even though the characters and their lives are fictional, the setting (aside from all the magic) isn’t. We wanted to represent the kinds of people who really did exist in 1930s Mississippi, and we wanted to do so respectfully. A few examples on my side of things included looking into my own family’s history, but also doing research on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw which Luella, Mattie, and Emma are part of. Emma is deaf and uses sign language I referenced from Indian Sign Language by William Tomkins which is not entirely regionally accurate, but is period accurate. Loretta uses mobility aids from the time period after having a stroke at a young age, and the foods you see in various scenes are all things that would have been made by people in those places and times.

T: There was tons of research involved, which was great for someone who enjoys amassing folders and folders of reference. I dug through a lot of vintage photography from Mississippi in order to get a sense of the environment and clothing of the period.

Upon reading Brooms, readers discover that there seems to be a unique magic system that the main characters use, in particular referencing root magic. Would you mind going into some of the world-building behind that?

J: Because none of the girls have gone to an official magical academy, they’ve all
learned magic through familial knowledge or what they’ve shared with each other, and in the American South, particularly in Black communities, root magic is a very real cultural aspect of life. The magic Billie Mae and Loretta use and teach others is based loosely on the structure of real life root magic practices, which is often based in drawing energy from the earth and seeking guidance from ancestors.

How would you describe your writing process?

J: A little bit messy to be honest! I often think of a particular scene that just sticks in my mind and if I think it’s solid enough for a whole story, I begin to build around it bit by bit until everything starts to take shape. I often have several scribbled ideas on sticky notes all over the place before compiling them into a very rough outline. Then I rewrite it many, many times before showing it to anyone else.

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

J: One of my favorite books growing up was Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, which
is a collection of oral stories, myths, and fairytales collected from Black folks in the American South. As a kid it was one of the few times I saw people who looked like me in fairytales and folk tales. Now that I’m older, I know there were other books but they were just harder to find. I think things have definitely improved as more queer and BIPOC stories are being published, which has been a joy to see, and I hope that trajectory continues.

T: As a kid, I read and re-read His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and watched Studio Ghibli films whenever I could. Princess Mononke in particular always resonated with me, as well as Kiki’s Delivery Service. I never felt reflected by these stories, but they touched me very deeply. Now, I immediately think of Aidan Thomas’ Cemetery Boys. It was the first time I ever encountered a character that looked like me, and felt like me.

Ted DuVall

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

J: This one is always tough because I feel like I draw from so many influences from
books I read to artists I follow, but I can say that one of my earliest influences in writing was
Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles series, which made me rethink the role or classic fantasy tropes and how they’re used in stories. I was also obsessed with InuYasha as a teen so that probably had a lingering effect.

T: Mike Mignola is a huge one for me, as well as Ray Bradbury, Fiona Staples and Rosemary Valero O’Connell. Their works always remind me why I love (and need) to create stories. Music is also really important to my process. I listen to a lot of Wolf Alice, serpentwithfeet and Nation of Language and they never fail to inspire me.

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

J: For me, the best parts of writing are the initial rush where everything is new and
exciting, and then the point where it’s all a completed written mess and I get to go in and edit it into something polished. It’s just so satisfying. The parts I enjoy the least are when everything is half done and I have to slog through writing the less exciting scenes, or when I’m stuck and can’t seem to get the words to work the way I want them to. Usually that’s when I need to step away for a bit and take a long walk so I can come back with fresh eyes.

T: I really enjoy designing characters, and when I get to the inking stage for interior pages. I’ve always loved inking, and inking pages in particular is very satisfying. On the flipside, creative stamina is inevitably a huge challenge. I think this struggle is something a lot of graphic novelists can relate to. It’s a very troublesome mental block to experience, especially when you’re working on a project that requires years of commitment.

Many creators would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing
one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

J: It’s true, the bulk of working on a book is sitting down and powering through the
tedious bits. My motivation (aside from deadlines and never wanting to burden my collaborators by delaying their work) is honestly using the parts of a story that I’m looking forward to writing as a reward for getting through the boring parts. Another factor is balancing the work that needs to be done while also giving yourself space to recharge the creative battery and step away. Work should never take over every aspect of your life. Take breaks, stretch, move around, drink more water, and get your sleep. You’ll come back to your work more energized for it.

T: Communication is really important, in my opinion. Talking with your team, asking for help…I can’t stress enough how vital that was to helping make BROOMS a reality.

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

J: I’m not very exciting outside of work, but I do love food and the process of how it’s made. I am a big supporter of agriculture workers and sustainable farming practices, particularly in the spice trade. If you ever need to know a good vanilla vendor, I’ve got you.

T: My spouse and I bought combat-grade French lightsabers and I’m learning how to spin with it. We’re planning on performing a choreographed battle sequence instead of a first dance at our wedding reception, and it’s been a blast to learn. If you’re curious, check out Michelle C. Smith’s spinning videos.

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)?

J: I always secretly hope people will ask for hot chocolate recommendations, and I
have several! These are all companies with fairly traded, sustainably grown cocoa, and are
owned by BIPOC: Cultura Chocolate’s Mexican Drinking Chocolate, Villa Real’s Vanilla Hot
Chocolate tablets, CRU Chocolate’s amazing flavor selection of drinking chocolates, and
Lucocoa’s Orange holiday hot cocoa mix.

T: I love rocks, gems, crystals…and I want any excuse to talk about them! It would be fun to be asked what my favorite is. (The answer is obsidian. Mirrors of polished obsidian called tezcatl were used by Aztec shamans as a way to view the spirit world).

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?

J: My advice to aspiring writers is to write what you love, don’t try to jump onto trends for a quicker foot in the door, though it can be very tempting. Writing is a slow process and we only ever see the “sudden” successes from the outside. Take your time, put in the effort to get from start to finish, and write the stories you want to tell. And lastly, be open to feedback (from editorial pros, not internet randos who just want to be mean) because they’re there to help the story be the best it can be, it’s not a personal attack, so don’t be too precious with your first few drafts.

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

J: I’ve got a couple secret projects, but I also have a few new pitches I’m excited for. An enemies-to-lovers romcom about two former rival crime bosses, a non-romantic comedy about two ace teens fake dating, and an alternate history western.

T: I have some cool projects in the works, but nothing I can talk about just yet. Though hopefully I’ll be able to share some news soon!

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

J: I have SO MANY, so I’ll narrow it down to just a few. Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became The Sun, Olivia Stephens’ Artie and the Wolf Moon, Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon, Mike Brooks’ The Black Coast, and Sacha Lamb’s When The Angels Left The Old Country.

T: This isn’t comprehensive, but off the top of my head I would recommend Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas, Nimona by N.D. Stevenson and Let Me Out by Emmett Nahil and George Williams.

Interview with Deya Muniz, Creator of The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Deya Muniz was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they grew up watching Pride and Prejudice and reading copious amounts of shojo manga. In 2017, they moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in sequential art, where they met and fell in love with a wonderful girl who makes delicious grilled cheese sandwiches.

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

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

Thank you!! I’m Deya, I’m from Brazil, I have a beautiful wife and two dogs. You may know me from my comic strip series Brutally Honest, or me and my wife’s WEBTOON Blades of Furry!

What can you tell us about your graphic novel, The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

It’s cheesy and silly and gay!! I got the inspiration from my beautiful wife!! I explain it better in my author’s note at the back of the book. Basically, it all came about because of an incident involving grilled cheese sandwiches while we were both brainstorming ideas for a scriptwriting class.

In addition to The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich, you are also known as the co-creator of the webcomic, Blades of Furry (a webcomic that said to be a mix of Yuri on Ice meets flurries, co-created with your partner-which is like the gayest thing ever ). What inspired this project, and co-creating it with your spouse?

Blades of Furry came about for my MFA thesis! I was writing about suspension of disbelief, so to prove my point I came up with the most out there concept I could at the time! I was at the early stages of my figure skating obsession then, and my wife had turned me into a furry. I have also always loved vampires and had a pretty intense Twilight phase, so that’s how that all came about.

Emily became an official co-creator when it came time to actually start production on BOF! I was already working on Grilled Cheese and realized I couldn’t do both at the same time on my own, so I asked if she would like to join. She had such a big influence in the creation of the concept, and we knew we worked really well together, so it was a natural fit! Little did I know that even doing Blades of Furry with her, I was very far from being able to pull off all the work I had to do on time. Whoops.

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

I’ve always liked comics, and even at the tender age of 8 I was writing silly little comics with my friends at school. When I was on the final year of my Bachelor’s degree, I was mostly thinking of going into either animation or video games. However, I started making the Brutally Honest comic strips instead of working on my thesis and they got popular online! One thing led to another and my thesis ended up becoming a comic, and then I went on to get my masters in Sequential Art. I was still considering getting into animation, but my pitch for Grilled Cheese got accepted before I got any storyboarding job offers, and now here we are!! I’m happy with how it all turned out!

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

Slow and painful. I like getting attention on the stuff I make, so it was really really hard for me to be putting in all this effort into writing and drawing this story with NO ONE giving me compliments. Yes, I know exactly how ridiculous that sounds, but it’s true!! It’s a big difference between online publishing where you’re interacting with your readers at least weekly, and print publishing where you work in the dark for years and get no interaction or feedback until the work is finally published, however many months of years after you’re done working on it!

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

I could list so many things… For The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich I was very much inspired by Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 movie version specifically) and by shoujo manga/anime. I was obsessed with CLAMP as a kid and LOVED the way they did sparkles, fabric and hair. From there, I became obsessed with the work of Alphonse Mucha, who was a big influence on the CLAMP style.

More recently, and around when I was working on Grilled Cheese, I was mostly inspired by artists I followed on twitter. I get a lot of inspiration from that nowadays, whenever I end up in a new fandom there’s always so many incredibly talented people pumping out beautiful art, it’s wild! Back then I was heavily into this story called Mo Dao Zu She (or Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) and the art coming from that fandom was incredible!

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

Yes, so many!! I already mentioned a few in the previous question, but there’s many many stories that have touched me deeply through the years – Kingdom Hearts, Fruits Basket, Howl’s Moving Castle (both the book and the movie), Yuri on Ice, Banana Fish… I don’t know if I felt reflected by them as a whole, but there’s always little pieces of who I am or want to be reflected in some of my favorite characters.

Right before starting work on Grilled Cheese I was reading TONS of gay webtoons/manhwas and my absolute favorites were Wolf in the House and Dark Heaven (both 18+, be warned!) – both stories had an iron grip on me. Wolf in the House has incredible heart and humor, and Dark Heaven had me extremely deep in my feelings. Those two helped me get through some tough times.

Right now I’m profoundly infatuated with Trigun Stampede. I’m listening to the soundtrack while writing this!! I also just read Monotone Blue and really liked it!

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

I broke my skull when I was a baby and I’m fine, so I have reason to believe I might be immortal and undefeatable.

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

“Would you like 10 million dollars deposited in your bank account yearly?” The answer is yes!

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

… Unfortunately, I am legally bound to secrecy. 

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

Be self-indulgent in your creativity. Doing what you think you should instead of what you want to do is going to lead to some serious burnout pretty quickly. Enjoy yourself in your work as much as possible.

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

Ok! I have already mentioned a fewso here’s some more:

Manga/Anime: Our Dreams at DuskRestart After Coming Back Home, Given, the Kase-San series.

Western/US WEBTOONS: Castle Swimmer, Covenant, LoveBot, Not so Shoujo Love Story, Prince of Southland, and Nevermore.

Also, look into Danmei. Phenomenal stories there!

I’m not very good at recommending western LGBTQ+ books/comics because I get anxiety reading them. I’m also behind on every single Webtoon I mentioned for that reason. Everyone is so talented and imposter syndrome sucks! Anyway, I really liked The Prince and the Dressmaker!

Interview with Mel Valentine Vargas, Co-Creator of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: The Graphic Novel

Mel Valentine Vargas is a Queer Cuban-American graphic novelist based in Chicago. They hope to draw the kind of illustrations that their younger self, and others like them, could have seen to feel less alone. Mel Valentine Vargas loves singing in Spanish, playing farming video games, and eating lots of gyoza with their friends.

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

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

My name is Mel Valentine Vargas, I am a Non-Binary Queer Cuban- American graphic novelist and illustrator. I speak both Spanish and English and currently reside in Chicago, but I am originally from Florida. 

What can you tell us about your most recent project, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: The Graphic Novel? How did you come to work on this book?

I can say that it is as relevant today as it was ten years ago when the original chapter book came out. I loved working on a book that my younger self would have really needed while growing up. I’m very thankful to my agent Elizabeth Bennett, Transatlantic Literary Agency, for getting this book deal for me and connecting me with Candlewick. 

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

When I graduated High school back in 2015, that following summer was such a weird time for me. I didn’t really know what to do with myself and I was about to start college on a biology track. I spent that summer like a bit of a hermit, but I was reading so many webcomics and watching so many animated shows. Something within me was really drawn to those stories and mediums, I wanted to be part of their creation. I’ve always loved storytelling, both listening and creating, so as I tried creating my own comics that summer it’s like things just clicked.

What are some of your favorite things to draw?

My favorite things to draw are people. I love drawing different kinds of people. I love deciding their outfits, coming up with silly t-shirts they wear, styling their hair, it’s like having Barbies all over again. I also love drawing plants, I really enjoy making some up as I go. And while we are on this topic, my least favorite thing to draw is animals… I should practice that.

How would you describe your creative process? And what went into collaborating with Meg Medina for the book?

My creative process always starts with immersing myself into the topic and medium for said project. With this book I read the original book twice. You should see the copy Candlewick gifted to me, it’s covered in highlighter marks and little color-coded sticky notes. It’s important for me to really get to know what I will be drawing, and in this case, adapting. 

I think people would be surprised how little illustrators partner with authors of graphic novels. I actually didn’t get to speak with Meg very much during the process of this book. Of course, she saw and approved everything in the end, but she and I really did not discuss anything much during the making of this book. Occasionally I would get a note from my editors that Meg really wanted something a certain way and I would of course make sure that what I drew was true to her vision. 

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

Some of my greatest influences are, of course, other graphic novelists and cartoonists. I love Rosemary Valero-O’connell’s work as well as Leslie Hung’s and Lucy Knisley’s comics. Generally, I get very inspired by work that showcases people.

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

Growing up I didn’t have many stories that I saw myself in. I grew up Hispanic, bilingual, and fat. It was difficult finding books or movies and shows that talked about that in a positive way. I really gravitated towards media that showcased awesome women though. I remember being awestruck at Raven and Starfire from Teen Titans and Marceline from Adventure Time. Now I am so thankful that there is much more media that showcases different people in a way that I would have loved to witness as a kid. Turning Red, Dead End: Paranormal Park, The Owl House, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, and so much more.  

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

I would want readers to know that illustrators, like me, work really hard on graphic novels and would love it if you spend just a tiny bit more time on every page. Just really soak up the details. I would want readers to know that all comics and graphic novels are a labor of love. I would like readers to know that I watch so many shows while I draw, specifically BoJack Horseman which I watched about 13 times through the course of making this book alone. 

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

I’m not too sure. This is my first book interview. What is my zodiac, perhaps? It’s cancer by the way. I’m a cancer sun and moon, do with that info what you will. 

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

YES! My next graphic novel Pillow Talk, written by Stephanie Cooke, is coming out in 2024! There are also other projects in the works that are a bit hush-hush. 

What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, especially those interested in making their own graphic novel one day?

The advice I always give people who say they want to get into comics is MAKE COMICS! You can’t possibly get hired or followed or whatever your end goal is with comics if you aren’t producing them. It doesn’t matter if they are bad, or if you don’t post them, just make them. Diary comics, or little joke comics, zines, or fan art comics. Read and make comics!

Finally, what books/authors (LGBTQ+ and/or otherwise) would you recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?

Books I recommend-

Anything by Nicole Dennis-Benn, Maggie Nelson, and Madeline Miller. Of course anything by Meg Medina! Graphic NovelsLaura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, Snotgirl series, The Leak, and honestly any graphic novel written/ drawn by women and genderqueer people.  

Interview with Miriam Katin, Author of We Are On Our Own

Miriam Katin is a Hungarian-born American graphic novelist and artist. She worked in animation from 1981 to 2000 in Israel and the United States. She has written two autobiographical graphic novels, We Are on Our Own (2006) and Letting It Go (2013). She has won an Inkpot Award and the Prix de la Critique.

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

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

I was born in 1942 in Budapest and survived the war with my mother “hiding in plain sight” with faked Christian ID papers. In 1957 after the Hungarian Uprising we went to live in Israel where I apprenticed in a graphic art’s studio, then I served in the IDF as a graphic artist. In 1963 I arrived in New York, where I worked in MTV and Nickelodeon and Disney’s New York studio. I did background designs for the animated pictures “Doug”, “Daria’ “PB&J Otters” and Nickelodeon’s Bible stories.  From 1981 to 2000, we lived in Kibbutz Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea, where I also worked in animation for Ein Gedi FIlms. We also did work for the Israeli Sesame Street.

What can you tell us about your work, We Are On Our Own? Where did the inspiration for these stories come from?  

We Are On Our Own comes from the stories my mother told me about our year of hiding from the Germans in the Hungarian countryside. 

Much of your work is autobiographical. What made you decide to explore the personal in your work, especially in such a visual space?  

The stories my mother told me about the war, they were like running narratives inside my mind, a daily, painful, uninvited, unwanted presence. They begged to be told. But I am not a writer and also, I thought who needs another Holocaust story.   

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

So when I discovered comics for myself, I knew I could draw the stories.  This was while working in MTV I saw the young artist around me doing comics. So I decided I had something to say.   As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?   For story telling, it was Ben Ketchor, also I love his style and he is so New York. My influence for color is the Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti.   

Besides your work as an author/illustrator what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I always bring out the fact that my formal education was nine years and after that I never went to school. I don’t recommend it, but it tells you how much you can learn in life from the people around you. Lucky to have met many generous people willing to teach and help.  

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?  
My father was in a bicycling army unit during WW2. I could never learn bicycling until after he died. I think I like to work on the subject of Military Bicycling. It started in France.  

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

Oh. Just go to a good library and sit on the floor with the other fans sprawling around and read as many books as you can. And start drawing. And be completely honest. Don’t leave anything out, no matter how embarrassing it may be. And I also tell students that comics is very forgiving, you don’t have to be an accomplished artist to start. There are great stories told just with stick figures. But the story, it has to be good.   

Interview with Clar Angkasa, Author of Stories of the Islands

Clar Angkasa was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration. An illustrator, animator, and comic artist with a passion for narrative art, she draws inspiration from stories, nature, and wholesome people. Her work has received such honors as the MoCCA Arts Festival Awards of Excellence, an Adobe Awards Top Talent, and more. Stories of the Islands is Clar’s debut graphic novel. She is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

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

I’m a Brooklyn-based Indonesian illustrator-animator-comic artist with a passion for visual storytelling. I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia before moving to the U.S. to pursue a career in the arts. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in 2019 with a BFA in Illustration, I moved to New York in search of ways to stay in the country as an artist.

What can you tell us about your latest project, Stories of the Islands? What was the inspiration behind this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by folktales and this fascination inspired Stories of the Islands. To be precise, I was inspired by what I felt was missing in folktales. Reading or listening to these stories, while enjoyable, always left me feeling unsatisfied with how the women are portrayed. Traditionally, they are damsels in distress to be rescued, wicked witches to be outsmarted, or just the hero’s love interest. I wanted to go beyond the superficial tropes, to create characters that have agency and depict girls and women as flawed and nuanced people with their own personalities and motivations.

Another big inspiration was my mom, a single mother who in my opinion is the strongest, most independent woman I know. I grew up watching her have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously in her career, and even then, all people cared about was if she had a man by her side. Yet, she never let anyone dictate how she should live her life. I was lucky enough to have had a role model that taught me that my value as a woman goes beyond what society expects of me. My mom taught me to carve my own path in spite of what others may think, and I can only hope that Stories of the Islands can teach young readers to do the same and expose them to narratives that are empowering for women, rather than limiting.

As creators, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly the comics medium?

I’ve always loved stories and for as long as I can remember I’ve used stories as an escape. Eventually I started making my own stories through my art and it became a form of self-expression and coping mechanism, a way to process the chaos of everyday life. I didn’t become interested in making comics until I was in college and started reading a bunch of comics when I was procrastinating at the campus library. At that point I was torn between wanting to pursue a career in illustration or one in animation. I saw comics as the perfect in-between medium. Through comics, I can make beautiful drawings and also tell stories through sequential art. Moreover, I sometimes have a difficult time articulating things with just words or just images, so I loved the idea of being able to combine both in comics. When words fail, I can draw it, and when the illustration isn’t enough, I can enhance it with my writing.

How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process is somehow both chaotic and orderly. Creative ideas pop up in my head at a much faster pace than my hands can work so I always start with an overwhelmingly messy collection of notes and sketches. At the same time, I need structure and organization and plans, so I would make detailed spreadsheets to schedule out all the individual tasks involved in the projects I want to work on, which are usually a lot more than I could realistically take on. I always end up wanting to do way too many things at once so to avoid spreading myself too thin, I do my best to limit myself to only two big projects at a time (I don’t always succeed). I think of myself as a chronic multitasker, unable to fully devote my day to just one thing. This means at any point I would usually be chipping away at multiple tasks such as taking breaks from work by doing chores or replying to emails while waiting for my Photoshop files to load. 

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

One of my favorite stories growing up was Winnie-the-Pooh. I made my mom read the books to me before bed, watched so many episodes of the TV series and got the stuffed animals and bedspreads to match. I think what drew me to the series was the unique personality and quirk each individual character had, some of which I really related to. It wasn’t until much later that I realized a lot of the characters represented different mental health issues. When I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression as an adult, I remember thinking, “That explains why Piglet and Eeyore were my favorite characters.” As I grew older, I kept getting drawn to stories where I related to the characters in some way. There are many like that now but the most recent one I’ve read is Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. Reading about the main character struggling to fit in and being envious of others’ seemingly perfect life immediately brought me back to my high school days.

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

I get most of my inspiration from stories I consume, be it from books, movies, TV shows or just stories people tell me over coffee. Most of my art is driven by my love of storytelling so when I experience a good story, it makes me want to write/illustrate my own. This is why one of my favorite places to be is in a bookstore, browsing through books and being inspired by all the covers and blurbs. Every new book I read, especially graphic novels, would generate new ideas and goals. If I’m ever in a rut, all I need to do is grab a book from a bookshelf. Even when I don’t buy anything new at a bookstore, just being around all these books is a great motivation for me to keep making stories and sharing it with others.

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

My favorite part of what I do is being able to use my work as a medium to express myself and even process difficult thoughts and emotions. Sharing things is sometimes difficult for me but being able to write it down and/or sketch it out makes it so much easier. The act of sharing my work with people who resonate with or relate to the story is also one of the most satisfying parts about writing/illustrating. I also love how easy it is to work anywhere – I just need some pen and paper and I can pretty much write/illustrate wherever. 

The challenging part of it all is starting. I’m a very indecisive and anxious person who overthinks everything so sometimes it takes forever for me to start a project. Starting something new is always exciting but I would get overwhelmed by all the possibilities. The more choices I have, the more stressed I get. Ending things is even more challenging than starting it. Being a perfectionist makes it very difficult to finish a project because no matter how many times I make revisions and edits, I always see a new flaw or something I want to change. It’s especially frustrating when I’m working with a deadline and I just don’t have a choice but to learn to let go.

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

I have a pretty obsessive personality and tend to get very into whatever it is I’m doing. I rarely do anything “casually” so when I’m not obsessing over the littles details of my work, I could easily be found with a different side obsession. I would start new TV shows and immediately binge the entire season or start reading a book and finish it overnight. I would take on new hobbies like needle felting or oven-bake clay and then devote hours to perfecting the craft. I bought a few plants during the pandemic and now I’m an overbearing plant mom with 30+ houseplants and a 3-page instruction PDF on how to take care of each one that I made for my roommate when I’m out of town. 

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)?

If I could invite anyone to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be? The answer is my grandpa who sadly died a few years ago. It’s a question I’ve been asked in a random conversation before but it’s one that I always want to bring up when talking about my work. My grandpa was an artist and he was the reason I wanted to make art for a living in the first place. I feel like I’ve only recently found my voice as an artist and I would’ve loved to be able to share my work with him over dinner and see what he would think about it. Stories of the Islands was actually published on the anniversary of his passing. I would’ve loved to be able to show him this project, my debut graphic novel, a labor of love I’ve been passionate about for the past 5 years.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring creatives?

The main advice I would give is to remember to take care of your mental health. While my art provides a great escape and a very satisfying coping mechanism, throwing myself into work 24/7 isn’t the most sustainable way to live. It’s important to devote time outside of work to lead a healthy and balanced life. To this day I have a really difficult time following my own advice. As a workaholic, my work is pretty much my entire personality but that is something I am actively trying to unlearn. Creators often face the constant pressure to keep crunching out work and that pressure sometimes makes you think that you don’t have time to take a break. I would feel the need to be productive all the time but I know that isn’t the best for both my physical and mental health. What I’ve found to be helpful is including breaks into my work to-do list. Instead of seeing breaks as “not working” I’ve started treating it as an act of kindness to my future self and an investment so that I may work more efficiently in the future. 

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

Stories of the Islands is part of a two-book deal with Holiday House so right now I’ve started working on the next graphic novel. It’s still in its early stages so there’s not much I can share yet. At the same time I’m also working on developing other story ideas I have that could potentially become another book. I’ve recently started freelancing full time as well so I’m currently looking for smaller projects to work on in between book projects.

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

There are a lot of great comics and artists that inspired me to start making comics of my own but two in particular stand out in my memory: Nimona by ND Stevenson and The End of Summer by Tillie Walden. All their works are amazing but these books were the first I read by these creators and they left such a huge impact on me. Tillie Walden even wrote a blurb for Stories of the Islands so that was a really nice full circle moment for me.

Queer Comics: Emily Corn- A Graphic Novel of Cosmic Proportions and Personal Discoveries

Ever since Page Wooller announced they would be releasing the next book in the Emily Corn series at Providence QTZ Fest I have been excited to discuss with them how this journey started.

In a world oversaturated with superhero sagas and dystopian dramas, Page Wooller and Ali Vermeeren’s graphic novel, “Emily Corn“, emerges as a refreshing comet in the vast universe of graphic literature.

The Uncharted Journey of Emily Corn

At the heart of this tale is Emily, a character shrouded in mystery and isolation. Raised in seclusion, Emily’s journey is not just about discovering the world but also about self-discovery and breaking free from the confines of a shielded life. The revelation of a secret propels the story into a high-stakes adventure where Emily’s acceptance of her identity becomes crucial for the survival of Earth itself.

A Rich Tapestry of Art and Storytelling

Vermeeren’s artwork is a visual feast, a blend of shadow and light that perfectly encapsulates the dual themes of darkness and enlightenment prevalent in the story. The black and white palette underscores the eternal struggle between good and evil, making each panel a piece of art worth pondering over.

Accessibility: A Small Hurdle in the Digital Age

For those opting for the e-book format, be prepared for a bit of zooming in and out. The small text can be a strain on the eyes when read on a smartphone. However, this minor inconvenience does not detract from the overall experience, especially given the engaging narrative and striking visuals.

Conclusion: A Must-Read for Graphic Novel Enthusiasts and Beyond

“Emily Corn” is not just a graphic novel; it’s a journey of magic, identity, and the complexities of growing up. It’s a testament to the power of storytelling and how it shapes our understanding of ourselves and others. While there are areas where the narrative could have been more nuanced in its representation, the novel remains a significant contribution to the genre.

To those who have yet to delve into the world of graphic novels, let “Emily Corn” be your gateway. To the seasoned aficionados, add this to your collection and revel in the magic that Wooller and Vermeeren have so vividly brought to life.

For those who haven’t met Page, they are somewhat of a modern Renaissance person. A writer, dancer, painter, farmer and activist, musician, and previously wrote text books. Page is … an experience.

And Now on to the interview!!!!!

Damon: Have you had a big presence at Conventions (ie. Flame Con.)? Either way, how has it been interacting with your fans, whether in person or online?

Page: Due to our release date being in early 2020 during COVID, being a big presence at conventions was not a possibility for us. We instead contacted stores, a radio station in Australia and a few reviewers who wrote about the comic. Most contact with fans happened through Facebook, one person messaged about the excitement they had in getting a non binary comic book for their child who identified as being non binary, they said it would be a welcome distraction from all that was going on with COVID. Just reaching even one child and giving them hope that there are non binary characters in comics made me feel like I had a purpose.

Damon: How does your personal identity and experiences as an LGBT individual influence your creative process and the stories you choose to tell?

Page: My stories I draw heavily from my own experiences and identity as a non binary/ gender fluid human. There are times when I have felt totally alone with my feelings. This is another reason I felt like a story like this needed to be written, in order to reach those who have felt as alone as I have during my process of finding my identity. On one hand I don’t feel welcomed into the gay world and on the other hand I don’t feel welcomed into the straight world, so I’ve learnt to start creating my world, through stories.

Damon: Can you walk us through your typical creative process? How do you develop ideas, create characters, and bring your stories to life on the page?

Page: Mmm, my process is pretty complex, I start with a general frame work and then begin to gather scattered pieces of ideas from my head, small detailed experiences and creative ideas that I feel would fit into the plot of the story. At this time I’m never quite sure as to when these glimpses into my mind will occur, so I carry a note book and pen everywhere I go, scribbling down the ideas as fully as I can. Next I randomly transfer these scribblings onto the computer, in no particular order. The process then continues into ordering the sequences of the story into a streamline tail that runs smoothly from beginning to the end. This is then read and re read, edited and re edited until its clean and then I transfer it chunk by chunk into a graphic novel script for the illustrator to then work from, which gives a detail description of what occurs on each page, how many panels per page, characters in each panel and what’s being said by whom and so on.

Damon: Are there any specific comic book artists or writers who have influenced your style or storytelling approach? How have they inspired you?

Page: So many influences, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Marion Zimmer Bradly, Ann Rice, and Edgar Allen Poe to name a few. The main way these artists have inspired me is by the way they touch my visual thinking. I have dyslexia and one gift it gives me is the ability to see in images rather than words. Dimensions and form grow from words. All these artists have fueled this skill.

Damon: How do you envision your work impacting readers, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ+? What messages or emotions do you hope to convey through your stories?

Page: I hope to paint a clear depiction of how aspects of my own psyche have formed over the years as a child with an extreme imagination and a flare for the extravagant. I have never stopped learning and growing as we live in a world of adult absolutes. I love changing and finding out new things and this child like enthusiasm to uncover new things, like the ability to write while also having dyslexia which I only discovered in my fourties’ should never leave us. I hope the readers gain a reconnection to that inner child before the worlds rules of rational thinking took over and sensible choices were made over fun and adventurous ones.

Damon: Who is your favorite Federation Captain, and why?

Page: Ooo, I love this question, what a great one to finish on. I would have to say Janeway. I like powerful intelligent women who are in charge as role models that challenge male dominated characters. When I grew up there were very few gay role models in fictional stories and on the tv, so, I turned to women as my main arena of selected models. Women that stood against the overpowering male dominant stigma. Women who weren’t afraid to feel emotions and express them in the face of being opposed by with anger, violence and manipulation. It gives me goose pimples just thinking about it.

Good choice page …. good choice.

Interview with Claire Lordon, author of One in a Million

CLAIRE LORDON is an American-Canadian illustrator, designer, and author who creates children’s books, comics, surface designs, murals, maps, and greeting cards for a number of companies. She earned her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.  

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

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

Sure! I am an illustrator and author and upcoming graphic memoirist. My book One in a Million came out October 10th. I am an American-Canadian illustrator, designer, and author living in Vancouver, Canada. I create children’s books, comics, surface designs, murals, maps, and greeting cards for a number of companies.

My work is inspired by my lifelong spirit for adventure, a love of the outdoors, and an enthusiasm for travel. I enjoy long distance running, hiking, kayaking, lacrosse, curling, and snowboarding.

My pronouns are she/they.

What can you tell us about your debut book, One in a Million? What was your inspiration for the book?

My book One in a Million is a graphic memoir about when I was a teen dealing with mysterious health symptoms. I wanted to create the book I needed as a teen.

I’m going to use third person to talk about my book because this happened to me in the past.

In the book Claire tries to balance being a normal teenager with all sorts of new symptoms she had at the time such as weight gain, depression, insomnia, and more. Eventually she is diagnosed with a brain tumor, specifically Cushing’s Disease.

What are you hoping readers will take away from One in a Million?

I hope readers take away empathy and an understanding that the person next to you may be going through a health battle and you can’t tell by looking at them. I also want readers to learn what it’s like to live with an illness that’s a medical mystery. I also hope that readers that are going through tough a medical diagnosis or health issues to know that they are not alone, especially teens.

As creatives, how did you become drawn to the graphic novel/comics medium, especially graphic memoir?

I’ve been reading comics ever since I was a kid. I remember being so happy read Calvin and Hobbs and Tintin books when I was young. I really became drawn to graphic novels when I took a comics class in college. I was introduced to graphic memoir through Smile and El Deafo. Non-fiction, autobiography, and memoirs have always been some of my favorite books. When I discovered books like Fun Home, Maus, and Hey, Kiddo are memoirs but in graphic novel format I was very eager to read them.

How would you describe your artistic/creative background?

It all started when I was three and announced to my parents that I was going to be an artist when I grew up. Flash forward and I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in illustration. I didn’t realize until my last semester that where my art really shines is when it is geared towards children. Because of this I didn’t actually take the children’s book class at RISD. A couple years after graduation I took a children’s book class with the School of Visual Arts continuing education program. Since then I have written and/or illustrated six picture books and one board book. I also work on a variety of illustration projects with numerous clients.

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

For books I’m definitely a text before sketching person. For One in a Million I approached it by creating a rough outline. After that I sketched a couple pages and wrote out a very detailed rough outline that was pitched to editors. From there I worked on finishing the text and thumbnails. Then I broke the text into pages and did rough thumbnails (small sketches smaller than a business card) to figure out the layout of the book. After a couple edits I moved onto sketching the whole book. When that was approved I moved onto final art and then adding color. Phew!

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

I definitely felt reflected in books because I am white. I am thankful that my parents surrounded me a rich diverse set of books to learn about others’ experiences. I do wish there had been more books when I was young about people being non-binary or asexual, especially how non-binary is such a wide range. Thankfully there are books like that now!

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

My inspiration comes from everything. I try to read a variety of books from board books all the way to adult with a mix of non-fiction and fiction. I’d say the outdoors, nature, and traveling are big influences too. My past is also a big influence as I try to create things my past self would love. I also try to make work that makes people smile as I know art or books can really make a positive difference when I have been through tough times.

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

How long did the whole book making process for One in a Million take?

From rough outline to being published it took six years. I’m thankful I had so much time to make this book the absolute best it could be. It was so hard trying to narrow down all the events in this eight-month period of my life because so much happened. The book could have easily been twice as long. In the end editing out events that didn’t move the story helped make the book stronger.

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

I’m in the early stages of plotting a picture book/easy reader (I haven’t quite decided which one best fits the story yet). I also have a picture book that I need to a text edit before starting working on a book dummy.

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

Read, read, and read some more. Read a wide variety of books including books that aren’t graphic novels. Find a critique group or buddy who can give you honest feedback on your work. Keep making work and find ways to share it, including social media. Also, take a look at Scott McCloud’s books Understanding Comics and Making Comics.

Finally, what books (comics included)/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT, particularly those focusing on similar themes as yours, such as chronic illness?

Before I began working on my book and while I was working on it I read many memoirs, graphic novels, and graphic memoirs. Below are some of the best that I read:

Epileptic by David Beauchard

Parenthesis by Élodie Durand

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

Stitches by David Small

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Interview with Sage Cotugno, Author of The Glass Scientists

S. H. Cotugno is a queer and mixed-race Victorian horror nerd born and raised in
Los Angeles, California. They are a director, writer, and storyboard artist in the
animation industry and have previously worked on projects such as Gravity Falls,
The Owl House, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. The Glass Scientists will be their first
published graphic novel. You can see more of their work by following them on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok (@arythusa).

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

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

Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m an animation director and comics creator who has worked on shows such as The Owl House, Gravity Falls, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. My debut graphic novel series The Glass Scientists will be published by Penguin Random House in a three-volume series starting October 2023.

What can you tell us about your latest project, The Glass Scientists: Volume One? What was the inspiration for this story?

The Glass Scientists is a reimagining of classic gothic science fiction set in a world of bubbling potions and misunderstood monsters. It follows the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll as he works to create a safe haven for mad scientists in the heart of London, where they can defy the laws of nature in peace. But everything changes when a mysterious stranger arrives, shattering all of Jekyll’s carefully laid plans and threatening to expose his darkest secret. 

I have been obsessed with the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde since I was in high school. As a mixed-race, bisexual, and nonbinary person, I’ve always been drawn to stories about characters caught between two worlds. I can’t think of a character who embodies that experience more than Dr. Jekyll, a man so desperate to fit himself into the boxes society laid out for him that he literally splits his soul in two. Like, same, dude. 

As a creative, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically within the comics/ graphic novel medium?

I came to comics through anime! In middle school, I needed to know what was going to happen next to my favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! character, Yami Bakura, so I started reading the imported manga from my local Japanese bookstore. (I couldn’t read the words, but I could glean the general gist of the story from staring longingly at his beautiful, evil face.) 

But I didn’t start making my own comics until I embarked on my first full-time job as a storyboard artist on Gravity Falls. Gravity was a wonderful experience, but I missed getting to tell my own stories, like I had done while making student films. It seemed impossible to make my own animated show (having now developed four shows, can confirm: yeah, it’s super hard!). But it seemed slightly-less-impossible to create my own comic, so I decided to take the plunge. 

In addition to being a graphic novelist, you are also known for your work in animation, most recently working on The Owl House. As a fan of the show myself, I would love to hear more about your experience working for the show if youre interesting in sharing them?

The Owl House was such an extraordinary show to work on! I learned a ton from the incredibly talented and hardworking crew Dana assembled, especially my fellow directors Stu Livingston and Aminder Dhaliwal. Now that the show has finished airing, it’s been amazing to see how much they’ve accomplished, especially in the realm of LGBTQ+ representation. It takes an incredible amount of courage, perseverance, and downright stubbornness to get an honest-to-God gay kiss into an American animated TV show, but hopefully their hard work will open the gates for the queer creators who follow after them. 

How would you describe your creative process?

For me, storytelling is a testing ground for reality, a place where I can play around with different identities and viewpoints before I’m ready to claim them for myself.

It took me a long time to come out as bisexual–and even longer to come out as nonbinary–in part because I was always questioning my own thoughts and feelings. I’d think: “You’re not gay, stop obsessing over yourself and focus on something that really matters,” or: “You’re not really trans, you’re just overthinking things, as usual.” 

But in fiction, I didn’t have to interrogate every moment of my life leading up to that point. I could explore the queer relationship between Jekyll and Lanyon (a big focus of volumes two and three) and the backstory to my transmasc werewolf character, Jasper, just because I felt like it. And I felt like it because, for all my second-guessing, some quiet, authentic part of me knew what I wanted all along.

I guess that means my creative process is “listen to your heart??” That’s so embarrassing to say out loud! Oh well, I guess I’d just better own it . . .

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

My process might be a bit unusual because The Glass Scientists was originally posted as a weekly webcomic over the course of eight years. The challenge of writing a story over such a long period of time is that you’re committing to the way you saw the world at the moment you first wrote it. I see the world pretty differently as a 33 year old than I did when I was 25, so I had to find ways to make the story feel true to me at both stages of my life. 

Not that I’ve been doing massive overhauls this whole time, but I’ve made some significant changes when something just didn’t feel right:

For instance, since The Glass Scientists incorporates a lot of famous characters of late Victorian literature, I originally thought I should include Sherlock Holmes. I had this vision of depicting Sherlock as this severe, gorgeous lesbian effortlessly dissecting my characters’ defenses, but when it came time to actually write her, I had to admit that I just wasn’t that big of a Sherlock Holmes fan, and trying to fake it would be a disserve to the real fans out there. Plus, from a story economy POV, it made more sense to replace Holmes with a character I already knew I wanted to introduce later in the story. 

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

I’ve always been drawn to stories that take a playful approach to classic literature. In the hyper-specific realm of “reimaginings of classic sci-fi,” I love the stageplay adaptation of Frankenstein by Nick Dear. The way it streamlines the cast down to Frankenstein and his monster throws their fraught relationship into stark relief, and Danny Boyle’s directing in the 2011 production makes the story feel so fresh and modern. 

I also love queer stories in historical settings. I went absolutely feral the first time I read A Gentlemans Guide to Vice and Virtue. You couldn’t get me to shut up about it. It even made me reconsider–and eventually rewrite–the ending I had in mind for the main couple in The Glass Scientists

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

There wasn’t a lot of LGBTQ+ representation when I was growing up in the ‘90s, but I have a soft spot for shows that weren’t explicitly queer but had a certain vibe, like Ouran Host Club. It might not seem like Good Representation™ in today’s landscape, but for a closeted teen who still had a lot to unpack, real queer characters would have been way too scary for me to engage with directly. I think this kind of media can be an important stepping stone for folks who are still questioning. 

At the same time, I’m glad there are more opportunities nowadays to tell stories unambiguously for and about LGBTQ+ people. Recently, Abigail Thorne’s The Prince hit me square in the chest with its playful yet deeply empathetic depiction of a closeted trans woman told through the lens of Henry IV.

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

My favorite part about comics is that I get to write a story that’s just for me! When I started in animation, it was incredibly difficult to get a series greenlit unless it was a show for young kids or an adult sitcom like Family Guy. (Streaming has expanded those categories a bit, but not by much.) I knew that trying to fit my story into one of these narrow categories would render it unrecognizable, so I never seriously considered pitching it. Because of this, I was free to write exactly the way I wanted to, without having to cater to the whims of focus groups or studio mandates. That experience has been vital for building my confidence as a storyteller. 

The most frustrating part about comics is how long they take to draw! I’m not saying that writing isn’t hard work, but in terms of pure man-hours, drawing outweighs writing ten to one. Granted, my setting isn’t doing me any favors. The Victorians couldn’t design a single chair leg without adding twenty little swirlies and clawfoots to it. Last night I turned to my partner and said, “I’m setting my next story in IKEA.” Nothing but straight lines and sleek Scandinavian design, baybeeee! 

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

I’m a huge nerd about medical history, and my favorite part of medical history is (surprise, surprise) the Victorian era, that special period of time after the invention of modern technology but before the invention of modern safety regulations. There were so many ways to die, from wearing the color green, to working in a bakery, to having any kind of surgery beyond basic limb amputation. (Especially if you had the misfortune of being alive during the decade or so between the introduction of ether as an anesthetic and the discovery of germ theory.)

People say it’s hard to time-travel if you’re anything besides a straight white cis man–which is true–but I take solace in the knowledge that there are plenty of eras straight white cis men wouldn’t want to time-travel to, either.

What advice might you have to give for other creatives, particularly aspiring comic book writers/artists?

Embrace your cringe! I was so afraid of looking cringe-worthy as a teenager that it makes me, well, cringe. I regret that I never had a phase where I bought all my clothes from Hot Topic and made rainbow wolf-sonas with spiky sidebangs who cried blood tears while listening to Linkin Park. I love that episode of Mortified where the guest reads her wildly anatomically-incorrect Harry Potter slash fanfiction. I would have learned so much from writing something ridiculous like that! Instead I wrote these very mature, carefully structured, distantly snarky songfics that never had satisfying endings because I was afraid to commit to anything. 

Don’t avoid doing something you love out of fear that you’ll look back at yourself and cringe. You’re going to do that no matter what! But you’ll learn a lot more if you just do the thing you wanted to do in the first place.

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

I wish! Animation is such a slow process, especially if you’re trying to develop and pitch your own shows. I haven’t been able to talk about a project I’ve worked on in years!

But–and this may be cheating a bit–I have been creating new merch for The Glass Scientists pre-order campaign: enamel pins, bookplates, bookmarks, that sort of thing. Before starting TGS, I ran the Kickstarter for a prequel comic called Bleeding Heart and had to make all of the rewards for the campaign, as well as the book itself. It’s been fun to stretch that muscle again. The world of traditional publishing can be so big and overwhelming, so I’m glad to have a small but tangible part I can take on myself. Plus, I get to hand-package them for the fans who pre-order the book. I love being able to give that personal touch! 

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

I just finished reading Molly Ostertag’s Darkest Night, a masterfully-crafted graphic novel about depression and childhood trauma in the traditional of magical realism. I had the honor of reading an early draft of the comic a while ago, and it’s been so inspiring watching it evolve and grow over time.

I’ve been excited to read Mari Costa’s Belle of the Ball ever since they first started posting sketches of the three main characters . . . I don’t even remember how long ago! Mari has a talent for crafting juicy queer relationships that will have you hooked after a single page.

Interview with Ellen T. Crenshaw, Artist of Stacey’s Mistake: A Graphic Novel (the Baby-Sitters Club #14)

Ellen T. Crenshaw is the creator of the New York Times bestselling Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adaptation of Stacey’s Mistake by Ann M. Martin. She is the co-creator, with Colleen AF Venable, of Kiss Number 8, which was nominated for an Eisner Award and longlisted for a National Book Award. She is also the creator of What Was the Turning Point of the Civil War?, a Who HQ graphic novel. When she’s not making comics, Ellen loves playing video games, hiking with her dog, and deconstructing movie plots with her husband.

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

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

Thank you for having me! I’m Ellen T. Crenshaw, a cartoonist and illustrator. I worked for years as an editorial illustrator and a studio freelancer for children’s media development, but now I almost exclusively make comics and graphic novels. Journey is the best video game I’ve ever played. My favorite movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. This past spring I drove 3,000 miles with my husband, cat, and dog from California to Massachusetts, where we now live!

What can you tell us about your latest project, The Baby-sitters Club: Stacey’s Mistake: A Graphic Novel and how did you get involved in illustrating for The Baby-sitters Club series?

Stacey’s Mistake is the 14th book in the Baby-sitters Club graphic novel series. Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Dawn, Jessi, and Mallory all visit Stacey in New York City for a big baby-sitting job, but the girls clash with Stacey’s New York friends and her city life. There’s lots of big emotions, and loving depictions of NYC sights.

I got involved with the BSC graphic novels when my agent came to me with interest from the series editor, Cassandra Pelham Fulton. I was a Baby-sitters Club reader when I was a kid, so I couldn’t have been more excited!

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

I read my older sister’s hand-me-down copies of the original series when I was little. The two of us watched the ‘90s tv show on PBS, and to this day we can both sing the theme song. My niece also read the graphic novels when she was in middle school. It means a lot to me that my family and I have such ties to the series and my work on it now is something I can share with them. (I’ve actually consulted my sister a handful of times for advice and input on my adaptations!)

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly comics?

My mom instilled in me a love of grammar, and she was basically my first writing teacher. When my dad got home from work he would read with me, and my favorites were always a book of Hans Christian Anderson tales and the daily newspaper comics. I’ve always loved cartoons, too—so much that baby-me wished Toon Town was a real place—and I was constantly drawing my favorite characters. I was in elementary school when I started making my first comic books with friends, drawn on computer paper and stapled into booklets. Comics are just so accessible as a storytelling medium, it was only natural as someone who loved both writing and drawing to keep doing it.

As a comic creator, you are known for another queer fan-favorite, Kiss Number 8. Could you tell us what it was like working on that project?

Thank you! Kiss Number 8 was what made me decide to try out for my first graphic novel. Before then I was making short comics for myself and small-press anthologies. Reading Colleen’s script was transformative; I felt so strongly for those characters and the story, I wanted with my whole body to be the one to draw it. The balance of humor and drama was right up my alley, and thankfully First Second thought so too! The process was exceptionally hard for me, though, because making short comics is a sprint while a graphic novel is a marathon. The hours were grueling. (They still are!) Colleen was a real champion for me throughout; she gave me so much encouragement. When it was done, she gifted me a crocheted trophy! I’m so lucky to have collaborated with her, and our book is one of my proudest efforts.

How would you describe your creative process in general?

It seems to change with every project, but one thing is consistent: I avoid my desk for as long as possible. I go for walks, I take the dog to the beach, I play games, I read, I come up with ideas in the shower. I’m on the couch with my sketchbook, laptop, or iPad—sometimes all three—while I write a script and begin sketches. The rest of my process is usually some combination of traditional and digital tools, my favorite being ink on paper.

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

As I said, ink on paper is my favorite. By that point, all the meticulous planning is over and it’s just me and my brush, guiding those lines, making textures, delighting in happy accidents. I can lose myself in the story and characters.

Pencils are challenging for me. They can be really tedious. It’s when I’m drawing endless perspective lines, poring over reference. There’s still an element of fun—especially when I’m taking photos of myself for posing—but it’s the most eye-melting, back-breaking part of my process.

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

A single influential moment that changed my entire creative life was when my college professor, the late great Robert Jay Kaufman, told me that I should convey more emotion in my characters’ hands. I took that to heart and I’ve since built a whole reputation of drawing expressive hands!

In general, I’m inspired by projects in which I get to research and learn new things. I’ll always prefer narrative fiction, but I appreciate any chance I get to do a historical piece that requires a trip to the library archives.

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

I mostly read my sister’s hand-me-down books growing up, my favorite among them being Anne of Green Gables. The first book of my own I remember loving was Totally Disgusting! by Bill Wallace, in which an uptight, scared little kitten learns to loosen up and be brave. I was a nervous kid and I wanted to be adventurous like Anne Shirley, but I think I felt more like Mewkiss the kitten.

Nowadays I’m really into historical fiction, adventure, and stories that explore the spectrum/question the boundaries of womanhood. I really enjoyed the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden and Circe by Madeline Miller. I’ll read and reread This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki from now until the end of time.

I’m also dabbling in horror, and Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass tv series especially moved me as a formerly religious person. I talk about it constantly.

Many creators would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helps you accomplish this?

Deadlines help a ton, haha! Honestly, a looming due date is mostly what keeps me moving forward. Finished is better than perfect.

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

I laugh exceptionally loudly and if you’re one of my neighbors I sincerely apologize.

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)?

Q: What’s your favorite cookie, and would you like one?

A: White chocolate macadamia nut, and yes, please and thank you.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring creatives?

Find your people and hold ‘em tight. Community is everything. The support you’ll give and receive, how you’ll influence each other; it’ll make you a better person and artist.

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

I’m in the middle of two more Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel adaptations: Kristy and the Walking Disaster and Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter.

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

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan is wonderfully romantic and adventurous and turns the whole idea of a “chosen one” on its head.

I grabbed this series for work reference and I instantly fell in love with it: Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi. It’s baseball manga, completely out of my wheelhouse, and I love it.

Header Photo Credit Matt Boehm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your artistic background?

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

How would you describe your creative process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice might you have to give for other creatives?

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

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

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

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

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