Interview with Author Gale Galligan

Gale Galligan is the creator of the New York Times bestselling Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adaptations of Dawn and the Impossible Three, Kristy’s Big Day, Boy-Crazy Stacey, and Logan Likes Mary Anne! by Ann M. Martin. They are also the creator of Freestyle, an original graphic novel that they both wrote and illustrated. Gale was featured in The Claudia Kishi Club, a documentary now streaming on Netflix. When they aren’t making comics, Gale enjoys knitting, reading, and spending time with their family and adorable pet rabbits. They live in Pearl River, New York.

I had the opportunity to interview Gale 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 a graphic novelist named Gale Galligan. I love comics, shrimp chips, and animals. My family adopted a kitten recently, qualifying us for actual menagerie status. The count is now: two rabbits, one elderly leopard gecko, several fish, a toddler, and the aforementioned cat. They’re all very fun to draw.

What inspired you to get into comics, particularly those for younger readers? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

There’s something so special about the stories you can get your hands on as a kid. You read them over and over again and they lodge themselves deep into your brain as a sense memory. Sometimes, they seem so accessible that you can’t help but try to make one for yourself.

What I’m saying is, I was really into Garfield growing up.

I started off drawing my own comics inspired by that, as well as other favorites like Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. My favorite part was sharing them with people and seeing their reactions. As I grew older, I kept finding new stories to fall in love with. I was especially into Animorphs, the Chrestomanci quartet by Diana Wynne Jones, and all of the anime I could get my hands on in the early 2000s.

And I kept drawing the whole time! I drew comics about things that were going on in my life. I drew collaborative stories with my friends. I made a lot of fan comics and posted them online. Comics really were a way for me to connect with people and share big feelings with them, and I think that’s still what drives me today. 

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

I could go on forever but will respect your server space. Here’s a brief list of things I keep coming back to:

The works of Fumi Yoshinaga, particularly What Did You Eat Yesterday? and Flower of Life (sadly long out-of-print). Her storytelling style is so special – it’s gentle, bittersweet, and funny, and her characters always grow so naturally. It seems effortless when she does it. Ugh!!

Everything by Jen Wang. The acting, the panel work, the flow… the feelings! When I’m feeling stuck with my own work, one of the first things I do is pull out Prince and the Dressmaker. “Oh, I want to make comics! Let’s go!!”

My friendsssss. I’m very blessed to know so many incredible people. They’re excited about a billion different things and have all kinds of amazing talents. It’s hard not to come away feeling inspired about something.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Freestyle? What inspired this story?

Freestyle is about an eighth-grade b-boy named Cory Tan who’s been with his dance crew – his best friends – for years. They’re trying to win a big competition together before high school, but their captain is being really controlling and bringing everyone down. When he develops a newfound passion for yo-yo, he starts spending less time with his crew and more with his tutor-slash-friend-slash-yo-yo-mentor, Sunna. Will things come to a breaking point right around the end of the second act? You bet!!

There are a lot of big feelings (my jam), as well as yo-yo, b-boying, and the most gorgeous colors from K Czap. Please look at the book so you can compliment K’s colors, if nothing else.

As for where it came from… there were a few things I knew I wanted to do. I wanted to tell a story about young people navigating all kinds of expectations. I wanted to make something really, really fun and goofy and kinetic. And I wanted to take inspiration from things that bring me joy. Sports anime. Dance movies. The really special feeling of getting really into something and finding people to share that with. Yo-yo really pulls all of that together, and I am saying this very sincerely. It is such an incredible, personal form of expression. People are coming up with their own routines, inventing their own tricks, sharing with their communities – it’s really cool. I absolutely love watching people throw but am still not very good myself, so I’m living vicariously through drawings.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? What goes into creating a script and translating that into panels?

The great thing is, there’s no one way to make a graphic novel. You could ask five different people and get five different answers. So here’s mine!

  1. Outline. Once I’ve pulled ideas from the ether, I write them out. The outline is like a short essay about the story I want to make, beginning to end, nothing fancy. Then I take it to my friends, writing group, and editor, get great feedback, return to my cave, and revise until I get something I like (hopefully).
  2. Script. Some people draw their scripts right off the bat. I write mine with words first, just because that’s how my brain happens to organize itself. My script is broken down into pages and panels, and since I’m the one who will also be drawing from this script, I’m writing with Future Me in mind. This can mean that parts are incomprehensible, or that there are fun little notes like “Sorry for the huge crowd, get yourself a treat.”
  3. Thumbnails. This is the visual version of a script. I sketch my pages out very roughly, just to give an idea of where people are, what they’re doing, and where the balloons and panels will go. During this part, I’m focusing on making sure that everything reads clearly. I want every aspect of a page to help guide the reader from balloon to balloon and panel to panel. As I draw, I’ll realize that parts of the written script aren’t working and improvise on the fly, adding panels, cutting dialogue, and splitting pages up as necessary. This is the next thing I send out for feedback – it’s always easier to make edits earlier in the process.
  4. Pencils. Once I have my thumbnails set, I can start really drawing the book. At this stage, I’m going into more detail: what people are wearing, how they’re acting, where I can put the camera, what’s in the background. I’m giving myself all of the information I’ll need for final lineart, and since my memory isn’t great, my pencils end up being fairly detailed. I also lay down rough word balloons at this stage.
  5. Inks. Now that the visual information is laid out, I can focus on drawing effective lines. Inks can convey lighting and add a sense of distance, point the reader’s attention at important parts of a page, add drama, and a billion other things. Once I’ve finished inking the art, I finalize my balloon placement as well.
  6. Actually, this is the part where I’m done. I’ve been fortunate to work with incredible colorists for my graphic novels – Braden Lamb on The Baby-Sitters Club, and K Czap on Freestyle – who really take them to a whole new level. So, when I finish inking, I get to sit back, wait for any edits that might come in, and cheer on the rest of the production team as they make the book into an actual book.

This all happens over the course of several years. Rinse and repeat!

What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most frustrating/difficult?

My favorite part is inking because at that point, I’ve done all of the hard brain work already. I get to put on a podcast or TV show I’ve been meaning to catch up on and zone out for hours at a time. It’s very peaceful.

The parts that are most frustrating are the ones where I know a drawing looks wrong but haven’t quite figured out why yet, like a panel with complicated perspective. Or an unusual pose. Or a shoe from behind. Or a horse. Or a spiral staircase. Anyway, I love my job, and at those times I’ll take a little breather, jump ahead, and come back with fresh eyes. That usually helps.

And if not, well, it’s one panel out of thousands. It’s okay to let the shoe be bad sometimes! It’s okay!!!

As a graphic novelist, you are known for your work illustrating a few volumes of The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel series, including starring in a documentary on the series called The Claudia Kishi Club. Could you talk to us about what it meant to you working on this series as well as perhaps your own personal connection as a fan?

I was a huge fan of the BSC growing up! I still remember my first introduction to Claudia. I had to flip back a few pages to reread everything when it slowly occurred to me that she wasn’t white because this was the first time I’d encountered an Asian-American character like myself in a book. I remember having a bunch of complicated feelings all at once. On the one hand, I was delighted that she was there; on the other, I recognized for the first time that I was assuming every new character in a book would be white because that was what I was used to.

So, the series is very memorable for me in that way. I also just sincerely adored the characters and stories. When I was asked if I’d be interested in drawing test pages to continue adapting where Raina Telgemeier left off, I had to go outside and yell at a tree. I’m very grateful that the BSC team placed their trust in me, and that I was able to share something I love so much with a new generation of readers! One of my favorite memories of working on the series is a signing I did with Raina and Ann M. Martin because we got to see people of all different ages who had been affected by this long-lasting series. It’s the coolest thing.

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

I love learning about all the different things that people can get really deeply invested in. Like, I was gifted a subscription to a cheese magazine and think it’s just the greatest. Cheese can take so long to mature, and there are so many different factors involved when it comes to how the cheese will turn out – I love that there are people out there with the passion to keep cheese traditions alive, and that there are people excited about innovating cool new cheeses, and that there are cheesemongers doing their best to share all of those cheeses with everyone! I love that it’s a thing!! Stuff like that. I think that everybody should make zines about whatever they’re into and then send their zines to me. That’s what I want you to know.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked?

“Hey, Gale, what would you say if you were going to step on a soapbox for five minutes?”

Well! Let me just… okay… one, two, here we go.

More people should be able to make a long-term living off of comics! It’s unfathomable that there are cartoonists working for huge publishers, putting in absurd amounts of overtime to make tight deadlines, who still can’t make ends meet on that work alone. The number of people who have pushed themselves to the limit, burned out, and had to leave – it’s heartbreaking.

I love comics. I want the art form to continue to grow and flourish. And for that, creators and the publishing teams supporting them must be able to grow and flourish. Good pay, good working conditions, health insurance. Resources and opportunities for aspiring professionals, especially those from underrepresented communities. I want comics to be an open door, and not all of that is about the skill it takes to make a comic, but also about the circumstances that comics are grown in. I think that’s true for basically everything. It’s all connected. It all matters. Let’s keep working to make things better.

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

I’m working on my next original graphic novel! This will also be for middle-grade readers (and older readers of excellent taste), and it’s very loosely inspired by the experiences I had when I moved back to America just in time for 7th grade. I was a dweeby little multiracial Thai-American kid who was super used to international schools, where every one of my friends was from a different country, and all of a sudden every white kid desperately wanted to know “what” I was. So not only did I have to adjust to life in a new place again and suffer through the trials of early puberty and figure out how to actually keep friends now that we wouldn’t be moving anywhere else – but I also had to deal with a sudden identity crisis on top of that. 

That’s all very dramatic, but I promise it’s going to be very over-the-top weird, and silly.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring graphic novelists (both to draw who draw/write, or simply one or the other)?

Make thing! Make thing!! I’d highly recommend making some minicomics. One page, four pages, six pages, eight pages. They’re easy for other people to read and satisfying for you to make. You’ll figure out what methods work for you without having to commit to a full book first, and you’ll be able to share them with people for feedback. (If you’re just a writer or just a drawer: do it all anyway.)

Also, if you have feelings about something… ask yourself why! Why did you like a book? Why did you hate a movie? What would you have done differently? What could you steal for yourself? Taking the time to interrogate your reactions can be so useful for your own craft.

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

I’m writing my response in September, so this is a bit early, buuuut I’m going to go ahead and say every single LGBTQ+ comic available at the Shortbox Comics Fair. It’s a digital event that runs through the whole month of October, so you can literally just go to the website whenever, buy some PDFs, and indulge from the comfort of your own home. If it’s anything like last year, there will be queer comics in abundance, and I will, uhhh, spend less on coffee for a few months.

And then as long as I’m here, I’d also recommend Our Dreams At Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani and Fanlee and Spatzle Make Something Perfect by Pseudonym Jones.


Header Photo Credit Courtney Wingate

Follow-up Interview with Blue Delliquanti

Blue Delliquanti lives in Minneapolis with a woman, a dog, and a cat. Since 2012, Blue has drawn and serialized the Prism Award-winning science fiction comic O Human Star at ohumanstar.com. Blue is also the co-creator of the graphic novel Meal (with Soleil Ho), published through Iron Circus Comics, and The ‘Stan (with David Axe and Kevin Knodell), published through Dead Reckoning. They love cooking, riding on trains, and reading exciting updates about robots and outer space. You can find them online at @bluedelliquanti.

I had the opportunity to once again interview Blue, which you can read below.

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

I’m a comic artist and writer based out of Minneapolis. From 2012 to 2020 I published an online comic called O Human Star, about an inventor who wakes up in a robot body 16 years after their untimely death (and I’ve been rerunning it at one page per day for the last year and a half). My other well-known work is a graphic novel named Meal – it’s more of a realistic restaurant romance, but it’s just as gay. I also teach comic classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

What can you tell us about your latest graphic novel, Across a Field of Starlight? And what can readers expect from the characters?

Across a Field of Starlight is a young adult space opera that just came out from Random House Graphic. It’s about two teenagers from two very different spacefaring societies who had a chance encounter as kids, and who keep in touch surreptitiously as the galaxy around them gears up for a devastating war. Both Fassen and Lu are nonbinary, but the paths their lives take are very different – Fassen’s training to be a soldier in a scrappy militaristic rebel force, and Lu is doing scientific research for a reclusive, peaceful space commune. It turns out that can make a huge difference in your concept of who you are and what you deserve!

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

I’m personally very interested in the concept of utopia and post-scarcity societies, and how science fiction authors explore them. My favorite prose authors in that genre are Ursula K. Le Guin and Iain M. Banks, if that tells you anything. I also love the spectacle and visuals of the space operas we get in film and comics, but I’m often frustrated by the ideological stances put forward by the creators, or the lack of consideration for what it would be like to be queer in these worlds – or how queerness affects the world. That’s what I set out to try and explore. Visually it was also an opportunity to explore an aesthetic I love very much when it comes to space stuff – the beat-up, brightly colored, 1970s look. That was a big departure from what I had done for O Human Star.

How did you get into comics and storytelling in the first place?

I got majorly interested in comics when I was in middle school. Originally I had thought about going into the field of animation, but as I learned about the amount of teamwork that goes into producing even the smallest bit of animation – and as I pored through everything I could find at my local comic store – I realized that with comics I could create entire worlds and stories on my own. It’s still a lot of effort, since as a comic artist you are simultaneously a writer, a director, a camera operator, a costume designer, and performing a bunch of other creative tasks. But the medium fascinated me. And funnily enough, it’s given me a chance to get closer to my childhood career aspirations, which were all based around outer space.

How would you describe the process of making a comic book?

My work is very character driven, so I will often sketch out characters, explore their potential, and get to know them way before I ever start writing their story. From there, I write an outline that lets me see the entire shape of the story and figure out the conflict and what I want the story to say as a whole. From there, it really depends on if this is a webcomic like OHS, where I’m serializing it page by page online, or if this is a graphic novel for a publisher like AAFOS. For OHS I was entirely on my own time, and I would draw a page completely before moving on to the next one – thumbnail, pencils, inks, colors, and lettering. I would do every step over the course of a week, queue the page on the site, and start all over again. It can’t work like that for graphic novels, which has benefits and drawbacks. I would be working from a complete script and would complete a create step for the entire comic at once, such as pencilling the whole thing or coloring the whole thing. Naturally that also meant I could work on page 52 immediately after page 237 if I wanted, and I think that helps my artwork look more consistent. But once I send my files off to the publisher it’s still another nine months or so before anyone reads it, so I miss that instant feedback I’d get from doing a webcomic.

What are some of your favorite parts of writing/drawing comics? What do you find are the most difficult?

I would say I really enjoy thumbnailing – the small initial sketches where I figure out how to make panels fit on a page and what gives them the most impact. The inking stage can also be relaxing, because by that point I’ve already done the stages that take most of the brain power and I can throw on a movie or audiobook in the background as I put the final lines over my pencils. Coloring is still the biggest challenge for me – I’m really proud of how my colors turned out in AAFOS, but they took so much work to get right!

What’s (another) question no one has asked you yet or that you wish was asked?

Hmm… I guess “what am I reading right now?” I always like hearing about what authors are reading for pleasure or reference or what have you. Right now I happen to be reading a nonfiction book about what childhood might have been like in the Paleolithic – Growing Up In The Ice Age by April Nowell. I’m alternating that with the manga Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda, which… I’ve never read anything that attempts what it’s attempting. I can’t help but admire how outrageous, absurdly violent, and unironically homoerotic it is. It’s a blast. 

What advice might you have to give to aspiring graphic novelists (both writers and artists)?

Just start drawing and creating your own stories – challenge yourself to draw a short, complete comic so that you get experience planning out and structuring a story beginning to end. Try developing hobbies other than just drawing – it’s a labor-intensive and isolating job sometimes, so find something that lets you socialize and think about things that aren’t just comics. Your other interests can also influence your creative work in ways that will surprise you!

Are there any new projects you are currently working on or project ideas you are currently nursing and are at liberty to speak about?

I’m currently working on a new comic that I plan to debut in the ShortBox Comics Fair this fall. It’ll be quite different from Across A Field of Starlight in that it’s contemporary fiction and very much for adults, but I’m pretty excited to share it with everyone.

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

So many great queer comics of all genres are being made right now, especially by people I know! I would recommend the works of Otava Heikkilä and Pseudonym Jones – they have such distinct voices and they’re really exploring what the medium of comics can do. Recent releases I recommend include Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens and Displacement by Kiku Hughes, which I think both accomplish that thing I mentioned earlier of exploring the impact of queerness on particular subjects or topics, albeit in very different ways! It really goes to show that there is no LGBTQ+ “genre” – more of a lens you can view everything through.

Interview with Cartoonist Balazs Lorinczi

Balazs Lorinczi is a comic book creator and illustrator born in Hungary, now living in wonderfully gloomy Scotland.

While he previously worked as an animator, illustrator and did smaller comic book projects, this is his first time creating a full-length graphic novel (but not the last).

When not cursed with a day job he spends all his free time drawing, watching cartoons, and trying to unsuccessfully restrain himself from buying more books.

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

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

Hi, Thanks for having me!

I’m Balazs. I’m mainly a comic book artist, but I love to draw a lot of different things. I’m originally from Hungary, but I’m living in Scotland now. I used to work in animation for a little bit. I still have a ton of love for the medium but comics is my passion when it comes to working on things.

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?

When I was little, (late 80s, 90s) comics were the only truly limitless medium where I felt like anything could happen. Books are great, but comics have a visual element that wowed me! Unlike movies and tv, comics could be with you anywhere. Bored on a train ride? Read a comic! No good show on tv at the moment? Pull out one of your comics! (yes, you can tell I grew up before the internet and streaming services, haha)

It just felt natural to me to try creating my own as well. The beauty of it is that you only need a pencil and some paper to start.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly fantasy?

I guess I just have a tendency to try and do the things I admire. Since I love reading comics, I always wanted to make my own. Ever since I was little, when I got interested in a story, I tried to come up with my own take on it. For some reason, my brain just thinks it’s very important to have my own stories and characters created. It’s an unexplainable urge I’ve had ever since I can remember.

Fantasy just feels cozy to me and I think it has almost limitless potential for storytelling. You can mix it with any genre. You can world-build as much or as little as you like. Even the well-worn tropes still work today (just look at all the DnD-inspired stories out there today, thriving).

Urban fantasy is my personal favorite. It’s grounded and more instantly relatable but spices up the everyday mundanity with magic. 

How would you describe the newest book, Doughnuts and Doom? What inspired the story?

I usually describe it as a magical rom-com. It’s a fun and simple story about finding the strength and courage to achieve your goals, and learning to rely on someone.

I had the basic idea of a cursed doughnut as a funny, little, short comic for a while. Basically the opening confrontation between the two leads, but the characters looked nothing like them. I was struggling to create a full story and narrative out of it, until I decided to make it a rom-com.

The characters are loosely inspired by my everyday experiences: working in fast food, trying to do a band, and also just my love of witches.

Are you a fan of donuts yourself? What other yummy treats do you find yourself drawn towards?

Oh yes, very much so! I also love apple turnovers and cookies too. My sweet tooth will be the downfall of me one day, haha!

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

I have so many artists that inspire me! When I first decided to be serious about drawing, it used to be Mike Mignola, Francis Manapul (people who I still admire). In recent years I’m more drawn to styles like Fran Meneses, ND Stevenson, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Kat Leyh, and my absolute favorite, Max Sarin.

Also, I have to mention Stjepan Sejic’s creator-owned work. If you look at my stuff, we have nothing in common but it was a huge inspiration.

But other than specific artists, I’m constantly inspired by the endless slew of genre fiction I consume. Be it books, comics, movies, or cartoons (a LOT of cartoons in the last couple of years).

What are some of your favorite elements of the comic book/graphic novel medium? What craft elements/techniques stand out to you the most?

I like how it’s a medium usually both relying on text and visuals, but it can still be a very subjective experience in the way you absorb the story. It has the visual storytelling and spectacle of a movie but also allows you to meditate over it and use your imagination to a certain extent, like a book.

I really enjoy it when I get absorbed into a comic and just experience reading it like I’m watching a movie. All styles of comics are great and valid, but that’s just my favorite.

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

I only know the questions I’m afraid people will ask me, haha! 

I think the question nobody asked me yet but I wish they did is a surprise even to me. But when someone finally brings it up (whatever it may be) I will say, “You know, I never even thought about this before, but now that you mention it…”

Can you tell us about any new projects or ideas you are nurturing and at liberty to discuss?

I just finished another graphic novel! I’m putting on the final touches, but it’s basically ready to go! It’s a 180-page story and has girls in a band (recurring theme I guess). One is a werewolf and the other is a ghost. It’s a lot of fun and I hope someone decides to publish it!

I also just started working on my third book. It’s gonna be centered around vampires and skateboarding. I already have a new idea I’m trying to develop and it seems like I’m sticking to the urban fantasy, YA, rom-com genre for now. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those interested in writing their own graphic novel one day?

Don’t write it “one day”. Do it and do it now! Nothing is stopping you! It might take a long time and if that scares you, just start with a short story or start with chapter one and see if it makes you want to go further. You don’t even have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to, but you are more ready than you think you are! And even if you are not, you will be by the time you are on page thirty.

I wrote and drew Doughnuts and Doom while working full time and it was very exhausting. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to everyone, but I think pouring energy into something you love is ultimately a rewarding thing (just make sure to take care of yourself, stretch and hydrate).

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

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Anything from  Kath Leyh and Tillie Walden. Giant Days by John Allison and Max Sarin. Flung Out Of Space and Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer. Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw. And for the more adult readers who want some NSFW but wholesome stories, Sunstone by Stjepan Sejic.

Pretty sure I missed something I will regret later, so just go to your local bookshop and pick up any LGBTQ+ books you find interesting! That’s what I usually do and nine out of ten times I don’t regret it.

LGBTQIA+Creator Spotlight: Steve Orlando

In this installment of the Queer Creator spotlight I spoke with Steve Orlando about his career and his various works and what it was like to work on the iconic landmark issue of Wonder Woman #750!

Orlando began pursuing his dream of writing comics at the tender age of 12 when he attended his first San Diego Comic Con. Steve pounded the convention floor, as it were, where he met his mentors Steven Seagle and Joe Kelly who happened to be writing X-Men at the time and the rest is modern history.

Chris Allo: What made you want to work in the comics industry?

Steve Orlando:  It’s not a lie, in my case, because I started breaking in when I was 12 years old, but I always kind of had my eye on this. It was always something I wanted to do, whether it was writing, or editing, or being part of a visual art team. That didn’t really come into play until I was a little older. Going back to when I was young, even when I was about three or four, my father sold sports memorabilia, and I was not a fan of sports. So I would always be collecting all these non-sports cards at baseball card and baseball memorabilia shows. 

And that gave me a strong fascination with superheroes, because they all looked incredible! You know, you’re a kid and here are all these brightly colored costumes and all these things. I was also going through, like, Garbage Pail Kids and things like that, but that’s a little less viable these days. There was a lot of Alf. A lot of fucking Alf cards as well. That’s going to date my childhood. But what stuck with me, I think, was the vibrancy of the worlds. Especially because I came in from both trading card collecting, and also back issues at flea markets while my dad was out collecting things. 

I think that’s why I have such an appreciation of “deep cut” characters and concepts, if you’re talking about the lore outside of like the Big 2. You don’t know any of the characters as a kid, and when you’re that young, you don’t even really know who Superman and Batman are. They all seem just as important, right? That’s why I love Big Sir just as much as I love Wonder Woman, or loving – take your pick at Marvel – Slapstick, or Quasar, as much as I like Storm or Captain America. 

So it all came from following my dad around really early on, but when they made Superman permanently electric and blue in the early 1990s, because he was never going back, they made an article in the Syracuse Standard – I’m from upstate New York – it really made it a time to get in. Because here you are in a ground floor moment, when Superman’s powers are changing forever. In that article as well, there were interviews with the folks who were putting it together. Of course Dan Jurgens, but I can’t remember who else was involved. Probably Stuart Immonen and Tom Grummet. And more, because at that time Superman was essentially a weekly book. I was fascinated with the creative process, and that made me think “hey, maybe this is something I want to do.”

Justice League America/DC Entertaninment

I gravitated more towards the visual side when I was younger, and I still like visual art, but it quickly became apparent to me that the speed of my ideas, and what was going to be most interesting to me in a visual sense, was going to be writing. So I started hustling and doing it! You know, my friend? Some kids do can drives to get themselves, I don’t know what normal kids are into, a shiny new bike? But what I wanted was a plane ticket to San Diego Comic Con. So that’s what I did.

Allo: Good for you. 

Orlando: At 12 I met Steve Seagle and Joe Kelly, who were writing X-Men at the time, and they started mentoring me on this whole business. It took almost 20 years, but that’s how it all began.

Allo: I read this before about you, but you kind of just hit the convention floor and pounding the pavement and approaching companies and editors?

Orlando: Yeah, I mean I don’t have any shame. And also, the narrative at the time was like “oh, you know Jim Shooter was writing the Legion of Super-Heroes when he was, what, 14 or 15? And it was Paul Levitz who only worked for one company his whole life, and it was DC Comics, kid! And he got in when he was 17!” So I was like, “shit, I’ve gotta get moving! If I’m going to be the next Jim Shooter, with no concept of what that entails, I need to get my ass in gear!” I tend to still be someone who doesn’t really sell fame. So I began approaching Seagle and Kelly. They kind of looked identical in the 90s, so it was easy to find them. 

And that was also when Crossgen was starting to get going. I was following them almost monthly, I really loved those books. And because not as many people knew them at the time, they were really easy to talk to. I always talk about people like Seagle and Kelly, but I should really talk about people like Tony Bedard, and Barb Kesel, who also took a lot of time to kind of show me the ropes really early on. To this day I always remember to bring my balloons, and that’s because Barb Kesel told me that anybody who doesn’t do it is an unprofessional fool, and I’m not going to argue with that woman, so I always remember my balloons! 

Allo: I worked with Tony Bedard when I was with Marvel. He’s a really good guy, and a really good writer. So you did a creator-owned first?

Orlando: Yes, that’s true by numerous tokens. My first published work was in 2008, in the Eisner-nominated Outlaw Territory anthology through Image. I had two shorts that I made with my co-creator on that, an amazing hearing-impaired artist named Tyler Niccum. He actually has a book out that you can buy right now actually, about his life as a deaf hitchhiker. We worked together in 2008 and even that was through networking, actually. He was like “shit, I need someone to work with. Let’s make it Steve.” So we did that, and then I also worked with Celal Koc, a European artist, for Outlaw Territory volume 3. And if I’m mixing up which volumes I’m in, come and slap me in the face, because I did that a long time ago.

Allo: (laughs) Okay.

Orlando: And then in 2012 I had already been networking with DC for over a decade. So I got the opportunity to do a story there in the Strange Adventures anthology, about centaurs taking space peyote and hallucinating gladiatorial combat.

Allo: (laughs) Very topical!

Orlando: I know, all the time, right? That’s how bisexuals decide. We take our straight half and make it fight our gay half, and whoever wins, you know, gets to choose where the dick goes. Anyway, so I did that, and that was with DC, with editors Will Dennis and Mark Doyle. The funny thing is this was around the same time Tom King broke out with an anthology called Time Warp. This was years before we would meet, but it was the same round of early Vertigo short stories. That was around 2014, when I did Undertow, and I also appeared in the “yellow” issue of the CMYK anthology, with future friend and collaborator Gerard Way. So my past was really prologue in a lot of ways. I didn’t know it at the time.

So we did Undertow at image, and a lot of my friends and peers at DC were following my work and said “look, this is somebody reliable who can be trusted with work.” So thanks to the success of the Burnside Batgirl repackaging, I got an opportunity to pitch whatever I might do in a similar mode. Which ended up being Midnighter.

Undetrtow/Image Comics

Allo: Which is awesome!

Orlando: It is funny when you think about it. I was in an anthology with Gerard, who ended up being a good friend and collaborator. And I was friends with Tom. He and I both had these poorly selling but well-regarded books at DC at the time.

Allo: I wouldn’t blame yourself. A lot of it has to do with marketing. DC was pushing out so many books at the time. It’s like, “what do I buy this month?”

Orlando: Not Midnighter and Omega Men, I’ll tell you that much! But that was in 2015. We’re both doing fine.

Allo: Would you consider Midnighter your breakout hit?

Orlando: Oh, very much so. I’d consider that my “Freebird,” actually. I’ve gone on to put out stuff that I’m much more proud of. But any creator evolves over the course of seven, eight years. At this point it’s been long enough that I can go back and… unquestionably it showed folks who I was at DC, and I made a huge fan out of Dan DiDio. I got signed as an exclusive probably about a year after Midnighter launched.

Allo: So being at DC, you got to write Midnighter, and then Midnighter and Apollo. You went on to write Supergirl, and then Wonder Woman… obviously Wonder Woman is a heavy hitter. What was that like for you?

Midnighter and Apollo/DC Entertainment

Orlando: It was fascinating to work on a character and see… you know she’s one of the Trinity, but I think her character is easily the most complex. She has a lot of oppositional forces in her life, and she’s in one of the greatest corners of the DC Universe, and she’s also an agent of peace, which is something we tried to wrestle with throughout all my two-and-a-half runs. But I loved building parts of that world. It’s something I’d love to come back to, but sometimes I feel that I’ve said what I’ve said. I had wanted for years to do Martian Manhunter, and I was lucky enough to do a 12-issue series. I think it’s my best. It’s the best work I’ve ever done, and easily my best DC work. I worked with one of my favorite people ever, Riley Rossmo. The editors I worked with, Chris Conroy and Dave Wielgosz. I felt that I said exactly what I needed to say. It was unadulterated. I don’t know if I ever need to write J’on again, even though he is my favorite DC character. But with Diana, it’s like the more the world gets shittier and more hateful, there’s always more to say with Wonder Woman. It was an honor to be part of that, but of course there’s always stuff on the drawing board that couldn’t get done. That said, Conrad and Cloonan are doing a great job, along with of course Stephanie and Vita, who are doing stuff that I wish I could have done when I was there. So I’m really excited right now.

Allo: In recent years, comics have become more inclusive of LGBTQ+, black and brown characters. Obviously not enough, but things are changing. As a creator on that front, what are some things creators can do to help facilitate more exclusivity and even exposure to queer folks and lifestyles within comics?

Orlando: The thing is, my answer is not going to be sexy. One thing they can do is buy the books. And they can pre-order the books and not buy them in trade and not buy them in digital. I’m going to be honest because I just said that, and it sucks. But that’s also the reality right now. And people come to Orlando for reality when the reality is shitty. The reality is that right now for the publishers, their customers are retailers, and the retailers’ customers are readers. For better or worse, the industry is in need of a ballistic overhaul. But we’re not there yet. So right now, the best we could do is… the language of the Big 2 publishers is preorder numbers. It’s not ideal by any means, and I’m speaking euphemistically when I say “ideal.” 

I remember when my friend  David Walker was on Nighthawk… he’s a good friend of mine, and that was with Ramon Villalobos. That book was canceled shortly after it came out. And I don’t fault the publishers either, because the markets are so tight that they’re going to do what they have to do. There’s not really a villain here, or maybe there are so many villains that nobody is a villain.  But that happens because preorder numbers weren’t high. 

There are many other problems in the world, but if the question is how you can support more inclusive content, for better or worse, support the places that are supplying it. For the Big 2, that means you have to preorder and support the periodical editions. That said… the world doesn’t stop and start with the Big 2. There are other publishers with different metrics, like book market numbers and they expect books with a longer tail. Support books that you are interested in, but if the question is how you can support books at big publishers, the answer is preorders.

Rainbow Bridge/Seismic/Aftershock

Allo: Talking about the landscape of comics, obviously right now there are more publishers. Of course smaller than Marvel and DC, but there’s definitely a lot more publishers and a lot more content out there. How exciting is that for you as a writer? Do you approach other companies? Does the new world of comics, with the amount of publishers right now… is that a good thing?

Orlando: More competition is always a good thing. More options for creators is always a good thing, because at the end of the day… if this wasn’t comics, say you were a farrier, the first job that comes to mind because I’m an idiot. Say you were a cobbler, and other jobs that don’t exist right now. The point is, if you have any type of office job, as we all know, it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to remain in that office. And if you work freelance, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to work out. If you work in comics, you’re probably working in 10 different offices in a given month. You know, sometimes you need to refresh yourself. You need to revitalize. A pitch that you might have at one company may be a nonstarter. That might be because of the people you pitch it to, and it might be because of what they publish. But it might be gold somewhere else. And that doesn’t mean, because one person turned down the idea, that it was bad. It just wasn’t a good fit for that company. 

The more companies we have that are trying to do different things and push out different kinds of comics, the better. Unquestionably. RIP the companies that tried along the way and failed, like Speakeasy and Crossgen, which I referenced before. I referenced those before because I love Crossgen books and I love Rocketo, which Speakeasy published. Frank Espinosa, amazing. Not only are those different places to work, but each company brings in a slightly different kind of creator, and they’re gonna know how to best hone their ideas and get them out there. 

The onus is on us as creators to not just cold pitch things, but… something that I might pitch to Aftershock, who I have a great relationship with – and honestly, they’re kind of my ride-or-die because they supported creators intensely during the pandemic – a book that would be a good fit there maybe wouldn’t be a good fit for Vault, who are also doing great work. And vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve got to know which brands you’re going to. The problem is now there’s more brands than ever. Which means there are more homes than ever for unique stories.

Allo: You worked at the Big 2, you worked at smaller publishers, you worked creator-owned… what are the benefits of work for hire versus creator owned? What do you enjoy the most? What things about those experiences do you like or not like?

Wonder Woman 750/DC Entertainment

Orlando: I think the best situation is to have your feet in both pools. There is unquestionably something exciting and invigorating about being part of what is really a gigantic, decades-long ongoing story. Listen, I was the lead writer of the 750th issue of Wonder Woman. Nobody else can claim that, it was just me.

Allo: It was great, by the way!

Orlando: If I make it to 100 years old, I will still be the writer of Wonder Woman 750, and it will still be an amazing thing. And yeah, that’s a responsibility. It’s an honor, it’s exciting, and there’s no question there. I’m in the X-Men office now, and that’s an honor. I would argue it’s the biggest renaissance the mutants got in at least a decade. Not that there wasn’t incredible work in the interim there. To act like it’s not an honor and a privilege… anyone who says otherwise is complete horseshit. So those are exciting moments.

Darkhold/Marvel Entertainment

At the same time, you can’t take those things with you. So you also wanna be working on originals where you are not part of an 80 year tapestry. You are thread one on that tapestry. And it’s not that it isn’t exciting, it’s just a totally different thing. The way that I think you stay fresh for either one of those is by doing the other. Like, if I spend a month in the work for hire mind, I get that hunger to work on originals, and vice versa. And it’s not really like I just spend on a month on one or the other. Let’s be real, I do both every day, seven days a week. That’s what it takes to be a creator. A freelance creator, at least. But I think one fuels the other. And I think there’s a certain amount of freedom when you know there’s not going to be any sort of S & P person telling you can’t do this. 

But that can also become a negative, because the reality is that you can’t say that with 50, 60, 80 year old franchises. There’s always going to be S&P  on a huge character that’s also on lunchboxes, backpacks, or whatever else. To expect otherwise is folly. I expect to have different hurdles at different companies. I think that’s part of the game. Again, I’m not negging myself when I say to myself that more people are reading Wonder Woman or the X-Men, than a book like Loaded Bible: Blood of my Blood, a book in which Jesus was makes out with Dracula and wants to fuck with him. That’s just a fact. There are freedoms and restrictions that come with both of those scenarios.

Allo: You’ve been doing some really great stuff at Marvel. Last year you did the Darkhold with Wanda. You’re working on Marauders now. Not to compare DC to Marvel, but what have been the good experiences from working at each company? What do they do differently that’s great for writers? What could they do better?

Orlando: A lot of times as creators we talk about… I think there is a fundamental difference between, at least the classic characters at Marvel and DC. And I think it’s a product of when the characters were born. What we love to say, when we’re fingering our assholes as it were, is that DC is the world as we wish it was, and Marvel is the world as it is. But, you know, that is flowery fucking bullshit. The reality is that DC characters tend to be much more mythological and aspirational, and Marvel… not to say they were built around Spider-Man, because they did acquire Timely and other characters, but their trademark characters are mostly  people you could meet on the street. That’s why Peter Parker was so revolutionary. He could shoot webs, but he’s also just like you. He can’t make rent, and he can’t get the girl, and the old Parker luck, and…

Allo: And he’s late for school.

Orlando: And Batman… look, I love Batman, but he does not have the old Parker luck. He has the old Tony Stark billions. Again, the general DC character is more mythological, and the general Marvel character is more… I don’t want to say more street level, but more humanistic and relatable. There are exceptions to both rules. Batman is more like a Marvel character, and Thor is more like a DC character. So they stand out in a world that contrasts them. And then of course there are characters like Captain America and the Destroyer, the original Vision, Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch… they were all created in World War 2, and the way that they function was more like a DC character. But they’re a rarity, and I think that makes them special at Marvel. And Captain America, by the way, was fighting the Nazis before we were! That’s always going to be one of the coolest fucking things. Not like I was fucking around then, but still. 

Marauders #1/Marvel Entertainment

Allo: Of course. Obviously this is a visual medium, so can you name some great artists that you’ve worked with? And maybe some great artists who you’d like to work with? 

Orlando: Great artists that I’ve worked with… I’ve never worked with a bad artist!

Allo: Well, the standouts. I know you love all artists, but who really brought your work to life?

Orlando: I would love to say I love them all equally, but I would be lying (laughs). Well I’ve already said that I love to work with Riley Rossmo, who’s at a few different companies right now which bums me out, but stay tuned because I might get the band back together for something really quick. Riley and I hit it off from moment one. We worked together on “Night of the Monster Men,” and we worked together with Roge Antonio. And Andy MacDonald – Andy actually has a book with me coming soon, so keep an eye out.

But Riley and I, we just got each other. We’ve always loved the same kind of stuff. And he’s someone who always wants to be challenged, which is good because I’m a bastard when it comes to writing challenging scripts. We loved working on “Night of the Monster Men,” he was the first name that came up when DC offered me Batman/The Shadow, and I’m probably one of the biggest Shadow fans at DC. I’m probably one of the biggest Shadow fans around. He is my favorite character.

Allo: Really?

Batman/The Shadow/DC Entertainment/Dynamite Entertainment

Orlando: Yeah. I’m frequently asked who my favorite Marvel and DC characters are, and there’s different answers for that, but my favorite character is The Shadow. So it could only be Riley, and it led to an incredible visual reinvention of that whole world. Sure enough, as soon as we got the final pen stroke of that book, we began lobbying DiDio, who’s one of my strongest supporters, for Martian Manhunter. Once again, I’m a kid in a candy store. I would work with Riley in a second, and not just because he’s one of the nicest Canadians in comics, but that certainly helps. 

But he’s not the only one. I want to point out that I loved working with ACO and Hugo Petrus during my Midnighter and Apollo run. Fernando Blanco… Ryan Sook  on The Unexpected. I’m going to lightly fluff him here and say Ryan Sook was like, in Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy!” But he’s just the kindest guy. Of course his work was off the chain. His work was incredible, but always so humble for someone I consider a giant. And funny story, he actually drew a portrait of me for my alumni review at my college. So I’m gracious, I’m not lying. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with Joelle Jones, but I love Joelle Jones. I’ve met her a lot at summits and stuff like that. Maybe I got a cover or something like that, but she’s incredible. I’m probably forgetting countless people at DC.

Allo: It’s okay!

Orlando: Oh, and of course, beginning to work with Ivan Reis on Justice League of America. And getting a Kevin Nowlan cover, are you fucking kidding me? Who am I, what’s going on? On the Shadow/Batman crossover.

Allo: That was incredible.

Milk Wars/ DC: Young Animals

Orlando: Getting a Frank Quitely cover to Milk Wars… I could go on! Oh, and RIP by the way, getting a John Paul Leon cover for Midnighter. Just the nicest guy, and gave me the cover for a very gracious price for someone who, again, I consider one of the greatest artists in the history of the industry.

Allo: Definitely.

Orlando: That was great. It’s a small thing, but Brittany Holzier and I campaigning for Ramona Fradon to be a part of Wonder Woman 750. Something I’m incredibly proud of. Something that was mostly Brittany’s work, but she and I came together and I’m incredibly proud of it. Easily the most historic living female comic artist. There are no words that could be heaped upon her that would be undeserving. 

And at Marvel, they lined up a murderer’s row for me. Cian Tormey on Darkhold… everyone I worked with on Curse of the Man Thing… Andrea Riccardo… Francesco Mobli… they’ve all gone on to do incredible work at Marvel. Eleonora Carlini on Marauders… the energy she brings is incredible. It’s a revelation. Folks who haven’t checked out the book really don’t know what’s coming.

Allo: Any tidbits about… well of course my favorite character is Psylocke, so any big plans for Psylocke on the Marauders?

Orlando: Well, before I answer that, why don’t you explain more, because I think a lot of folks who are Psylocke fans… I have an answer for you, but I wanna hear you turn the tables. I’m always fascinated about why people like Psylocke. I think we both know that the person in the body that we once believed to be Psylocke is not the same character. As she always should have been, the actual Japanese woman is back in the Japanese body. When you say it’s your favorite character, do you mean Qanon, who appeared in roughly three issues before disappearing for roughly 30 years, or do you mean Betsy Braddock?

Marauders #1/Marvel Entertainment

Allo: I mean, it’s funny because I loved Betsy when she was introduced, and when she was introduced in New Mutants and took on Sabretooth, I fell in love with Betsy. And then the evolution happened, and the visual of Kwannon was something I loved too. Those are kind of my favorites. I follow Captain Britain, and I follow Marauders because I follow Kwannon wherever Kwannon goes. 

Orlando: I’m just always interested. Psylocke is a war captain, and you’re going to see her… I don’t want to spoil too much, but she’s going to step up in a leadership role more and more over time. You kind of see that evolution as she’s more confident in herself and can do a lot more now that the correct mind is in the correct body, so to speak. You’ve already seen that in Marauders #1, but it’ll become text, not subtext, by the time the year’s over.

Allo: Awesome, that’s exciting. They’re both really great characters.

Orlando: And look, she goes to fucking space if she wants!

Allo: Your book Party And Prey touches on the “Party and Play” gay subculture.  Which is known as the “PNP” crystal myth fueled sex scene. It’s known to be a bit scary filled with predators, extortion, suicide and addiction.  What was your interest in this and what was the impetus for the story?

Orlando: In regards to PARTY AND PREY, since I co-wrote the book I tend to not do solo Qs for it. BUT I think a lot of what you’ve asked is answered by the text piece my co-writer and I included in the book? We try to let the work speak for itself on things we’ve done together, and intended that to be our statement on the content.

Party and Prey/Aftershock

Allo: Any advice for up and coming queer creators, or creators in general, that you wish you had when you were starting out?

Orlando: Look, comics is a challenging business. There are less spots at Marvel and DC… it’s easier to play for the Yankees or Red Sox. Know that it is a challenge, but know that it can and will happen if you don’t give up. I like to tell my story because it’s a story of almost 20 fucking years. I know someone can buy a pie for someone in a diner and get a book the next week, but that is not my story. And there’s nothing wrong with that story either. There’s no one way to break into the comics industry, just as there’s no one way to break into the comics or any other entertainment industry.

The thing is, make your books and hone your craft. It’s easier than ever. When I was a kid we didn’t have crowdfunding, and we barely had the internet. Now all those things exist. It’s easier to connect with likeminded creators whether they are established or aspiring. And make content! Make the content, and make it short. Almost everyone, myself included, is guilty of saying “this is my Dune, or this is my Lord of the Rings. My first book will be 100 issues long, and everyone will see!” 

Killman/Aftershock

No one will see, because no publisher will take a risk on the faith of an unproven talent. Make eight page stories, make 10 page stories, which, by the way, are harder to tell than a 100 issue story. And find peers or editors or creators who you respect and you think have your best interests at heart and get critiqued. Get ready to hear some things that you’re not necessarily excited about, but that’s why I say make sure to find creators who you respect and have your interests at heart. Even if they’re things you don’t want to hear, they’re probably things you need to hear.

Look, I was mentored by one of the most lovably gruff people in comics. When I met Steve Seagle, he told me “here’s what’s unprofessional about your work, kid. Either I’ll see you next year or I won’t.” It doesn’t have to be that harsh, but you have to find folks whose critique you respect, and you have to get ready to take it. If you do that, it could be a long process, it might be a short process. And maybe you won’t get there. But use the resources that are out there, like crowdfunding. It’s easier than ever to tell your story unadulterated. You don’t have to be like me sneaking in in 2008. You can do your book with 38 dicks like Euphoria, and it can get funded, as long as you’re speaking your truth. Don’t be deterred by speed bumps and things like that. You can get there. And also, know that before they got in, every creator you know probably quit trying to make comics a thousand times. God knows I quit many times, and the only reason I didn’t is that I’m extremely stubborn. That’s what you take to heart. I would call Steve Seagle and he would be like “this isn’t fair, I want to quit!” And he’d be like “no you don’t.” And that’s when I’d be like “fuck you, old man! I’m never going to quit!” Even though he was probably the same age that I am now.

Allo: Thanks so much, Steve for a great interview!


For more info on Steve Orlando and to see a list of his works check out his Twitter and Instagram.

Interview with Author Rebecca Burgess

Rebecca Burgess is a comic artist and illustrator working in the UK, creating award winning published and small press work. Along with drawing comics for their day job, Rebecca also loves drawing webcomics in their free time. Being autistic, they are particularly passionate about bringing more autistic characters into comics and stories! Outside of drawing comics and cuddling their cat, Rebecca also loves playing RPGs with friends, going on deep dives into history and growing vegetables in their humble Bristol garden.

I had the opportunity to interview Rebecca, 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 an illustrator and comic artist- I’m a little too obsessed with comics, I draw them both for a living and in my spare time too, and spend half my time reading other people’s comics haha

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?

I got into comics back when I was a kid in the late 90s/early 2000s- thanks to Pokemon blowing up, Japanese comics became really big over here in the UK and really drew me in more than any comics I had read before. In comparison to the UK comics of the time that were solely focused on gag strips or self contained sci-fi aimed at ‘boys’, manga had long running story lines, cinematic pacing and a wider range of genres/characters! When I was 14 I started selling small press comics and through that found the even wider range of art styles and genres that came out of indie and web comics! Back then these kind of comics appealed to me because they were telling stories and themes I hadn’t seen any where else, and I’d say this is why comics still inspire me the most today too.

How would you describe your creative background/ artistic education?

I have a Uni degree in ‘sequential illustration’ (basically comics lol), but to be honest the course was a bit of a mess for various reasons and I generally got more out of it socially than I did in terms of artistic development.

For me personally I would say I learned the most from the small press comic world. Way back before modern social media, all the small press/indie artists in the UK would use the same few forums to make friends and learn from each other. We would critique each other’s work, discuss/share published comics and give each other tips on new sources for printers or conventions. I learned how to develop my art through these friends, and as my older friends managed to get into the publishing world I then learned how to get into comics professionally too!

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

In terms of overall inspiration, I think it changes over time depending on what I’m interested in. My drive to create comics generally comes from wanting to explore various things going on in my life!

Artistically, I have a few favorite artists that have really stuck with me in how I do comics. I love how Osamu Tezuka applies very cartoony/exaggerated expressions to big, serious stories. It’s a style that many people don’t get on with lol And I know some people don’t ‘get it’ with my art either. But after reading Buddha I realized that when an expression is exaggerated it just adds to the emotion of a moment or the personality of a character in those very serious moments and makes you care more, so I’ve always kept that.

Kaoru Mori’s style of pacing also has a huge influence- she effectively uses panel layouts that create very cinematic pacing. They look deceptively simple but flow beautifully. I admire comics with inventive and elaborate page layouts hugely, but for me nothing beats a comic where the layout is clear, simple and easy to read. If someone was able to eat through my comics within a couple of hours and all in one go, then I know that I’ve executed it well!

My other big influence is Posy Simmonds- she started as a satirical cartoonist and moved that style into long form stories. This makes her artwork and characters incredibly observational. She captures the variety both in how people look and how they move and act. I like to try to keep that attention to differences in body language in my own work! Posy Simmonds is also very loose and free in how she tells stories, she changes the medium and style a lot even within a single comic depending on what is working for the story. This has taught me to be more free in my process too  (over the years, as I get braver doing that haha).

What inspired you to write about your own experiences in How to Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual? Was there any conflict in how personal you allowed yourself to be with this story, particularly in regards to asexuality or mental health?

When the subject of asexuality comes up, alot of people both in real life and online say things like ‘Why do you need to make this into a big thing when its literally doing nothing?’ or ‘Its a sign that there’s something wrong with you, you should go to a doctor to see how to fix it’. I thought if I put the topic into a memoir, it would help asexuality seem more ‘human’ to people who dont see it as human, and more ‘relatable’ to people who think its about people just being over the top.

There was a lot of conflict over how personal to be. It was quite scary bringing the mental health aspect more into reality via the comic, its something I find hard to talk about in general. I also worried about shaping too much how other people in the comic were viewed (theres always more than one side to each story after all!). In that case though I was very careful to keep it all about me, change names and ask permission if I could from those who were featured more prominently in the comic.

Regards asexuality I was scared that even after the story was published people would respond as they often do by saying I’m being over the top. Thankfully I’ve only had positive comments about the comic, mostly from other ace people saying how nice it was to find something they could relate to! I’ve also had a few really nice messages from non-ace people saying they understand the experience better now which is especially nice!

What are some of your favorite parts of the illustration/ creative writing process? What do you feel are some of the most challenging or frustrating?

I like the ‘thumbnail/planning’ stage best- for me that’s the part where I basically write the comic, as I don’t generally write a script. It involves scribbling down interactions between characters and coming up with fun plot ideas, and then stitching that together into tiny thumbnail sketches where you can see the entire comic in front of you before its made. I also really like the ‘inking/line art’ stage. It’s very relaxing because its almost like drawing but without having to think too hard as you’ve already done the hard part in the sketch stage.

For me the hardest part of a comic is perspective and interior backgrounds. I still haven’t mastered either of these things and I also find them a little boring compared to drawing outside scenery or drawing characters- but they are often essential to telling a story and setting a scene, sometimes you just have to trudge through the things you find boring even when you’re being creative!

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

I’m super interested in everything, it changes on a regular basis and always with the same intensity haha. Right now I’ve joined a Show Choir where we are singing musical numbers, and as spring comes round my yearly obsession with growing vegetables and flowers will return (I especially have a natural knack for growing good tomatoes!!)

As of now, are you currently working on any ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

I’ve been doing a few comics that are more focused on autism, another personal topic to me as I’m autistic!

I’ve been working on a graphic novel that’s coming out in September called ‘Speak Up!’- this is a comic about an autistic kid who is leading a double life. At school she’s treated certain ways because of how people assume her to be. But online she is a singer/songwriter who is going viral, and there she’s able to express herself more easily. Also in terms of lgbtq themes, one of Speak Up’s main characters is non binary (and very fashion-minded, I had a lot of fun coming up with various outfits for them haha)

I’m also making a webcomic called ‘The Pauper’s Prince’ that you can read online for free! With this comic I was watching Bridgerton last year and thought about how I want to see a light hearted regency style fantasy romance that looks like my own relationship with my girlfriend- I love regency dramas but they’re always with straight couples haha. The two main characters form a gay-asexual relationship, and one of the main characters is autistic too, so it deals with how that kind of romance might look. Being a drama there are various relationships in it, most of them lgbtq in various ways to keep with the theme!

In comparison to How To Be Ace, both of these comics are pure fiction and really focused on making fun, light hearted stories with these themes rather than tackling the hardships that come in real life.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Learn to be okay with not being perfect, and to be okay with having ‘off days’. This is a very hard hurdle to get over, but once you do it helps in multiple ways- You improve more quickly because you learn to make mistakes and move on from them. If you’re looking to do art for a job, you will find it easier to maintain healthy boundaries and not overwork yourself/work long hours in order to make something ‘perfect’ (trust me the people paying you will not notice either way!) Most importantly, art becomes fun and a source of self expression, as opposed to a source of anxiety and pressure.

What is something you find enlightening or joyful about being asexual or being in the ace community?

Many people find this surprising, but I have found the asexual community to be extremely sex positive, and I’m really proud of that! I think this primarily comes from asexuality being so invisible, that asexuals have had to put quite a lot of work into researching sexuality in general in order to prove to themselves and other people that their experiences are ‘real’. We end up dissecting things like sexuality, kink, attraction, and libido a lot in order to better understand our under-researched experiences. So for me at least, I have found that I am often much more educated on sex in general than most non-asexual people I know!

I also think a lot of the concepts ace people are familiar with, such as the Split Attraction model or the different kinds of relationships you can have with partners, would really benefit everyone as a whole no matter what sexuality they are- so to me the asexual community has been contributing to sex positivity in a really meaningful way!

Finally, what LGBTQ books/comics (or comics in general) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

My favorite asexual themed comic is ‘Shades of A’ (this is for 18+ only because of the themes). Its funny and cute, depicts perfectly the pressures of being ace and how you navigate relationships with someone who isn’t ace, and talks about the intersection between kink and asexuality- a topic that isn’t talked about enough or widely understood!

Buuza!! Is my current favourite lgbtq small press comic. Pretty much all of the characters are lgbtq in some way, and the creator is passionate about sharing their Central Asian/Middle Eastern culture within the comic, which gives it (for me, as a westerner) a fresh perspective in many ways in its story style and setting.

In terms of traditionally published comics I think my current favorite is ‘The Witch Boy’- beautiful artwork and so nicely paced, the themes are great and spun into a fantasy setting so that many different people will be able to relate to it in different ways.

Interview with Author Reimena Yee

Reimena Yee is an illustrator, writer, and designer. Hailing from the dusty metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she is now based in Melbourne, Australia. She once was a STEM student, but left to pursue her passion for the world and all its histories and cultures, which she weaves into her art and stories. She is the co-founder of UNNAMED, a comics collective that builds community and resources for visual-literary creators in Southeast Asia. She is the author-illustrator of the gothic comics The World in Deeper Inspection and the Eisner- and McDuffie-nominated The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya. Séance Tea Party was her debut middle-grade graphic novel.

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

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

I’m a strange and fancy graphic novelist, illustrator, and designer, originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I am the co-founder and co-organizer of UNNAMED, and I am an editor and admin assistant at Hiveworks Comics. I love the gothic, spooky, and whimsical.

What can you tell us about your upcoming comic, My Aunt Is a Monster? What inspired this story?

My Aunt Is a Monster is about a girl who dreams of going on adventures just like the protagonists of her favorite books. A tragic accident leads her to an unexpected meeting with a reclusive, distant aunt she never knew existed, who used to be the World’s Greatest Adventurer. Unfortunately, the aunt has a terrible secret that prevents her from going out into the world. But a great adventure will soon come their way, including such strange and wondrous things as a moody secret agent, an invisible creature, and a skeleton king.

My Aunt Is a Monster is inspired by all the middle-grade adventure novels I loved: the Mysterious Benedict Society, the Ottoline series, and the Far Flung Adventure series (especially the Hugo Pepper book). The book originally started as a comedic novel for adults, so I have Alexander McCall’s influence, particularly the Professor Dr. Von Igelfeld series, to thank. Anyway, I just like fun, silly, whimsical stories with weird characters, and I wanted to make my own version that I could pass down to the next generation of quirky bookworms.

Considering the protagonist of My Aunt Is a Monster is a blind girl, did you have to do any particular research when depicting this type of disability?

The blind and visually impaired communities have been incredibly generous with their time and labor in providing resources and space to discuss every aspect of their lived experience—the mundane, the fun, and the frustrating. There is the r/blind subreddit, and numerous blind YouTubers (here’s a sweet guy Ross Minor who streams games and talks about his life), the Disability in Kidlit review site, and this National Federation for the Blind review on books discussing the stereotypes of blind representation in kidlit. I am also indebted to the consultants who looked through my script and provided feedback. 

More important than research, though, is simply making each character as nuanced and interesting as any other character or real-life person. Each one is written with consideration to how their identities would emerge in their characterization, and how that impacts their interaction with the world. Basic craft stuff, but there have been many cases when people forget, and that forgetfulness affects the lens they use in their research process and in storytelling.

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

The who and what inside my inspiration pool have changed over time. My Aunt Is a Monster is much closer to my earliest influences—who I used to read, how I used to draw (in my mid-teens), the sensibilities. It was nice to reconnect. 

I am primarily a historical fiction creative, so I take my influences from art history. I love the decorative arts and looking back at the works of our elders. There’s a lot to learn from them.

I like exploring all kinds of media and admiring craftsmanship—wood art, music, dolls, theater, fashion, poetry, etc. The world is full of endless wonders.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the mechanics behind it? And how would you describe your own creative process?

For My Aunt Is a Monster in particular, I’ve documented its production from the start on Twitter—from script to thumbnails, all the way to copy edits and book cover creation. 

The process changes slightly depending on the work I’m doing, but generally, once I have a concept/story for an illustration or a comic page, I sketch out the composition or page layout via thumbnails (on a piece of paper or an iPad Pro). For illustrations, I usually have several thumbnails from which I pick the best one, and for comics, I only have one thumbnail per page. The stages are more straightforward after that. I do a fully realized sketch in the actual dimensions of the work so I can correct any issues with placement and fine details, then immediately jump into the rendering.

With my own comics, there is a writing stage before all this drawing. Please read The Onion Method: How I Outline a Story, and The Onion Method: How I Art Direct a Graphic Novel. My Resources page contains links to Twitter threads where I’ve documented every stage of my comics creation process for each book, alongside selected blog posts where I talk more generally and deeply about how I come up with ideas, bring an illustration to life, write stories, and exist as a creative.

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

I’m developing a couple of YA pitches, while juggling my current major webcomic, Alexander, the Servant, and the Water of Life.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Fully embrace all the things you love. Allow yourself the space and time to define your own goals and ambitions, and figure out practical, realistic steps to achieve them, taking into consideration your financial and personal situations.

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

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen, and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

Interview with Illustrator Keezy Young

Keezy Young (they/she) is a queer comic artist and illustrator from the Pacific Northwest, currently in Seattle, WA. Today, Keezy writes, draws, and designs their own young adult comics. Their stories are cute, eerie, and often dark, but almost always hopeful at their core. Their work is character-focused, and they use action, romance, and mystery to explore LGBTQIA characters and themes, since those are the stories they always looked for growing up, but could rarely find.

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

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

Hi, I’m Keezy! I’m a queer comic artist and writer from the Pacific Northwest who loves telling stories about eerie, creepy stuff in a loving and hopeful way. My first graphic novel was Taproot, originally published in 2017 (and re-released in July 2022!), and I’m currently working on Hello Sunshine, which comes out with Little, Brown in 2025. I also do short comics and artbooks between my big projects!

As a graphic novelist, what drew you to storytelling through comics, and why specifically Fantasy?

I’ve been drawing for my whole life, ever since I was running up and down the stairs and using crayons on the walls. I came to writing a lot later, but I was always having ideas that I couldn’t quite manifest through a single illustration, so when I found picture books and comics, I was immediately drawn (ha!) to them. 

And I always loved fantasy, too. I like being able to explore an idea through a different lens than usual, whether it’s me coming up with the idea or somebody else. It gets me thinking about the world in new ways.

As an artist, one of the comics you are best known for is your comic, Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost? Could you tell us what inspired the story? And would you say you have any particular experience or connection with gardening/nature itself?

I grew up in the forest and spent a lot of time with my mom in her garden, so I’ve always felt connected to the world that way. And when I was a kid, I felt ostracized and unloved by the world because I was queer, like my childhood was taken from me in a way, so I wanted to write something for myself in the past–putting those two things together, my happy memories of gardening, and queer love, was really cathartic for me. 

And like most of us, I’ve lost people. One of my very earliest experiences of death was my neighbor, a reclusive older man who I only really saw once. I was maybe 6, and had tripped and dropped my pea seedlings on the way home from the bus stop, was crying with scraped knees, and he came out to help me pick them up and put them back in my cup and make sure I was okay. He was kind and gentle, and that memory will always stick with me, even though it was a small thing. He died of suicide a couple of years later, but I will never forget that day, because it’s had ripple effects throughout my life. So I don’t necessarily want to say I’ve been inspired by death, but both his life and death, and those of all the friends who I’ve lost since then, have been with me for a very long time, and Taproot was partly a way of making peace with those losses. 

What are some of your favorite parts about this story?

I think it’s easy to only want to see life in nature and growing things, but death is just as important, and nothing ever truly ends with death, it just changes. I think Hamal using his necromancy to make things grow could be seen as a good guy thing to do, but it’s still upsetting the balance, because death is a part of life that you can’t deny or get rid of. 

I also really like drawing plants.

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

I try to find inspiration from everywhere, but music is a big one for me. I love wandering around listening to music and daydreaming, and it’s where a lot of my ideas come from. Of course, I also gather a lot of inspiration from other people’s creativity, as I think most of us do!

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/drawing? What do you consider some of the most challenging?

One of my favorite elements is when I’m coming up with ideas, losing myself in a different world with different characters, exploring my own feelings and experiences through someone else’s eyes. I also love finally getting to put those ideas on paper and see the things I love come to life so I can share them with others.

My biggest challenge is perfectionism. When I lose sight of what I want and believe in, and start worrying only about what other people want to see, or what other people will think of my work, that’s when things start to get really jammed up. I’ve gotten better at shoving those feelings away over time, but I still struggle with it sometimes!

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

A lot of people ask about my identity as a queer comic creator, and why I tell LGBTQ stories–there’s nothing wrong with this of course, but I would love to be asked about other aspects of my life and storytelling more often! It might be kind of simplistic, but one question I’m surprised I’ve never been asked is “why do you never draw cloudy, rainy days”: the answer is that I grew up in western Washington and we’ve got plenty of those as is haha. 

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

Imperfect is better than unfinished! (Or alternatively, ‘shitty is better than incomplete!’) The most important thing about your story is not how perfect it is, it’s that your story deserves to be told. Give people a chance to love it, and they will, no matter how amateur or unrefined you think it is. 

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

I’m currently working on a new graphic novel called Hello Sunshine (Little, Brown 2025) about a group of teenagers trying to find their missing friend. As time goes on, they realize something strange and supernatural is going on. It’s a story about mental illness and family, both found and blood, and most importantly, love of all kinds. And of course it still has queer characters and plenty of hijinks!

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

Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish is fantastic, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki is one of my favorites.

Interview with Authors Kathryn Ormsbee & Molly Brooks

Kathryn (K.E.) Ormsbee is the author of several Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. She was born and raised in the Bluegrass State and now lives in Salem, Oregon. Visit her online @kathsby.

Molly Brooks is the author and illustrator of the Sanity & Tallulah graphic novel series as well as the illustrator of Flying Machines and many other short comics. She grew up in Tennessee and now lives in Brooklyn. Visit her online @mollybrooks.

I had the opportunity to interview both Kathryn and Molly which you can read below.

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

Kathryn: Hey there! I’m the author of books for kids and young adults, including Tash Hearts Tolstoy and The House in Poplar Wood. I live in the PNW with my wife Alli and our dog Cleo. I also make candles with macabre themes and punny titles, which I sell locally, and I’ll be opening my online shop, The Ginger Cauldron, in August 2022. 

Molly: I’m an illustrator and graphic-novelist living in Brooklyn with my wife and three cats. I wrote and drew the Sanity & Tallulah book series, and a serialized novel-length wlw Webtoon called Power Ballad. When I’m not drawing, I knit a LOT, watch very old tv shows, and occasionally bake.

How would you describe your new graphic novel, Growing Pangs? What can readers expect from the characters?

Kathryn: Growing Pangs centers around sixth grader Katie’s experience with OCD and anxiety in the midst of her first year of middle school and her first major friendship breakup. The story is based on my own tweenhood in the early aughts and features lots of elements drawn from my life experience, including homeschooling, mental health struggles, a lingual frenectomy, suburban Kentucky life, summer camp adventures, and musical theatre nerdom. 

Molly: I love how real the friendships are in this book- the uncertainty and insecurity of the middle school years gets into the cracks of everything, and that comes through in a really authentic way.

How did the two of you become interested in comics?

Kathryn: I devoured graphics-heavy books and newspaper comics as a kid. In fact, I would consistently yank the comics out of our family’s paper before anyone else could and only begrudgingly relinquish them after breakfast, at which point they were usually stained with Toaster Strudel icing.

It wasn’t until college, when a fellow English major and I were gushing over favorite books, that my friend brought up Art Spiegelman’s Maus books and lent me their copies. That reading experience opened my eyes to the world of graphic novels, and from that moment on, I was obsessed with the medium. 

Molly: I’ve always been fascinated by the way words and pictures interact to tell a story. As a kid, picture books segued directly into X-Men trades, but finding series like Sailor Moon and Ranma 1/2 in middle school really opened my eyes to the ways white space, panel shape, and other compositional tools could affect pacing and mood. It made me really excited to try making my own, and I haven’t stopped since.

Kathryn Ormsbee

For those curious about what goes into a graphic novel, how would you describe working on it together?

Kathryn: Growing Pangs began as a text-only proposal, complete with sample pages that I formatted in a way that made the most sense in my head: a color-coded, screenplay-esque system that included narration, dialogue, sound effects, panel descriptions, and panel sizes. Once the book was under contract, my editors at Random House approached Molly about illustrations, and I maaay have crossed my fingers for days as I waited to hear back on the news. (It was good news! Molly said yes!) 

During the early stages of edits, I continued to work on text-only revisions, and then, once the manuscript was sufficiently cleaned up, my editors sent it over to Molly. When I got the first draft that incorporated Molly’s drawings, I was over the moon. My favorite part of the later stage of the publishing process is seeing cover art for the first time, and this was that experience times 256 pages! Molly had taken all of my descriptions and brought them to life. She completely understood the heart and vibe of Katie’s story and translated that beautifully onto the page. 

From there on out, revisions took into account all the ways that the text and images intersected. Both Bex Glendining and Elise Schuenke did coloring, and I got the immense thrill of watching my story become more and more colorful with each subsequent revision. 

Molly: This is only the second graphic novel I’ve drawn from someone else’s script, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There isn’t really a standardized script format in comics, the way there is in film; every writer is different. Kathryn’s script was very clear and easy to work from! It was also apparent that she had really taken the images into account when writing.  Even when I’m drawing from my own scripts, I end up having to make lots of changes and adjustments as I go, because I get too excited about telling the story with words and forget what the imagery can bring to the table. It showed a lot of trust that Kathryn left so much space in her story for the art, and it made drawing the book really really fun.

How would you describe your individual writing/ illustrating processes?

Kathryn: Half of me craves order and scheduling, and the other half thrives on spontaneity. As a result, I don’t have any set writing schedule, and my approach to different writing projects can vary drastically. One thing that does stay pretty consistent is that when I’m first drafting a project, I go into what my wife and friends know as “Hermit Mode.” I close myself into an office, write all day, and emerge only for basic human needs. This usually lasts anywhere from two weeks to a month, and after that period, life gets way more normal and structured. Drafting is the most difficult stage of writing for me; I honestly prefer revisions, because I at least have raw material to work with. Those revisions—with myself, my agent, editor, critique partners, etc.—are where my story really takes shape.

Molly: I am very methodical in this ONE aspect of my life, so here it is, in far too much detail:

I always start by drawing rough thumbnail sketches of the entire book, to make sure there aren’t any obvious pacing issues. Then I create an InDesign document with all the margins and bleed ready for print and all text roughly set, and a separate ClipStudio file with all the panel borders drawn in. I export both versions of each spread as jpgs, and combine them into a multi-layer Photoshop file that I can place back into the InDesign document. I do all the pencils (a tight sketch version of the book) and speech bubbles in Photoshop. Once the pencils have been approved, I print them in light blue on smooth bristol board, and ink directly over them with a G-pen nib and Koh-i-Noor rapidograph ink. I scan the inks, clean them up digitally, and place them back into the photoshop files. 

It’s definitely not the most efficient way to work, but it’s the process I’ve gradually developed through trial and error that eventually gets me to a finished book. 

In most cases, I then color using fill layers in Photoshop, but on Growing Pangs I passed off the finished linework to Bex Glendining and Elise Schuenke to be transformed by their far superior coloring skills.

(For Kathryn Ormsbee) As a writer, how did you find yourself becoming a writer? What drew you to young adult and middle grade fiction specifically?

Kathryn: I have an extremely boring author origin story. I’ve loved books from the time I learned to read, and the library and local indie bookstore were my two happy places growing up. I was determined to write the Next Great Epic Fantasy at the age of eleven. (And I got about six pages into my Lisa Frank spiral notebook before I gave up that dream. But not the dream to write!)

All that to say, I always loved writing, but I didn’t think it was possible to become a published author; I assumed that was just as attainable as the presidency. Then, when I was eighteen, I read an interview with Stephenie Meyer in which she mentioned cold querying agents. That put the fire under my butt to finish my first novel, query agents, and—very luckily!—sign with an agent when I was nineteen. Three years later, The Water and the Wild sold to Chronicle Books. That novel was inspired by some of my all-time favorite novels from childhood: Alice in Wonderland, The Gammage Cup, and the Chronicles of Narnia. I had been inspired, comforted, and validated by countless books as a kid and teen, so writing both MG and YA was the most natural decision in the world. I wanted to contribute to the body of literature that had profoundly impacted me as a kid. 

Molly Brooks

(For Molly Brooks) As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

Molly: In terms of comics structure, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art were both transformative influences early on. In terms of illustration style, I adore the work of  Ralph Steadman, Aubrey Beardsley, Yuko Shimizu, John Hendrix, and the Hatch Showprint letterpress studio. In terms of storytelling, perennial favorites include P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Rumiko Takahashi, and N.K. Jemisin.

As queer creators, what does LGBTQ+ representation mean to you?

Kathryn: Oh man, LGBTQ+ rep means everything to me. I saw and read so little of it growing up, and I know that I would’ve been able to understand and love my own queerness much earlier in life if I’d seen my experience reflected on the page. That’s why incorporating that rep into my own books is so important now. 

Molly: It’s vital. Feeling seen and reflected back is obviously so important for kids who are struggling to build themselves, but having the reality of queer people’s existence acknowledged is important at any age, and for every reader, not just queer ones.

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

Kathryn: 

Question: What are some amazing independent bookstores?

Answer: Independent bookstores in general are amazing, and some indie bookstores that have made a massively positive impact on me are Brave and Kind Books (Decatur, GA), BookPeople (Austin, TX), Powell’s Books (Portland, OR), Joseph-Beth Booksellers (Lexington, KY), and Parnassus Books (Nashville, TN). 

Molly:

(Parnassus Books is near my parents’ house in Nashville, and I can confirm it’s amazing!)

Question: What sorts of projects do you hope to work on in the future?

Answer: I want to try my hand at prose SFF, nonfiction comics about knitting, and YA romance GNs involving time travel. I’d love to try writing a graphic novel for someone else to draw. 

Also, my brother is a really talented screenwriter, and I would love to collaborate with him on a comic someday!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and artists?

Kathryn: One of my biggest pieces of advice is that if you receive writing advice that doesn’t resonate with you? You can toss it! When I was younger, I would get caught up in advice that I heard about the best way to outline a novel or the optimal time of day to write or the only right way to map out a character’s arc. But every writer is unique. There are certainly some basic writing rules that you’ll want to follow and there are tools and approaches that can significantly help your growth as a creator, but in the end, you know what works for you. Some folks plot, some folk pants, some do a little of both. Some folks wake up at 5 AM every morning and write for two hours, and some folks go years between writing projects. In the end, you just have to find an approach that complements your life and personality. And once you do? Don’t let anyone—no matter their credentials or publishing history—shame or scare you out of your own unique creative process. 

Molly: Start with small projects. Don’t start with an epic eight book series; start with an eight page zine. Or an eight panel gag! Small projects prepare you for bigger ones, and they’re much easier to finish. Finishing things levels you up. Don’t let your insecurities keep you from getting things done, but also don’t be afraid to critique your finished product with an eye to doing better next time.

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

Kathryn: So many, but I will limit myself to seven: 

Hazel Bly’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender 

In the Role of Brie Hutchens by Nicole Melleby

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake 

The Best Liars in Riverview by Lin Thompson

And I am champing at the bit to read these two new releases this spring: 

Nothing Burns as Bright as You by Ashley Woodfolk

A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy

Molly: 

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria

Dread Nation (and sequel Deathless Divide) by Justina Ireland

Gideon the Ninth (and sequels) by Tamsin Muir

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and  Max Gladstone

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Chronin (Book 1 & 2) by Ben Wilgus

We Set the Dark on Fire (and sequel We Unleash the Merciless Storm) by Tehlor Kay Mejia

I’m also super stoked for Mattie Lubchansky’s upcoming book, BOYS’ WEEKEND, and will be nabbing it just as soon as it exists.

Interview with Author Claribel A. Ortega

New York Times Bestselling and award-winning author, Claribel A. Ortega is a former reporter who writes middle-grade and young adult fantasy inspired by her Dominican heritage. When she’s not busy turning her obsession with eighties pop culture, magic, and video games into books, she’s co-hosting her podcast Bad Author Book Club and helping authors navigate publishing with her consulting business GIFGRRL. Claribel is a Marvel contributor and has been featured on Buzzfeed, Bustle, Good Morning America and Deadline.

Claribel’s debut middle grade novel Ghost Squad is out now from Scholastic and is being made into a feature film. Her forthcoming books include Witchlings (Scholastic) and the graphic novel Frizzy (First Second.) You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok @Claribel_Ortega.

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

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

Hello! And thanks for having me. My name is Claribel, I am a former reporter and book marketer who writes middle grade and young adult fiction. I grew up in the South Bronx and am Dominican American. When I’m not writing, I’m playing video games. Usually on my Nintendo Switch though I am a big Sims fan and my go-to karaoke song is either Black Velvet by Alannah Myles or Mean by Taylor Swift. 

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to writing for younger audiences and speculative fiction? 

I have loved writing from a very young age. I probably began writing short stories in second or third grade. I mostly wrote poetry and song lyrics though, and started writing in longer form in college. I never made a conscious decision to write for kids, the stories I wanted to tell just so happened to have young protagonists, and that’s probably because the things I watched and read in middle school were really formative for me. I’m always returning to the lessons and themes I discovered in things like Goosebumps or Disney Channel original movies like Halloweentown and Twitches. 

How would you describe your latest book, Witchlings? What inspired the story? And on that note, where do you find inspiration in general?

It’s about a twelve year old witch who is sorted as a Spare, which means she doesn’t belong in any coven, along with her bully and the new girl in town with a terrible secret. When they can’t seal their coven and are about to lose their magic for good, Seven invokes the impossible task–a magical trial that will allow them to keep their magic if they can defeat the dreaded Nightbeast. If they fail they’ll be turned into toads. Witchlings is what I’ve been calling Shrekian fantasy (thanks to editor Angeline Rodriguez who I first heard that description from) in other words, prophecies and mythical monsters but with cellphones and the internet. Or the witchernet as it’s called in Witchlings. It’s also a fun, magical adventure wrapped in a mystery that tackles heavy topics like friendship breakups, abuse and classism. 

The story was inspired by a few different things. One was the River Towns, which are a group of towns along the Hudson River in New York. Ravenskill, the town where the book takes place specifically, is based on Peekskill New York. It was inspired by my love of fantasy and underdog stories and by the trans and nonbinary community that is often left out and treated much like Spares are. 

Were there any stories (queer or otherwise) that you read or watched growing up that had touched you or felt relatable in any way? 

I didn’t have the kind of representation kids today have, so I unfortunately don’t have examples of queer stories that impacted my growing up.  The House on Mango street was definitely one of my childhood favorites though, and one of the books that inspired me to be a writer. 

How would you describe your writing routine or process? What are some of the enjoyable, hardest, and strangest parts about writing for you? 

It’s basically chaos. I try to outline, but the story always changes a ton no matter how much I try to plan ahead. My characters are rebellious as well.  I transitioned to becoming a full time writer just as the pandemic started, so I didn’t really have a chance to set my writing routine in a way that I was happy with until recently. I’m usually at the desk by ten, and trying to write, and I’ll be there until at least six, even if no writing has actually occurred. It’s been hard having to write at home for the better part of the past two years. I used to love writing in coffee shops and bookstores, and that really helped my creativity and productivity but writing at home felt a bit stifling for me. In terms of what’s enjoyable, I love when a story finally comes together. There is a cycle of “this is amazing, this is actually awful, no wait it’s amazing!” that I go through every time I write a book, and getting to the “it’s amazing” phase is really satisfying. And honestly, it’s strange to make things up for a living. Not gonna lie. I make up stories and get paid for it, it sounds fake. And it’s weird, but I love it so much! 

In addition to prose, you’re also a comics writer (as seen with your upcoming book, Frizzy.) Could you walk us through how you learned to write for a graphic novel medium and what writing the script was like for Frizzy?

I am a huge graphic novel fan, so my first stop in learning to write them was pulling from my experience as a reader which is much like my prose. My incredible editor at First Second sent me a box of graphic novels as well, and a few scripts for me to study and learn from. Everything after that was a hands-on learning process but I adored it. I am a very visual writer normally, so writing graphic novels really appealed to me and I felt comfortable doing it. 

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

I think people already know way too much about me because I talk too much on the internet, but I guess I wish they knew I am a harmless troll and a lot of the things I post about online are actually running jokes. Like the fact that I write my books in Wingdings 3. I’ve been telling people that for years but it’s not true at all lol. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers? 

Read a lot, don’t try to be perfect, and write what makes your heart feel like it’s about to explode. 

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

How are you? Just kidding, I wish people asked me more about my young adult writing! I’m currently working on a dual POV sapphic murder myster fantasy I’m really excited about that’s based on Dominican folklore and I hope to go on submission with it this year. 

Can you tell us about any new projects or ideas you are nurturing and at liberty to discuss? 

I can’t really talk about my other projects at the moment but I just handed in Witchlings book 2 and it’s not only bigger, but more dramatic, and a lot of fun. 

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

Definitely Ryan La Sala, Leah Johnson, Phil Stamper and Kalynn Bayron

A QUICK & EASY GUIDE TO ASEXUALITY Interview with Molly Muldoon & Will Hernandez

Molly Muldoon is a former scholar and bookseller, current librarian and writer, and always demisexual fan fiction enthusiast. Her works include The Cardboard Kingdom, Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom, and the forthcoming The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast. Although she’s spent the past ten years globetrotting, she currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her ridiculous cat, Jamie McKitten.

Will Hernandez is a lifelong artist and a first-time published comic creator/ co-author. Though a passionate storyteller and draftsman, Will is also on an endless journey of discovery, looking to learn more about the world and, in turn, themself. Through ups and downs, they’ve discovered themself to be on the asexual spectrum, growing ever more curious of the role sexuality and gender play in society, and fond of the culture it creates.

I had the opportunity to interview Molly and Will about their new graphic novel, A Quick & Easy Guide To Asexuality, which you can read below.

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

M: Hello! I’m Molly Muldoon and I’m a demisexual writer and librarian currently based in Portland, Oregon. I have a very good bad cat named Jamie McKitten and spend a good part of my week working at a public library. I’ve also spent most of the past 15 years living all around the world and I’m getting itchy feet again so a new adventure may be on the horizon.

W: HeYYYY, I’m Will! But I’m also going by Billie too. I’m a freelance artist in California and am getting a jump start in comics with the writing of this book!

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you both to the medium?

M: Friends being into comics is what got me into comics. I had to move home unexpectedly in 2011 and my only friend still in my hometown had become a comic artist. She introduced me to her friends and all of the sudden, everyone I knew made comics! Reading has been my thing ever since I was a little girl so of course I devoured all the comics I got ahold of and that, as they say, was that.

W: As an artist, I’ve been drawing all my life really n mostly taught myself (because I’ve always sucked at paying attention in art classes TwT). And as far as comics go it’s always been an underlying form of communication for me. Whenever I struggled to put things into just words, a little comic could usually help get my points across.

Molly Muldoon

What was the inspiration for A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality, and how did the two of you come together to work on this project about asexuality?

M: After reading the brilliant My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, I sent a pitch for a memoir about growing up ace to Oni. After talks back and forth with editorial, this morphed into a new Quick and Easy Guide. Knowing I needed an awesome partner for this, I actually found Will after he posted some work on the Asexual Artists website and sent their info along to Ari, my then-editor, who reached out. 

W: I personally, was reached out to on Twitter one day, was told that OniPress was looking for a comic artist to draw up a little ace book, saw it as an opportunity to put out some good info and begin my journey in punished work n dived right in! 

I have to give credit to Molly for most of the writing though, I’m personally not the best at creative writing n’ putting things into a script format to work on for comics. I mostly added my own anecdotes and some input, along with the artwork. 

As individuals who both identify on the Asexual spectrum, would you say you’ve seen any media that you felt you related to or represented by in this way? If not, did A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality feel like a response to that?

M: Off the top of my head, I can’t say I can think of anything that feels like great representation. Todd in Bojack Horseman definitely comes close but still wasn’t quite on the ball for me. Honestly, I feel like I’ve seen the best representation in fanfiction. In fact, reading fanfiction is what taught me what demisexuality was and gave me the vocabulary to start learning about myself. The fact that it would have been so easy for me to keep missing the words I needed, though, is a big reason why I’m glad this book exists: as a jumping off point.

W: Honestly, I feel that this book is sorta a response to that, personally at least. There aren’t many characters in media that I’ve seen represented as such aside from a handful, and I think it would be nice to see more out there.

What can readers expect from A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality?

M; This is really Asexuality 101. It’s quick and easy, after all! We try to cover all the basics, to give a real idea of what it’s like to be ace if you’re not and to validate other aces. I tried to write the book I would have wanted to read when I was younger, something that would have helped me, and hopefully we’ve managed that, with some jokes and anecdotes added in.

W: Well, it’s in the name: A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality! I think it’ll make a great introduction to the topic. It won’t answer every question for sure, but it’ll definitely give you a grasp on the overall feeling a lot of aces have.

Will Hernandez

As a writer, how would you describe your background/ introduction to writing? What would you say are your favorite and (trickiest) parts of the creating process?

M: I’ve always been a big reader, which is the most helpful thing to be if you want to write. Writing was always a hobby for me (I wrote a lot of fanfiction in college) but when I started hanging around other creators, I just kind of fell back into it. When it comes to my favorite part of writing, it would have to be working with a great collaborator. I can’t draw to save my life so to work with a great team to bring it all together is the best. Anyone who’s done a group project before knows, though, it can also be very tricky! That’s why, when you’ve got a good team, there’s nothing you can’t do. 

As an artist, how would you describe your background/ introduction to illustration? What would you say are your favorite and (trickiest) parts of the creating process?

W: mM, I’ve mostly taught myself what I know, mostly through personal research online and in libraries growing up. This comic was very much a first trial run of my skills and, tho it was a struggle, since a lot of it took place back in 2020 and I had a lot of family issues going on, I learned a great deal to further streamline my process down the road! As far as most difficult in the process, I’d have to say the initial ideas for what to portray on each panel were the toughest, especially since I didn’t plan as early as I should have to begin with. But time management has been on the list of progress points I’ve been cultivating so. 

How would you describe your creative collaboration together on this book?

M: I loved working with Will. Will is such a great partner, always eager and excited about the book with such a positive attitude, it was like getting sunshine via email. I also knew I could trust them with pretty much anything, leaving whole pages as ‘Will’s thoughts here’ and they always delivered! It’s nice to know your partner’s got your back and you’re both super excited about it.

W: I think it was pretty fun! Great to share input on Molly’s work n for her and my editor to provide input on mine! Always nice to work on projects with such great people!

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creators?

M: The two best things you can do, as an aspiring creator and just as a person, I guess, is to work on your own projects and make friends. Make your comic! Write your script! Draw adorable fan art! Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll only get better at it. And while you’re doing that, make friends with other people doing the same thing. Comics is all about teamwork and people want to work with their friends. Share each other’s work. Make silly jokes. Talk about shows you like. Work on things together and pull each other up. 

W: Ok, so the number 1 tip I have for anyone coming fresh into the field, is to alwaYS plan your designs and layouts early! Environments, character designs, thumbnails, storyboards, if you’re in a case where you’re doing all the art yourself, it’s good to be doing that alongside your writer/ co- writer working on the script. Learning to partly be your own manager is a challenge, but it’s well worth the reward when your work finally gets out!

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

M: Ooooo, that’s hard! I’m not entirely sure how to phrase this as a question but something I wish more people would ask about as beginning comics writers is how to write for your artist. I was friends with comics artists for years before I began writing my own comics and part of the reason it took me so long is that I was terrified I’d become one of the writers they complained about! As a writer, only a couple of people are going to read your script and the main person is your artist, your partner. So talk to them about what works best for them! I’ve worked with artists that like each panel incredibly detailed, saying who is standing next to who and who’s sitting and who’s crossing and all that info. I’ve also worked with artists who say “Yeah, that’s my job. Let me do it.” So I always want to convey how important it is to adapt your style to your partner. See what they need from you and work the way that’s best for them. 

W: HMMMmmmm… None that really come to mind honestly…

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

M: There’s nothing I can chat about yet, unfortunately, but I have a couple of things in early stages that hopefully I’ll get to share more about soon!

W: Currently, I’m just in the market for more creative gigs. Hopefully more comic related stuff cuz, now I have a good deal of foreknowledge to know what I’m jumping into. Aside from that, I’m mostly working on updating my portfolio a little.

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

M: Oh, I want to recommend so many! I’m a big reader and I feel like 99% of what I talk to people about is books they should read. For comics, my soul has belonged to Heartstopper by Alice Oseman for quite some time. Book four just came out! Run, don’t walk! As for novels, the first that popped into my head is A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske. It’s the first in a trilogy about Edwardian magical politics and murder mysteries and I’m already eagerly awaiting book two. But everyone should seek me out on the internet and talk books with me!

W: I haven’t read too many as of lately, but one good one I really love is “My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness”. It’s such a nice lil manga series!