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!

Interview With Illustrator Kristina Luu

Kristina Luu, she/they, is a queer Vietnamese Canadian comic artist and illustrator from Vancouver, BC. She loves making colourful worlds and stories full of diverse characters and little moments of magic and joy. The first volume of the BESTIES graphic novels series written by Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino is available now. She’s also the creator of “Intercosmic“, an all-ages space fantasy webcomic published through Hiveworks.

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

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT and congratulations on your new book, BESTIES: Work It Out. Could you tell us a little about yourself and the project?

Hello! Thank you for having me here. It’s a real honour and pleasure. I’m Kristina Luu, a queer Vietnamese cartoonist based in Canada! My pronouns are she/they, with no preference for either.

BESTIES: Work It Out is my official published comics debut and I couldn’t be more excited and proud of it. It’s a Middle-Grade graphic novel written by the incredible duo Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino. I had the honour of illustrating the adventures of Beth and Chanda – a pair of best friends who have a knack for fashion, big dreams, and mayhem. The book is all about learning what it means to be responsible for your actions and behaviour. 

How did you get into illustration? What drew you to becoming an artist?

I’ve loved drawing cartoons ever since I was a young kid! I used to draw on piles and piles of printer paper and on the walls. My parents did not like that particularly. I also used to spend hours watching animated films and shows every night and the love of animation and cartoons never left me honestly. 

I’ve always loved how artists can turn something vague, mundane, or even empty into something. With a single drawing, you’ve made a whole fantastical world I can dive right into and spark my imagination. At the same time, I loved how art was a way of communicating too. It’s a voice, or a story, or an idea, put on paper or canvas! It’s the closest thing to turning your imagination into reality and the appeal of it has never left me since. 

Were there any artists or books growing up that inspired or influenced your style?

For me, the biggest inspiration was actually Adventure Time. I watched a lot of it during my middle school years and would draw fan art all the time trying to imitate the style and designs of the show. I was honestly obsessed with it and had my own fan characters, t-shirts, merch – you name it! As a teen, I read Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet and Tony Diterlizzi’s Wondla series and was utterly obsessed with both of those too. So much of my earlier art draws inspiration from them, as well as some classic Disney films as well. I only got into manga and anime much later in life, but that also completely shifted how I drew in my college years.

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

I think it’s fair to say that creating graphic novels is a lengthier and more complex process than most people expect. It seems quite simple at first glance, but then you realize each page is a piece of artwork in itself! Each panel is a drawing, and that’s not even mentioning the writing and planning that goes beforehand too. Comics aren’t just “drawing what happens”. When you think about “who says what in each panel” or “what page layout works best for this story”, you realize there’s a lot of thought and care that goes into drawing a page. And gosh, can you imagine how many hours it takes to make just one page? Think of that but times 100 now!  It takes a lot of time and effort to make comics, so it’s truly a labour of love.

What are some of your favorite things about making comics? 

Comics are a fusion of art and writing – two of my favourite creative outlets! I love how versatile and honest comics feel and how it allows creators to share their own unique and independent voice. You usually don’t see that kind of thing through more “mainstream” media, like a TV show or something that has a massive creative team behind it. Until recently, webcomics and indie comics were one of the only places I could find really honest and nuanced representations of LGBT+ people for a long time because they were made by other queer people who just wanted to share their own voice. Comics are also so accessible for audiences and creators alike. Almost anyone can make one, and it’s so easy to just put them on the internet for people to read. It’s a medium that allows for some truly unique creator-driven storytelling and human connection, and that is what I love most.

When you’re not drawing, what do you enjoy doing or consuming in your free time?

I love writing! I suppose that goes hand-in-hand with drawing when you’re a comic artist. I have absolutely no intention to publish a written novel, but I still love writing in my spare time all the same.

As for hobbies, I play a lot of video games and read lots of novels. I’m a big fan of fantasy RPGs of any kind. As for reading, I tend to read mostly Middle-grade, Young Adult, and Adult Science-Fiction/Fantasy and LGBT+ stories. I try to read almost every night. It helps calm my brain down after a long day.

When my head isn’t staring at a screen or in a book somehow, I also really love delving into craft hobbies and outdoor activities too. I’m a big fan of hiking, biking, camping, and just recently picked up bouldering. It’s been so nice to have an active outlet when I spend so much of my days in my own head or in front of a screen.

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

I wish more people would ask me what I like drawing most. While I do love beautiful scenery and fuzzy animals, for me, it’s always been people. I don’t necessarily mean character design or portraits. I really just enjoy drawing characters emoting and interacting! Particularly, dancing. While drawing action can be fun, I just love how much emotion there is in dancing. It’s an act of pure joy and self-expression. 

The world is filled with so many people and they are all so much more interesting beyond the way they look! You can tell so much about a pair of characters just from how they interact. Are they lovers, family, archenemies, best friends? We all express so much with just our faces and body language. I’ll always find it intriguing.

What advice would you have to give for other aspiring artists?

YOU are more valuable than your art. 

I’ve always been a huge advocate for taking care of yourself first and foremost as an artist: body and mind. I’m not just talking about making art. I also mean how you think about making art. Art can and should be fun but you should never compromise your wellbeing for the sake of art. The idea of the “tortured creative artist” is so harmful! You will always be able to make better art when you are healthy and happy. Don’t hurt your back by drawing 24/7. Get up and take care of your body. Don’t let “not being good enough” hold you back from drawing. That’s not good for your brain. Surround yourself with good friends who elevate you. Your peers are NOT your competition, but your support system. Learn how to be kind to both your body and mind, and it’ll carry you a long long way as an artist.

Are there other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to discuss?

Absolutely! I’m currently developing my own original graphic novel. There isn’t much to show for it yet, but I’m hoping to make my author/illustrator debut some time in the future so stay tuned! I’m also still working on Intercosmic, my all-ages space fantasy webcomic. It’s been on hiatus this year, but there are plans to return to working on it next year and I’m very excited for it! I’ve also got a few smaller independent comics in the works that I’m making mostly for myself, such as journal comics and experimental short stories. With my upcoming projects, I’m hoping to explore more topics such as queer identity as person of colour and the complexities of Asian diaspora and generational divides.

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

Oh, where do I even begin!

For LGBT+ comics and manga, I absolutely love Nimona by Noelle Stevensen, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani, Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Lane, and of course My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi.

As for novels, I read mostly fiction and fantasy. Personally, I really enjoyed Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Happy reading, everyone!

Interview with Illustrator Victoria Grace Elliott

Victoria Grace Elliott is the creator of the webcomic Balderdash! or, a tale of two witches. Yummy: a History of Desserts is her debut graphic novel. She’s a queer Southern illustrator & comic artist living in Austin, Texas.

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

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

Thank you! I’m Victoria Grace Elliott, a comic artist living in Austin, Texas. I’m the author of Yummy: A History of Desserts and its follow-up, Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments! And hopefully many other comics down the line.

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

I’ve always been a storyteller at heart, and I’ve always loved drawing. There’s a lot of ways that can manifest, but comics felt like the most natural conclusion to me since I was pretty young. I gravitated toward any comics I could find, even if they weren’t really in my age range, like a lot of the manga that came out in the 80s and 90s, haha. 

How would you describe your creative background/ artistic education? And how did you develop your gorgeous style?!

My family is very into art and movies and writing and music, so that was really the backbone of my education! As an art teacher, my mom had all kinds of art materials, and she was big into the crafting that was popular in the 90s. I feel like between her painting, crafts, and decorating, I picked up a lot about color in particular. And as a movie buff family, I was watching all kinds of stuff, which, like the manga, may have been a little over my head, but inspired me nonetheless.

Since my family was such a rich environment for it, this all really encouraged me to take my art seriously, even if just as a hobby. I went to college for Linguistics at the University of Texas, but eventually I found my way into the Radio-TV-Film department, where I learned a lot about media analysis and saw even more kinds of movies and television. Soon after, I joined the comics staff at our student newspaper, The Daily Texan, where a lot of other people from all kinds of departments–art, English, you name it–wanted to hone in on their comics skills. This is really where my comics education flourished. I feel as though our styles of art and storytelling all bounced off each other and our influences.

So yeah, it’s always been a lot of self-teaching and community-teaching for me! It’s hard to describe since it’s such an organic process, but it’s like: Oh, this person is drawing this way, I want my art to look like theirs. At other times, it’s the opposite: I want my art to be distinct from theirs in this way. As time goes on, you naturally come into your own style.

Where did the inspiration for your latest book, Yummy: A History of Desserts come from?

Truthfully, the inspiration came from Gina who started the Random House Graphic imprint herself! I was interested in pitching to RHG, but had so many ideas I didn’t know where to start. In a huge stroke of luck, my agent, Steven Salpeter, had a meeting with her and picked her brain about the kinds of work she’d be interested to see, the key one being a comic about food history!

As I mentioned before, I studied at UT, and I wrote a lot of research papers. As time went on, it had kind of evolved into writing essays about comics and comics as essays. In other words, I felt so prepared for this! I loved synthesizing stuff like that, testing the limits of what a comic could be. After some workshopping, I came up with the pitch for A History of Desserts, featuring three narrator food sprites and a chapter format!

What would you say are some of your favorite desserts (and are any featured in Yummy)?

Of the desserts featured in Yummy, I love mochi ice cream, egg tarts and drop cookies! Those are some of my all-time favorites! I also really love custard-filled sweets, mousse, and light yellow cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Sadly, those didn’t make the cut, but they’re truly my go-tos.

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

I have always been inspired by my peers, online and in person, and the many artists I find there. For comics, I’d say my biggest influences have been from manga. For Yummy specifically, I’ve pulled from the manga artists of CLAMP and the cute illustrations from Summikko Gurashi and Sanrio. But I’ve also pulled a lot of humor from peers like ggdg, Zack Morrison, and a bit of style from Choo! 

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?

My favorite parts and hardest parts kind of go together, honestly! I’d say the most challenging part of Yummy was the visual research, both in tracking it down and adapting it to the cute style of the book. However, that’s also the most fun part, too! It takes a lot of time to find, say, a glass dish that will look good in the book from possibly the right time and region for a certain historical cake. But it’s fun to adapt it to my style. Sometimes I have to re-research dishware or patterns or photos, change them from before, draw and redraw. But in the end, it’s always worth it. It adds so much character drawing from real history and objects.

As a queer creative who has previously worked on other queer projects, such as your webcomic, balderdash! or, a tale of two witches, may I ask what creating queer representation means to you personally?

I feel a lot of nebulous ways about what queer representation means to me these days, honestly! I think when I was younger, like in my balderdash! days, I needed so much more labeled representation as I figured myself out and started exploring those sides of myself as a young adult. As an older person who has more fully embraced the nuances of my sexuality and gender, I feel as though I can see it everywhere, like I’m cheating the system to get the most out of it for myself, haha. I think it’s always very important to have the people behind the works be the ones whose representation matters most–queer authors making whatever work they want to– but I also think there’s a wonderful power in empathic readings, where you can maybe see parts of yourself in something that maybe was never meant for you. As a queer creative, that can be converted into soil for your own stories and projects, or even just love for yourself and who you are.

Approaching work like that, I think it’s a lot easier to pick up on, say, the genderqueer vibes some of the sprites of Yummy give off, or some cute flirting I’ve drawn in. That’s all very purposeful, but also very subtle on my part, and I think my presence as the author should speak enough as it is.

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

Right now, I’m finishing up Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments! This is a follow-up book that focuses on a lot more unusual food, from cheese to soda to packaged foods! I wanted to explore our relationship to really, really old foods like pickles and cheese to much younger foods, like SPAM and boxed macaroni and cheese. How did these foods become common? And how did we make them before?

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Make work for yourself first and foremost. Even if it’s an assignment, or even if it’s a commission, find a way to make it satisfying and fun for yourself. There will be times when that’s really, really hard, but I think that’s a key way of tending to your creativity. And take breaks! Long ones! Sleep a lot!

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

For other LBGTQ comics around the same age range as Yummy, I’d recommend a few incredible works from Random House Graphic: Reimena Yee’s Séance Tea Party, Trung Le Ngyuen’s The Magic Fish, and Jessi Zabarsky’s Witchlight. They’ve all got upcoming books as well. I know Yee’s next work is My Aunt is a Monster, which looks wonderful, and Zabarsky’s Coming Back is coming out later in January!

Interview with Artist & Writer Trung Le Nguyen

Trung Le Capecchi-Nguyen (Trung Le Nguyen, professionally) is a Vietnamese-American comic book artist and writer from Minnesota. He was born in a refugee camp somewhere in the Philippine province of Palawan.

Trung’s first original graphic novel, The Magic Fish, was published on October 13th, 2020 through Random House Graphic, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It won two Harvey Awards. Trung has also contributed work for DC Comics, Oni Press, Boom! Studios, and Image Comics.

He currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and raises three very spoiled hens. He is fond of fairy tales, kids’ cartoons, and rom-coms of all stripes.

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

First of all, what first drew you to storytelling? At what point did you realize you wanted to tell your own stories?

I consider my relationship to storytelling-on-purpose somewhat new. I think everybody figures out the ways they best like to express themselves in their daily lives, and being a career creative person formalizes that a little bit. The Magic Fish is the first work of fiction I’ve ever really done, so I’m still sussing out my relationship to storytelling, honestly.

How would you describe your crafting style? How do you go about creating on a continual basis while balancing day-to-day life or stresses?

My work style is so chaotic, in part because of its newness and in part because I’m a very scattered sort of person. My work-life balance is largely fine by luck because I have a loving support network behind me, and my collaborators are smart, experienced people who remind me to take days off and give myself more room to recover. I was an overcommitted, high-achieving kid who grew up into an overworked and frequently burned-out adult, and I’m still figuring out how to live with it and work around it.

As far as the more granular details in making comics, I like regimented segments. I start with an outline, then I write the script, then draw thumbnails, then draw the pages. I had assumed I was a visually oriented person who would prefer to start with the thumbnails and also make the script at the same time. I was shocked to discover that I actually need a script to work from. I like that level of organization, and from there I feel like I waste less time and wrist strain drawing and redrawing concepts.

In your narratives, language seems to stand as something that can divide people while stories stand for something that connects? Do you agree with that assessment?

If a reader tells me that’s their takeaway and that it feels true to their life, then yes, their assessment is correct. For me, language is a tool. It’s not precisely the thing that divides, though it can certainly feel like that, but the characters figure out a way to identify the gaps in their languages and bridge them in whatever ways they can. Sometimes it’s switching back and forth between two languages, and sometimes it’s speaking a hybrid language specific to their home, as with a lot of immigrant families.

That sort of language use, cobbling things together to build contexts that convey specific ideas, is very organic. By my estimation, the instances where language becomes a divider is when it’s coupled with systemic forces. So when a hybrid-language speaker in the United States is regarded as unintelligent, for example, because they don’t test well or something, there are a lot of interlocking systems at play upholding that unfair assessment. That’s not the fault of language. Language is organic and flexible. It’s not a sedentary, calcified artifact. Language is meant to shift as its users shift. We could have a rudimentary understanding of a language and still go about our day beyond the ken of the formalities of pedantic grammarian navel-gazing. We all do it. We live among and around people who speak different languages.

Storytelling becomes an extension of that language use, so I don’t find it useful to create a binary where language is the divider and storytelling is the connector. The loss of language, the angst of diasporic identities, and the feeling of bereavement of a space and culture, all that can be chalked up to imperialism and war in this instance.

In The Magic Fish, you explore a narrative in which a mother and son, dealing with generational and multicultural gaps, connect through the fairytales they read together. As someone whose often only shared literary references to her own parents were fairy tales, why do you think this medium has such extensive potential?

I think, very simply, fairy tales are frequently some of our earliest experiences with storytelling, and they also happen to be very old. This seems to uniquely position it as almost a narrative control group, and the stories your parents hear and the stories told to you can be a neat little generational bridge. And because they’re oral tradition, because they survive in iterations and retellings, they have this beautiful elastic quality that makes them so accessible. I think that’s why I center them in my storytelling. I love the imperfect ways people recollect fairy tales. Most of us could recount the tale of Cinderella, and the pieces we emphasize and the ways the characters look and sound might all be different, but the fairy tale lends itself to being a vehicle of participation where everyone gets to storytell. “I know this part,” or “I love this part!” or “Wow, I remember that!” It’s a little silly, but it’s a little like that feeling you get at a club when a beloved song comes on and the whole dance floor lip syncs along! It’s that feeling, but small and intimate. I love that.

One of the many things that touched me about Tiến’s struggle with coming-out was that he did not have the language to describe the queerness to his Vietnamese family. As someone who had similar struggles in regards to finding language (Russian in my case) to describe queer identity growing up, what do you feel is the connection between language and identity?

I mentioned before that language is a mutable tool, so I don’t think there’s an essential connection between language and identity. It’s part of the makeup of a culture, so certainly the verbiage we find will have an effect on how we employ language to describe, for instance, queerness. Language can come with baggage over long use, and words can become tarnished and feel barbed. Parts of it can be discarded or it can be reclaimed and rehabilitated into use. Language seems to have a difficult time keeping up with identity, actually. And even when it seems to catch up, it’s only temporary. The culture moves on, and new language needs to be made or old language comes back into fashion. My best guess is just that language is not compatible with essentialism because language is slower than identity. Sometimes it takes a little while for language to wrap itself around something everybody was already living with.

While reading your book, one of the things that stood out to me was how you explored The Little Mermaid as an immigrant narrative in addition to a queer one? As a fairytale created and shaped in such a different century than today, why do you think this story continues to hold so much relevance and so many meanings?

Honestly, I’m sure every reader has their different reasons. I can say that Andersen’s Little Mermaid was a personally resonant story for him in particular. It was written as a literary fairy tale for children by an author who was known in his day, and that’s a meaningful distinction from other stories we popularly think of as fairy tales. Andersen’s stories are different from Perrault’s or the Grimm stories because they don’t pretend they don’t have a point of view. The Grimms collected their stories from all over, but they edited them and increasingly sanitized them as newer editions were published. And certainly, The Little Mermaid had its forebears in Rusalka and Ondine, but Andersen was writing a story from his own heart and from his own point of view, first and foremost. He was not immune from an editorial process, and the story was affixed with this weird epilogue about the little mermaid earning a human soul through endless suffering at the whims of children all over the world. But the heart of the story, the special yearning and the toilsome sacrifices upon which Andersen’s story leans, remains deeply personal, and I think people respond to that.

In The Magic Fish you explore three distinct and beautiful fairytales. Were there any other stories you considered including in your graphic novel? Are there are other fairytales you would still like to explore in your work now?

At one point I wanted to include the Japanese fairy tale of the fisherman and the turtle princess to express that Rip Van Winkle effect that Helen feels when she finally comes back to Vietnam and finds everything unrecognizable. There just wasn’t enough room to do it, ultimately, and I thought three basic fairy tales made for a pleasing number.

Aside from making comics, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

There’s not too much to tell. I love old sitcoms, and I have them on in the background while I draw. I play a lot of video games, though I get overly competitive and yell at the screen a lot. I really like desserts! I have three very sweet hens named Beatrice, Paulette, and Edwina. I watch all the main Rankin Bass holiday cartoons every year around Christmas.

As a creator, what advice would you give for other creators who are looking to explore identity in their craft?

My main advice for creators, especially creators who come from marginalized backgrounds, is that they should protect themselves from the pressure to get everything right all the time. We all change and grow, and even the stories we tell about ourselves won’t always well represent us in time. I want everyone to be free of the burden of being the sole representation, and that can be accomplished by getting as many diverse voices published as possible. When we know there are others like us in the room, the weight of carrying the entire arc of our stories is lightened. We can be free to tell the narrowly specific, messy, and fun stories of our hearts instead of feeling any special responsibility of edifying an ignorant readership.

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

I am working on my second OGN for Random House Graphic at the moment. I’m very excited about it. It doesn’t have a solid title yet, but I am loving the process of writing it so far. I can’t wait for everyone to meet these new characters!

Finally, what books (both LGBTQ+ and otherwise) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I love just about anything by Jeanette Winterson. Her writing is absolutely incredible. I recommend The Daylight Gate and also Lighthousekeeping. MariNaomi’s books are all formative graphic storytelling for me. I read Dragon’s Breath and Turning Japanese back to back before I thought I would ever make graphic novels, and they blew me away. I loved No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant, and Flamer by Mike Curato absolutely gutted me. I’m currently working my way through Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, and the whole thing just makes me giddy with joy. This was the sort of book Teen Me would have loved to bits and carried on into forever. I’m sure there’s more, but those are the ones that spring to mind right away.

Chef’s Kiss Interview With Jarrett Melendez And Danica Brine

Jarrett Melendez grew up on the mean, deer-infested streets of Bucksport, Maine. A longtime fan of food and cooking, Jarrett has spent a lot of his time in kitchens, oftentimes as a paid professional! Jarrett is a regular contributor to Bon Appetit and Food52, and is the author of The Comic Kitchen, a fully illustrated, comic-style cookbook. When not cooking and writing about food, Jarrett usually writes comic books (like this one, Chef’s Kiss!) and has contributed to the Ringo-nominated All We Ever Wanted, Full Bleed, and Murder Hobo: Chaotic Neutral. He is currently writing a graphic memoir for Oni Press. Jarrett lives in Somerville, MA.

Danica Brine is walking sass in a leather jacket, forged in the icy lands of New Brunswick, Canada. From her waking hours to the moment she slumps over asleep at her desk, Danica can be found with a drawing tool in her hands. Her work has been featured on the covers of Wayward, Elephantmen, Exorsisters, and Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor. She’s also contributed artwork to All We Ever Wanted, featured in the New York Times, and The Comic Kitchen. When not working as a comic artist, she illustrates children’s books for a Canadian French-language publisher. Danica lives in Moncton, NB, Canada, with her husband, Nick, and their shiba inu, Taro. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing both Jarrett and Danica, which you can read below.

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

JM: Well, I’m 36, a Leo, single, and I write comics and for food media. I love cooking, writing, video games, and, of course, comics. I wrote Chef’s Kiss, and I live in Somerville, MA with a collection of Monokuro Boo plush pigs.

DB: Thank you! I’m Danica, the illustrator for Chef’s Kiss. I’m a freelance artist living in New Brunswick, Canada with my partner Nick and shiba inu, Taro. Other than drawing I love long  walks in the woods and playing too much Animal Crossing.  

Where did the impetus for Chef’s Kiss come from and how did the two of you get paired together for this project?

JM: Danica and I had been friends for about four years when we decided to collaborate on this book. We’d been talking about trying our hands at making comics and sharing a ton of interests, like BL manga and anime, food, beautiful men—all the best things. At the time, you didn’t see a ton of queer romance in western comics, and we wanted to change that. 

DB: Jarrett and I have been friends for almost a decade now, and we’ve always wanted to collaborate on something together. Chef’s Kiss came from Jarrett watching me draw cute boys for commissions at conventions and him saying, “hey, I should write a comic and you should draw it”. Chef’s Kiss was the result of a faithful meeting at a Boston Comic Con years back.

How did you get into writing/ illustrating? Were there any books/stories growing up that made you think “I want to do this myself one day”? 

JM: I’ve been writing stories since I was a little kid. English was always my strongest subject in school, but it wasn’t something I saw myself doing as a grown up. It wasn’t until I was in college and read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami that I started considering writing as a career. I think that was the first book that made me cry, and all that raw emotion rekindled my love of writing. 

DB: I’ve loved drawing ever since I can remember. My favourite thing of all time as a kid was  colouring books! Growing up in a bilingual community, I was exposed to French bandes  dessinées (comics) like TinTin, Spirou and Astérix & Obélix as well as French translated manga. I always loved Disney movies too, and thought of pursuing animation. When I finally attended animation college, that’s where I discovered I wanted to draw comics! My partner Nick, who is also a comic illustrator, has also been a strong influence on me getting into drawing comics  professionally.

Were there any queer narratives growing up that stuck out to you and/or left an impression?

JM: Gosh, not really. It wasn’t really common to see queer folks in mainstream media when I was little unless it was mired in tragedy, like the film Philadelphia. Apart from that, stuff like Will & Grace and Queer as Folk were probably the first overtly queer pieces of media I was exposed to and, honestly, had the biggest impact in terms of making me realize it was okay to be queer.

DB: As a hetero female, I never thought of seeking out queer narratives in particular. I think being exposed to things like manga, I just love the thought of beautifully drawn male characters? Maybe it all spun from that?  

Jarrett Melendez

Cooking and writing about cooking can be two very different things. What’s the appeal of both to you and what drew you to them?

JM: I love cooking for loved ones, and I love getting people excited about the things I love so, for me, the two go hand in hand. Writing about cooking gives me the chance to get others excited about cooking, whether it’s a recipe I’ve developed, or a piece of kitchen equipment I particularly love using. When I’m really in a groove in the kitchen, I lose myself in the process. I can hyper fixate on things sometimes, like a particular food craving. This one time I had a huge craving for meatball subs, but none of the spots near me were quite right, so they couldn’t satisfy the craving. So I spent 12 hours making rolls, slow cooking sauce in the oven, and roasting meatballs, then braising them in that sauce to make, for me, the absolute perfect meatball sub. And I’d do it again.

How did you come to find yourself becoming an illustrator and could you describe your artistic background for us?

DB: I’ve always been drawing. In high school, I took a fine arts mail correspondence course and the  same time. In my 20’s it took me going to college for animation to figure out I wanted to draw  comics, so here I am today in my 30’s doing what I love best! Through the years, I’ve work for several indie publishing companies in the US, Canada and France as well as illustrated children’s  books for a small publisher local to me. Chef’s Kiss is my first fully published graphic novel. 

I’m very curious to know where the pig character comes from? Was there a real life inspiration for Watson the pig?

JM: I’m just obsessed with pigs! I think they’re super cute. There sort of is a real life inspiration, actually! So, all of the plush pigs in my collection have names, and one of my favorites is named Watson. 

DB: Pigs are Jarrett’s favourite animals. Dogs are mine (but I love baby boars too!). We knew we  wanted Watson to not be your average pig…I drew him to look like a pig and act a bit like a pet  dog. We both wanted to make him win every reader’s heart. I hope we’re successful!  

How would you describe your writing/ illustrating process? What are some of your favorite things about writing/ illustrating?

JM: It’s a lot of staring into the middle distance thinking about characters, settings, action and dialogue. Just a lot of daydreaming, almost. Once I have a good framework for a story, it becomes very mechanical: outline, page breakdowns (deciding the key moment for each page, and how many panels it’ll take to get there), then scripting the action, followed by dialogue. My favorite parts are the sitting and staring—it’s very nostalgic, like being a kid trying to cook up the next scenario in your game of pretend—and then the dialogue.

DB: I love being able to tell a story using pictures in harmony with the script. My favourite part of the  process has to be inking. Storyboarding and pencilling takes a lot of concentration. Inking is so relaxing, you’re just following your lines and filling in your blacks. I love watching repeats of shows like The Office when I ink. 

Danica Brine

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

JM: Is that full head of salt and pepper, daddylicious hair natural? Why, yes. Yes, it is.

DB: Bagels with butter and cream cheese? Or just cream cheese? The right answer is the first one.  

JM: Also, Danica is 100% correct: butter, then cream cheese.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

JM: Say yes to things, take chances, and don’t wait to try and publish your work, whether its a webcomic, self-publishing, or pitching to publishers. The first thing you create and put out into the world is not going to be your best work, and you can’t be afraid of that.

DB: 1.) Either it’s drawing, writing, creating music..If you love it, do it. 2.) Try not to let the number of followers on social media dictate what is success. I’ve noticed this trend for the last while and it can destroy you as an artist. 3.) Nothing is simply handed over either, you need to put in the mileage.

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

JM: Yes! Danica and I are currently developing a post-apocalyptic Mexican fantasy graphic novel, and I just turned in a script for my graphic memoir. I have about six different projects in various stages of development, all coming out over the next few years. Buckle up!

DB: Other than being quite busy with a backlog of commissions, Jarrett and I are starting  development this year on a new graphic novel featuring Mexican folklore and adventure! 

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

JM: Commanders in Crisis by Steve Orlando and Davide Tinto is a great superhero book, but I’m also a huge fan of Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu, and Heartstopper by Alice Oseman—both are super wholesome queer romance graphic novel series. I’m also a very big fan of Casey McQuiston’s books—Red, White and Royal Blue made me cry like a gigantic baby, and I loved every second of it. Horror fans should also peep Orlando’s Party and Prey, which he co-wrote with Steve Foxe, with art by Alex Sanchez. 

DB: Since I’m always so busy drawing, I rarely get a chance to sit down and read something other than for research…All I know is that there should be more books out there with content catered to the LGBTQ+ community! Especially for younger readers that are looking to identify with characters  in those stories 🙂

Interview with Nina Moreno and Courtney Lovett

Nina Moreno was born and raised in Miami until a hurricane sent her family toward the pines of Georgia where she picked up an accent. She’s a proud University of Florida Gator who once had her dream job of shelving books at the library. Inspired by the folklore and stories passed down to her from her Cuban and Colombian family, she now writes about Latinas chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen. Her first novel, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indie Next Pick for teen readers, and SIBA Okra Pick. Her second YA novel, Our Way Back to Always, was published by LBYR in Fall 2021.

Courtney Lovett received her BFA in Visual Arts and Animation from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She works in different mediums and artistic disciplines, including illustration, character design, and animation. As a Black American and a native of the DC, Maryland, Virginia area, her work reflects her heritage and upbringing, which adds to today’s cultural shift of creating diverse and relatable stories from perspectives that are often underrepresented or misrepresented in art and media.

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

NM: Thank you! I’m a Florida girl who was born in Miami but moved to a small town outside of Atlanta after Hurricane Andrew. I returned to my home state and attended the University of Florida (go Gators!) where a class about kid lit reminded me how much I used to love reading and got me back to writing.

CL: Thank you, I’m honored. I am from the DMV, born and raised in Maryland, where I currently live. I specialize in illustration and character design, but I am passionate about all things storytelling. I love reading it, watching it, analyzing, and discussing it. Switching off that part of my brain can be difficult, sometimes to the annoyance of my family whenever we’re watching movies and tv (haha). My family is my biggest inspiration for my work and beyond. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the outpouring of love and support from them and the community that raised me. I’m also passionate about kids and education, so when I’m not creating stories, I teach digital art at a local art studio.

Where did the impetus to create Join the Club, Maggie Diaz come from? How did you both come to work with each other on this project?

NM: The initial spark actually came from my editor, the incredibly funny and fellow Florida kid, Shelly Romero. As someone who was working on YA novels, I hadn’t planned to write a middle grade story yet, but Shelly came to me with an idea and my imagination just took off. I love writing about friends, families, and communities and fell in love with writing MG. And when Shelly and the team showed me Courtney’s illustrations, the entire project came alive in this really exciting way. Courtney’s work is amazing and she brought so much to the story and characters. It’s a total dream team. 

CL: I was excited to work with Scholastic since their imprint was on so many books of my childhood. When I read Nina’s writing, I fell in love with the project. I saw so much of myself in Maggie and her journey, and she’s so funny! The grounded story combined with the laugh-out-loud scenarios fed into my inspiration. It was also enlightening for me as a Black woman to learn more about Cuban American culture. Representation and diverse stories are important to me, so any project that reflects that, I’m all in.

Photo by Craig Hanson

Do you remember any books or authors/artists growing you that touched you or you felt reflected in your identities in any way?

NM: I loved going to thrift stores with my mom when I was younger and searching the shelves of used books. That’s where I found all of my books as a kid, and so discovering Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban on one of those shelves was a really big deal to me. The title alone was a thrill. I loved reading and tended to secretly imagine some mentioned brunette was Latina like me, but that was the first time I realized a story could be so specific to me and my family’s experience.

CL: Hmm, it’s difficult to say because growing up I wasn’t exposed to many books that reflected my identity as a Black girl. The only one I can think of was the novel The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake I read in fourth grade. It was the first time I read a story that reflected my experience and had characters that behaved and spoke as I did. There weren’t many protagonists that looked like me, but interestingly it wasn’t something I was fully aware of. In the same way I related to Maggie, I latched on to the characters’ personalities and journeys. Judy Blume was one of my favorite authors growing up because her stories had some of the most relatable characters I ever read. The lack of representation wasn’t something I paid attention to until I started comparing it to what I saw on television. I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s watching many sitcoms where Black people were at the center. One of my all-time favorite shows that inspires me to this day is The Proud Family because it combines two things I’m passionate about – animation and representation. I was not seeing that reflected in children’s publishing. Now the landscape has changed and there is a push for representation from all walks of life. I believe both are necessary. Kids should see themselves as heroes of their own stories, but they can also engage with stories where they are not at the center. Everyone gets a seat at the table, where we all can acknowledge our similarities as well as celebrate our differences, where all of us are seen. To me, that is what it means to be inclusive.

What do you think pushed you toward going on the paths you went?

NM: It took me a while to realize that writing and publishing was even a possibility. I loved books, sure, but to become a professional writer? That meant being able to afford going to some fancy college for a hundred degrees or becoming a journalist. It meant having connections or being brilliant and I was not that shiny of a student. But then I rediscovered my love for reading and writing after college. I remembered what it was to be a voracious reader and I had so many story ideas that I knew I had to try. So, I went to the bookstore and bought this huge book about queries and it had all these literary agents listed in it. And then I got to work.

CL: I always knew I wanted art to be my career choice. I didn’t, however, foresee how much the dream would change. At first, I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, then I wanted to be a comic artist, then I wanted to be a cartoonist, an animator, a writer, a teacher. After I earned my degree, I dabbled in freelance, where I tried anything and everything that would land me more work. My current path in publishing started in 2019 when a client I personally knew approached me to illustrate her picture book. I realized through that experience and my time in undergrad that what I was truly passionate about wasn’t simply the art or being an artist. When I think about all the dreams I had, there is but one through line – storytelling. Once the book was self-published nine months later, that same year I signed with my agent and began my career as an illustrator. The amazing irony of where I am now is that publishing allows me opportunities to live in nearly every dream I named earlier. I’m an illustrator, a cartoonist, I create short comics, I dip into writing, and outside all of that I am a teacher. It’s crazy to think about all these pivots when my career has only begun. The path of a creator is beautiful and unpredictable in that way.

Your first book, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, is a lovely YA novel reflecting grief, magical realism, and Cuban identity. Where did the inspiration for this book come from and what was it like writing it?

NM: I wrote Don’t Date Rosa Santos while I was on submission with my first book that never sold. I was feeling burnt out and anxious over whether this whole writing thing was going to work out. Instead of worrying about that book, I started to write something new that was bursting with stuff I loved. I wanted something where a girl like me could live in a cute, seaside town and not have to sacrifice any parts of herself or her culture to be the main character. I love Rosa so much because writing her book reminded me why I love doing this and that there’s always another story around the corner.

Photo by Jacadra Young

As a writer, what would you say are some of the best and hardest parts of your process creating something?

NM: The blank page can be as intimidating as everyone says it is. There’s such a thrill to coming up with a new story and getting lost in daydreams about it, but then you have to somehow get what’s in your head onto the page and when it’s not clicking or working, it can be really tough to keep writing. But that’s why, for me, I love editing and revising so much. It’s the promise of making it better and knowing you’ll be able to step back later and see the bigger picture. If I can just get those first words down, I know that I can fix it in edits and get the story to that place I imagined or somewhere even better.

As an illustrator, what would you say are some of the best and hardest parts of your process creating something?

CL: The most difficult part of the process is the beginning. A blank canvas can be intimidating. How I learned to work through the fear is to get inspired – an engaging book, a fun movie, browsing artwork from my favorite artists, sometimes a walk – and then come back to the blank canvas with a much more relaxed mindset. The best part of creating is to witness an idea evolve into a completely different result from what I initially envisioned in my head. I find, more often than not, allowing myself to play and be fluid in my process lends itself to better results.

Could you describe your artistic background in some detail, like how did you get into art and what your art education was like?

CL: Since I was very young, I was captivated by the cartoons I used to watch with my siblings. Actually, the reason I started drawing in the first place was that my elder sister did it, first. Like any little sister, I wanted to try all the cool things my siblings did (haha). From that point, I couldn’t put down my pencil. I kept drawing and eventually caught the eye of my second grade art teacher. She invited me to enroll in her art program More Than Conquerors (MTC) Art Studios, where I trained over ten years in the foundations of visual art. Once I graduated from that program, I attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where I earned my BFA in Visual Arts and Animation. I’m so grateful for the solid foundation I received at MTC, which prepared me for any challenge I met in undergrad. I credit my training there for my ability to adapt to different art styles and mediums.

How would you describe your writing/ illustrating process? What are some of your favorite things about writing/ illustrating?

NM: I live for the moments when I’m able to capture a feeling or idea. When the words click together in a satisfying sentence that says exactly what I hoped it would. I’m a pretty big outliner and like to work on story beats when I’m daydreaming the story. It feels a little like detective work figuring out what might happen next and it helps me stay engaged and in love with the idea. I’m at my best when I’m obsessed with something, so I love losing myself to a story idea and finding my way around it. And with those beats and outline I feel more confident when it’s time to finally face the blank page.

CL: Much like my body of work, my process can be quite eclectic and my style varies from project to project. For Maggie Diaz, specifically, I was heavily inspired by Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Where my approach deviated from Jeff Kinney’s brilliant style was the amount of detail I included in each spot illustration. My goal was to capture the warm setting of Miami in the environments and the richness of the Cuban American culture in the characters’ features, the hair (my personal favorite part), the details in the food, and so much more. That is what I love about illustration – the opportunity to explore settings and cultures outside my everyday experiences.

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

NM: I’ve never been asked this! I love getting to talk craft and inspiration. Writing stories so closely linked to my identity is a gift that I don’t take lightly, but sometimes it can feel like I get put into the Latinx box and left there until our heritage month rolls around. But getting interviewed about this book has been really fun because I get to talk so much about comedy and humor now too. 

CL: What motivates you to create stories? Kids. Whenever I’m making a decision on any project, young people are always at the forefront of my mind. It was the stories I read and watched as a child that inspired me to become an artist. At the very least, I want to bring joy to young lives. Beyond that, I want to help bring out that same spark in another child and encourage them to use their voice and tell their story no matter who they are and where they come from.

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

NM: Remember to stop and fill the creative well with the books, art, and media that inspires you and gets you excited to create. Turning something we love into a job can be tough as the work and all the deadlines hit, so it’s important to rest and hydrate and remember.

CL: Harkening back to my previous answer – allow the dream to change. Have a goal, yes, but do not be so rigid as to limit your options. Explore. Play. Try everything. You never know what skill or insight you will acquire from trying different art forms, or even things unrelated to art. One of my course requirements in undergrad was screenwriting, which I initially had little interest in. It ended up being my favorite class and broadened my interests beyond illustration and animation to writing and directing. You might think because of what I do that my biggest inspirations are other illustrators and cartoonists, when in fact, I am most inspired by performing artists – singers, dancers, actors, musicians, and theater performers. The best advice I can give is to never stop learning and to expose yourself to a wide range of influences.

Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

NM: I am working on something and because this is publishing, of course I’m not able to discuss it yet. Ha! But I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to share!

CL: Yes! I recently signed on to a 4-book deal with Scholastic. It is an early chapter book series Disaster Squad written by educator and STEAM expert Rekha S. Rajan. Each book follows a family that travels the U.S. as first responders to natural disasters. The first book will be released in fall 2023.

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

NM: I love Mark Oshiro’s books so much and their latest is a fantastic middle grade debut called The Insiders that is so full of heart, some magic, and is all about honoring ourselves. And This is Our Rainbow just released and is the first LGBTQA+ anthology for middle graders with a wide range of stories and amazing authors! 

CL: Oh, good question. I recently read What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera, and I could not put the book down. It’s beautiful, it’s emotional, and relatable for any young person simply trying to navigate life. I can’t wait to pick up the sequel Here’s To Us.

Interview with Illustrator Eleanor Crewes

Eleanor Crewes is a London based illustrator, she graduated from Illustration at UAL in 2016. Her debut graphic novel The Times I Knew I Was Gay was released in April 2018 and has already taken her to exhibit at Toronto Comic Arts Festival and receive review from websites like The Quietus and Broken Frontier. She specialises in graphic storytelling and enjoys mixing autobiography into her projects wherever she can. 

I have the opportunity to interview Eleanor, which you can read below.

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

Hey, thanks for having me! I’m Eleanor Crewes. I live in London with my partner and I draw graphic novels!

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What draws you in about this medium of storytelling?

I was introduced to comics by my Dad, he’d always get me single issues like Mary Jane Loves Spiderman and graphic novels like Courtney Crumrin and The Night Things. I’d enjoy reading them, but mostly I liked copying the characters into my own comic books. It was fun to reimagine the stories from my own perspective. I’d pick characters that I felt represented me and my friends, and draw them in scenarios that were exciting to me—most of the time this was just ripping off the original comic, but it made it feel like it was mine. What I enjoy about making comics hasn’t changed much since then, although all the material I write is now officially my own, not stolen!

Who would you say are some of your artistic influences? Are there any artists or books you look to for inspiration?

When I went to Art School my attention moved completely away from comics for about four years, and I spent most of that time pouring over children’s picture books instead. This now means that my illustration inspirations are a happy muddle, so what I look to depends on the project I have on at the time. That being said, the artists I will always love are Matt Rockefeller, Carson Ellis, Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky and Isabelle Arsenault. 

Your first book, The Times I Knew I Was Gay, is a graphic memoir of your evolution as a gay person, and discovering your queer identity. How did it feel translating your memories onto the page? 

The first book that really inspired me to make my own work was Vanessa Davis’ Make Me a Woman. I read this just after coming out and although it didn’t follow the same narrative, I felt comforted reading about Venessa’s sloppy teenage kisses, and connected with her experiences of not feeling totally sure in your own body. The Times I Knew I Was Gay started as tiny drawings I made on scrap that explored me in different scenarios saying “I’m so gay!”  Making them gave me a route to consider all the times I maybe could have know that I was gay, and that led me to asking myself: ‘why didn’t you know?’ — and that felt like something I really needed to explore. I really enjoyed making The Times I Knew I Was Gay, especially once I was working with my my editors. I was surprised by how many more memories came up for me, but I’d already had such a warm and kind response to the indie publication (in 2018),  that it made me want to give back to the readers who had already supported the story. 

Was there anything you wished you had included in the book that you didn’t get a chance to?

When I was working on the first chapter of The Times I Knew I Was Gay I got to draw lots of memories from my early childhood, particularly a section about how my Dad would take me to Camden market to buy cool T-shirt’s from the stands that were run by punks with Mohawks and the biggest platform boots you’d ever see. When I completed the first full re-drafting of The Times I Knew I Was Gay it was over 400 pages and we had to cut at least 100 of those out. I always liked how warm and gentle a lot of those drawings were.

A large part of The Times I Knew I Was Gay includes an experience I’m sure is familiar to many queer people, such as fighting heteronormativty in order to discover and accept one’s queerness. Would you mind expanding on that a bit here?

I think this fight is a big part of my long experience of coming out. As I detail in the book, I tried and tried again to fancy boys and to dress a certain way. I really wanted to want these things, but in the end I couldn’t. It’s funny, because heteronormativity is the pressure that I would have been feeling, but at the time that’s not the word I would have used for that massive struggle. I would have seen it as ‘growing up’ or ‘being a girl’ or ‘teenage angst’. Which is also why heteronormativity is not just a trap or a fight for queer people, but for everyone. Heteronormativity is a vicious system that tries to trap all of us! I just feel lucky that I could keep on fighting.

What are some of your favorite parts of making comics and the creative writing process?

I used to be really averse to colour, but since pushing my visual style I am now a true fan of colouring in! Once I’ve drawn out all of the lines and markers, I put on my audiobook and can colour in for hours, that’s a real happy place. 

What advice might you give to those hoping to make comics?

Don’t give yourself too many hard and fast rules. The Times I Knew I Was Gay started out as a zine that I hand stitched and delivered to shops by bike, and the style of the book—no panels, black and white illustrations and very few speech bubbles—has not changed!

Aside from comics, what would you say are some of your other hobbies and interests?

Cooking! I love to cook, my mother’s family are Italian and she’s definitely passed down the food bug to me and my brother. 

Can you tell us a bit about your latest book, Lilla the Accidental Witch? You mentioned in the book, that the story is personal, not only for its queer themes, but for being inspired by your family background? Could you discuss your familial connection and your inspiration?

When I was little I would spend every summer staying with my family in Italy. Everything about these memories of the four, uninterrupted weeks out in the hills with my Aunt is so idyllic. Most days were spent playing Playstation with  my brother and cousin for hours; but it was also magical because of the conversations I’d have with my Aunt. She’d read to me from her childhood book of ghost stories, on long drives she’d tell me about the local ghosts and witches, and out in the fields she’d help me collect wild herbs and flowers that I’d later turn into spells. With all those stories washing around my head, looking out at the vast landscape and traipsing through woodland—the house is so high up you can watch the weather change in the next town over, before it reaches you—I’d say it would be hard not to be inspired. Once I’d written The Times I Knew I Was Gay I knew I wanted to move into fiction, and the pleasure I found in drawing those scenes from my early childhood (the ones that didn’t make it into the finished book), crept over into Lilla the Accidental Witch. When I first pitched the story, I said: “This is the coming out I wish I’d had, when I was small I knew I was different, but I thought that difference was being a witch.”

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

I’d have to say ‘how did you find your drawing style?’ And the answer to that is – by coming out! It’s probably a big cliche, but before I was out of my tightly locked closet I would jump between as many artistic styles as I did fashion trends. I really didn’t know what I liked or how to find it, and I’d go from creating photo realistic portraits (or as good as) to block printing abstract shapes overnight. Once I came out it was like I’d taken the longest, hottest bath of my life and had finally relaxed. That relaxation also affected my drawing, my style became looser and my idea of what I wanted also changed. I stopped being so hard on myself and cultivated what I was actually good at.

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

At the moment I’m continuing to flex my fantasy muscles, but I’m going right back to what I’ve always loved, and that’s ghost stories. I’m working on a collection of short stories in graphic format. My aim is to combine what I admire about the old masters (M.R. James, Edith Wharton) and combine that visually with my own illustrative style. I’m enjoying making this new work so much. 

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

So many! Recently I finished The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen, but I also loved In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. There’s the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s SKIM which is one of my favourites, as is Jen Wang’s The Prince and The Dressmaker. At the moment I’ve been listening to Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth while I work and it’s more than I could have asked for from a book!