Review: Letters for Lucardo: Fortunate Beasts

Letters for Lucardo: Fortunate Beasts is the second book of the acclaimed Iron Circus graphic novel series by Otava Heikkila. I wrote a review of the first book for Geeks OUT back in 2017; you may want to start there if you’re thinking of reading the series. This review will contain some unavoidable spoilers for the ending of Letters for Lucardo. Fortunate Beasts was funded through Kickstarter in late 2018.

Fortunate Beasts opens with a brief passage set seven years in the future before cutting back to the aftermath of Letters for Lucardo. When Lucardo confronts his father about sending Ed away, things quickly escalate. The ensuing fight pulls back the curtain a little bit more on the true nature of Lucardo’s family and the Night Court. Lucardo ignores his father’s warnings and immediately begins searching for Ed. It isn’t long before Ed’s quiet new life is disrupted. Lucardo then brings Ed back to the Night Court in the most boisterous and public way possible, setting the stage for a showdown with his father.

One of my favorite this about this series is how the sex is a natural part of the story. It really goes against the grain of puritanical notions about sex that are embedded in our society. Heikkila is also particularly adept at including some delightfully awkward and funny moments that make the sex scenes feel really lived in. If you were to take away the erotic scenes, you would still be left with a touching story. But that story would be missing a pivotal part of what drives the relationship between these two men.

Fortunate Beasts is a more than worthy follow up to its predecessor. It added even more emotional depth to the characters, revealed more about the world of the Night Court, and left me really excited for the third book in the series. Both books are available now through the Iron Circus store.

Extracting Beauty from the Darkest of Places

Seven years ago, I started working on a comic book with my good friend Reed Olsen. It would go on to become the series Dream Crasher, which we are now self-publishing through Kickstarter. Dream Crasher is a 12-chapter story about a group of children who survive a bizarre cataclysmic event and find themselves navigating a strange new world filled with angry ghosts, strange beasts made from human parts, and interdimensional parasites that feed on their dreams. At its core, Dream Crasher is also a story about overcoming trauma, the fight for autonomy, and creating a world where we all have a chance to define our own destiny.

One year into our new comic creating process, Reed and I were on fire. Kickstarter was just beginning to reveal itself as an vehicle for indie comics. Chapter one was drawn and painted, and the work on chapter two had already begun. I had found my voice in writing, and had found a brilliant creative partner in Reed. We had momentum. I was excited for what the future held.

Running parallel to all of this, I found myself very much in love for the first time in my life. Blair changed my jaded views on that four letter word. He challenged me to be a better person. He made me smile every time he laughed at his own jokes. He gave me confidence in the creative choices I was making. He was also a talented writer and musician in his own right, and he encouraged me on this project when it was still in its early stages. To say my life was perfect would be a lie, but I was the happiest I had been in a long time.

All of this changed when Blair died in the summer of 2011. My whole world fell to pieces. The unexpected trauma, the weight of the grief, and the subsequent depression and healing all took their toll in various ways. I’ve written extensively about the grief and the healing over the years since. This tragedy permeated every aspect of my life, and the still-unnamed Dream Crasher was no exception. Comics were put on hold. I scribbled ideas in notebooks and thought about the project from time to time, but in the end it took more than six months before I sat down to work again. And even then, the work was slow. It took another year after that before I finished the script for the third chapter. It felt like starting from scratch and learning how to write again. In hindsight, this was in no small part due to a fresh perspective I had on my main character, Amalie.

I had been following Kurt Vonnegut’s sixth rule to a T. I was being a sadist and making awful things happen to my main character, but I hadn’t given a second thought to how it was affecting her. I hadn’t thought about how she processed the world around her, or who she was because of it. Through my own grief, I suddenly understood her on a whole new level. In many ways, Amalie is a representation of how strong I wish I could be. She’s lost everything she once held dear but has never given in to despair. She’s not unshakeable–she’s persistent. She’s not fearless–she’s brave. She’s a survivor in every sense of the word.

In his own writing, Blair had a knack for extracting beauty from the darkest of places. His example inspired me to do the same. I began to think of this bleak new world as less of a graveyard and more like fertile soil. I realized that it’s not a story about the world that’s been destroyed, but rather the new one that is taking its place. It’s about the children who have an opportunity to shape it and truly make it their own. As dismal as the world can seem sometimes, there are still dreams worth fighting for. Beneath its dystopian exterior, Dream Crasher is a story about finding the last bit of light in a world that’s gone dark and protecting it with every fiber of our being. Even when the powers that be are stacked against us. Even when the cause seems hopeless.

As devastating as Blair’s death was, I didn’t let it stop me. That in and of itself is a cause worth celebrating. Reed and I both had numerous opportunities to put this project down and quietly walk away from it, and no one would have thought less of us for doing so. We didn’t. I’m grateful to say that, in the face obstacles we never could have anticipated, we persisted.

Today, we are on the cusp of completing the first arc of the series. That first arc, which parallels my own story of grief, captures the resilience of a character who has outgrown my original idea of her. A character who grew and inspired me in ways I never expected. I have never worked harder on any single piece of art, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world. Like many up-and-coming creators, we have launched a Kickstarter Campaign. With it, we hope to raise funds to cover the cost of printing, lettering, and designing the book itself. We’re offering a variety of rewards to any backers, ranging from digital chapters for as little as $4, the physical book for $25, and several pieces of original artwork from the series for $100. We’re off to solid start. and we’ve already made it farther than seemed possible just a few years ago. The campaign runs until October 6, 2017.

Photo Credit: Blaise Allen.

Kickstarter We’re Into: Bingo Love

There is so much about Bingo Love, an 80-page graphic novella about two older black women in love, that feels unprecedented, including its subject matter, its intersectionality, and the speed with which it was funded. This is a comic unlike anything on the market right now, and deserves attention. I first learned of Bingo Love through my Twitter feed, and was immediately intrigued. I always want to know about any queer-themed comics that are being produced, and support them as best I can, and the image of two black women with gray hair cuddling over bingo cards was stunning. Launched on March 15, the Kickstarter campaign organized by publisher Inclusive Press reached its goal in only five days.

Image result for bingo love

The story written by Tee Franklin (who will be tabling at FlameCon 2017) concerns Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, two black women who meet in 1963 and become friends. Their relationship develops into love, but suffers because of the time period. It proves indomitable, though, as they reconnect several years later, and learn they are just as in love as older women as they were as teenagers. Jenn St-Onge is the artist who will bring these characters to life, accompanied by the colors of Joy San and the letters of Cardinal Rae. Erica Schultz is the editor.

Image result for bingo love

As quoted by Bleeding Cool, Franklin wanted “Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ meets Moonlight. We want to tell the story of women who are gay, Black, and in love — and who learn to live without apology. We also want to show that love and passion are present at every age — and just as intense for women in their sixties as for teenagers.” Franklin is the innovator of the #BlackComicsMonth campaign and started the publishing company behind Bingo Love to increase representation. In a recent interview with Comicosity, she explained why she chose Kickstarter as the method of producing this book: “There are so many strikes against this comic that doesn’t fit in this straight white male comics dominated world.” Hopefully, this comic’s tremendous success will change the industry and what it perceives as bankable properties.

As of this writing, Bingo Love has earned more than $31,000 of its initial $19,999 goal, and that number continues to climb. With more than one thousand backers, it has garnered media attention on Huffington Post and Book Riot.

Image result for bingo love

The Kickstarter campaign for Bingo Love ends Monday, April 17 at 11:00 CDT. Among the rewards are digital and print editions, enamel pins, postcards, and variant covers by other artists, including Genevieve Eft and Nilah Magruder. There are also script and portfolio reviews available from comics professionals such as Shawn Pryor (Cash and Carrie) and Bryan Edward Hill from Top Cow, and Skype sessions with comics legends such as Gail Simone and Steve Orlando. Let’s see what stretch goals we can unlock!

A Conversation with Activist and Author P. Kristen Enos

On October 17, the Kickstarter campaign was launched for Active Voice The Comic Collection by P. Kristen Enos, subtitled The Real Life Adventures Of An Asian-American, Lesbian, Feminist Activist and Her Friends! The title comes from a column Enos wrote for the Blade Newsmagazine in Orange County, CA from 1994 to 1998. She described what it was like being an out and proud lesbian Asian-American while navigating hostile territory in the corporate world and life behind the “Orange Curtain,” a conservative backwash between the more progressive cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. I got the chance to have a phone conversation with her last week to talk about it further.

Active Voice: The Comic Collection: Real Life Adventures of an Asian-American, Lesbian, Feminist Activist And Her Friends!

This seemed apt, since Enos wanted the audience to feel like reading this collection would be like a “dinner conversation.” “I very much put myself in the shoes of the reader,” she said, choosing each story because people would find it interesting.

The volume is illustrated by four artists from three different continents: Casandra Grullon and Beth Varni from the United States, Leesamarie Croal from Scotland, and Derek Chua from Singapore. This was not a deliberate choice on Enos’s part. Instead, she made an open call for submissions from artists, making it clear that this would be a “labor of love.” She looked for a range of styles, and a versatility that approached a “more comic strip” sensibility. “I looked over what [the artists] were capable of, and chose what would fit.” She didn’t factor in any demographics. “I don’t know if any are LGBT,” she admitted with a laugh.

Enos is familiar with the comics medium, and did not give original columns of “Active Voice” to her collaborators. “I wanted to give them stories that had never been columns,” she told me. “About one fourth [of the stories in Active Voice The Comic Collection had never been columns.” For example, the story “Above and Beyond” was written as a collaboration with Heidi Ho, an Assistant Professor at University of San Francisco School of Law, who ran a “weekly rap group” at UC Irvine’s Women’s Resource Center in 1989. “I was sorting things from memory for a first draft and would have four or five revisions.” She started with a “skeleton script,” which led to “proposal sketches” from the artists. “We offered lots of feedback to each other before the final inks.” Enos did the lettering, and it was all digital. “I wanted there to be a good balance of art and text,” she said.

The Most Interesting Thing page 3

Working from memory did have its drawbacks, as Enos discovered when she scripted one of the stories based on a previous column, “The Quilt at U.C.I.” about the debut of the NAMES Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt in Irvine in 1990. “The story was finished and the script was sent off,” she explained, but she had forgotten about how she had fought against an attempt at appropriating the AIDS Memorial Quilt for a quilt representing student organizations. “Thankfully I was able to rewrite the script before Leesamarie [Croal — the artist for that story] had done much work on it.”

This story in particular highlights part of why Enos thinks activism is so important. “People don’t know” how they may be hurting other people. They may have good intentions, but remain ignorant of how sensitive a subject is. That’s why she sees activism as an “opportunity for discussion.” She tries to raise “awareness of another way of looking at something.”

I asked about her legacy of activism and how that makes her feel. “I definitely feel a sense of pride,” she answered. “My friends and I did something, contributed to something concrete for future generations that was meaningful for the time and place, but it was a stepping stone.” She recently interviewed Las Vegas queer youth and learned that “personal struggles are very much there.” “It Gets Better is not that old,” she added. “People still have issues standing up for themselves; there is still suicide…A lot of change has happened in thirty years, but racist homophobic adults are still out there.”

Image result for active voice the comic collection kristen enos

“Yes, this is the model photo for the cover” according to the Author Biography

Enos said the ultimate message of Active Voice The Comic Collection is “you can’t live your life expecting the worst-case scenario, but you won’t know if you don’t try.” “You don’t know how people will react.” She further explained, “You have to realize who your allies are…stand up for at least yourself, and give people a chance to stand up for you if you can’t. Give them a chance to be allies, especially if they are in a position of power.”

She has had a table at both Flame Cons and thought they were well put together. “I was impressed with Geeks OUT and glad [they] reach an audience and fill a need.” She singled out the intimate atmosphere at Flame Con as praiseworthy, noting it’s easy to feel “lost at mega-cons.” She is familiar with that, having created and moderated panels at San Diego, including “LGBTQ Year in Review” (which included Geeks OUT’s own Amber Garza and one on Queer Imagery in Animation.

What’s next for P. Kristen Enos? In addition to Active Voice The Comics Collection, she’s working on a graphic novel for her comics Web of Lives and Web of Lives: Demons and focusing on the arts as a creator. “I’m not interested in journalism,” she said. “I’ve been there, done that.”

Image result for p kristen enos web of lives

Active Voice The Comic Collection will be 120 black and white pages. Besides physical and digital copies, other rewards for contributing to the campaign are a packet of zines created by Enos earlier this year as a way of continuing her column and signed bookplates from her collaborators. The cover is a full-color illustration by Archie Comics artist Dan Parent. The foreword for the volume is written by Joseph Amster, a journalist and former editor of the Orange County and Long Beach Blade Newsmagazine. The Kickstarter runs until Wednesday, November 16 and has a goal of $3,000. I strongly urge anyone to give as much as they can and enjoy this book!